Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

That May 2010 election monster, the PCOS machine, re-surfaces for 2013 elections, after Comelec resuscitates ‘dead contract’ to purchase 82,000 units from Smartmatic at P1.8 billion. Recalling ‘Koala Boy’ and frightening pattern of wholesale defeats in 2010. Civic groups led by Archbishop Capalla and IT experts file MR against SC’s 11-3 decision upholding that contract---suntok sa buwan?

Representative Teddyboy Locsin
Soon after the May 10, 2012 presidential and local elections, the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, chaired by former Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., began a month-long inquiry into that exercise, during which dozens of candidates from around the country who had lost testified. As a veteran political observer of 25 years, then connected with a major newspaper, I covered those committee hearings day in and day out, in view of their historic significance as our first fully-automated elections. I reported on them in great detail in my columns. 

At first I thought the hearings represented the typical traditional ho-hum complaint forum where Pinoy candidates gave their sob stories about how they didn’t lose but were instead cheated" of victory. But when so many candidates began to exhibit a frightening pattern of wholesale defeats, most of them studiously backed up by elaborate evidence of electoral failings never before seen here, I began to take a serious look at a new election monster---the PCOS machines of Smartmatic-TIM (SMTT).
After their defects and glitches surfaced dizzyingly in so many places, these machines came to be known as “Hocus PCOS” (trust former President Estrada to coin that term).


Soon enough political pundits began to wonder: just how high did the manipulation of the May 2010 elections go?  There was clamor from some quarters---including my columns---afterwards for an independent commission to investigate the shenanigans in those elections, but this was understandably ignored by the new administration, which perhaps was among the biggest beneficiaries of the Hocus PCOS. Will we ever find out the truth?

Unfortunately, today, as Comelec prepares for the mid-term elections of 2013, the PCOS machines have been resurrected---despite the fact that the poll body’s option to purchase (OTP) them from SMTT had expired last December 31, 2010.  Comelec entered into this new contract that SMTT was only too willing to “extend” last March 2012 for P1.8 billion---this time to buy those 82,000 PCOS machines that have been in storage for the past two years, with many proven defective in the 2010 elections. 

Several citizens’ organizations led by Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla and former Vice President Tito Guingona, as well as the Solidarity for Sovereignty and Tanggulang Demokrasya, seek to stop this OTP because it’s a “dead option contract” that had expired in December 2010. The protesters rightly claim that a new contract should involve new public bidding, as the law requires; this being absent, the Comelec is guilty of violating the Automated Election Law as well as the E-Procurement Law.

Obviously, to push selling its old PCOS stock, SMTT claims that the allegations of its defects---totaling 236 as asserted by ousted Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, the only IT expert among the poll body’s seven top officials---are being addressed by its Cabuyao, Laguna HQ---so that the machines are good as new.

 IT experts, however, are plainly skeptical about this claim.


In fact, SMTT claims that it’s testing some 3,500 PCOS units a day---which includes the power source, the CF card ports, thermal printer, scanning capacity, UV sensors and modem transmissions. But the IT experts who have long been scrutinizing the PCOS’ performance, laugh off this fat claim as mission impossible.

IT expert Lito Averia opines that even assuming that it takes one hour to check one PCOS unit (including unpacking and re-packing), SMTT has to have  some 450 technicians/testers hired for this purpose---not the handful at Cabuyao that media have seen. But even granting na nga, says Averia, that checking each unit takes just half an hour, 225 technicians/testers are still needed per day.

The IT people assert that this SMTT claim has to be a joke. “Kung visual inspection lang, pwede pa matapos ng ganoon, but not an honest to goodness check-up of machines that had malfunctioned in 2010 and kept in storage for two years,” they stress. 

To quote Rep. Rudy Farinas, it’s an SMTT PALUSOT and it’s sad that Comelec is buying this story lock, stock and barrel.


What’s even sadder are the developments at the Supreme Court. Early in May this year, the SC, led by then Chief Justice Renato Corona, issued a TRO through a vote of 8 vs. 7 against the Comelec-SMTT  PCOS purchase contract inked last March, in order to hear arguments on both sides. But on June 13, 2012---exactly 15 days after CJ Corona was ousted by the Senate---the SC reversed itself in a vote of 11-3 and upheld the purchase contract (four justices moved from AGAINST to PRO-contract after Corona was sacked. This is regarded as immediate proof of his impeachment’s chilling effect on the Court.

Yesterday the consolidated IT organization called Automated Election System Watch (AESW) filed a motion for reconsideration of that SC decision upholding the contract. It’s a suntok sa buwan by the AESW, for the magistrates’ pro-contract vote is massive.  BUT IT’S A BLOW FOR DEMOCRACY.


Soon after the May 2010 elections, stunning cases of massive defeats were disclosed simultaneous with the surfacing in media of a mysterious masked character nicknamed “Koala Boy” by TeddyBoy Locsin. Koala Boy alleged he was part of a big group of “players,” “operators” and “coordinators” as well as their allies in the Comelec that manipulated the national and local elections to favor candidates who paid their steep fees.   

Koala Boy asserted that the “simple” operations (“pindot-pindot lang”),  made through the PCOS machines, involved three steps:  l). the switching of ballots in the PCOS machines, using ballots outside of the Comelec stock;  2). the pre-programming the CF cards (recall that the CF cards were discovered to be “defected” and supposed to have been “corrected” the weekend before the elections, but apparently never were in many places); and 3). The transmission of spurious returns bearing duplicate serial numbers from the syndicates’ own PCOS machines---capable of transmitting from 24,000 to 30,000 ballots in one instance.


Rep. Robert Ace Barbers
Koala Boy said he surfaced because he was conscience-stricken, but he never showed up after one appearance, doubtless for fear of his life. There was skepticism---and even cynicism---in some quarters about his incredible allegations, but the coincidental stories of massive defeats of power blocs in various regions were just too stunning and numerous to ignore.

For instance, former Rep. Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte, then running for governor, lost with his entire line-up that included his vice-gubernatorial candidate, two candidates for representative and all his 21 mayors.  Ace could really have lost, but all the 21 mayors? There was the three-term popular governor of North Cotabato, Manny Piñol, at that time running for Vice-Governor, who also lost wholesale with his local candidates. There were also re-electionist Rep. Glenn Chiong, vice-mayoralty candidate of Tagaytay Mark Tan, and many other cases of candidates who seemed to have been  “deleted” in the computers.


Gov. Gwen Garcia
Other cases of high improbability last May 2010:  Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia of the powerful Garcia clan lost in her own barangay in Carcar as well as in Mandaue City where she asserted that the first time she ran there in 2007 she won by 45,000 (she lost last May 2010 in Mandaue by 15,000 there even with Rep. Nerisa Soon's and her opponent's support).  Former President Estrada, then a presidential candidate, lost in his own precinct in San Juan. 

Former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita lost in his own bailiwick even as all his mayors won; both former Secretary Raul Gonzalez and his reelectionist son, Rep. Raul Jr., lost in their own bailiwick in Iloilo. Former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, on the other hand, recounted a story from a witness who claimed she saw the feeding of fake ballots right in City Hall.

(Next: the gripping story of 2010 elections in North Cotabato from three-term former Gov. Manny Piñol).

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