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.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Senate electoral reforms chair Koko Pimentel advised by IT experts: read your father’s scathing speech denouncing Smartmatic’s defective PCOS machines in 2010, before buying Cesar Flores’ story of reconditioned PCOS; North Cotabato Gov. Manny Piñol will challenge the Automation Election Law’s merits before the SC

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr.
Last week Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, chair of the Senate committee on electoral reforms, held hearings on “new features” claimed by Smartmatic-TIM (SMTT) to have been installed very recently in the defective 2010 PCOS machines. Afterwards Koko was quoted as saying he’s “not really satisfied” with the changes introduced to the PCOS and that he would “scrutinize” them first with the help of IT experts, "to ensure fraud-free elections.”

Earlier SMTT executive for Asia Cesar Flores had claimed that “no one can hack into the PCOS machines” because of the new security features, improved source code and digital signatures installed, that make the system better. To buttress its claim SMTT conducted a trial election with ONE UNIT, using 17 ballots fed into the machine.

Naturally few were impressed, as what the public worries about is not how one machine (pre-selected in this case by Flores) would behave in the trial run at the Senate, but whether all 82,000 of them using easily about 40 million real ballots would function well and tamper-proof in the 2013 elections.   


Sen. Nene Pimentel

For their part IT experts under the Automated Election System Watch---who were unimpressed with the rehabilitation claims and Senate trial run---exhorted Koko to read and be guided by the long scathing denunciation by his father, former Sen. Nene Pimentel, of the automated election system (AES) installed by SMTT in May 2009.   Nene delivered that scathing speech at the close of the Joint Congressional National Canvass Center (JCNCC) on June 9, 2010 where the votes for all candidates for the two top posts in the land were canvassed.  


Nene, at that time a member of the National Board of Canvassers, congratulated Noynoy Aquino and Jejomar Binay on their proclamation as President and Vice-President, respectively. But he also “put on record my regrets that the PCOS machines that we used for the very first automated elections on May 10, 2010 were not completely reliable and were tainted by certain anomalies.” Pimentel stressed that the 2010 AES “left a long trail of deficiencies---mostly directly machine-generated--- THAT WE MUST CURE IF WE ARE EVER TO USE (those) MACHINES IN FUTURE POLITICAL EXERCISES (underscoring BOC’s).”


Pimentel began his long litany of SMTT’s sins with its failure to install the “paper-trail” it had promised to legislators; this was to serve as record of how each vote came out and if duly recorded by the PCOS machines. He complained that the only thing that came out of those machines was “an inane, silly and childish message that said, ‘Congratulations. You have successfully voted.’ “

Pimentel also decried that recorded on and off by the PCOS were the sensors---which were devices that read the contents of the ballots as they were being processed. He noted erroneous dates on some certificates of canvass---“a tell-tale sign that something was grievously wrong with the machines that tallied the votes and transmitted them electronically” to the JCNCC.  Pimentel read those date errors at the closure of polls as indication that “the PCOS machines could have been tampered with or that they simply committed errors that corrupted the…certificates of canvass they had sent to us.”


Pimentel cited “one other egregious error that staggered the imagination and defied any explanation on the reliability of the PCOS machines”---this was contained in the “initialization electronically-sent message from the Comelec to the Senate President dated May 10, 2010. As he explained it, this message to the Senate President was meant “to alert the Senate that the server in its custody could now be activated to do its functions.” But the initialization message made a “most glaring blunder” even at the outset,  in that it recorded the Ph voting population at over 256 million, "or roughly more than five times the true figure of 51 million.”

Nene recalled that SMTT’s Cesar Flores, when queried about this "egregious" blunder, merely blamed the PCOS machines.  But to Nene it was just as serious that Flores did not respond to the more fundamental questions: Why did this blunder happen? Why was it not detected earlier rather than later by an AES supposedly certified to be accurate, fast and reliable?

Edmundo Casiño of the PCS
IT expert Edmundo “Toti” Casiño, recently elected president of the Philippine Computer Society and who was consulted by Pimentel on this glaring “multiplication” error, opined that “Smartmatic...had not shown that its (automated) system had been successfully demonstrated either here or elsewhere.” And yet, after the Melo Commission contracted in 2009 to lease SMTT’s machines, a lot of which turned out to be defective, now comes the Brillantes Commission eagerly buying those same defective machines at a staggering P1.8 billion (fire sale daw!).


In his speech at the congressional canvassing in May 2010 Pimentel rambled on about the failures and inaccuracies of the AES peddled by SMTT. But former Gov.  Manny Piñol of North Cotabato, who sought to re-claim the post where he had served undefeated for three-terms, gives us a close-up of electoral fraud as he and his followers experienced it last May 2010. 

Before the Senate committee chaired by Koko Pimentel last February, Piñol presented his paper  titled “The Computer Will Never Lie,” detailing all the hocus PCOS in his province. Recently Piñol met with media in Manila where he bared his plan to challenge before the Supreme Court the correct interpretation of the AES Law that had adversely affected so many candidates in the past elections---thanks to SMTT.


Gov. Manny Piñol of North Cotabato
Piñol gained national prominence when he successfully challenged before the SC the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of the Arroyo administration in July 2008.  Despite his vast popularity and clear advantage in various surveys, his group that included 14 congressional and provincial candidates of the NPC and the Liberal Party was badly clobbered last May 2010. The 13 who lost miserably included Piñol himself, who was defeated by Rep. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza of Lakas by over 30,000 votes.  

Piñol filed an election protest with the Comelec, and in the last quarter of 2011 its 2nd Division set up a revision committee to look into the first 56 ballot boxes, comprising 20% of the 280 precincts whose results he was contesting. But what was touching, he narrated to media, was how his province-mates in the two farewell rallies he held in Midsayap and Kidapawan after the elections started tossing bills and coins to the stage to help defray the deposit to Comelec of almost P1 million for his protest. They urged Piñol to fight for them and seek justice from the electoral frauds he suffered. In addition to his Comelec protest and SC challenge, he plans to file charges against local officials for election fraud.


As Piñol related, it was in the rally in Midsayap (where townspeople threw P20, 000 on stage to help out in his protest), that his group saw the first physical proof of irregularities--- copies of election returns in thermal papers bore markings of “Citibank Mastercard” instead of the official Comelec seal. Later, ballots surfaced that bore markings of “Republica de Colombia, Eleccion Presidencial-Plan Piloto E-Voting (dated Sabado, 27 de Octubre, 2007).  This meant the CF cards were never reconfigured.  

Interestingly it was the revision committee of the Comelec that discovered so many irregularities---from the continuous feeding of ballots at intervals of seconds, voting as well as counting in many municipalities even beyond the close of precincts and in a number of areas continuing until August! There also appeared a clear pattern of unauthorized usage/tampering of the PCOS machines in 56 priority precincts---by means of password mismatches, paper jams, invalid sequence numbers, shutdown and restart of the machines, etc.

As Piñol concluded, contrary to SMTT’s claims that its system is fool-proof and it has an internal warning device that would stop unauthorized operations, the COS--under the command of the computer technician working on the instructions of the BEI Chair--could still accept ballots fed way beyond voting hours. Also, contrary to the supposed computer safety nets, the Comelec’s Central Computer Server continued to receive data transmissions as late as Aug. 3, 2010, or almost three months after the elections.  

The question is, after all these evidences of massive fraud, what do we do with the contract between Comelec and SMTT to use 82,000 supposedly reconditioned PCOS machines, which was upheld by the Supreme Court last June 15 in a vote of 11-3?

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