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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Andres Bautista and the COMELEC

By Carmen Pedrosa

From my email:

It is from Rene Azurin, one of the intrepid crusaders who fought hard for honest elections by real voters. It was a losing battle because those on top and in power had decided elections by machines - Smartmatic. I am glad it will not be forgotten because of crusaders like Rene.

This is a small excerpt from an article he wrote ("Elections as an instrument of political control") for a UNDP/CHR-published book (compiled and edited by Felipe Miranda and Temario Rivera) - "Chasing the Wind: Assessing Philippine Democracy (2016)" - which refers to Andy Bautista. I am reprinting the excerpt and will include it in my wee-end column in the Philippine STAR.

Rene adds, I hope you find it useful. Like many others, I was disappointed with Andy. Both Andy and Rene were my colleagues in the 2005 constitutional Commission organized during GMA's government. There are still many untold stories about the 2010 and 2013 elections which partnered Comelec with Smartmatic to destroy democratic elections in the Philippines This is the big story. It will be ultimately be told.

Rene Azurin writes:

"When former Far Eastern University college of law dean Andres Bautista was appointed in May 2015 by President Aquino as the term-ended Brillantes’s replacement as Comelec chairman, many somewhat naïve observers hoped that the former academic might disentangle Comelec’s distinctly unholy alliance with its foreign supplier Smartmatic and restore some measure of openness and integrity into our defective and untransparent automated election system. That hope was initially nurtured when Bautista made the right noises, pledged “cleaner elections”, and launched a charm initiative to try and offset Brillantes’s arrogant and offensive manner.

"More astute observers, however, immediately understood that the appointment as Comelec chairman did not come without strings and that Bautista's active pursuit of the position – having earlier failed to get his desired appointment to a seat on the Supreme Court – effectively meant that he had accepted those strings. Essentially, those strings meant that he would follow the directives of the ruling political cabal and that Smartmatic control of Philippine elections would remain firmly in place. As events that soon unfolded showed, that understanding would, sadly, get to be validated.

"After barely two months of pretending to listen to the suggestions of IT experts and critical observers of the 2010 and 2013 automated elections, and after pretending to consider two better – more secure and more transparent – systems that had been developed by local software engineers, Bautista was singing an old familiar tune. Using as justification that tired excuse, “time is of the essence”, he announced a decision to hand over to Smartmatic a contract to supply – via lease – 93,977 new PCOS voting and counting machines for the 2016 elections. With a straight face, Bautista claimed that this decision was “the most prudent approach” considering the factors of “costs, timeliness, and technical risks” and would best ensure that the May 2016 automated elections would be a “credible” one. The amount of the new contract would be P8.4-billion. (The original PCOS machines were leased from Smartmatic in 2009 for P7.2-billion and then foolishly purchased – through an option to purchase clause – in 2012 for P2.1-billion, whereupon the machines were warehoused at a cost of P9.6-million a year.)

"The Bautista decision was the denouement of a tiresome cliché-riddled zarzuela [a musical play, often comical] – beginning soon after the 2013 elections – wherein the Comelec Bids and Awards Committee disqualified Smartmatic twice and reinstated it twice, after disqualifying all other bidders.

"In making this reportedly unanimous decision, Bautista and his complicit fellow commissioners were pre-empting any Supreme Court ruling on cases pending before it regarding Smartmatic. Several had been filed by various parties essentially seeking the nullification of contracts with Smartmatic and blacklisting it for failing to meet even minimum system specifications and for assorted other transgressions of law (including the fact that Smartmatic had been revealed to be 100% foreign-owned and not a 60-40 joint venture as claimed). The petitioners included CenPEG, CenPEG chairman Dr. Temario Rivera, AES Watch, AES Watch executive director Evi-ta Jimenez, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, former Comelec commissioner Augusto Lagman, Catholic Bishop Broderick Pabillo and several of his fellow bishops, Mother Superior Mary John Mananzan, TransparentElections.org’s Maricor Akol, Philippine Computer Society president Leo Querubin, past Philippine Computer Society presidents Nelson Celis and Edmundo Casiño, and myself. The legal counsel assisting the petitioners in each one of these cases is the intrepid Manuelito Luna.

"Weighing in, presumably to put pressure on the Supreme Court, Malacañang [the Presidential palace] quickly issued a statement that the Comelec decision to favor Smartmatic with yet another contract “fulfilled its mandate of ensuring orderly and credible elections”. This made clear the level to which the Comelec-Smartmatic conspiracy to control Philippine elections reached: it reached all the way to the top. It was not therefore unexpected that the Supreme Court effectively ignored all such contra-Smartmatic petitions.

"So, despite blatant violations of our election laws in 2010 and 2013 and despite abundantly obvious flaws in the Smartmatic system, the country’s so-called “independent” election body, Comelec, awarded again a supply contract for hardware and software to be used for the 2016 automated elections to the clearly unqualified Smartmatic. It has to be a source of extreme wonderment why the Philippines’ top election officials – by now, three successive sets of them – were so attached to this dubious and shadowy foreign supplier even if its performance has been nothing short of atrocious and it was never qualified – not being the owner of either the hardware nor the software it was providing – to supply the automation technology in the first place.

"As the 2016 elections were finally conducted, Comelec once again refused to enable the use of digital signatures to authenticate and validate electronically transmitted election returns, once again in direct contravention of Republic Act 9369, our Automated Election Law. As previously stressed, this effectively nullifies all the transmitted returns because the law requires that these returns must be digitally signed by the authorized election official assigned to a precinct in order to be deemed “official”.

"In addition to the non-enabling of digital signatures, Comelec introduced a new vulnerability to the many already present in the system by issuing a resolution requiring that the SD memory card that contains the results of the voting in a particular precinct be “imported” into the corresponding city or municipality canvassing computer/server. This meant that the SD cards from the 92,509 precinct voting and counting machines all over the country had to be physically transported to the city or municipality canvassing server corresponding to each precinct and manually fed into the canvassing computer to upload election results. This meant that manually delivered SD cards could be the basis for “official” election results and for proclaiming election winners, and not, as required by law, the election returns (ERs) electronically transmitted from the precincts. What this did was subject the election data and results on the SD memory cards to the possibility of snatching and switching, reminiscent of the snatching and switching of ballot boxes under the old manual election system. Of course, such snatching and switching is far easier to do with tiny SD cards.

"Furthermore, for the 2016 election exercise, Comelec once again sidestepped R.A. 9369’s requirement for a “source code review” of the Smartmatic automated election system software – by political parties and selected independent experts – by offering for review (under rather restrictive rules) the source code of a software but then announcing, some 30 days before the May 9 election day, that they had to replace that version with another. Complained Edmundo Casiño, a computer science professor and former president of the Philippine Computer Society, “About 30 days before the elections, the Comelec said there would be a change in the source code, even though the code should have been certified 90 days earlier…. Why then did we bother with a source code review?”

Indeed, what was the point of reviewing a software program that was not going to be used? Former Comelec IT director Ernie del Rosario also railed against the fact that the version of the software that Comelec actually installed in the precinct voting and counting machines was different from the version that had been earlier presented for review. This shell game was clearly the reason why Comelec issued no protocols or instructions on how the election officials assigned to the individual precincts could check and verify that the “hash code” – a precise identifier that allows one to ascertain that one piece of software is an exact image of another – of the software installed in their precinct machines corresponded exactly with the hash code of the software that had earlier been reviewed.

"To be clear, since the software program earlier reviewed was different from the software program installed in the precinct-deployed machines, there was effectively no source code review – as required by law – and the integrity of the ballot appreciation and counting program in the precinct-deployed machines had to be in doubt. A malicious program could very well have been embedded in the software used and no one would be the wiser.

"Aggravating the absence of digital signatures and the inutility of the source code review, Comelec also refused to allow the precinct returns to be transmitted directly (and immediately) to a public website so that political parties and independent observers could verify if the results printed out by the machines at a precinct were exactly the same results transmitted to both the canvassing servers and the public website from that precinct. In addition to that crucial verification check, this would have allowed any observer to perform his own tally of the votes which could be compared to the Comelec tally. That Comelec would not even permit this simple procedure has to be a clear indication that they already anticipated – or knew – that there would be differences between the poll results that observers would see at the precincts and those that are transmitted to the canvassing servers for tallying." -- Rene Azurin

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