MANILA, Philippines?A multinational firm doing intelligence work for a host of embassies and some of the world?s top corporations has said signs that the Philippines? first automated balloting on May 10 would fail are getting clearer as the elections draw closer.
In a paper entitled ?Assessing 2010 Elections Automation in the Philippines,? Pacific Strategies and Assessments (PSA) said it had found 14 danger signs that the elections were bound to run into a wall of problems, or worse, completely fail.
The paper, submitted to PSA clients that include top US officials in Manila, said that the Arroyo administration was doing very little to assure people of fair and honest elections and might even benefit from failed elections.
?The automation project has been a sideshow to the ongoing shenanigans of sitting President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who is trying to dominate the Lower House after the 2010 elections,? the PSA paper said.
?There is widespread suspicion that Arroyo will somehow capitalize on automated elections problems or failure to advance her and her family?s interests and perpetuate herself in power,? it said.
?While there are many theories concerning Arroyo and her political gamesmanship, her history of committing electoral fraud and unwillingness to vociferously endorse free, fair and transparent automated elections has been enough to stir up a justifiable collective mistrust.?
Gary Olivar, deputy presidential spokesperson, shrugged off the PSA report, saying ?critics are barking up the wrong tree as well as sending the wrong message.?
He said the opposition had converted the automation issue into a ?whipping stick against a president who?s already leaving office, as well as an excuse to foment street adventurism again in case they lose.?
On the firm?s contention that Ms Arroyo would capitalize on the problems to stay in power, Olivar said: ?Suspicions are cheap, evidence expensive.?
Most important elections
PSA, which has offices in Makati, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok and Milwaukee, regularly prepares for its clients intelligence briefs, including political situations and economic risks in the Philippines and other countries in the Pacific.
?There is no doubt that May 10, 2010 will be the most important Philippine Election Day since independence in 1946,? said PSA.
Asked why PSA considered the coming elections the Philippines? most crucial, PSA director Pete Troilo said that in the next six years, ?the differences between Asia?s winners and losers will become very clear.?
?What side of that fence the Philippines will be on will be determined by the next administration. There?s a lot at stake and the country is trailing,? Troilo said in a text message to the Inquirer.
Risks and vulnerabilities
The PSA paper listed what it said were the ?many risks and vulnerabilities,? of automation under three categories?technology, process and people.
Under technology, the paper said, the danger signs are:
* Plans to secure and house PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machines and hardware components ?remain undetermined.?
* The entire batch of 82,000 PCOS machines and their components, servers, printers, power generators, 180,640 memory cards, 82,200 batteries ?have not been fully tested.?
* ?No rigorous field testing? of PCOS machines has been held, except in a few areas where there had been ?high ballot rejection rates.?
* The source code, the so-called brain of the machines, ?remains highly restricted.? ?No full, independent systems audit report (has been) released to date.?
* The use of two memory cards for each machine is likely to invite ?overproduction of memory cards? and open up ?opportunities for mishandling, theft, vandalism or cheating.?
* Only 70 percent of voting centers have cellular network or broadband signals needed to transmit voting results. ?Contractual arrangements with telecommunications providers have not been disclosed.?
* No independent party has been designated to handle private keys that would unlock PCOS machines prior to transmission of results.
Under process, the PSA paper said, these danger signs were seen:
* The system of transporting and keeping the machines in safe warehouses is hazy. ?Three small and widely unknown logistics companies? were given contracts.
* Ballot printing has been ?drastically delayed.?
* ?Critical contracts, instructions, plans and procedures have not been made public.?
Under people, the paper continued, these danger signs are too obvious to ignore:
* There has been no sufficient training for 230,000 teachers who would be tapped for election duty.
* A shortage of manpower hounds the process. Smartmatic, the firm that won the automation contract, needs 48,000 field technology specialists.
* ?Comelec has failed to make major progress to cleanse the voters? list.?
* Voters have not been sufficiently informed of new clustered precinct assignments.
Mechanism for protests
?There is no official record of any country in the world transitioning completely from a pure manual to full automated elections system in one electoral exercise so problems are inevitable,? said the PSA paper.
The paper added that there had been no effort to clarify how electoral protests, common after elections, would be handled under the automated system.
?In Philippine reality ? losing candidates do not easily accept defeat so one can reasonably expect a large number of electoral protests,? it said. ?These conditions open up opportunities for civil unrest and political instability.?
What makes the situation unpredictable, the paper added, was the absence of any categorical declaration of what Ms Arroyo planned to do when her term expires on June 30.
?Because Arroyo has already been implicated in election fraud, most believe Arroyo would be willing to exploit any perceived malfunction in the automated election to her advantage,? the paper said.
The scariest scenario
?The myriad questions ? and President Arroyo?s failure to intercede and address the many election questions and concerns ... suggest to many that Arroyo wants imperfect, if not failed, elections to ensure her allies are perpetuated in power,? it said.
?The scariest scenario remains that the non-proclamation of a president, vice president and 12 senators to constitute a quorum of 24 will prevent the chain of succession in accordance with the 1987 Constitution,? it added.
?Recent public opinion polls suggest a majority of Filipinos believe another People Power revolt could follow any major elections failure despite widely acknowledged People Power fatigue among the general public,? it said. With a report from TJ Burgonio