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Comelec unsure if it can hold Smartmatic accountable

MANILA, Philippines – Despite mushrooming problems in the election system, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) remained unsure if it can sanction technology provider Smartmatic for these crunch-time errors.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista even requested reporters to help him “find a provision” in the contract between Comelec and Smartmatic, to possibly pin down the Venezuelan company.

“I will have to look at the contract to see if we can find a way to hold them accountable,” Bautista said.

This comes after the Comelec on Wednesday, February 10, admitted more problems in the automated election system less than 3 months before the May 9 elections.

A major problem involves vote-counting machines. In a recent test conducted by the Comelec, the machines rejected 1-2% of ballot papers. 

If the vote-counting machines rejected 2% of the actual ballots on election day, that would mean 1.14 million ballots going to waste.

The Comelec plans to print 57 million ballots for the May 9 elections.

The other issue revolves around the consolidation and canvassing system (CCS). The CCS consolidates election results from voting precincts on election day. 

The Comelec explained that there was a problem in generating the image to make the CCS program “installable.” Still, the poll body said it will take only a few hours to resolve this issue.

In all these, the company in the hot seat is Smartmatic. 

'Part of the normal process'

Smartmatic, a Venezuelan firm, manufactured the vote-counting machines for the Philippines’ first two automated elections, in 2010 and 2013. 

It is also providing the 97,000 vote-counting machines needed for the Philippines' third automated elections on May 9. (READ: Smartmatic: PH's new voting machines '7 times faster')

At the same time, Smartmatic is the subject of appeals for blacklisting. A group of election watchdogs, which includes former poll commissioner Augusto “Gus” Lagman, wants the Comelec to get rid of Smartmatic supposedly because its machines can be easily rigged.

The Comelec’s problems bolstered critics’ claims against Smartmatic.

Bautista, however, didn’t readily answer the question on holding Smartmatic accountable. When first asked this question, he passed the mic to Elie Moreno, Smartmatic’s project director and general manager.

Responding to this, Moreno explained that finding errors in the system “is part of the normal process for sofware development.” 

“While we see those changes, I believe we are reacting very fast to make sure that we address them,” Moreno said. 

Lito Averia, an information technology professional, agreed that discovering errors is “part of the normal process.” But he added that it is normal “if you had normal time.”

“But this is crunch time,” Averia said during the news conference, which he also attended.

Bautista replied, “Doctor Averia, when you say crunch time, you also have to look at it in the proper context.”

He explained that in 2010, when the Philippines first held automated elections, the Comelec had to fix compact flash cards “one week before the elections.” 

Bautista told Averia on Wednesday: “I still have 88 days, my friend. We still have time.” – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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