FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The Senate hearing that focused on Miru Systems, the technology provider that bagged the P18-billion contract for the counting system to be used in the next elections, was not very encouraging.

Miru was the only bidder for the automated election system. This after the Comelec’s heavy-handed decision to ban the previous technology provider from participating.

The award of the largest counting machine contract ever was controversial on several counts. Miru provided the technology used in last December’s elections in Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both exercises were marred by significant glitches.

At the Congo, election observation missions reported that as much as 45.1 percent of polling stations experienced problems with the electronic voting machines.The Carter Center, which sent an observation team to monitor the elections, reported problems directly attributable to Miru’s technology. Specifically, malfunctioning thermal printers caused many voter cards to smudge.

A separate investigative report put out by news organization Reuters reinforced the findings of the independent election observers.

Although conceding to the problems reported by independent election observers, Miru’s representatives tried to downplay their responsibility by attributing hitches to faulty logistics systems, insisting that these were beyond their purview. No concrete evidence was offered to support this contention.

We recall that, in our case, the previous technology partner provided a complete system. The technology provider took responsibility for delivering the counting machines to every voting precinct, provided back-up machines to replace those that might fail and deployed trouble-shooting teams everywhere.

It did not help Miru’s case before the legislators that they tried to deflect complaints against the reliability of their machines by attributing these complaints to “sore losers.” Being in the business of automating elections, they should know “sore losers” abound everywhere. This is why the counting system must be beyond reproach.

It turns out that imperfections marred not only the elections in Congo and Iraq. In Miru’s home country, South Korea, loud allegations of fraud marred the credibility of that country’s 2020 elections. Miru supplied the counting machines used here.

The Senate hearing turned tense when Miru was asked questions about their local partners – the two apparently construction-related companies St. Timothy and St. Gerrard General Contractor and Development Corporation.

St. Gerrard, it turns out, is a blacklisted contractor. St. Timothy was founded by the same owners of St. Gerrard. They share the same business address and contact information.

Both the representatives of Miru and the Comelec denied knowledge of the business history of the two construction firms. This is incredible. Both are expected to have conducted due diligence – the first as business partner, the second as supervisor of the bidding process.

Miru is trying to convince us they partnered with two Filipino firms, one a duplicate of the other, without looking into their registration status. They should at least have asked why they shared the same address and incorporators.

The Comelec, which awarded the humongous contract, should have at least inquired into the capacities of the two Filipino companies partnered with the South Korean technology peddler. That was essential to understanding how they might deliver on the contract.

Both Miru and the Comelec, it seems, went through this uncompetitive bidding with their eyes closed. At least that is what they are saying.

The most dramatic portions of the hearing centered on the clear provision in the Election Automation Law requiring that the counting technology must have prior usage in a previous election. That provision is amplified in the Comelec’s own Terms of Reference that explicitly states that only machines with a track record of successful operation and demonstrable reliability in a previous election should be qualified. This stipulation permits no deviation.

Given the spotty performance of its technology in elections elsewhere, Miru opted to present for bidding purposes new technology that the company itself describes as a “prototype.” The machine has yet to be manufactured in scale.

This “prototype” combines Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) and Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) in a single machine. Should it be established that this particular technology has no election history, the contract cannot possibly be valid. The deal must be abrogated.

It is on this point that Miru began fudging, taking liberty with the facts.

Miru’s representative says the dual system has been used in Russia. “When a voter goes into the voter booth,” says Miru, “(he) can choose either to select the DRE or the OMR.”

This is simply not true.

Russia has deployed optical scanners to process handwritten ballots. Some of these scanners might have been provided by Miru. However, use of DRE is practically nil. It is possible that the two systems may have been piloted in a few cases. But is is a lie to say Russia uses a combined system.

Besides, Miru itself (before realizing the consequences per our automated election law) described the machine it presented to the Comelec to be a “prototype.” A “prototype” by definition has not been used in actual elections before.

Because so much of the counting process in automated elections is not visible to the naked eye, we have to trust the technology to trust the outcomes it proclaims. To trust the technology, we have to trust the technology provider.

If Miru says they are presenting us a “prototype” and then tries to squirm out of that fact by saying it has been used elsewhere, only one statement could possibly be true. If Miru lies, can we trust its count?

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