BY ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic-TIM have been bragging that the May 10 was a success and was peaceful and orderly.
But for the Computer Professionals Union (CPU) it was frustrating.
“And the way the elections here in the Philippines was handled by the Smartmatic and the Comelec was just so-and-so,” said Brian Tanse, an information technology (IT) expert who built the website of electionexchange.ph that monitored and visualized Philippine election results. Tanse said the first automated elections in the county did not meet international standards.
The IT experts praised the citizens’ participation in the recent elections. CPU, with the help of different organizations, was able to mobilize citizens to monitor and report election irregularities and poll violations from the ground. It was also able to ensure that the people’s sovereign right to vote was not violated and exercised.
Vote Report Philippines or VoteReportPH for one is one of the many organizations that mobilized citizens to report election irregularities nationwide. VoteReportPH is a grassroots-based electoral campaign that aimed to inform, organize and mobilize the Filipino people to “push for meaningful reforms in the 2010 automated polls with the aid of new media technology.”
VoteReportPH also educated the citizens on the nature of Philippine elections in the context of electronic voting and how to monitor and document occurrences of electoral fraud and other problems related to the automated election system. The monitoring system used by network of VoteReportPH volunteers in reporting incidents were through SMS, e-mail and web posts to an Ushahidi -based website which then maps the events as they are reported.
VoteReportPH initiated the National Citizens’ Electoral Monitoring Conference held in April 2010 to share experiences, campaigns and technologies related to monitoring the first ever automated election system in the country. In this conference, different groups “pledge to share data and reports documented by their respective efforts,” said Leon Dulce of CPU.
#Juanvote, a netizen report network was also established to monitor the elections. According to Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, project editor of Blog Watch and features editor of Philippine Online Chronicles, “the country’s internet users have come together to form a network to keep a close watch on the May 10 elections.” It encouraged citizens to report election incidents from the ground through texting and e-mail. They said that #Juanvote was first social media coverage mounted by citizens and has the broadest election coverage because of the reports from different regions.
Workers Electoral Watch (We-Watch) is also an election monitoring effort by the labor sector. We-Watch has three components: voters’ education, an SMS-based monitoring electoral fraud and poll watching and policy recommendations on the use of automated election system from the worker’s perspective.
To ensure that the reports gathered are valid and verified, VoteReportPH worked with various organizations like Kontra Daya, #Juanvote network, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Workers Electoral Watch and other people’s organizations by using crowdsourcing for verified and credible reports.
These monitoring reports were crowd sourced in one website, the www.aeswatch.org. All reports coming from the regions were being fed to the website in real time. Different forms of reports, be it SMS, tweet, e-mail, blog, news reports from dominant media are posted on this website. Citizens were able to report straight to the website. Through these efforts, these organizations were able to have extensive documentation of incidents that happened during the first ever automated election system.
Through citizen participation and IT’s initiative to take part on monitoring the automated election system in the country, they have recorded total of highly credible 654 cases of election violations and problems.
#Juanvote and its members were the first online citizen journalists to have been given media accreditation by the Comelec. According to CPU, “the Comelec’s acknowledgement of online citizen journalism as a credible media institution is a clear example of technology empowering the grassroots.”
CPU also said that citizen reporting and election monitoring helped provide both a qualitative and quantitative perspective in analyzing the elections. They also recognized that through their volunteers, the technology successfully worked. They said that technology is just a component and without the volunteers it could not have been successful.
The success of citizen reporting was also attributed by the CPU to the appropriate technology applied in monitoring and reporting incidents. SMS was well used by volunteers because majority of them have easy access through mobile phones.
Based on their monitoring, the top five problems that occurred during the elections were: malfunctioned machines, delay in voting, the machines failed to boot, missing election equipment and disenfranchisement. According to them, these reports can be used to push for reforms in the election system as well as evidence in taking legal actions against the Comelec and Smartmatic.
Like the other people’s organizations, CPU and other IT experts agreed that the Comelec and Smartmatic should be held accountable.
There is a big gap between the law and the way the automated election system was implemented, a study by the De La Salle University’s College of Computer Studies revealed. The study further said that the Comelec disregarded transparency and participation which are essential elements of a credible election.
“The whole election process was outsourced by the government, was the P11 billion ($ 237,375,917) investment worth it?” asked Prof. Allan Bora of DLSU College of Computer Studies.
Bora said the investment is not worth it when there is no way to check if there is massive cheating that happened during the elections. Other equipment such as UV lamps and secrecy folders were not also used during the elections. “The automated election system was a cash cow,” Bora said.
Dr. Giovanni Tapang of Agham and Center for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) said the citizens should not let Smartmatic go without holding them into account. He said the whole thing (automated election system) did not work as originally planned, which caused the disenfranchisement of voters. He said in this automated election system, there was no way of checking if massive cheating happened or not.
This is why the IT experts are frustrated on the turn out of the election process. According to Dante Marmol, Filipino IT experts are distinguished worldwide and they themselves can read the source code review which the Comelec also outsourced to US-based computer firm SysTest Labs. And these IT experts can take part also in the election process but the Comelec still chose to outsource the election system. This according to them is definitely a violation of sovereignty.
Tapang said the Comelec has to answer for a lot of violations. “The voters have to do a political act by filing an impeachment case against them [Comelec officials].”
CPU said that together with people’s organizations, lawyers and party-list groups they will also continue to be vigilant to have a credible, accurate, and truthful elections. “This should also serve as a challenge to president-elect Aquino to systematize the conduct of elections,” said Rick Bahague of CPU. (Bulatlat.com)