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More join call for poll probe

Vice President Jejomar Binay and reelected Senators Aquilino Pimentel III and Francis Escudero are moving behind a call by poll watchdog groups for an inquiry into alleged discrepancies between random manual counts and computerized tallies in the May 13 elections.

Binay, a member of the triumvirate leading the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should clarify issues raised by citizens’ groups of information technology (IT) experts and academicians over the credibility of the balloting.

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“We’re just hoping and praying that they will take a look, investigate and verify all incidents being complained about. For instance, that 60-30-10, how did that happen? Things like that,” Binay said.

He was referring to the results that Automated Election System (AES) Watch bared last week. Without categorically crying fraud, the group observed that administration candidates consistently got 60 percent of votes, UNA, 30 percent, and independents, 10 percent.

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Binay said his team was putting together reports about irregularities during the polls, including claims of vote-buying and possible involvement of government agencies in “questionable circumstances.”

“We are verifying. If they are true, then we will present (the reports) to the Comelec,” Binay told reporters.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. has reported that there were initial discrepancies in the random manual audit (RMA) in selected precincts and tallies of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the electronic balloting. He stressed he had no report of the extent of the variances. He has also debunked the 60-30-10 theory.

Pimentel, chairman of the Senate committee on electoral reforms, told reporters Thursday he would have wanted to conduct hearings before the end of the 15th Congress but time constraints made it necessary for the inquiry to wait until the next Congress convened in late July.

“I plan to take it up either in the electoral reform committee or in the oversight committee on suffrage. But then again, we have issues with time,” Pimentel told the Inquirer. Asked if the discrepancies are enough to cast doubts on the election results, Pimentel said, “Discrepancy is a very wide, generic term.”

Pimentel, who initially disagreed with the Comelec’s proclamation of six winning senatorial candidates at a time when the poll body had only 72 out of 304 certificates of canvass (COCs), shrugged off the supposed 60-30-10 pattern in favor of the administration’s senatorial candidates. He said it was “the real trend.”

Source code review critical

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In an interview on Tuesday with Inquirer editors and reporters, conveners of AES Watch blamed the lack of the source code review as one of the main reasons behind the malfunctioning PCOS machines and transmission failures.

“Programming errors were detected in 2010 but these were not corrected because [PCOS manufacturer] Smartmatic Corp. did not own the source code. In 2010, bugs in the consolidated canvassing system resulted in incomplete and conflicting data in the precinct election returns,” said Pablo Manalastas.

Manalastas, an IT consultant of the think tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), said the decision of the Comelec to remove security features such as digital signatures and the ultraviolet ballot detector also exposed the PCOS technology to tampering.

Former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman, CenPEG’s policy director Bobby Tuazon and executive director Evita Jimenez, as well as Nelson Celis, another IT expert who used to work in the banking automated teller network, echoed Manalastas’ criticism.

Lagman said the voting technology had been “laid naked” by the removal of the safeguards and “operators” could easily conduct electronic cheating.

“At the national level, you can tamper with the program for the PCOS machines or insert programs in the backup CF (compact flash, or memory) cards so that they will contain pre-loaded results. In the local level, there can be  ‘individual entrepreneurs’ to conduct vote-padding and shaving in the precinct results by using backup PCOS machines or by transmitting fake results,” he said.

ATM features absent

Lagman clarified that such methods of electronic cheating were only “possibilities” and could be verified once the Comelec released the full data of the automated elections.

Celis said the Comelec and Smartmatic should be held accountable for the breaches in security, transparency and integrity in the voting technology.

“Our voting technology should be trusted by the people like the way they trust an ATM. In an ATM, at least you can see how much money you have and you’re given a receipt. PCOS machines do not have these features,” he said.

The party-list group Kaakbay, chaired by former National Treasurer and Social Watch Philippines lead convenor Leonor Magtolis-Briones, called on the topnotchers in the Senate race—Grace Poe, Loren Legarda and Alan Peter Cayetano—to “spearhead the investigation of the flaws of the last election and make sure the coming presidential election will be a credible and genuinely successful one.”

Briones urged the three senators to move for the convening of the joint congressional oversight committee on the AES.

“The system audit should start now in preparation for the 2016 presidential election. Doing it the usual away or three years later will be repeating the same flaws we encountered in automated elections in 2010 and in 2013,” Briones said.

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TAGS: Aquilino Pimentel III, Elections, Francis Escudero, Jejomar Binay, PCOS machines, poll probe
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