Monday, January 16, 2006

Was 2004 Election Automation Junked Deliberately?

BACKGROUND: Elections in the Philippines are still registered, counted and canvassed MANUALLY, under the supervision of an Independent Constitutional Commission on Elections, the Comelec. To remedy this glaring deficiency in the conduct of democratic elections, the Philippine Congress passed Republic Act 8436 (The Election Modernization Act) in December 1997, mandating that the COMELEC conduct automated elections starting in the May, 1998 elections. History shows that did not happen. Instead an ill-fated attempt to use automation just in the ARMM area in Mindanao only gave automation a bad name when certain people poured cold water on some of the counting machines being tested and PROVED they couldn't stand such treatment. Nevertheless, by December, 2003 Comelec had purchased and was implementing a new multibillion peso Automated Counting and Data Transmission system to partially automate the 2004 vote-counting and canvassing process.

SUDDEN JUNKING OF THE AUTOMATION SYSTEM: In a stunning development, on January 13, 2004, right on the eve of the 2004 election campaign season and just months ahead of the May national elections. CHIEF JUSTICE ARTEMIO PANGANIBAN penned a Supreme Court decision which effectively prevented the use of that automated system. In the Decision Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines, et al. Vs. Commission on Elections, et al, (here at the Supreme Court website) Panganiban declares --
Because of the foregoing violations of law and the glaring grave abuse of discretion committed by Comelec, the Court has no choice but to exercise its solemn “constitutional duty”[3] to void the assailed Resolution and the subject Contract. The illegal, imprudent and hasty actions of the Commission have not only desecrated legal and jurisprudential norms, but have also cast serious doubts upon the poll body’s ability and capacity to conduct automated elections. Truly, the pith and soul of democracy -- credible, orderly, and peaceful elections -- has been put in jeopardy by the illegal and gravely abusive acts of Comelec.
What exactly were these violations and glaring grave abuses that caused the Court, literally on the eve of the 2004 elections to block the use of a system that would surely have thrown a monkey wrench in the operations of one Virgilio O. Garcillano? Panganiban enumerates them:
(1) They failed to achieve the accuracy rating criteria of 99.9995 percent set-up by the Comelec itself;

(2) They were not able to detect previously downloaded results at various canvassing or consolidation levels and to prevent these from being inputted again;

(3) They were unable to print the statutorily required audit trails of the count/canvass at different levels without any loss of data
The 2nd anniversary of this decision to JUNK the Comelec's Automated Counting System, was just a few days ago. Although the legal reasoning for declaring the Comelec Contract NULL AND VOID ab initio was sound, it seems all too DIABOLICAL today in HINDSIGHT, if one is already persuaded that Virgilio Garcillano conducted a massive VOTE-RIGGING operation in the subsequent national elections of 2004, which SUDDENLY had to be conducted MANUALLY.
It bears looking at again in the light of developments related to accusations of massive voterigging.

Even the PLAINTIFFS in the above case, who WON the case, are puzzled why nothing more happened after the Supreme Court issued its ruling. Here is EMAIL from Leah Navaro about the BlackNWhite Movement's public forum next Wednesday on this REALLY HOT ISSUE:

Is Impeachment the Only Way to Remove the Comelec Commissioners?

A Truth Forum on ELECTORAL REFORM sponsored by

The Black & White Movement

Date: Wednesday, 18 January 2006

Time: 1:00 P.M. (Late Lunch)

Venue: Metro Club, Estrella Street, Makati (across Rockwell)

On January 13, 2004, the Supreme Court released its decision nullifying the contract signed by the COMELEC with Mega Pacific eSolutions, Inc., directing the Office of the Solicitor-General to exert all efforts to recover the money and the Ombudsman to "determine the criminal liability, if any, of the public officials (and conspiring private individuals, if any)" involved in the subject contract.

The Supreme Court decision is now two years old, yet nothing much has happened. The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has released Report No. 44 which recommends the resignation of the commissioners. The report further suggests that should the commissioners not resign, they can nonetheless be charged criminally by the Ombudsman.

Time is running out. If we want clean and credible elections and ultimately automate the process, then the COMELEC commissioners must resign. For as long as the present Commissioners remain, there is no hope for credible elections.

The Ombudsman must release their report and must elevate the case to the Sandiganbayan. NOW!

Listen to the original petitioners who brought the case to the Supreme Court and to special guests as they expound on the culpability of the commissioners and the options available to us.

Forum Panel:

¨ Senator Jovito Salonga, Chair, Kilosbayan

¨ Dr. Clarita Carlos, Professor, UP Political Science

¨ Atty. Harry Roque, UP Law Center

¨ The Original Petitioners:Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines; Maricor Akol; Augusto Lagman; Miguel Uy; Manuel Alcuaz; Rex Drilon II; Miguel Hilado; Ley Salcedo; Edu Lopez

RSVP: The Black & White Movement, Tel/Fax: (632) 426-6064, (632) 927-6349, (632) 426-5938

INTRIGUING THEORY: The intriguing possibility exists that the junking of the automated counting system was DELIBERATE, for the simple reason that not even the amazing election-season operator, Virgilio Garcillano, can break public key encryption and the nearly instantaneous transmission of results that would have been possible with an automated counting and data transmission system.

By the way, a column I wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer is quoted at length in the above Supreme Court Decision of Artemio Panganiban in Footnote [54]. --
In the December 15, 2003 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer is an item titled “Digital ‘dagdag-bawas’: a nonpartisan issue” by Dean Jorge Bocobo, from which the following passages appear:

“The Commission on Elections will use automated counting machines to tally paper ballots in the May elections, and a telecommunications network to transmit the results to headquarters, along with CDs of the data. Yet, with only five months to go, the application software packages for that crucial democratic exercise--several hundred thousand lines of obscure and opaque code--has not yet even been delivered in its final form, Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos admitted last week.
FLATTERED, FOOLED AND PUT TO BED: At first I was very flattered to have a simple newspaper essay be quoted in an actual Supreme Court case, and on a technical point about software development at that! Remember, this was in January, 2004, and the elections were still four months, and the Hello Garci controversy more than a year and a half, in the future. So I chalked it all up to a satisfying public opinion campaign to junk a system that MIGHT be used for massive voterigging. How wrong I was! In retrospect, I think SOMEONE used the suit filed by ITF and Namfrel's Gus Lagman, et al, (including smart aleck pundits like me) to KILL the automation system and clear the field for GARCI. Today we scratch our heads because those whom the Court said were guilty of corruption in January 2004, still got to run the elections in May 2004, and will probably run the darn PLEBISCITE for the coming Glorious Constitution. Yes! Impeach the Comelec Commissioners. But I think Democracy's real enemies are higher up the food chain.

YES! By all means impeach the corrupt COMELEC officials for the 2004 Election Automation fiasco. But in hindsight, the junking of the Automated Counting and Data Transmission System was not so much about fighting corruption (for where has it led?). It was about killing automation.



Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

If ever Gloria is on the brink and is sure of being ousted, then FVR will come out and seemingly make it happen.

That is the only time that he will know what to do. He is SEGURISTA to the hilt.

By the way DJB, your writings and research are not only amazing, they inspire. Thanks so much for the fax of Gloria's letter to Davide asking to be sworn-in as president. She deserves whatever is going to happen to her next.

Amadeo said...

I do remember the issue of automation, not only from the on-line papers but also in several email lists where one of the contending neophyte companies was trying to promote its product (was it BotongPinoy?).

And it had sadly reported that some little-known company had won the bidding.

Of course, succeeding events revealed to us how that bid winner would find itself facing legal challenges.

Your narration of more succeeding events would appear to produce a somewhat sinister pattern where many of the players including the highest court may have been complicit, whether wittingly or unwittingly. But all redounding to the detriment of good governance.

Very good investigative reporting.

More power!

Atty-at-Work said...

DJB, thank you for bringing this up at the Forum.