Fatal flaws

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

Technology circles are abuzz with news of South Korean firm Miru Systems Co.’s embarrassing technical misfires in Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The sheer magnitude of the Miru snafu in Iraq and DRC sent shivers down the spine. Up to 75 percent of voting machines malfunctioned in the first round of voting in Iraq, forcing a chaotic last-minute shift to manual counting – a logistical nightmare that could easily be exploited for electoral fraud.

DRC wasn’t much better. Elections were held on Dec. 20, and as of Jan. 4, there are no published results by polling station, which is in breach of a recent election law amendment in the African country. According to a report by CENCO-ECC, a local observation mission that was allowed to deploy a sizable group of observers, nearly 45.1 percent of polling stations experienced problems with Miru’s technology. The extremely high failure rate forced authorities to extend the voting period, something utterly unheard of in other countries, including the Philippines.

Experts are incredulous and indignant over how a technological featherweight can even be remotely considered capable of handling the Philippine elections, arguably the largest and most complex technology deployment anywhere.

During the 2022 general elections in the Philippines, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) faced a 1.8 percent failure rate in the seven-year-old vote-counting machines, sparking considerable controversy.

Should Miru replicate its recent failure rates in the 2025 elections, our country could potentially plunge back into turmoil reminiscent of earlier times – characterized by devastating election-related violence and protracted, laborious vote counts that would stretch out for weeks on end.

With the South Korean company›s technology bombing in back-to-back implementations in December, election watchdog Democracy Watch Philippines felt compelled to issue an urgent and plaintive statement, warning of a looming failure of elections in 2025 if Comelec is not careful.

The group urged Comelec to cast a more critical eye on Miru’s track record as it has done so to its other suppliers.

“Comelec might want to investigate the company’s alleged links to controversies in Congo and Argentina. Such concerns over hacking vulnerabilities and vote manipulation are so grave as to have prompted watchdog groups and independent experts to flag many fatal weaknesses in Miru’s technology publicly,” Democracy Watch said.

The group was citing a 2018 report by The Sentry, which uncovered critical concerns in Congo’s elections, including “potential threats to ballot secrecy as well as results manipulation.” Meanwhile, in Argentina, Miru’s machines were not selected for use because of security issues that made them vulnerable to hackers, according to watchdog group Enough Project.

Democracy Watch, one of the official observers of the ongoing procurement process for the 2025 polls, likewise expressed its deep concern over the participation of Miru, citing catastrophic failures and questioned projects in Iraq and Congo.

It said that it was alarmed by reports of Miru’s technology malfunctioning involving 70 percent of voting on day one of the recent elections in Iraq, which forced authorities to revert to manual count and caused widespread chaos and wholesale erosion of public trust.

It also noted the breakdowns and technical errors in 45.1 percent of Miru-supplied machines in Congo which it said caused delayed voting and confusion among voters.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology, who studied Miru›s technology, flagged numerous potential vulnerabilities of its technology that could compromise ballot secrecy, including the storage of information that could be used to correlate the ballot to a voter’s identity.

Despite these flagrant aberrations, the company has received nothing but kid-glove treatment and has suspiciously escaped finer scrutiny. With such shoddy technology passing right under the noses of technical regulators, we should all be gravely concerned. Democracy Watch warns that the country cannot have counting machines failing at such a massive scale, as this would cause political instability in the country.

Yet, as the apparent favorite, Miru just might bag the largest election automation contract in the history of the Philippines without facing competitive bidding or in-depth independent examination.

Democracy Watch urged Comelec before it›s too late “to act with utmost prudence and only consider vendors that demonstrably uphold the values of a secure, transparent, and genuinely credible Philippine election,” as it added that “our very democracy is at stake. May wisdom and discernment reign in the procurement process.”

It would indeed be the greatest tragedy should the present Comelec allow inferior technology to creep into our electoral system and wipe out the gains of election automation.

Last Dec. 14, Comelec declared a failure of bidding for the new fully automated election system (AES) that will be used in the 2025 national and has decided to hold on Jan. 8 the next round of bidding.

The first bidding was declared a failure after the lone bidder, which is the joint venture among Miru, Integrated Computer System, St. Timothy Construction Corp. and Centerpoint Solutions Technology, was declared ineligible for failure to comply with some documentary requirements.

Under the law, Comelec may resort to alternative methods of procurement, including negotiated bidding, after a second failed bidding.

With all the bad news about Miru, Comelec chair George Garcia would not even lift a finger and instead said that the matter is still with the bids and awards committee.

But remember how quickly Comelec disqualified Smartmatic Philippines from the bidding to supply the new automated voting technology for the 2025 midterm elections. The poll body is even considering recommending the permanent disqualification and blacklisting of Smartmatic from all government procurement proceedings in connection with an alleged 2016 bribery scheme involving former Comelec chief Andy Bautista.

Bautista has been charged with money laundering, conspiracy and bribery by the US Department of Homeland Security after allegedly receiving bribe money totaling $1 million from a poll tech firm in exchange for assistance in securing multimillion-dollar election contracts in 2016. The funds that were sent to Bautista’s bank account supposedly passed through the US financial system.

Smartmatic was not charged in the US. Smartmatic is the technology company that provided Comelec with the automated machines and technology since the 2010 national elections, the country’s first automated election.

According to Garcia, Smartmatic was disqualified to preserve the integrity of the electoral process even if he maintained that there were no irregularities in the results of the elections since 2010.

But Smartmatic in its defense argued that disqualifying it from the ongoing bidding and even future procurements on the basis of mere news reports and unofficial, leaked documents from which have not been verified by the US Department of Justice is unacceptable. It said Comelec should abide by the constitutional tenet of presumption of innocence.

Miru’s lone bid proposal was thrown out due to failure to comply with some documentary requirements but these deficiencies may be cured. Many are just wondering why Comelec continues to turn a deaf ear on the allegations against Miru.

After 15 years of successfully providing Comelec with automated voting machines, Smartmatic was cast aside by Comelec just like that. Even assuming for the sake of argument that Comelec chief Bautista received money from Smartmatic to bag the supply contract in 2016, what does that go to do with the integrity of the polls?

Now, we have Miru, no track record in Philippine elections, bad record in Iraq, Congo and Argentina.

If Comelec insists on disqualifying Smartmatic, then it should do the same with Miru.



For comments, email at [email protected]

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with