Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Early protests against e-fraud

In the next few weeks two very significant electoral protests are expected to move under the auspices of the Comelec. These are the protests filed by losing Manila mayoralty candidate and former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza vs. incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim, and by losing Pasay City mayoralty candidate Consuelo Dy against incumbent Mayor Antonino Calixto. These protests, which will be expensive for Atienza and Dy, are significant not only because they put into question the electoral results in the capital and another major city in Metro Manila, the center of this nation’s political power, and under the nose, so to speak, of majority of media outlets in the country. They are significant because they are the first protests to be filed after the first automated national elections last May 10, which have been hailed here and abroad as peaceful, honest and clean. The protestants are out to prove they are victims of high- tech fraud, contrary to the Comelec’s claims that it was insignificant. 

Protests outside of Manila

It’s also noteworthy that protests have been filed outside Manila too. Most notable is the protest of former Rep. Glenn Chong against reelectionist Biliran Gov. Espina. Chong testified on his complaint of cheating in Biliran during the hearings conducted in the 14th Congress by the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms chaired by former Rep. TeddyBoy Locsin, and his ardent supporters guarded his ballots in the provincial capitol since the elections. Since Chong’s protest was filed, the sealing of ballots has been accomplished in four towns of the tiny island province.
Suffice it so say that the local protests around the country could have significant implications on the recent national elections. If there were frauds in local elections, it is unlikely that there were no significant frauds too in the national polls. One protest that definitely would have a bearing on the national contests was the one filed by losing LP vice-presidential candidate Mar Roxas against Vice-President Jojo Binay, but so far nothing much has been heard about it. Whatever happened to it?

MIGHT e2010

These early protests in Metro Manila and the provinces are being assiduously monitored by various organizations of IT professionals as well as a NGO that was activated in the post-election period precisely to monitor frauds. It’s aptly called the “Movement for Integrity in Governance, Honesty and Truth” in the May 10 Elections” (MIGHTe2010). The lead group among the professionals is the UP-based Center for People Empowerment on Governance (CENPEG), which has sought to involve itself with the Automated Election System (AES) even while the law authorizing it, RA 9369, was still being drafted. In the interest of public welfare and transparency, CENPEG has monitored the various steps taken by the Comelec regarding the May 10 elections---from the planning of the AES to the contracting of the hardware and software, and the integrating and implementing systems of the AES to foreign companies, and in the conduct of the elections and the post-election review.

   Dissatisfaction of the CENPG

CENPEG has been far from happy about the way everything went, noting, as IT consultant Angel S. Averia, Jr., put it “Errors and deficiencies in the AES observed or discovered during the elections, on election day itself, during the consolidation and canvassing of election results and the conduct of the Random Manual Audit...” The most serious question this NGO has raised is the persistent refusal of Comelec to release the AES source code to political parties and interested groups for review. Last Oct. 5, 2009, seven months before the May 10 elections, CENPEG filed a petition for mandamus with the Supreme Court, to compel Comelec to release this source code. Last Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010, nearly a year later, the High Court, in a resolution, granted CENPEG’s petition; but we voters have the right ask, why only now?

Stonewalling by the COMELEC

In addition to its refusal to make available the source code to rightful parties, Comelec has also stonewalled the release of 21 other documents CENPEG considers vital to the AES and the comprehensive review needed to guide future automated elections. Why? The logical question CENPEG now raises, in view of the black-out from the poll body, is: “Did the AES operate properly, securely, and accurately?”
More on Tuesday about the grave points its IT professionals have been raising in various forums and articles. This includes valid points raised by IT expert Gus Lagman in his column in a business daily, titled “To take a stand,” posted Sept. 20, 2010. Lagman questioned from the beginning the award by Comelec of the AES contract to Smartmatic and the poll body’s “distrust of Filipino IT professionals.”

Claims of Lito Atienza 

In Manila Lito Atienza is questioning the results of the May 10 elections that showed  rival Lim drawing 403, 621 votes against his own 184,415 votes, or a margin in Lim’s favor of 219,206 votes, greater than Atienza’s own total, when, as pundits noted, various surveys indicated a really tight race between them. The losing candidate, however, is not banking on totals, but on the declaration of the Random Manual Audit (RMA) that while voting was “99% accurate nationwide,” there were “large variances” in the Manila mayoralty race that were traceable to “voting-machine error.”

As Manila Standard Today columnist Jojo Robles pointed out recently, the “variances” noted by the RMA in Manila’s 3rd district seemed to have been “caused by a foreign object that got unintentionally lodged in the scanner of the voting machine during the voting and scanning process.”  The discrepancies in Manila amounted to double-digit inaccuracy, according to the PPCRV which led the RMA nationwide, and this is doubtless the basis for Atienza’s confidence.

Demands for a manual recount

He’s demanding a manual recount of 6,653 precincts clustered into 1,441 polling places. This will require two months of work by ten Comelec recount committees, for which his P10 million “protest down-payment” would just be the start of expenses (Comelec rules  that losing candidates demanding a recount should pay P1,500 per precinct. The steep price is obviously aimed at discouraging protests, as these mean more work for it). At the House committee hearings conducted by Locsin, Atienza also submitted an affidavit from a City Hall employee who attested to having witnessed actual  computer-issued electoral returns manipulated in favor of  his rival days before the elections. As though to make the Lim-Atienza contest more exciting, ballot boxes containing the votes of two Manila congressional districts, which were under the safekeeping of the City Treasurer in City Hall, “got mysteriously damaged by water” during a typhoon, as Jojo Robles noted. Lim has denied having anything to do with the destruction of vital protest evidence, but as they say, Only in Da Pilipins.
(On Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, stay tuned for the Pasay recount.)

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