Sunday, May 16, 2010

Musing on Elections – 3

It is 6 days ago that we had the elections. After the dust of the euphoria, or dismay, over the political exercise, now is the time to look at a proper perspective over the process of our Automated Election System (AES). There is a public consensus being formed that the automated election was a success. Everybody was stunned at the speed of the results. The worse scenarios projected, such as military take=-over, total failure of the system, general mayhem, did not occur, thanks be to God! What contributed to the success? Is everything alright now?

Many quarters attribute the successful May 10 election more to the people than to the automated system itself. In fact the system was not in place as claimed. Many machines malfunctioned. The clustering of the precincts brought long queues. Many voters do not know their precincts or lost their names. Transmission problems abounded. Even up to now some 5 million votes are not yet counted. But in spite of all these the voters turned up – 80% some calculated although only 75% were able to vote. This is already a high turn out when compared to more “mature” democracies. This just tells us that most of our people want to be heard. They are participative. This is also augmented by the fact that many did not mind lining up from 2 to 5 hours just to cast their votes. With the heat of that day and the inconveniences of many of our polling places, that is truly admirable! In spite of the long wait, the confusion and the heat, in general people kept their cool. The teachers who manned the polls were truly admirable too. They did not receive the proper training for AES as planned but their made use of their own creativity to make the system work. Admirable too were the election monitoring volunteers. They helped a lot in assisting people. Their presence too was a great assurance to the public that their votes would be properly counted. They stayed on together with the teachers until the results were transmitted. For many that meant a sleepless night. All these people made the election a success! We should not discount the fact that many people offered prayers and made vigils several weeks before May 10 to make this election succeed. This contributed not in a small degree to the patience and resilience of people on the election day itself. Congratulations to the Filipino people!

This does not mean though that everything was alright. Now is the time to call for accountability. I commend the COMELEC officials for a great work, so too the Smartmatic people. They were really on their toes the whole time, what with so many critics around them. However there are nagging questions begging for answers. Things could have been better, and the results more reassuring of these have been taken cared of.

1. What happened to the education budget of the COMELEC? Most of the election education received by the public came from initiatives of NGOs and Church groups. Except for a few TV and radio ads the public did not benefit from election education by the COMELEC when they have big budget for this.
2. Where were the extra 6000 PCOS machines stored? Why were they not used to replace malfunctioning machines?
3. In many cases the ultra-violet scanners which cost the COMELEC millions of pesos were not found in the precincts. Why?
4. What are the results of the Random Manual Audit?
5. Why even up to now – 6 days after election day – not all the results are in if the system was fully automated? If not fully automated, then how many percent were done manually?
6. Smartmatic promised that there would be enough modem to transmit the results. There seems not to be enough. In one school in Tondo there were 3 modems for 27 PCOS machines. Is this the proper proportion?
7. There were not enough IT technicians from the Smartmatic to attend to various technical problems and many report that many technicians do not know what to do. They were not properly trained.
8. Many machines malfunctioned. What is the allowable margin of defects in the contract with Smartmatic?
9. Why were the safeguards provided in the law not followed, such as the source-code review, the electronic signature of the BEIs, voters’ verifiability of their votes, machine verification of authentic ballots among others? These concerns be attend to. The great danger is that because the election was a “success” we may be complacent and leave things as they are. With these safeguards not put in place in the future somebody will bound to come up with ways of electronically cheating our elections.
10. The clustering of the precincts should be reviewed. So many were disenfranchised because it was not properly done and the public was not sufficiently informed.

These questions are not to dampen the celebratory mood of the public. Vigilance is the price of democracy and we continue to be vigilant - to make the system better for the sake of the future. If not, our “success” today will spell our doom tomorrow. People with evil intent will soon be devising means to out-do the AES. COMELEC should take a hard look at what happened and already find solutions to the shortcomings so that its gains now can lead to further gains. To do this COMELEC and Smarmatic should listen to their critics. Many times we learn more from our enemies than we do from our friends.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
Chair, NASSA

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Musings on Elections 2010 – 2

These musings are more of questions and observations based on experiences.

After having voted, I went to visit several centers that monitor the elections. CBCP World has a monitoring center set up at the top floor of the CBCP office in Intramuros. It is manned by many religious men and women. The PPCRV has theirs in Pope Pius XII Center while NAMFREL has it in La Salle Greenhills. All these centers have lines of computers and phones set up and they are receiving updates from their people in the ground. The common comment that I hear is that of long lines of people in the voting centers and of people not finding their names because of the clustering of their precincts. At the rate things were moving at mid afternoon, many would not be able to vote as people are getting fed up waiting and in many places the voting process is so slow. In one school in Novaliches for example 300 service numbers were distributed in the morning but by 3 pm only 80 have cast their votes! Not that few voted, but the process was so slow! I also heard of several places in the country where elections were not conducted for a variety of reasons, like the ballots were switched between a town in Iloilo and another town in Eastern Samar. Two towns in Lanao did not have the elections because no BEI personnel could be found since the teachers there are relatives of the local candidates. Some towns are so far inland that the PCOS machines cannot get to their places. There were also many reports of breakdowns of PCOS machines. I wonder where the extra 6000 PCOS machines meant to replace malfunctioning ones are kept. It is said that they are kept in reserve in hub centers. Where are these hub centers and who and how can they be accessed? There seems to be a lack in information and there is no point person to ask.

Another question came. I observed that when I voted in the morning my ballot was not scanned. Each precinct is supposed to have an ultra-violet scanner to scan each ballot to know whether it is an authentic ballot or not. This was a solution made when the automatic scanners in the PCOS machines were decommissioned because of miscalculations in the printing of the ballots. The COMELEC spent millions to acquire these scanners and there was even a controversy over this. I asked others who voted. Their ballots too were not scanned. To verify further, I went to a public school in Makati and observe the last hour of voting there. In all the precincts there were no ultra-violet scanners. We spent millions acquiring them and they are not used!

Another observation. Many of our public schools have 3 or 4 stories with no elevators at all. There were complains coming from the elderly that they could not make it up the stairs! Perhaps considerations should be made for the elderly and the handicapped so that they need not go up the flights of stairs in order to exercise their right to vote.

Finally, we are now in the counting and canvassing stage. I write this around 10 pm. Most of the precincts have finished the voting. There are problems in sending the results to the central servers. One problem is that there are not enough modems. In one school in Tondo with 27 PCOS machines there are only 3 modems! To compound this situation is the fact that it is not easy to transmit the results. Probably the system is overloaded at the central servers. I wonder up to when will the BEIs, the PPCRV volunteers and the watchers wait till all the results will be transmitted. Ah… there is so much to improve! Yes we need to learn from experience, but could not the painful learning experiences have been lessened if more planning and foresight had been done by the COMELEC?

Bishop Broderick Pabillo
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
Chair, NASSA

Monday, May 10, 2010

Musings on Elections 2010 – 1

Success! I was able to cast my vote, and successfully! This was a victory but a hard-won one. I came to the voting center at 10 am and was able to cast my vote at 12:30 pm! The voting center was the Isabelo de los Reyes School in Tondo. It was full of people. The heat was terrible, heat not only coming from the sun but also from the thousands of bodies gathered there! It is a wonder that up to now there is no news of anyone being a victim of heat stroke! Fortunately, ours is a patient people. We Filipinos are known for patience. There were squabbles here and there but in general the atmosphere was peaceful – people lining up and waiting patiently for their turn. I was not that patient. Good for me that the voting center is near the convent where I stay. Upon getting my service number which was 350 and knowing that the one being served was number 230, I went back to my room to do some reading. Two hours later I came up and I still had to line up for 30 minutes more.

Voting started at 7 am. By 12:30 I cast my vote, number 350. I surmise not all the 349 before me voted. I was right. There were only 280 votes cast before me, and that at 12:30 pm! Each precinct has 1000 voters. I wonder how many of those 1000 in my precinct would be able to vote. But this is not just the situation in my precinct. I went around asking the other polling places in the same school. All have similar situations. I wonder how many percent of the electorate will line up to vote. Worse scenario: I wonder how many will not be able to vote even if they want to because there is not time left.

We continue to call on voters to please take the time to vote, in spite of all the hassle. This is a small act of heroism that the nation asks from each of us today. I congratulate the so many volunteer groups involved in this election – PPCRV, NAMFREL, LENTE and many others. I salute them for their great sense of sacrifice especially staying in these over heated ovens! Many of these volunteers are young people. Their sense of volunteerism is truly heroic. I salute too our many prayer warriors, hidden in churches and adoration chapels, interceding for a clean, peaceful and orderly election. May their prayers and petitions touch our leaders and candidates to respect and accept the will of the people so that the election results will be credible and peace will be the end result of this political exercise.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
Chair, NASSA