Smartmatic must improve or be replaced as tech provider – DICT

Published July 16, 2019, 8:40 PM

by Martin Sadongdong & Antonio Colina

By Philippine News Agency 

Smartmatic Philippines, Inc. faces stiff competition and must improve its service if it hopes to remain as the country’s automated election system (AES) operator, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, Jr. warned Monday.

DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, Jr., answers questions from the media about the DICT’s featured AES providers.  (Raymond Carl Dela Cruz / MANILA BULLETIN)
DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, Jr., answers questions from the media about the DICT’s featured AES providers.
(Raymond Carl Dela Cruz / MANILA BULLETIN)

The DICT showed off different ways of improving transparency and efficiency of the AES during a technology fair at the DICT building in UP Diliman, Quezon City.

In a speech, DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II revealed that President Duterte instructed the DICT to help develop an alternative AES to be used in the 2022 elections.

He said the current automated AES operated by Smartmatic was intended to eliminate delays in manual counting and can be improved.

“The objectives are, of course, speed, transparency, and credibility. There is a need to improve transparency, for better accountability,” Honasan said.

Rio said the inclusion of a form of manual counting and increased transparency were the factors the department cited in an improved AES.

“The whole concept, manual counting, transparent yung pag-tally, yung pag-appreciate ng makina – more or less ma-check ng tao (transparent tallying of votes, and appreciation of vote counting machines – people should be able to check these),” Rio said.

However, Rio emphasized that the DICT will not recommend any of the featured AES technologies to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) because the poll body is constitutionally independent from the national government.

“We won’t recommend anything. What we did was to create an AES and we showed that it can be done by Filipinos in two months,” Rio said.

Filipino technology

He also said the Philippines’ next AES technology provider does not need to be a foreign company since Filipinos are fully capable of providing these services after developing their own AES.

“Gusto nga namin Pilipino kasi kaya naman ng Pilipino (We want Filipinos to do it because we have the capability),” Rio said.

Locally-developed AES such as the Best Open Source Election System (BOSES) by father-son startup Avant-Garde Information And Communication Technology and the Precinct Automated Tallying System (PATaS) by the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) were featured during the program.

International AES tech companies such as Smartmatic Philippines, Inc., Indra Philippines, Inc., Voatz, Bapplware Technologies, Inc., and others also took part in the fair and displayed recent advancements in AES technologies outside the country.

Rio said Comelec may replace Smartmatic with any of several AES providers that are proposing different AES concepts if the company does not change or improve any of its services.

“They have to compete now with so many concepts, with so many ideas. So, if they propose what they’ve already done in the past, they will lose,” Rio said.

But Smartmatic is not being barred from becoming the AES operator.

“Nobody is preventing them from becoming operator of the next election. But they do have to come up with an improved version as instructed by President Duterte,” Rio said.

Trust matters

The DICT official said improvements in transparency and employing a form of manual counting will boost the Filipino voters’ confidence in an AES.

“If Smartmatic wishes to join, they should have manual counting that’s transparent. The public and the media should be able to see how the machine counted the votes,” he said.

Rio, however, clarified that the DICT only presented concepts and improvements from other AES providers to the Comelec and that the commission has the last say on the matter.

“They are independent. If Comelec says that Smartmatic will stay, no one can object. But they will be answerable to the people,” he said.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier said the Comelec has legal basis to drop its partnership with Smartmatic after hundreds of vote counting machines and SD cards malfunctioned in the mid-term national and local elections on May 13, 2019.

“No matter what explanation you give, if the public doubts you, you have a problem. That’s what the President doesn’t want, that people start to doubt the credibility of the elections,” Panelo said.