Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 March 2012


One reads in the March 15 issue of the Inquirer that Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes “scolded lawmakers for badgering him about the lapses in the 2010 computerized elections committed by Smartmatic International Corp., that the government plans to tap again in the 2013 elections.” He apparently immediately apologized, saying: “Please excuse me for being hotheaded… I hope you will be more understanding of the Comelec, which is different from the one in 2010 that made the mistakes. That is what I’m trying to resolve. Please understand the situation we are in.”

But not content with that, Brillantes reportedly then cited my column last week as having ticked him off. “Is she an IT expert?” he asked, twice apparently for emphasis, showing more than a hint of irritation in his voice.

Interesting. And revealing.

Brillantes’ initial statement quoted in the first paragraph above can be divided into four parts, after the proffered apology: first, the admission that the 2010 Comelec made mistakes; second, the assertion that the present Comelec is “different” from its predecessor; third, the statement that he is trying to resolve the difference; and fourth, a plea for understanding.

Let’s take them in order.

No one can or will cavil at Brillantes’ admission that mistakes were made in 2010. But it has been repeatedly pointed out that in effect Smartmatic not only supplied the hardware and the software for the exercise, but practically ran the elections as well (it seemed that the Comelec could not move without Smartmatic’s Cesar Flores holding its hand or leading it). So the mistakes, meticulously enumerated and analyzed by the IT community as well as other civil society organizations involved in the election process, had Smartmatic written all over them.

Now for the “difference” between the Brillantes Comelec and its predecessor. At first glance, there certainly is the difference that three of the seven-man commission are new:  Brillantes himself, lawyer Roberto Christian Lim, and IT expert/Namfrel stalwart Gus Lagman, all appointees of P-Noy. But the other side of that coin is that the rest of the commissioners are holdovers, appointees of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo: Yusoph, Tagle, Velasco and Sarmiento. And, of course, the arithmetic is clear: The four Arroyo appointees also constitute the majority of the Brillantes Comelec. There are other differences also, but they tend to make the Brillantes Comelec look bad, so let’s skip them for now.

And how is Brillantes trying to resolve these differences? Well, from the voting patterns in the Comelec en banc, what he does, it seems, is side with the Arroyo four—or it could be that he has gotten the Arroyo four to side with him—at least on the election issues which are IT-, and therefore Smartmatic-, related. In other words, he seems to be resolving the “differences” between his and his predecessor’s commission by adopting wholly the latter’s position, and whitewashing its (read: Smartmatic’s) mistakes. Never mind that in so doing, he has gone against not only Lagman’s recommendations but even those of his own Comelec Advisory Council on automated elections, not to mention the IT community in general and other civil society organizations.

And when his attention is called, he gets all hot-headed, “scolds” some legislators, then apologizes to them, and pleads for understanding.

What’s to understand? Does he want the legislators to understand why he wants to use Smartmatic again in spite of its serious shortcomings? That would be very hard to do, after one sees them listed chapter and verse. I suggest, Reader, that you go to the Movement for Good Governance website (which I chair) so you can read to your heart’s content, and see whether you will be in the mood to succumb to Brillantes’ plea for understanding.

Here’s one of the many Smartmatic shortcomings, this one having to do with transmission errors, as reported by Pablo Manalastas, an IT professional for more than the past 30 years, a lecturer at both UP and Ateneo. Manalastas points out that of the 76,472 precincts counted, 8,939 or 11.7 percent had no election returns (ERs), 371 precincts had ERs with less than 10 voters, and of the remaining 87.8 percent or 67,162 precinct ERs that had a normal number of voters, 25,888 precincts (38.5 percent) had  missing data for one or more candidate positions.

Which brings us to Brillantes who takes out his ire on the column I wrote last week. He takes exception to it because, he says, I am not an IT expert. Neither is he. But the difference between him and me is that not having the expertise, I will listen to those who do—and he does not.

He is ticked off by my column? Let’s see. I wrote that Gus Lagman was being marginalized—outvoted 6-1 or 5-2 in the IT-related issues he brings up. That is a fact. I wrote that Smartmatic’s performance was less than stellar. All one has to do is read the reports of CenPeg, Lente, Automated Election Systems Watch, etc. etc. in the website I mentioned above. Facts. I wrote that the Comelec Advisory Council had recommended not to buy the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machines. Fact.

Everything I wrote in that column is factual. So one would have reason to guess that Brillantes is ticked off by facts, unpleasant facts that he does not want to hear because he wants to stick by Smartmatic.

Why such loyalty, from him and the Arroyo four in the Comelec?