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Independent probe of May polls sought

By Leila B. Salaverria, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:59:00 06/30/2010

Filed Under: Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Computing & Information Technology

MANILA, Philippines?With a poll automation champion?s bleak assessment of the system used in the May 10 elections, there could hardly be any closure on the Philippines? experience with counting machines and compact flash cards.

Though winners have been proclaimed and the poll results generally accepted, lawmakers said the automated election system (AES) deserves much deeper scrutiny.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño Tuesday said that an independent committee should handle the investigation.

?It is important for Congress to immediately create an independent commission to investigate the AES and recommend adjustments for the 2013 elections,? Casiño said, reacting to statements by Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin that the last balloting was far from perfect.

Locsin, who had championed the automation of the polls, had said that he was eating his words that the system was essentially fraud-proof. He said that unless the loopholes in the system used were plugged, he wouldn?t recommend its use for the 2013 elections.

Casiño also said Locsin?s belated realization about poll automation was tragic. He pointed out that ?the flaws had been identified and repeatedly brought to Congress? attention much earlier.?

Locsin had questioned why the voting machines, known as the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, could be reset to zero and could be used to rescan ballots, thus providing for the opportunity to change the election results by excluding certain ballots.

Inadequate explanation

Locsin also found inadequate Smartmatic?s explanation on the different time and date stamps appearing in the election returns, and castigated the technology provider of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for failing to foresee the 11th hour problem with the configuration of the compact flash cards, which contained the instructions for the voting machines.

Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada said the AES would not escape scrutiny in the 15th Congress even though it helped produce the victory of President-elect Benigno Aquino III, his party mate in the Liberal Party (LP).

Tañada said that the Liberal Party had not taken a stand yet on whether to push for automated elections in 2013 or to seek a return to manual polls.

But he said the system used in last month?s polls would be studied.

?Mainly, what may be looked into are the things that can be improved,? he said in a phone interview. ?The questions raised by congressmen have to be addressed, like how do we improve the system.?

DSLU study

A study conducted by the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Computer Studies said the service provided by the Comelec?s automation partner Smartmatic-TIM Corp. was not worth the P7 billion paid to it, citing the various technical glitches.

While the 76,300 PCOS machines performed better than expected with only 405 voting machines malfunctioning on Election Day, many aspects of the project were below par and did not erase allegations of fraud, the study said.

?There is a need to address the question ?Was the May 2010 automated elections worth the PhP11 billion or more investment that the Filipino nation spent to preserve the sanctity of its elections???

The DLSU report, released the same week Locsin?s House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms issued its report, said that Smartmatic-TIM ?should be held liable for the numerous glitches.?

Elections a success

Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento Tuesday said that the automated elections was a success despite the post-election criticisms from various groups and Locsin.

No proof of electoral fraud has been presented so far, Sarmiento said, despite the lengthy congressional hearings on the matter. The Comelec, he said, was able to accomplish its mandate to hold computerized balloting in May, as provided by law.

Sarmiento admitted that the glitches and the snafus that marred the elections should be addressed for the next elections. ?The plusses outweighs the minuses,? he said.

Asked if the report of the Makati City representative would affect the payment for Smartmatic-TIM, Sarmiento said: ?I don?t think so.?

?It will be a factor, but it?s just one report. There are other reports,? he noted.

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