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, October 10, 2010

IT experts’ analysis: May 10 automated elections vulnerable to E-fraud

Earlier this week the Galeon Andalucia, an exact replica of the ships that used to ply the fabled, highly lucrative 250-year old Galleon Trade between Mexico and the Philippines steamed into Pier 13 after several months of voyage in the Pacific Ocean. The Andalucia, fashioned by Spanish artisans over months from Norwegian pinewood, is indeed a shining beauty. Filipinos who were welcomed to visit it were able to imagine what life inside those galleons was like for the mariners of yore, who braved rough seas with very little navigational equipment.
The Andalucia’s arrival highlighted the first global commemoration of Dia del Galleon, an international festival sponsored by the Unesco in cooperation with the National Commission on Culture and the Arts under Chair Vilma Labrador, and the International Theater Institute (ITI), under the Philippine chapter’s president, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez. The Dia del Galeon Festival was commemorated with the Philippines as lead organizer, and managed and directed by Cecile, who also served as its director-general. Orchids to her and her team’s efforts for its success.

The beauty of the Andalucia

The Andalucia came and went and as the Festival closes, the beauty of this maritime craft remains in our memory. Its greater significance, however, is that it not only revived interest in the Galleon Trade among  Filipinos who at best only studied its significance in history class. As Cecile put it, it also highlighted many realities for our contemporary times.

For one, it reinforced the Philippines’ maritime skills that as early as two and a half centuries ago made Manila a thriving global port that saw exotic goods, technical skills, artistic talents and entrepreneurship exchanged across the oceans, between Manila and Acapulco and beyond, the entire South American continent as well as Mother Spain. Today RP is the world’s second largest supplier of marine skills and Filipino sailors help man virtually every ship plying the seas.

The Festival also celebrated the Unesco’s aim of cultural rapprochement, so badly needed in an increasingly fragmented world, as well as the wealth of biodiversity of three continents that have enriched many countries’ culture, economy and food supply. For aside from the prized silks and spices, so many agricultural crops from the East found their way into the New World, and vice versa, various food crops well as silver and other precious metals flowed into this part of the world from the West. So early on, the Galleon Trade has made our world truly a global village.
Indeed, Cultural exchanges such as Dia del Galeon can only enrich our badly divided and tortured world.

Distubing news on the EU-CenPEG Project 3030

But while I found the Galleon Festival so enriching, I found the “Synopsis EU-CenPEG Project 3030report on the May 10, automated elections so disturbing. CenPEG stands for Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a UP-based policy research institution composed of leading and respected IT professionals. It has conducted months of exhaustive research (monitoring, observation, documentation, and field case studies) in various parts of the country during the election-preparatory period, the election proper and the post-election period.

Last Oct. 5, CenPEG presented its report at the October Post-Election Summit that was convened in cooperation with the Automated Election System (AES) Watch, a broad spectrum of citizens’ watchdogs and advocates that also did parallel studies and monitoring of the elections. CenPEG said that the full and final report, including the legal study, will be released within weeks from the Oct. 5 summit, but its synopsis report is already disturbing enough that it ought to be taken very seriously by all Filipinos who desire clean and honest elections.

Credibility of the CenPEG synopsis report

What’s significant is that the newly-released CenPEG synopsis report on the May 10 elections is already the sixth of a series of studies conducted by this institution since the August 2008 ARRM automated election. Thus, it has a two-year track record in this subject, so it’s not coming in as cramming NEOPHYTES. Moreover, its members are all volunteers, spending their own time and resources, and driven by professional concerns and above all, love of country and concern for its future. CenPEG’s declared aim is “to deepen the understanding of the automated election system’s 30 IDENTIFIED VULNERABILITIES and to propose CORRESPONDING 30 SAFEGUARDS AND SAFETY MEASURES (emphasis mine) as a mechanism for protecting the integrity of the vote and transparency in the 2010 elections, in accordance with its policy research and advocacy program.”

Correction of glaring deficiencies

Definitely, as CenPeg stressed, serious steps ought to be taken to correct the many glaring major deficiencies in our recently concluded AES; for unless these are corrected, any future electoral exercise would only open itself to a repeat of the electronic cheating that attended the May 2010 elections. It should be noted that within the first three months from the elections, over a hundred protest cases have already been filed with the Comelec from around the country. It should also be stressed that former Makati Rep. TeddyBoy Locsin’s House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms also made a similar warning in its final report about the AES’ vulnerability to electronic frauds, after weeks of hearings last May and June. In fact it's startling to note that Locsin himself did not recommend automation of future elections unless something is done to correct the deficiencies.

I’m glad that the barangay elections this week won’t be employing the AES. The difficult thing, however, is that since its July 2010 en banc decision not to release the source code (the guide to the use of the PCOS machines) and 21 other vital documents that CenPEG has long wanted to look into, the Comelec has stubbornly resisted full disclosure, despite a Supreme Court order to release them. With this attitude of Comelec, the serious defects of automated elections cannot be rectified. Citizen pressure ought to be applied on the SC and on Congress to do something about its obstinacy.

Vital points of CenPEG report

I shall be featuring vital points in the CenPEG report in subsequent columns, but for the moment I just wish to highlight a few important points stressed in it, to begin discussions:

· Mismatched time and date stamps on all PCOS machines;
· Transmission failures;
· Erroneous COCs in at least 57 provinces and cities;
· Ballots and CF cards delivered manually for canvassing;
· Discovery of the console port in all machines, making the PCOS vulnerable to tampering;
· Erroneous entries of total number of voters and votes cast in the national canvassing center and Congress;
· Near anarchy at the clustered precincts;
· Not to forget the pre-election incidence of defective CF cards

All of these glitches are serious and found nationwide, stressed CenPEG, and they “have tainted the integrity, credibility and accuracy of the PCOS machines and the election system.”

(To be continued).

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