A Catholic bishop on Saturday accused the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of repeatedly “stonewalling” when questions are raised about the integrity of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that will be used in the May 2013 automated elections.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo cited in particular the warnings from the election watchdog Automated Election System (AES) Watch that “wholesale cheating” could occur with the use of the PCOS machines.
AES Watch and Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. gave a briefing for the bishops in a plenary session last month but Pabillo said the Comelec chief left them with more questions than answers.
According to the bishop, even with the elections now being completely automated, he has received information that so-called “election operators” were asking for P20 million to “fix” a provincial gubernatorial race and P70 million for a mayoralty race in Metro Manila.
He said he had reiterated to Brillantes and Comelec officials the Church position that the poll body should look into the PCOS machines, which they claimed had many problems.
“[But the Comelec] believes that everything is OK. That is stonewalling. They’re saying, ‘We did no wrong and just take our word for it.’ Instead of taking seriously and looking into these concerns, they’re downplaying it,” said Pabillo, who heads the National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
He said Brillantes had assured the bishops that there would be elections in May and had downplayed the bishops’ questions about the digital signatures, alleged cheating in the 2010 elections and the disagreement between Smartmatic and Dominion.
“We said, ‘Won’t there be a problem if you use pirated software. What will happen with the source code review?’ He did not answer that,” Pabillo said.
“We mentioned the glitches during the last elections. Why is it that no one was held accountable? Why is it that no one was punished?” he added.
He said these issues that were raised by AES Watch showed the bishops that there was a “serious problem” with the automated election system.
The Comelec had designated SLI Global, a US-based company that conducts voting systems certification testing, to review the source code, or the set of computer instructions for the automated voting program.
SLI Global’s certification could not be released, however, after Smartmatic, the supplier of the PCOS machines, had a falling out with its corporate partner, Dominion Voting System, whose approval was needed for the code to be released.
“The bishops saw that there is a serious problem, that wholesale cheating could occur,” Pabillo said.
The bishop suggested that the Comelec revert to a “manual system” of voting and counting votes at the precinct level. But he said the transmission of the results to the canvassing centers should be automated.
Pabillo said the government may be closing out the questions being raised about the integrity of the PCOS machines because “many [politicians] who are with the [ruling] Liberal Party might be affected.”
While admitting that he had no evidence, the bishop said he had received reports that “political operators” were already approaching candidates and offering to help them win their way to public office.