Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3 October 2015

The mass killing of students yesterday in the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg (2014 population: 21,181), Oregon, hit a sensitive nerve because one of my sisters lives in Oregon. I have visited it, and it is one of the most beautiful, peaceful and friendly states in the United States — what I consider the real America.

President Barack Obama’s angry reaction to the tragedy touched an even more sensitive nerve. He pointed out that similar tragedies and the responses to them were “routine,” that people had become “numb” to them, that “our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” that the US Congress should take action but has not, and in fact is an impediment. He ended by saying that the American people ultimately can do something about this, through the leaders they elect.

This resounded with me, because isn’t this exactly how we have responded to a very important issue, namely, corruption? Only think, Reader: The corruption issue in the Philippines has become routine (“hindi na maaalis yan”), the Filipino people in general have become numb to it (“manhid na”), our Congress has not taken the action it needs to take to solve the problem (the dynasty issue, the FOI bill, etc.), and obviously, our thoughts and prayers are not enough (we’ve got to work on it, too).

Some statistics: The Harvard Injury Control Research Center has found that across high-income nations and across states in America, more guns equals more homicide. In the Philippines, studies show (Balisacan, Monsod, AIM) that political dynasties tend to be associated with less human development (less education, more poverty, etc). Also, in the United States in the past 274 days of 2015, there were 294 mass shootings (incidents that result in at least four people killed or wounded). The Philippines has no statistics on the number of corrupt practices daily, but it is safe to say that among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, there is at least one corrupt practice done per day. I have discussed in previous columns the costs of corruption to us.

But something can be done about it, says Obama, in a note of hope: Because we the people have it in our hands to elect those political leaders who can make the changes we need. So the first step, in our case, is choosing wisely and well in 2016.

* * *

Unfortunately, we tend to forget, until the last two minutes, that there is a second step in the Philippines: ensuring that our votes are counted properly. Here, the Commission on Elections comes under scrutiny, especially where Smartmatic-TIM is concerned.

Smartmatic has been in the Philippines since 2009, and the quality of its performance with respect to Philippine elections (actually, its performance elsewhere also) has been questioned—not just by ordinary citizens but also, in this case, members of the Philippine IT community whose experience, competence and integrity are unquestioned except by the Smartmatic people themselves or their hirelings.

After the 2010 elections, the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) wrote a 435-page report discussing the defects of the Smartmatic-TIM system. The Comelec, instead of giving it the attention it deserved, was immediately defensive.

Even the report of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms on the “alleged fraud and precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine manipulation in the May 10, 2010, automated elections” chaired by then Rep. Teddyboy Locsin concluded: “Before the next automated election, all the loopholes in the PCOS and the automated election process should be firmly plugged by either the current provider or by another more assiduous supplier. If not, a reversion to manual elections with heightened vigilance by organizations like the PPCRV and Namfrel would probably yield more credible and accurate results.”

Unfortunately, because Locsin was a lame duck (he had done his three terms), his report was ignored. And the 2013 elections had even more shortcomings than the 2010 elections.

One would think that because of these shortcomings, Smartmatic-TIM would have been blacklisted by the Comelec, as strongly recommended by IT practitioners, the NGOs involved in elections, and even its own IT consultants. But one would think wrong. Because the Comelec entered into a P268.8-million contract with Smartmatic for diagnostics, repair and refurbishing its PCOS machines. Sans bidding.

The AES (Automated Election Systems) Watch and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines went to the Supreme Court, which voided the contract, declaring that the Comelec had committed grave abuse of discretion.

One would think that the Comelec would have learned its lesson. But the stranglehold of Smartmatic on it—a death grip—led to a (this time “properly” bid) P1.7-billion contract for the lease of 23,000 PCOS machines (called OMR), and yet another contract for 70,977 machines, for a total of 93,977 all-new OMRs.

In other words, because the Supreme Court chastised it for a P268.8-million contract without bidding for the diagnostics, repair and refurbishing of machines, the Comelec decided not to use the old machines but to lease all-new machines—from Smartmatic. At the cost of about P74,000 a machine. All told, Smartmatic gets P6.9 billion!

The lesson seems to be that the Supreme Court should not chastise the Comelec or Smartmatic again, because it might cost us P6 billion more.

Meanwhile, we have no guarantee—none whatsoever—that the Comelec and Smartmatic will put in the safeguards (absent in the last elections) that will ensure one person, one vote.