Spending taxpayers’ money wisely

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

We welcome this newfound sense of fiscal prudence spreading across the government, the latest manifestation of which is the comprehensive review ordered by Senate President Francis “Chiz” Escudero on the contract for the construction of the new Senate building in Taguig. Upon learning that the project would cost the government P23 billion, up from the original P8.9 billion, a shocked Escudero ordered an immediate halt to construction pending the review.

At a time when close to 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and brutal inflation is shrinking the peso’s purchasing power every day, such overspending is easily seen as ostentatious and in bad taste. Escudero’s efforts to curb it show that the government is not entirely tone-deaf to the plight of the people.

If he’s committed to the crusade and is not merely motivated by petty politics, the good senator might do well to use the chamber’s oversight functions to review an even costlier contract that appears, from every possible angle, severely disadvantageous to the government.

We are, of course, talking about the controversial P18-billion contract between the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Miru Systems related to the 2025 midterm elections. Observers are questioning why Comelec is willing to pay such an exorbitant amount when it is just leasing, not buying, voting machines.

Note that the Comelec only paid a total of P25 billion for five elections, including three presidential ones, from 2010 to 2022. The cost already includes the purchase of 97,000 vote-counting machines (VCMs), which are all certified to be in good working condition and covered with parts and services warranty until 2025. This should give one a sense of how grossly overpriced and unnecessary the whole Miru deal is.

Even worse, the procurement process was supposedly marred by dozens of anomalies, the most egregious of which was Comelec’s grave abuse of authority as determined by the Supreme Court in disqualifying Smartmatic and making it difficult for other companies to submit their bids, thereby setting the stage for an uncompetitive bidding where Miru ran completely unopposed.

Comelec already has in its possession perfectly serviceable VCMs which it can easily use for 2025 and a few more elections. Reusing these machines would save the government at least P10 billion, instead of wasting P18 billion to merely lease machines for use in non-presidential elections.

Also, the Election Automation Law mandates that the systems procured by Comelec must have a proven track record of success in previous electoral exercises. Miru Systems has not provided evidence that their machines have been utilized successfully in past elections.

During the bidding process, Comelec is required to ascertain first that the system has worked in past election processes; and second, that the system will work in future elections in the Philippines.

For the latter, Comelec relies on the technical evaluation to test the availability of specific features required by local electoral law on the same system. By presenting a prototype, the selected bidder failed to fulfill both goals.

Prototype systems have not been fully tested, particularly against advanced and evolving threats targeting election infrastructure. This can expose the election process to vulnerabilities, including unauthorized access, data breaches, tampering, or other forms of cyberattacks.

Deploying these machines nationwide without understanding their performance could lead to technical failures, a lack of preparation for solving issues and jeopardize the election’s integrity. This could potentially disenfranchise voters or necessitate costly and time-consuming interventions.

Observers are also worried that the user interface design of prototypes may not be intuitive or user-friendly, as it may not have undergone multiple iterations of user testing and feedback. This can lead to voter confusion and longer times to cast ballots, potentially reducing voter throughput at polling stations.

Insiders revealed that the prototype presented during the post-qualification phase did not allow voters to go back on the screen to change their earlier choices, violating Comelec’s requirement for systems to use multi-page screens, left and right swipe gestures, up/down touchscreens, and either touchscreen or button input for voters to register their vote.

They said that the anticipated failure rate of a product that is being mass-produced for the first time is unpredictable. This unpredictability presents a significant complication when attempting to accurately project necessary contingency measures. How many optical scanners will Comelec deploy to swiftly replace failing units? In an election scenario, competent contingency preparation can be the critical factor in guaranteeing suffrage for all, as opposed to potentially disenfranchising thousands, if not millions, of eligible voters.

Likewise, election officials, poll workers and voters may not have adequate training or familiarity with prototype devices, leading to operational errors, confusion and delays on election day. Significant changes in the voting process must be accompanied by comprehensive voter education campaigns to inform citizens about new devices and voting procedures, ensuring a smooth transition and preventing confusion.

Basing an election on prototype systems is, therefore, too risky and should, therefore, never be done.

On the other hand, Comelec’s existing VCMs will not only save us billions of pesos, they are also still under warranty and have been inspected individually and restored to perfect condition as validated by the commission. On top of that, they meet the two functionalities provided in the TOR: as an optical scanner or a mark reader and as a direct recording electronic.

I’m sure Senator Escudero would agree that there has to be a better way to spend taxpayers’ money.


For comments, e-mail 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