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.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Bishops’moving Pastoral Letter passage on being in boat with Apostles, buffeted by “stormy waves.” But finding courage in Jesus’ query: ‘Why are you afraid?’ they pin down Comelec on responsibility for AES, provoking protest reactions vs. poll body across nation. Brillantes loses cool at JCOC hearing, but Comelec/Smartmatic may be fooling us on CF card “write many, read many” which Gus Lagman terms "electronic dagdag-bawas"

CBCP President  and 
Cebu Arch. Jose D. Palma

One of the most touching and moving passages in the Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops last Jan. 28, 2013 is that part where the bishops see themselves as being in the boat with the Apostles, “buffeted by stormy waves” created by the “secularist spirit, which continues to reduce the role and place of religious faith in the public sphere.” Stressing that “Our cherished moral and spiritual values are at grave risk,” the bishops humbly confess that they are “overcome with fear and anxiety” and even admit to wondering “if the Lord has fallen asleep, or if (He) does not care that we are drowning.”

But the bishops’ insecurity and fear over the Lord’s possibly falling asleep is  momentary, as once again they hear His dramatic words in calming the waves, “Quiet. Be still” (Mark, 4:40).“  The bishops continue: “He rebukes the winds and the storm ceases. He is the Lord who has power over sea and sky. He has power over dark spirits. It is He who poses the question to us: ‘Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ “


These passages on the bishops’ confessed weakness as well as their recovered strength---poetic and lyrical as they are full of faith---jump out of the Pastoral Letter signed by CBCP President and Cebu Archbishop Jose D. Palma.

Hammered out after days of personal and collective discernment and fasting and prayer, it houses a stand so straight-forward and unequivocal about the nation’s problems that it even surprised a good number of their followers. With this document the bishops once again became the leaders of their flock.

So strong it was, in fact, that talk is that President Aquino personally called Archbishop Palma afterwards, to say he was “not happy” over their statement. P-Noy, however, should realize that it was not meant to make him happy, but to make him sit up and do something about the nation's problems.


Of the points touched upon in the Pastoral Letter, undoubtedly among the strongest is the bishops’ apprehension about “the issues raised to the Comelec on automated election concerns.” At the outset they stressed that “election is not a matter of speed but of trustworthiness and honesty. If not properly addressed, the present automated election system can lead to wholesale cheating. The integrity of a pillar of our democracy---the election---is at stake."

Then, toward the latter half the bishops called upon Comelec “to adequately address the issues and respond, place corrective measures if necessary, to the studies of technical experts to the alleged deficiencies of the present system and technology of automated elections.” 

They reminded the national leadership that “There can be no transparency in elections if the COMELEC itself is not transparent.”


That unequivocal clamor by the bishops of clean and transparent automated elections, in turn, helped to finally focus, more than any other factor, on the problem that Filipino IT experts have been stressing since the close of the May 2010 elections.  Thus the issue of defects of the PCOS machines and their possible malfunctioning and tampering, as well as the Comelec’s obvious ill-preparedness for May's elections have all exploded in the nation’s consciousness. Now everyone is talking about them---in media forums, homes and social circles, in coffee shops and sari-sari stores, etc.

The question is, what do we do about Comelec’s ill-preparedness? Unfortunately, the poll body is far from determined to assuage the fears of our people about the defects of the AES and its own incompetence .


Last Wednesday at the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee hearing (JCOC) at the Senate, Comelec’s top officials, Smartmatic’s top exec Cesar Flores and a dozen of the country’s top IT experts were assembled. The senators and representatives at the JCOC concentrated on raising their own individual concerns about the elections---taking up nearly all three hours squinting at the trees but missing the forest entirely. Due to limited time the IT experts were only given two minutes each to say their piece (!) and they predictably raised the machines' defects and Comelec's disregard of safeguards anew.  

Tension rose as Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes lost his cool  when confronted by what he termed the unending daily litany by the IT people of the deficiencies of the AES, and threatened to walk out. Recall that he had earlier threatened to go manual with the May elections if the critics are not satisfied. The IT experts and academics, notably Nelson Celis, Maricor Akol and Evita Jimenez of CenPeg, however, stood their ground and stressed that the reason they raise these issues repeatedly is that Comelec refuses to answer them squarely.   

I felt pity for Brillantes at that point, but like many citizens I feel that his resigning would be the best thing to happen to our coming elections---so he could be replaced by someone less subservient to Smartmatic.  


Manila Standard columnist Jojo Robles expressed fear about the grim possibility of hacking the PCOS machines by unscrupulous elements in the May elections. But in a recent forum sponsored by the Rotary Club in Makati, former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, (whom P-Noy refused to re-appoint after he was bypassed by the Commission on Appointments on account of politicos fearful that his IT know-how would be an antidote to the manipulation of the PCOS) opined that more than hacking, the real danger is  “electronic dagdag-bawas.”

For instance, Gus Lagman, who founded the STI Colleges, explained that the CF card found in each of the 81, 200 PCOS machines contains vital election information such as the particular precinct, province, district and region, etc. Each CF card, however, should be what IT experts term WORM---“write once, read many”---i.e., each CF card can be written on ONLY ONCE after the original instructions have been put into it, although it can be read many times.

Apparently, however, the contract for the 81,200 CF cards that Comelec awarded to Smartmatic for the negotiated price of P45 million (over two other losing bids despite their lower contract price and Smartmatic’s failure to participate in two previous biddings), does not call for WORM, but rather, for "write many, read many." Meaning, the info inside COULD BE CHANGED.    

Gus Lagman used a metaphor easy to comprehend.  He likened today's national quandary over the tamper-prone PCOS machines to a home-owner who worries so much about thieves breaking in, so that he puts steel bars on his windows and installs a burglar alarm. But he fails to realize that the thief IS ALREADY INSIDE HIS HOME. 


By the way, Comelec Chair Brillantes kept saying at the JCOC hearing and in media that in case of malfunctioning of the PCOS machines in any of the 76,000 clustered precincts across the country, there would be back-up machines---as the Comelec has bought all 81, 2,00 machines used in 2010 from Smartmatic (for P1.8 billion).

Recently, however, reports reaching the IT experts indicate that of these 81,200 machines, 10,000 are now irreparable and 30,000 are undergoing repairs (because they're old now)---leaving a balance of 41,200 functioning units.  


But another mock election within a few weeks would still have to prove that the machines would ALL be functioning;  the very fact that 30,000 are undergoing repairs indicate huge possibility that not all of them would be okay. What happens if so many machines malfunction on election day? As PCGG Chair Andres Bautista wrote today, imagine the nightmare of installing back-up machines on election day---with all the hordes of voters waiting!

Interestingly, Brillantes told the JCOC that Comelec has begun testing to make sure that printed ballots fit smoothly into the 81,200 machines. But with so many machines still under repair, chances are those ballots won’t be tested.

The Comelec and Smartmatic have really been taking the Filipino people for fools for too long. Tama na, sobra na. No to PCOS. Yes to manual voting and counting, and automated canvass/transmission.

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  1. Nakakatakot isipin ang mangyayari sa darating na eleksyon once na pumalpak ang Hokus-PCOS machines na ito. Sa umpisa pa lng problematic na kc bakit pinagpipilitan pang gamitin. Dahil ba sa naka- program na sa CF cards ang mga kandidatong mananalo sa eleksyon?
    Hmmm...haka-haka ko lng.

  2. Lahat ng kababayan mo, Edgardo, nangangamba rin. Tama si Gus Lagman, nakakatakot sa lahat ang CF-WORM, dahil pwedeng ire-program ang information sa loob ng CF card na nasa loob ng bawat PCOS, to favor the manipulator's candidates. Pls. help me ensure that this blog is circulated among your friends and relatives (www.polbits.com), so they get to know the problems we face. Hindi para takutin sila, kundi para malaman ang dapat nating gawin---ang mag-ingay. Salamat sa pagsunod mo sa blog ko.