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By Efren L. Danao, Senior Reporter

The recent digital balloting in the Philippines has made the country a role model in the world on automating elections, the worldwide chief executive officer of Smartmatic said on Thursday.

During an exclusive roundtable with The Manila Times on Thursday, Antonio Mugica said that other countries are now looking up to the Philippine experience for possible replication in their election automation program.

He added that even the United Nations has invited the Philippines' Commission on Elections (Comelec) to speak in an international forum on how it implemented the automation program.

'What the Philippines did was unprecedented, 100-percent automation in the first try and with just a year of preparation. You, Filipinos, should be proud of your achievement,' the visiting Smartmatic official said.

He arrived on Monday for a round of talks with Comelec officials before departing on Saturday for another business trip.

Smartmatic was the contractor of the May 10 fully automated elections.

The Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System and the House Committee on Electoral Reforms still have to submit their report on the conduct of the May 10 elections.

But another Smartmatic official, Cesar Flores, said that the detractors of automation and of Smartmatic had not presented even one proof to support charges of cheating through the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines.

'Some 20 groups had a common list of 30 things that they claimed would go wrong. They never went to the Comelec but every day, they were on camera. They never presented any proof,' said Flores, the Smartmatic representative in the Philippines.

Mugica said that the automated election system was designed by Smartmatic in such a way that cheating could be detected immediately.

'The security features are extremely difficult to circumvent,' he added.

Several election protests had been resolved only when the term for the contested post was nearly over.

Flores said that this would no longer be the case with the advent of automation.

'From a technical point of view, a protest can be resolved in two weeks or less. From a legal point of view, I don't know,' he added.

Flores even predicted that with automated elections, there would be no electoral protest in the next two or three elections.

Many sectors had criticized that while the results of the elections were known after three days, the president-elect and vice president-elect were proclaimed almost one month later. 

'If the senators and congressmen had wanted it, they could have finished the canvassing and proclaimed the winners Tuesday evening at the latest. All they had to do was press the button of the canvassing and consolidation server at the House and the entire results will come out,' Flores said.

He added that some improvements could still be made in the automation of the next elections.

'There should be a bigger budget so we could use satellites for transmission,' Flores said, noting that Comelec had a budget of only P200 million for the electronic transmission of election returns and certificates of canvass.

He added that with a bigger budget, 80 percent of the results could be transmitted within three hours.

Flores said that the manual random audit should be done on election day to remove all doubts and anxieties.

There were proposals that the random audit be made to involve three precincts per town or city instead of just five per congressional district.

Mugica said that he would favor a random audit of only 2 percent to 3 percent of the precincts because the margin of error is low in these ranges.

He identified the manual random audit as a feature of automated elections that is unique to the Philippines.

'There is no audit in the United States, Brazil, India and other countries and they are automated so you are well ahead of the pack,' Mugica said.