What’s With Wao?

It was in the first automated elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2008 that Wao first gained national prominence.

Wao is a second class municipality in the province of Lanao del Sur, Philippines and has a population of 45,862 people. Its location in Central Mindanao makes it an ideal hub for election activities.

It was in the first automated elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2008 that Wao first gained national prominence.

There were 2 vendors that handled the elections in ARMM. One was Avante, which provided the Central Count Optical System (CCOS) and the other was Smartmatic, which provided the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system.  Avante handled the 5 provinces of Lanao Del Sur, Basilan, Sharief Kabunsuan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi while Smartmatic handled Maguindanao.  Smartmatic also handled the canvassing and consolidation system for the entire ARMM.

(Disclosure: I was the Project Director of Avante at the time.)

Wao was one of the central count locations in Lanao Del Sur (the other was Marawi) where ballots from precincts of different municipalities were transported and counted using the CCOS machines.  After counting, the precinct election results (PER) were printed and were then electronically transmitted to the municipal canvassing server (MCS).

On August 8, 2008 (election day), the Smartmatic-developed MCS printed the Municipal Election Returns from Bumbaran and the document showed 6 precincts with zero votes.  This was compared to the precinct ERs that showed that each of the precinct had 203 votes.  Apparently, the “experienced” Smartmatic made a mistake in the programming and used 200 as the maximum vote per precinct instead of 203 (to include the 3 Board of Election Inspectors).  So the untested program of Smartmatic (untested because if the program was tested thoroughly, this error would have been identified earlier – similar to the ñ “error” in the 2016 Elections).  The canvassing system was programmed so that any precinct that exceeded the maximum votes were set aside and not included in the tally and print-out. These results were stored in a file in the canvassing computer.

Aside from this election exercise being the first automated elections in ARMM, this was also a test case by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to see which technology would work better for the Philippines in the 2010 Presidential Elections - the CCOS or the DRE.  So Smartmatic knows that it cannot report any mistakes that might jeopardize a lucrative deal in 2010.

What Smartmatic did then altered permanently the integrity and credibility of automated elections in the Philippines.

From Manila, Smartmatic accessed the canvassing server in Wao, Lanao Del Sur and MANIPULATED the files so that the zero results will be erased and the real results can be printed.

When I raised a formal complaint about this incident, all COMELEC said was that I was making a mountain out of a molehill because the results were not changed.  This justification was also loudly echoed by Henrietta De Villa of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

It may be true that the results were not changed but the fact that any entity (and a foreigner at that) can REMOTELY access the canvassing server during election day, destroys the integrity and credibility of any and all elections in the Philippines with Smartmatic as the election system provider. And true to form, Smartmatic has repeatedly accessed the computers during election day. Smartmatic admitted that this happened in the 2013 and again in the 2016 elections.

Nine years later, Wao is in the election spotlight again.  On February 20, 2016, COMELEC officials confirmed the theft of a computer at a Lanao del Sur election office on January 11 which contained the records of 76 million voters.

There were several computers in the office but the thief chose to steal only one computer. The thief also knew that the office would be vacant that day because the Election Officer was on leave for 2 days. 

This is the second data breach of voters’ information. With our voter’s information out there, anyone could steal our identity and apply for an SSS or GSIS loan, or apply for a credit card under our name.  Someone can also vote on our behalf!

About the Author
Mr. Leo Querubin is a Certified Management Consultant, a Master Project Manager, A Certified International Project Manager and a Fellow of the American Academy of Project Management with over 30 years of extensive, international experience in planning and implementing large scale IT projects. He is currently a Managing Consultant at Indra Philippines handling the Public Administration, Education and Healthcare markets.
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