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.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Comelec Chair Brillantes blackmails citizens with going manual if we don’t like the PCOS. But there’s a way out of his bluff---the “hybrid system” which former Commissioner Gus Lagman and CENPEG director for policy studies Bobby Tuazon are pushing for the 2013 elections---manual voting and count, but automated transmission of results.

It was with an immense feeling of déjà vu that this blogger read various accounts of glitches major and minor, during the first dry-run by Comelec of the PCOS machines for the May 2013 elections, in ten selected areas across the country last weekend.  The many glitches in that  Comelec dry-run sharply brought back to me recollections of how the multi-billion dollar Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) was so poorly built in the Marcos regime.

Both the Comelec automated election system (AES) and the BNPP cost the taxpayers incredible sums of money---the poll body for the first fully automated 2010 presidential elections and now the 2013 midterm elections, buth both studded with flaws, and the BNPP costing so many billions of pesos, but so poorly constructed that Supreme Court Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee ruled in 1985 that it should continue to be shut down until further notice.

As a reporter for the black-and-white Mr. and Ms. Magazine of Eggie Apostol in the mid-80s, I continually wrote on the raging controversy over the “Monster of Morong;” inevitably I got deeply involved with the citizens’ group undertaking the investigation into its faulty construction.

One day I felt so sick in the stomach after one of our most active members, lawyer Jimmy Guerrero, returned from Morong where he was able to inspect the innermost part of the BNPP. Jimmy’s account of mind-boggling improvisation---practically a “band-aid type of construction” was how he termed it---was so heart-wrenching, for the country was billed so much for nothing (until recent years we taxpayers were paying $255,000 A DAY on it).

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. For me, and doubtless for many other citizens (one of them the sharp-eyed columnist Dick Pascual) who saw that Star photo of teachers operating the PCOS machine in last weekend's dry-run, the Mongol pencil stuck into the machine printer to hold up the wad of thermal voting paper told it all.

According to Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes, apparently the paper ordered was not the right size. As Dick Pascual put it, “considering the billions being transacted for the PCOS system, such improvisation was pathetic.”


Excuses were pulled out left and right by Comelec officials for the many glitches (how could the Inquirer have headlined last Sunday, “No problems in mock polls”!!!). The machines hadn’t operated for a long while now, said the Chair, so it needed to be "heated up first" in order for them to work (but why did the poll body have to buy those old machines for P1.8 BILLION in the first place?); “we shouldn’t have ordered outsized thermal paper;” “there’s no dry-run ever without glitches, that’s what they are for---to show up the defects,” Blah, blah blah.

But instead of thanking the critics for their valid and well-meaning opinions, Brillantes termed them “fault-finders” out to "sensationalize" the glitches. Moreover, Palace Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda immediately came to the defense of the Comelec, instead of cautioning it to pay attention to the critics.


In the first place, in a product-demo before the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms last August, the PCOS machines demonstrated only a measly 93.757 accuracy, far from the 99.995% demanded by its contract with Smartmatic-TIM (SMTT). The 6.243% error in those machines translates to some 2.8 million votes, and as Filipino IT experts have pointed out, the rate of 557 errors in 20,000 marks “can make or unmake mayors, governors, congressmen, and the bottom half of councilors, provincial board members, and senators.”  

Hopefully this realization should alarm all candidates in the May elections, so  they would join the rising clamor for clean and honest electoral exercises--not one delivered into the hands of the manipulators.


The ultimate, however, is that the Comelec Chair now threatens the citizenry with blackmail in what a critic calls a "false dilemma": if you don’t want the PCOS, then we revert to manual voting, as there is no more time to contract another AES. But haven’t we gotten hoarse since after the May 2010 exercises, trumpeting the ills of the PCOS machine? It’s the Comelec that just was so intoxicated with SMTT.

It had to take the incredible lawsuit that SMTT filed last year vs. Dominion Voting Systems, the real owner of the AES technology, after the latter rescinded its contract with SMTT, to lay bare all the sins that Filipino IT experts had been accusing it off---except that this time SMTT was blaming Dominion.

For instance, that SMTT NEVER deposited the SOURCE CODE, the operating manual of the AES, to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, as the AES law required, because Dominion never entrusted it to SMTT in the first place. Cesar Flores lied all along to Congress.


CENPEG Dir. for Policy Studies
Bobby Tuazon
Okay, so there’s Comelec’s blackmail. What do we do about it? If you ask a number of IT experts, go ahead, let’s call Brillantes’ bluff and revert to manual count, but convert it into a "hybrid system."

Actually, this hybrid system has been the position for some time now of former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, the only commissioner with an IT background, who was not re-appointed by President Aquino at the demand of powerful politicos. It's also  the position of Bobby M. Tuazon, AES Watch Co-Convener and Director for Policy Studies of the Center for People Empowerment and Governance (CENPEG).


I asked Bobby Tuazon this morning to articulate his position and here it is:
 “Here's my reaction to Chairman Brillantes' comment that if critics don't want PCOS then we might as well revert to the manual system.

“Comelec had three years to assess the results of the May 2010 elections ---technical-wise and management-wise, to be able to anticipate the problems seen in the first mock elections (of august 2012). Instead of doing this, the commissioners remained fixated with the Venezuelan marketing company, Smartmatic, and they refused to give credence to recommendations and advice from its own Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) as well as the country's competent IT practitioners, management specialists and academic scholars regarding the system's program errors and deficiences

“Comelec should now adopt continuity and contingency measures. Rather than insist on using a PCOS system that is now unlicensed with no international certification and program bugs uncorrected, reverting to the manual system---as the Comelec chair himself hinted---is one option remaining.

“What Comelec can do is to adopt a hybrid system that combines manual voting and counting, and computerization in transmitting ERs. This is one system that remains popular in countries that have either stopped using electronic-voting for being unreliable and for its lack transparency (like Germany), or have not adopted or are still pilot-testing it (like Japan, UK, Ireland, and The Netherlands), or which use several systems (like the US, which has 5 different voting systems).

“By now, the Comelec should realize that no election technology has been designed that is fully tamper- or deficiency-free. The commissioners should stop spreading disinformation and the "trust-the-system" credo that election modernization will modernize our democracy and make elections fraud-free. The earlier they realize this, the better for our country.”


Personally I find the hybrid system sensible. By doing the manual voting and count the various political parties---and the populace---can assiduously guard the elections, and voters know whom they voted for, as they wrote the names personally, unlike in the AES of 2010 where there was no paper trail (except for a piece of paper saying “congratulations,” which former President Erap thought was for him as winner). But the transmission should be automated as this is where the trickery comes in the form of ballot-snatching by goons, selling to highest bidder, etc.

Why don’t you voters think about this proposal and let me know. God bless us all.

For comments/reactions, please email:


  1. Eh kung yun nakatira sa Malacanang, binlack mail ang Senado at Congress masunod lang ang gusto nya, natural lang sa mga alipores nya ang gumaya sa pag blackmail matuloy na magamit ang Hokus PCOS machines na yan.

  2. I know, Edgardo, the Senate and House don't have much credibility when it comes to standing up to the Palace orders. That's why the "hybrid model" seems a better choice: manual vote ensures that you voters know whom you really voted for, and the political parties can guard the results of the count at precinct and municipal levels. the only aspect automated would be the transmission of the results to Comelec. Of course cheating may still occur at municipal or city level, and at Comelec, but at least there's a paper trail--unlike in the Hocus PCOS where there's none at all.
    Thanks for your reaction. Will publish this in a later blog.