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Taking A Leap Of Faith: Automating The 2010 Elections

September 7, 2009

failed elections montage

How real are the fears of next year’s elections failing?

In the interest of a full understand of this concern, At Midfield and FilipinoNewsNetwork are jointly reposting an article by former Interior and Local Government Secretary Rafael Alunan:.


Staring at a failure of election in 2010

By Rafael M. Alunan III

BAD GOVERNANCE and all its consequences have, for the longest time, impacted on the state of the nation.

The erosion of confidence in the country as evidenced by the country’s repeated poor standing in human development and competitiveness report cards has impeded the nation’s progress. The failure to take corrective action is keeping us trapped in a state of mediocrity and steady decline.

“Garci 2004” spotlighted alleged presidential wrongdoing that shattered whatever trust was left in the institutions we depend on to uphold the Constitution, enforce the law and serve the people. No one has been held accountable because of the culture of entitlement and impunity, and the current administration’s fixation to stay in power beyond its term by any means possible.

It does not surprise, therefore, that credible experts have questioned the integrity of the automated system for the 2010 elections.

Joint study

A joint study conducted by the UP College of Law AES2010 policy study team and Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) research fellows point to 30 plus vulnerabilities!

The more important ones were classified as follows:

4 major legal issues:
•    Undue delegation of legislative power
•    Foreign ownership/control
•    Generally, intolerable technical flaws
•    Violation of statutory power

5 major technical issues:
•    Source code (PCOS and CCS integrity)
•    Program integrity verification
•    Voter’s choice verifiability
•    Protection of transmitted data—digital signature
•    Root user/system administration

6 major management issues:
•    Choice of technology
•    Competence (Comelec and CAC)
•    Procurement/ bidding
•    Geographic Information System (GIS)
•    Internal Rules and Regulations (IRR) and the adjudication process
•    Comelec’s constitutional mandate

It concludes: “There is likelihood that the computerized election in 2010 can lead to computerized cheating or failure of election.” The study prompted Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO) to release a statement on the subject, pertinent portions of which are reproduced below.

“There are legitimate fears about the source code for the Precinct Counting Optical Scanners (PCOS), a tightly-guarded secret known only to the foreign company to which the Comelec awarded the automation contract.

That source code, which is the set of instructions installed in the machine to ensure the security of the count, canvass and electronic transmission of the results, must be released to and reviewed by…quick-count organizations and the political parties soonest, so that doubts about manipulated results can be allayed.

Haphazard manner

The haphazard manner by which the Comelec tested and finally awarded the contract is now becoming apparent, from a strange failure to do adequate time-and-motion studies to an awful ratio of two specially-designed felt tip pens per voting precinct, with little consideration for normal election day lapses and occurrences.

The PCOS machines are susceptible to jamming, not the least reason for which is an official ballot that is long and narrow, with several hundred names printed in small font. Even the printing of these official ballots, with one set of names per municipality, is fraught with security concerns.

The absence of adequate safeguards gives rise to credible fears that the proposed automated counting and canvass (and transmission) would be akin to having thousands of faceless and voiceless Garcis manipulating the critical elections of 2010.

Free, honest choices

We are not averse to the modernization or automation of the canvass of votes, the area where manipulation of results has in the past been done with utmost impunity. But in a larger sense, technology must not, and cannot be allowed to deprive a people of their fundamental right to genuinely free and honest choices.

The fears raised by several sectors in the legal and IT communities mirror a general distrust not only in the Comelec as the guardian of the democratic vote…more so when the process lacks transparency and the implementers lack adequate competence and possess little credibility.”

These serious flaws led FSGO to propose either a postponement of the automated election system in 2010 or automating only the canvassing of election returns. Partial automation will allow the public to monitor manual counting at the precinct level while speeding up the canvassing of votes at succeeding levels where the process is most susceptible to cheating and delays.

Peaceful transition

Declarations that presidential elections will take place next year are difficult to accept hook, line and sinker due to the automated system’s 30+ vulnerabilities and the administration’s history of bad behavior. What is not being said, and should be committed to instead, are credible results and the peaceful transfer of power on June 30, 2010. The uncertainty undercuts recovery efforts and will only prolong everyone’s journey to a sustainable future.

We should be very angry. Our freedom, democracy and the right to quality of life are still being trifled with. Even so, let’s organize and protect the integrity of the process to the extent possible while preparing for extreme conditions. A big fight is looming. We either redeem ourselves or prolong our stay in the tunnel.

(The author is a member of the MAP Board of Governors and President of Lopez Group Foundation Inc. He previously served as Secretary of Tourism and the Interior and Local Government. )

The citizens’ suit asking the Supreme Court to throw out the automated elections system supply contract the COMELEC has signed with the Smartmatic firm with undenied links to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez continues to await resolution.

I believe the imperative of the times is for the Philippines to banish if not minimize fraud in the elections if our society is to achieve socio economic equilibrium.

Sadly reposing trust in both the COMELEC  and in the government of the day is a most difficult but not impossible exercise.

It is a leap of faith that we must take.

Let’s do it

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2009 11:06 pm

    Hi Ding
    I’m back from a short vacation and I see that GARCI really does have most everybody else doing the Dirty Work for him. Well I have just read Mssr. Raffy Alunan holding forth in a droll recycyling of CenPeg and Harry Roque’s basic arguments before the Supreme Court and in various Power points they are peddling all over the place. I must say my bilge is beginning to rise in disdain at these oh-so-knowledgeable overnight I.T. experts who may understand English and know how to present stuff clear of plagiarism, but are clearly ignorant and computer illiterate where it counts. I can tell because where their slip shows in places, the conceptual errors proferred with such professional lip are so disdainfully baduy that it becomes obvious this is nothing but a Parrot Job.

    Truly it is said, a lie repeated ofted enough can be taken by many to be true. Here the Lies are even well-organized for the convenience of the Recyclers and come with Scientific patinae and verbiage fit for Garci’s Suckers. But really, it’s all Y2K-Bug-style fear mongering.

    The basic line of attack is that of the famous “30 vulnerabilities”. Honestly at first I wasn’t sure how to tackle this, until I realized the fundamental error inherent in the who approach. You see, every computer system has vulnerabilities, and what is more, there never has been and never will be any computer system that is metaphysically secure in some nonetheless obscure sense only obliquely defined by CenPeg. But whatever tools or methods some mythical or hypothetical hacker of cheater has to exploit some vulnerability, he has no monopoly on them. Those who who operate and maintain the automated system, as well as is users, have the exact same tools and techniques available to them to defend against such attacks and to meet vulnerabilities with hardened points and direct countermeasures.

    Finally, Mr. Alunan drops this gem:

    “The fears raised by several sectors in the legal and IT communities mirror a general distrust not only in the Comelec as the guardian of the democratic vote…more so when the process lacks transparency and the implementers lack adequate competence and possess little credibility.”

    This last statement succinctly reveals that the writer entirely misses the whole point of automation. With automated elections we dont have to trust Comelec. That’s precisely why we have to do it. To force inexorable reform on Comelec by obsoleting the manual election system, of which Comelec is exactly the living breathing incarnation.

    Until today, I really thought that Raffy Alunan was a smart person. Sorry.

  2. September 7, 2009 11:14 pm

    BTW, “undenied links to Hugo Chavez”???? This sounds like pure innuendo! What exactly are you saying there anyway? Anything? or just stating an irrelevant and immaterial fact that Smartmatic conducted the election that he won (with independent EU observers affirming a job well done).

    • September 8, 2009 5:08 am

      Thank Dean. It may indeed be that the Chavez-Smartmatic ‘angle is considered by some, including yourself as “irrelevant and immaterial!” but what is grating is you also fail to see that unless this “inuenndo” is laid to rest it is, whether you like it or not, at the core of mistrust.

      Still you notice I am saying I for one, am taking a leap of faith.

      You want to kinow why?

      Because apart from believing in AES, I believe in YOU, my esteemed Manong.

      But it is a mistake for you and others to consider destractors such as Alunan as ‘un-Smart’ 😀

      Again, let’s give it a go, indeed, and automate, let’s go with the COMELEC’s outsourcing of the 2010 elections to the foreign firm even if it has a token Filipino capitalization.

      I put faith in the arrangement because still and all Filipinos will be handling the machines and will be part and parcel of any failure.

      I believe they will themselves KEEP FAITH and NOT ALLOW a failure to happen.

  3. byadao permalink
    September 8, 2009 1:55 am

    Very well said, Dean.

  4. September 8, 2009 7:53 am

    Drilling down, one discovers that all this foo-faw-raw boils down to one assetion: that since we cannot trust Comelec now we cannot implement automation now. Yet if we COULD trust Comelec why would we even NEED automation? Dontcha get it?

  5. September 8, 2009 8:03 am

    Even people who can operate PCs and are not afraid of them can have some awfully naive and ignorant ideas that get stuck in their heads. One of them is the myth of the Inside Cheater/Super Hacker. It must come from watching too many Mission Impossible movies and others in the genre that feature Evil Geniuses that ‘can do anything’ with a computer including tie his shoes as well as subjugate the world. Unfortunately many of these folks are now highly paid political consultants, influential columnists, Civil Society stalwarts and uhmm bloggers. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we need some kind of PhD in Computer Science to understand what’s wrong in our heads about this thing.

    Think about it like your own computer. Of course it is not secure by itself. It requires that we act responsibly and learn how to defend our computer against attacks (including those we launch ourselves unwittingly).

    But if we insist that we can only trust our own toes and fingers for counting, then yeah, for sure Garci will name his boat the mvsDumBloggers.

  6. September 8, 2009 1:49 pm

    You parse incorrectly by using the bogey “we can only trust our own toes and fingers for counting.”

    Kaw talaga.

    Anyway, kwentuhan tayo after the 12th or 13th of May 2010. 🙂

    Ikawmusta mo rin ako sa BFF nating si JJ.

  7. pinoyinme permalink
    September 9, 2009 11:03 pm

    a pleasant day sir,

    just an opinion. i agree that we should take the path to modernizing our electoral process. i think the technology might just be the equalizing factor against fraud that has bugged our electoral system for years. i agree that it may not be perfect, but i believe it can lessen the impact of cheating against the results. if modern technologies can improve the time of the counting period, the better. speedy counting is what we need to lessen, if not totally remove, the chances of fraud. but of course, we still need intelligent and honest people to oversee this modern process. i have read that the supreme court has already ruled for poll automation. i hope the Philippines will have its first automated poll by next year.

    -regular reader

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