by Nicanor Perlas
I wanted to tell the story of the Antipolo PCOS machines more than three weeks ago. At the time, and until today, the media have continued to post one-sided stories regarding my involvement in the controversy surrounding these PCOS, the machines that were at the heart of the first national automated elections in the Philippines. This one-sided and clearly biased and manipulated media reporting had, in some instances, also resulted in the loss of support from a few supporters who voted for me.
So I wanted to give a complete picture to surface a fuller truth regarding the Antipolo PCOS machines, to neutralize the media spin on this issue, and to enable supporters and the general public to make an informed judgment regarding the highly controversial events that surrounded the drama around the 60 PCOS machines in Antipolo City.
However, preparation for and participation in events connected with the investigations at the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms as well as the Senate and House Joint Committee acting as National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) for President and Vice President, ate up most of my time. But now the Joint Congress Committee has authorized a Technical Working Group (TWG) to conduct a forensics of the 60 PCOS machines in Antipolo. The Antipolo PCOS machines are now back in public consciousness. It is therefore time to reveal the untold story surrounding the PCOS machines in Antipolo.
The PCOS machines, short for Precinct Count Optical Scanners, were at the heart of the recent automated national elections in May 2010. A few days after the May 10, 2010 elections, tri-media reported that 60 PCOS machines were found in the house of a Smartmatic technician in Antipolo City. Smartmatic was Comelec’s (Commission on Eections) contractor for the automated elections.
The news immediately raised alarm bells in a social climate where presidential candidates, including myself, were asking whether the recent national elections were clean and honest. What were the 60 PCOS machines doing in a private house instead of a polling place or another authorized location? Where they used for fraud?
Unknown to most of the public, on 23 April 2010, Comelec passed Resolution 8823 directing Smartmatic to store the PCOS machines in the central warehouse of Smartmatic in Cabuyao, Laguna, after elections.
So clearly, here, was a violation by Smartmatic of the Comelec resolution. The Smartmatic technician was illegally in possession of the PCOS machines. The suspicions of the residents of Antipolo were right. The PCOS machines were not supposed to be stored in the house of the technician. It was illegally being held hostage in a private house.
At this time, the residents of Antipolo were not aware of this legal violation by Smartmatic. They were just very suspicious about the PCOS machines being housed in a private house. Therefore, they immediately mobilized their neighbors and friends to surround the private house to prevent the PCOS machines from being taken away. They also contacted Congressman Lito Gatlabayan, who ran for mayor of Antipolo City in the recent elections, to come to their assistance.
The number of concerned residents swelled. Smartmatic knew it could not take out the machines. Both sides called the police to ensure peace and order.
On May 14, 2010, Smartmatic Area Manager Vicente Carlos M. Serrano and Atty. Andrei Zapanta, Counsel for NPC-NP and representing Congressman Lito Gatlabayan and the concerned citizens of Antipolo, signed a memorandum of agreement. The MOA was witnessed by Comelec City Election Officer Atty. Arnulfo Pioquinto, Rizal Province Police Chief, PSSUPT Jonathan Ferdinand Miano, and Philippine Army Lieutenant Arnel Marcos. In that agreement, they agreed to transfer the 60 PCOS machines to the Ynares Center Building, the seat of the Provincial Government of Rizal. All parties agreed that the Ynares Center was a neutral site for the safe-keeping of the PCOS machines.
In the MOA, all parties also agreed that, at the soonest possible time, given the tension surrounding the machines, IT personnel from Smartmatic, Comelec, and Congressman Gatlayan would jointly inspect the machine and examine its contents, especially the data inside the secondary flash card. By that time, a crowd of almost 5000 residents had camped outside the Ynares Center Building. They were guarding the PCOS machines, 24 hours a day.
On May 15, 2010, responding to an urgent request from Congressman Gatlabayan and his leaders, presidential candidates Jamby Madrigal, JC de los Reyes, and myself hurriedly went to Antipolo City. Congressman Gatlabayan was concerned that Smartmatic would bring in the police to disperse the crowd and snatch back the PCOS machines. Because of this possibility, and believing that the PCOS machines contained evidence of fraud committed against him and other local and national candidates, he also wanted to examine the contents of the Compact Flash Cards (CFC) that were inside the PCOS machines.
When we arrived, a crowd of around 2000 people warmly greeted us. All four of us (the three presidential candidates and Congressman Gatlabayan) briefly spoke before the crowd and congratulated them for their bravery and what they had done. We emphasized that they were doing a tremendous service to the nation for protecting the integrity of the PCOS machines.
We then proceeded to the office of Congressman Lito Gatlabayan. His office was also inside the Ynares Center Building. There we discussed, then debated what to do with the PCOS machines. A much smaller crowd of around 15 local leaders and lawyers listened to our discussion/debate.
Because of the urgency and the uncertainty of the situation, most wanted ALL the machines to be opened on that day. However, I and the lawyer of another candidate, resisted the attempt to open all the PCOS machines on that day. I argued that the MOA clearly said that Smartmatic and Comelec had to be there to witness the opening and testing of the PCOS machines. And one lawyer, whose name escapes me for now, argued the importance of due process. He was insisting, with my support, that we had to inform Smartmatic and Comelec regarding our intent to do an examination of the PCOS machines.
Finally, everyone agreed to do the audit of the PCOS machines on Monday. We also agreed to inform Comelec and Smartmatic about our intention to open the machines on Monday, 17 May 2010, a decision that was duly implemented by the lawyers of Congressman Gatlabayan.
The following Monday, before going back to Antipolo, Jamby, JC, and I filed a petition at the Supreme Court seeking a Temporary Restraining Order against Comelec. The latter announced that it was going to destroy Compact Flash Cards that operated the PCOS machines as well as delete related data in their laptops. We all thought that this was a very irresponsible act by Comelec as this could taken as tampering with election results.
After the Supreme Court, we headed straight for Ynares Center in Antipolo City. When we arrived, we noted high emotional tension in the area.
Congressman Gatlabayan informed us that his lawyers had informed Comelec and Smartmatic of our intention to investigate the PCOS machines for fraudulent use, if any. However, Comelec washed its hands on our joint investigation of the PCOS machines. Their officer, Atty. Pioquino, said that the PCOS machines were the property of Smartmatic. Therefore, we can do the investigation provided Smartmatic agreed.
In addition, Smartmatic did a very dishonorable act. Its lawyer penned a handwritten note saying that they would not honor the MOA between them and Congressmen Gatlabayan. Instead Smartmatic’s lawyer asked the Governor not to give the key to the security room containing the 60 PCOS machines. And not contented with this obstruction, Smartmatic also then asked head of the provincial police to take possession of the 60 PCOS machines.
Since we had an authentic and duly executed MOA in our hands, we all agreed and decided as follows. First, we concluded that Smartmatic and Comelec had relinquished their legal right to be present in the IT investigations of the PCOS machines. Second, Smartmatic had no right to prevent us from entering the room containing the PCOS machines. Therefore, we were going to open the door to the PCOS machine and we were going to do this forcibly, if necessary. And, third, we, together with several thousand other Antipolo residents, would prevent the police from snatching the PCOS machines away from the Ynares Center.
We then implemented our decisions. But, first, we, through Congressman Gatlabayan, made several attempts to convince the Governor to release the keys to PCOS room. These attempts failed. Meanwhile, the police informed Congressman Gatlabayan that they were moving forward to secure the PCOS machines.
It was clear from these two developments that we all had to move swiftly to access the PCOS machines. Thereafter, the followers of Congressman Gatlabayan forcibly opened the door of the room containing the PCOS machines. They broke the lock (which they replaced later on) and entered the room. Simultaneously the large crowd cordoned off the PCOS area to prevent the police from entering the room and forcibly taking the PCOS machines.
When we entered the room, most of the leaders, probably due to the emotional demands of the crowd outside, wanted to open all PCOS machines. I strongly argued that we should open only one PCOS machine as we wanted to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the rest of the machines. Besides it would be easier to closely examine one machine rather than 60 machines all at once.
I also argued that we should have the media take footages of our investigation. I wanted the public to know how we were conducting the investigations. I also wanted to prevent wild rumors and gossips that could emerge alleging that we were damaged the PCOS machines. The group agreed.
That media would later on spin the story irresponsibly is their own fiction, not what really happened. They never gave our explanation a chance to be fully aired to the public.
So we opened one PCOS box. We found a back-up flash card and tried to read its content. We failed in this effort due to software incompatibilities. Meanwhile, we opened the metal casing protecting the hardware of PCOS machine to find out what was inside. As I was overseeing the process, I explicitly instructed the person opening the machine not to tamper with the hardware of the PCOS machine. And he followed my instruction.
After several hours, the technician managed to start the PCOS machine. When it started, it printed out a date: 11 May 2010, 1139am. This was our first evidence that the machines had been used after the elections! Under Comelec General Instructions, election officers were supposed to shut down the machine after use on the day of the elections, that is, on 10 May 2010.
I went outside to report to the crowd our first preliminary result. They heartily cheered this report. Later, we found out that other PCOS machines in other parts of the country had been used at different times, times that were not connected with the official milestones authorized for the PCOS machines.
As we were doing our investigation, we received word that the police force was increasing in numbers. It was clear that they were up to something. Tensions increased again. I therefore decided to personally lead a small group to negotiate directly with the provincial police chief, PSSUPT Miano.
From the negotiations, it was clear that the police had been given orders “from above” to secure the PCOS machines. The provincial police superintendent also informed us that they now had over 500 policemen securing the area. He also informed us that they had sealed off the area to prevent the thousands of other residents outside the perimeter fence from joining their 2000 PCOS watchers inside the compound. Both these developments alarmed and agitated the 2000 or so PCOS watchers inside the compound. They braced themselves for a physical encounter with the police.
The negotiations continued for more than 6 hours. During these negotiations, the police negotiating team consisted of PNP head for the province, his deputy, and their regional deputy head. The negotiations were generally respectful and cordial. It was clear that there had been probably some miscommunications between the police, Smartmatic, the Governor, and Congressman Gatlabayan.
However, there was a time that the negotiations could have ended abruptly. In the midst of the police was a lawyer from Smartmatic. This lawyer kept on putting stumbling blocks on the negotiations, making all kinds of wild claims. It seemed that all he could say was “No” to all kinds of suggestions.
The point was reached when I had to pointedly ask the provincial head of the police: “Whom would you follow – the governor or Smartmatic?”
The governor, who has authority over the police in his province, was sending exploratory signals that he would allow the residents to continue having jurisdiction over the PCOS machines, especially since Smartmatic, in the MOA referred to, agreed to having the PCOS machines in the Ynares Center. So I wanted to know directly from the police chief if the power of the governor was enough authority for him to leave the PCOS watchers in peace.
Not surprisingly, the police chief answered “Smartmatic!”. I was not surprised because the provincial police chief had shown his partiality for Smartmatic early on during the negotiations. Also, the provincial police chief reminded me that he had yielded to everything I had requested, including allowing the food of the 2000 PCOS watchers to be brought in beyond their barricade.
With his answer, it became clear to me that we had reached the point of stalemate. The negotiations would only move forward if we had documented evidence, from a higher or the highest authority of the land, that we had the right to safeguard the PCOS machines.
I went back and forth from the PCOS room to that adjoining place in the Ynares Center where the police were gathered, to consult with my colleagues regarding our stand and report to them on the progress of the negotiations. In the process, I saw that the hundreds of policemen and policewomen were aligned in battle formation and were in full anti-riot gear. I saw also that heavily armed personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines had joined the police. Clearly the police and the military were preparing a joint operation to forcibly snatch the PCOS machines away from the area and hand it over to Smartmatic.
After my report of developments to our leadership group, Senator Jamby Madrigal contacted Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. Senator Madrigal convinced Senator Enrile to have the Senate of the Philippines take custody of the PCOS machines. Upon this agreement, Enrile immediately called an unnamed Commissioner of the Comelec. Because of the potential for a violent confrontation, Enrile requested the Commissioner to convene an en banc meeting of the Comelec the following day and pass a Comelec resolution authorizing the transfer of the PCOS machines to the Senate.
While Senators Madrigal and Enrile were having their conversation, I thought of a solution that would be acceptable to both sides. By then, I had successfully convinced the negotiating team of the police to go inside the holding room of the PCOS machines and be there together with the leaders of the PCOS watchers. In this way, we could speed up the negotiation process. I assured the policemen their safety and that no untoward event would happen. People were tired on both sides and all parties wanted a peaceful resolution of the matter.
I convinced my colleagues to allow the police to move closer to the holding area of the PCOS machines. They initially objected because the followers of Congressman Gatlabayan did not trust the police. But then we said we can limit the number of the policemen not to exceed more than 10. I explained to my colleagues that the police had to be able to report to their superiors that they had secured an area where they can monitor whether or not the PCOS machines were going to be taken away or vandalized. In the end, my colleagues agreed to this arrangement.
As for the police, I convinced them to remain in their proposed specific area and to promise not to attack the PCOS watchers to avoid bloodshed. I also informed them of the agreement between the Senate President and a Comelec Commissioner. I assured them that this agreement would be backed up with the proper Comelec Resolution the following day.
Therefore, at around 2AM, Congressman Gatlabayan and I explained to the PCOS watchers our agreement with the police. They cheered their approval. Shortly thereafter, I facilitated the entry of a small police force near the holding room of the PCOS machines. In the end, the police sent a force of only 7 men and they properly situated themselves in the agreed area.
However, some local members of the leadership group continued to have fears about the trustworthiness of the police. And they were justified in their concern. Just shortly before the elections, unidentified men tried to assassinate Congressman Gatlabayan, wounding one bodyguard. Gatlabayan and his men chased the would-be assassins. The chase ended in a police office where the presiding officer, armed with an armalite, told Gatlabayan and his men to back off.
Thus, I went outside to the media and requested the GMA7 TV crew, the only TV crew left, to continue monitoring the area. In this way, the police will not be tempted to break the agreement. I also advised Gatlabayan to ensure that his followers put physical barriers in front of the door to the PCOS room and surround it with men. This would then pre-empt any surprise move by the police. He assured me that his men had already planned to do this.
After we made all these arrangements, the non-Antipolo residents, including myself, went home, knowing the PCOS machines would not be taken away. But we all knew that our task was not yet finished. After all, Comelec might still refuse to issue the required resolution.
After less than 4 hours of sleep, I then had to rush to attend a press conference organized by the CBCP in Intrmuros. Jamby, JC, and myself were invited to give some Bishops and the media an update of our investigations on fraud.
The press conference was significant as this press conference on May 18, 2010 became the venue for the first public DVD appearance of a masked man claiming massive fraud in the 2010 elections. Later on, Congressman Teddy Locsin would insult this whistleblower as “koala bear” due to the appearance of his mask. What “koala bear” and others like him had to say, however, will be the subject of another article.
After this CBCP press conference, Jamby, JC and I went to Comelec and directly to the office of Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal. Senate President Enrile had advised Senator Madrigal to seek out this particular Commissioner. An agitated and very unfriendly Larrazabal came out and said that the Comelec had just passed an en banc resolution transferring custody of the Antipolo PCOS machines to the Senate. He informed us that the said resolution would be ready in a few minutes at the Comelec Secretary.
We thus obtained Comelec En Banc Resolution No. 8926, dated 18 May 2010, directing all parties concerned to have the Antipolo PCOS machines moved to the Senate for custody. Armed with this resolution, we hurriedly drove from Intramuros to Antipolo City. We were in a hurry because we were receiving text messages and calls that the policemen, contrary to our agreement, were starting to surround the whole building and were planning to disperse the PCOS watchers and take possession of the PCOS machines. I personally advised Congressman Gatlabayan via cell phone to ask the police to hold off and wait for us as we already had the Comelec Resolution.
When Jamby, JC, and I arrived, we were greeted with wild cheers. We waved the copy of the Comelec resolution amidst the thunderous applause of the thousands who have gathered to protect the PCOS machines.
One by one, starting with Congressman Getlabayan, we all thanked the Antipolo people for their bravery and courage for staking their life in defense of the PCOS machines. In addition, I personally thanked the police force and its provincial chief for allowing a peaceful resolution of the standoff. We all realized how close we all were to a violent incident. And we were all glad that we avoided it. The crowd responded by giving the policemen an applause.
We then went into one last final negotiation with the police regarding the manner of accounting for and transport of the PCOS machines to the Senate. As directed by the Comelec Resolution, the local Comelec officer had to take a full inventory of the 60 PCOS machines. After this inventory, the provincial police chief was to deploy more than 50 police escorts to accompany the PCOS machines to the Senate.
The inventory process took more than 5 hours. We had to go thru all the 60 boxes containing the PCOS machines and take a full inventory of what was written outside the box, note whether the box was sealed or open, and then inventory the full contents of the PCOS boxes that were opened. We did not open the sealed PCOS boxes.
I personally directed this operation together with the Comelec. I wanted to make sure that the process was orderly and that the inventory was accurate. I personally stood behind the Comelec personnel writing the inventory to make sure that she was recording all the details properly.
Eventually, at around 10pm, we finished the inventory and started loading the PCOS machines in an authorized van hired by Comelec. I personally sat beside the driver to ensure that there were no questionable last minute maneuvers that would compromise the integrity of the PCOS machines. Twenty or so policemen in motorcycles, plus three police vehicles, containing high-level police officers were ahead of us. Behind us were the three escort vehicles of Senator Jamby Madrigal. Jamby was seated in the car immediately behind the van. And behind Jamby were the vehicles of JC de los Reyes and Congressman Lito Gatlabyan and his supporters. It was a long convoy involving more than 300 people.
Eventually we reached the Senate building. Senator Enrile and his people were waiting for us. One by one Senate personnel unloaded the PCOS boxes and machines and stored them in a special room in the second floor of the Senate building. The personnel of the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms took a careful inventory of the machines. They also received the original copy of the inventory that Comelec and I did in Antipolo of the 60 PCOS machines. We finished at around 1AM the following morning.
The journey with the 60 PCOS machines from Antipolo had been long and arduous. It was also filled with a lot of tension and a real potential for a violent clash between the police and the people seeking the truth regarding these 60 PCOS machines.
Why had Smartmatic and the Comelec, and their police apparatus, put up such a stiff, almost violent, opposition to the rightful investigation of these PCOS machines that Smartmatic had illegally stored in a private house in Antipolo? Were they hiding something inside these machines?
The Senate President promised to have a full-blown forensic investigation of these machines before the Joint Congress would canvass the votes for President and Vice-President. But Senator Enrile never delivered on his promise. Instead he rushed the canvass by a Joint Committee of Congress (not Joint Congress itself) and allowed only a truncated investigation to take place on June 4, 5, 7, and 8, the last days of the canvassing. These investigations were terminated yesterday and had no value as far as the canvassing and proclamation of the top elective positions in the country were concerned.
In a follow up article, I will report on some of the disturbing preliminary findings we have discovered in our official investigation of the contents of the PCOS boxes, the content of the compact flash cards of the machines, and the peripheral accessories inside these boxes. We cannot allow illegal maneuverings to hoodwink the Filipino people that they just conducted a successful and honest national election. We would then be abandoning and betraying our duty as active and concerned citizens of the Republic of the Philippines.
Perlas, Nicanor. PCOS Machines in Antipolo – The Untold Story Part I. 10 June 2010. http://www.nicanor-perlas.com/News/pcos-machines-in-antipolo-the-untold-story-part-i.html