HOCUS-PCOS

ANOTHER looming automated poll fraud. That is how political observers have described the next year’s polls after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday decided yet again to utilize Smartmatic - Total Information Management (TIM) Corp., as its partner and technology provider.

In fact, poll observers unanimously declared that the stage has been set for another Hocus-PCOS elections as the Comelec virtually allowed Smartmatic to have full control of next year’s political exercise.

Hocus-PCOS was a play of word derived from the word hocus-pocus which essentially means a trick performed by a magician or a juggler using sleight of hand to disguise deception or chicanery.

Critics of the Comelec came out with the word Hocus-PCOS to emphasize that the results of previous automated elections in 2010 and 2013, were actually manipulated to favor certain candidates through the help of Smartmatic’s precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

 

AUTOMATED CHEATING

In fact, many observers now believe that incumbent President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino who holds the distinction of being the first president elected in the automated elections era- could also be the first recipient of automated cheating.

In short, many doubt the credibility of Aquino’s landslide victory in the 2010 elections the same with the victory of Sen. Grace Poe, who surprisingly topped the 2013 senatorial elections.

While both Noynoy and Grace might not have personally worked to manipulate the results of the said elections, many are now convinced that Smartmatic could have played a role in the outcomes of those polls.

These credibility questions and other compelling proofs should have been enough to convince the administration and the Comelec that Smartmatic might not be the one that the doctor prescribed for Philippine politics.

Unfortunately, both the Aquino regime and the Comelec are not doing anything to stem the credibility issues that have hounded elections in the country for the longest time. 

Because of the notoriety and the perceived unreliability of Smartmatic, various groups and election watchdogs have been asking the Comelec for several years now that the technology firm be banned from participating in Philippine elections ever again.

Noynoy is now on the last months of his rule and it is incumbent upon him to work hard and restore the credibility of the next year’s elections but he is not even lifting a finger to prevent Smartmatic from taking part in the next year’s political exercise.

 

UNMOVED

Apparently, the Comelec took Noynoy’s obvious lack of interest in the Smartmatic issue as a cue and last Thursday in an en-banc unanimous vote, opted to lease an additional 93,000 new voting machines from the firm, to augment those which it already purchased from the same company.

How lucky can you get? That Smartmatic still managed to obtain multi-billion peso contract from Comelec despite vehement opposition from various groups, speaks volume of how the poll body had become totally dependent on it in holding the country’s elections.

The Comelec justified its decision by saying that they arrived on the same after exhaustive consultation with stakeholders and with due consideration of the current circumstances, particularly the information technology (IT) issues relating to cost, timeliness, and technical risk.

Comelec chairman Andres Bautista for his part said they believe that it (the lease) was the most viable, practical, and safest option to pursue in their efforts purportedly to ensure the credibility of the 2016 elections.

 

VIRTUAL PRISONER

As it turned out, there is no doubt anymore that the country’s election system has already been taken as a virtual prisoner or hostage by Smartmatic.

If Bautista and the Comelec commissioners are saying that they were forced to enter a lease deal with Smartmatic to ensure the credibility of next elections, then they are using a wrong justification.

Allowing Smartmatic which is embroiled in allegations of election rigging to again participate in the elections using their “alleged brand new PCOS machines“ would certainly enhance and not erase doubts on the election results. 

Therefore, it is of particular concern that Smartmatic will again have access to the PCOS machines, sparking fear that it would again manipulate them to alter the results just like what it allegedly did in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

 

VARIOUS FORMS OF CHEATING

Among the allegations made against Smartmatic in both 2010 and 2013 polls were unexplained vote surges, mismatched election returns, and the absence of digital signatures. 

Also, there were questions about the instances when compact flash (CF) cards of all PCOS machines were recalled a week before the 2010 presidential elections, which many suspected were done to alter the contents of the CF cards and, in the process, rig the election results.

But despite countless election protests, Comelec brushed off the allegations of cheating calling various election watchdogs like Automated Election System (AES) Watch, Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) and others “noisemakers” and “attention-grabbers.”

These election watchdogs even went to the extent of asking the Senate Committee on Electoral Reform and People’s Participation (CERPP), and the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reform (CSER), for them to conduct public tests by their programmers and IT security experts to prove that the PCOS machines can indeed be tampered with and election results rigged electronically.

Unfortunately, their requests went unheeded. 

 

SHADOWY GROUP

With Comelec seemingly favoring Smartmatic, some government critics are raising the possibility that an unknown powerful group could be working behind the shadows in preparation for the upcoming elections.

As controversies hounding the past elections remain unanswered, the integrity of Smartmatic  is obviously under question. And this has prompted some groups to ask the Supreme Court to to stop Comelec from awarding election-related contracts to Smartmatic.

Among the groups that filed the 48-page petition last January 28, were Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E), National Labor Union (NLU), League of Elder and Aging Persons (LEAP), Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions (PAFLU), Anti-Trapo Movement of the Philippines and many others.

 

WHAT NOW?

With barely less than a year before the next elections, the continuing refusal of the Comelec to heed the people’s clamor for an honest and credible exercise by eliminating Smartmatic from the scene, had left many people scratching their heads.

The recent decision by Comelec to rent PCOS machines from the said company was viewed by many observers as an obvious display of overdependence bordering to its willingness to become an election system victim. 

What is at stake here is the sanctity of the ballot and it is the duty and responsibility of the people especially the voters to safeguard and defend it.

Because it is only through clean and credible elections when we can redeem our pride as Filipinos and also help us choose the right candidates that would lead us in the next six years.

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