What was the role of the Carter Center in the Philippine Smartmatic elections?

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

In his early days as Comelec chairman Andres Bautista came to the STAR to tell us that everything with be fine in the coming elections. With the assurance he personally invited me to open the new system they will use for the elections that was devised with the help of the Carter Center. Oh? Or maybe Huh?

That was the first time I heard of the Carter Center (named after American President Jimmy Carter) and that it would make the Smartmatic-PCOs elections right. The question asked by almost everyone in the conference with STAR was, yes but can it be hacked? Bautista answered frankly he could not guarantee that. To me, this was the signal to warn us that there would be nothing new in the elections even if it was approved by the James Carter Center.

He said to me, I am inviting you to be the one to cut the ribbon for the demonstration of this new system approved by the Carter Center. I am glad I refused the offer. Jimmy Carter is described by critics a do-gooder activist. “He wants to do things. Yet his campaign statements should have warned us that save for the human rights thrust in foreign policy, his passion in government is for how things are done, rather than what should be done.”

He believes that if the process is good the product will be good. He is the American version of Bautista who fools by projecting an image of a do-gooder.

Andres Bautista and I were both in the 2005 Commission for Constitutional Reform when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was president. Even then there were hot debates on what constitutional changes were necessary so we could have a better political system and a sound government structure. It is not well known that we adopted the presidential system on the insistence of American President McKinley.

In the course of time after several meetings I found myself on the side of those advocating for a parliamentary federal government. I remember that on one occasion, Bautista said to me that he “differs with me on all the issues.” He said it in Pilipino “Basta’t sabi ni Pedrosa, hindi ako comporme. Hindi kami magkakasundo.” He can be very charming and I let that remark go. It is only now that I realized I should have pursued the meaning of his remark.

What was his position on constitutional reform? That is a key question we failed to follow up because we were more involved in the Smartmatic PCOS automated electoral system. Of course there were many things wrong with the automated system used in 2010 and 2013 elections, but we were trapped into believing that our task is to debate on the mechanics of automated elections.

My real concern was with Andres Bautista at the helm of the Comelec, there would be no constitutional reform. We would be back to square 1. That is the position of President Aquino and he had powerful foreign allies to make sure that it does not happen. I have been in this struggle for constitutional reform long enough to know it will be stopped at any cost. I am afraid that Andres Bautista, charming as he is, is the right choice of Aquino for that task.

 He was a partisan Comelec chairman and I think it was useless to argue about the security features or the giving of receipts to voters. These are minor details to derail the big issue – constitutional reform that could lead to the election of a candidate who will pursue necessary reforms to finally defeat imperialism. That is the real principle of contention, the essence of the conflict of the election.

Aquino may be facing grievous crimes of malversation and plunder, but he will have powerful protectors when the time comes. I do not mean to belittle the work of computer experts especially the indefatigable Glenn Chong for focusing on the defects of the automated electoral system. This is proof that the election will be maneuvered and by the time it is over there will be nothing we can do about it. Whatever and however it is done the Aquino Liberal candidate or someone as malleable as Grace Poe will win through these machines. Any other outcome will be stopped. Davao Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte is for constitutional reform.

After the meeting with STAR columnists and editors he was immediately on his cellphone. I did not hesitate to ask him this time. Who was that? And he answered “The President.” They talked for about 20 minutes from the meeting room to the STAR lobby.  We should have been ready for a failed election. A press release said that with the agreement of the Philippine election commission, The Carter Center conducted a limited observation mission to the Philippine elections of May 10, 2010, to assess the impact of automated voting technology on the electoral process. “This mission also served as the final pilot mission to test the Center’s methodology for observing electronic voting. The first automated voting pilot mission took place during the 2006 Venezuelan elections while the second took place in the United States during the 2008 elections. In the Philippines, “the Carter Center did not conduct a comprehensive assessment of the electoral process and was not in a position to release public statements during the electoral period.”

“The move toward automation in the Philippines began in the 1990s, in response to flagging public confidence and fears of electoral corruption that were often exacerbated by the significant delays (up to one month) in results proclamation under a manual voting system. After a series of geographically limited pilots, optical mark recognition technology was introduced on a nationwide basis for the 2010 election. Implementation of electronic voting necessitates careful planning by election administrators and vendors alike. Due to legal suits seeking an injunction against the use of electronic voting, the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) discovered the electoral calendar to be significantly compressed, resulting at times in ad hoc procedures and implementation of the system. In practice, the discovery one week before the election that 76,000 memory cards had to be recalled and reconfigured and then redistributed underscored the importance of a realistic electoral calendar. The Carter Center observed that results transmission was “generally successful,” with COMELEC and the technology vendor working in concert to provide necessary assistance to poll workers through written instructions, expert assistance, and a national call center.

A lack of transparency and a general inefficiency in how officials actually administered and conducted audits plagued the postelection audit process, however. While random manual audits were to occur on election night, in practice, results of such audits were in some cases still unknown weeks after the election.

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