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