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10:57 PM June 12th, 2013

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By: Peter Wallace, June 12th, 2013 10:57 PM

Was there manipulation of the results of the last elections? I don’t know. I’m no computer expert, as my son will readily attest. I’m writing this, as I always do, with pen and paper.

But I watched a documentary two weeks ago that was greatly disturbing. It showed how you could very simply preprogram the result of a CF (compact flash) card if you had access to it, and do so without it being detected. Only a manual count to compare the results would expose it, which is why I’m in favor of doing a comparison in selected areas where there’s a possibility of erroneous results.

I can’t see why the government parties would cheat. They were destined to win the majority that the President would need to accomplish his agenda. The opposition—it’s not really an opposition—wouldn’t have had the access. So, on a national level I don’t think the pressure to cheat was there. I’ll sadly recognize—because some of those who I think better deserved Senate seats didn’t get them—that the Senate result was the correct result.

But at the local level it could be different. A mayoral candidate would only have to preprogram some 400 to 1,000 CF cards, depending on the size of the city or municipality. Even a governor would only have to pay for around 5,000 to 10,000 changes, or less if just key areas were chosen. Pay? Yes, of course, that would be the motivation. And only two groups could do it—someone in the Commission on Elections or someone in Smartmatic. To avoid law suits I won’t tell you which one I think it is, but the documentary I saw points pretty strongly to one. As far as I can determine, only the Comelec and Smartmatic had access to those cards.

For instance, there were hundreds (or was it thousands?) of technicians hired to do a last-minute rewrite of the CF cards just a week before the 2010 elections. It wouldn’t cost much to have some of them working with election operators to preprogram CF cards. A candidate willing to pay for an assured win could prove irresistible to some. All you’d have to do is put in a base number of, say, +200 votes per CF card for the candidate to be balanced by a -200 applied to his opponent. A huge 400-vote differential per precinct to overcome, with the total still being correct.

There is also another area where cheating could have occurred. The law requires that all clustered precincts transmit election results via wireless, wired, or satellite-based connection, or a combination of those, immediately and directly to the municipal canvasser, the Comelec transparency server, and the databases of accredited poll watchdogs. Or, where there is no adequate telecommunications signal, in some cases hand-carried to municipal or city canvassers—something that could take a few hours (and be manipulated on the way). Then transmitted to the Comelec central server in Manila.

Despite these clear-cut procedures, a member of the Smartmatic staff was reportedly caught by a computer expert affiliated with the United Nationalist Alliance tampering with the election results in the transparency server. The alleged manipulation of data was reported by The Daily Tribune. This, if it occurred, was a clear deviation from the procedures set by the law, and provided an avenue for large-scale manipulation.

There is no question that there were some unfinished results weeks after May 13, Election Day. Party-list winners were proclaimed two to three weeks after the elections, while the final tally for the senatorial race was released just last week. This is a failure that the Comelec needs to explain, and we expect it to. These delays open the door for cheating. The Comelec had confidently said ALL results would be known within two days to one week, but they weren’t. Why? An answer, an acceptable answer, must be given.

This is only the second time we’ve had automated elections, and it’s a gargantuan task—over 18,000 positions to be filled, nearly 37 million voters (based on a turnout of 70 percent) to be accommodated in around 77,000 clustered precincts. I shudder at just the thought of the task. But it was done and, in the main, credibly.

But it’s the “in the main” we have to watch. “In the main” isn’t good enough; it must be the 99.995-percent accuracy that the Comelec demanded. But it wasn’t. Initial reports on the Random Manual audit show much lower accuracy rates.

There may well have been no anomalies, but the fact that there were weaknesses in the system that could have been exploited, as well as the number of questions being raised, means an audit needs to be done to ensure there hasn’t been any cheating, or to catch who did it if there has been cheating. The Comelec must allow independent bodies to do random checks of the results and of suspicious areas. If the Comelec does not readily agree, Congress must force it (the President presumably can’t, as the Comelec is an independent body).

For 2016 the election results must be unquestionably accurate. It’s far too important an election for it to finish under question. I suggest we need a new supplier, a new, less vulnerable system and equipment. Lessons can be learnt from this exercise; they must be.

The Comelec has some explaining to do. Let’s hear it.

* * *

A thought on how to live life: Planes are safer on the ground, but they’re meant to fly.

And this one I was sent is applicable for Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares: Stop hunting in the zoo and go after the wildlife. I’m hearing too many complaints from legitimate taxpayers of new, stricter controls but not enough news of big tax cheats being caught.

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