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, June 1, 2013

Don’t panic about ‘variances’ and ‘discrepancies,’ says Brillantes, wait for random manual audit. Tell that to candidates and supporters who can’t figure how they lost. JCOC should look into PCOS accuracy rating (97.99% in July 2012 mock elections, how much in 2013 vs. mandated 99.995% rating?). It could affect race among all levels of local officials and Senate. But would JCOC, dominated by P-Noy allies, do so?

Don’t panic, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes was recently quoted in a newspaper as advising critics, as the “discrepancies” noted in recent elections results are just those, discrepancies. But as IT experts have pointed out, what are mere discrepancies or glitches to Brillantes are serious and extremely worrisome matters---causing grave anxiety if one were a losing candidate who didn’t known what hit him.

Moreover, these "discrepancies" in our two recent elections illustrate the sad lessons learned from many nations and US states that have already abandoned the automated election system as untenable and even violative of human rights.


From the maddening problems we've learned from those two elections, it's apparent to us Filipinos---except those in direct connivance with foreign entities and blinded by considerations other than the welfare of our people--- that we cannot entrust our electoral system---and the corresponding fate of our democracy---to such foreign entities, especially those that have earned a bad reputation and  embroiled in bitter suits abroad.

We Filipinos just have to work out our own electoral system---never mind if we run it like hell at first. It's already hell with Comelec/Smartmatic anyway.

Brillantes is pooh-poohing “discrepancies” from initial manual audit of votes in 234 precincts randomly selected in the recent elections, because of perceived differences between the appreciation of votes by the PCOS machines and by human technicians auditing them. He was referring to the observation by PPCRV chair Henrietta de Villa, who also chaired the Random Manual Audit Team (RMAT) in the 2010 and 2013 elections, that of the 200 precincts that had reported earlier this week, 143---or more than half of the total 234 to be subjected to RMA---had “variances or discrepancies.”

The problem is that these “variances and discrepancies” are way above the acceptable 99.995% accuracy rate required by the AES Law, RA 9369, of 2009.  As De Villa pointed out, the RMA results of the 2010 presidential elections that voted Benigno Aquino III into office showed a 99.6% rating for the machines, way below the legal mandate---although she was quick to point out that this rate was “still deemed ‘statistically acceptable’ by the National Statistics Office.”

But instead of improving on their 2010 accuracy rating, the PCOS machines' rating for this year’s elections grew worse. On July 24-25, 2012, in a hearing conducted by the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, the Smartmatic report clearly showed that PCOS attained only a 97.215% rating—far lower than the 2010 rating.


Now, as IT experts like Gus Lagman have pointed out, per Comelec’s  terms of reference with Smartmatic, the PCOS is allowed only 1 error in 20,000 marks. The results of the 2010 presidential elections translated to 80 errors per 20,000 marks, whereas, the July 2012 mock elections translated to 557 errors in 20,000 marks!

We don’t know what the final report on the May 2013 elections would give us, considering that as Brillantes stressed, the results of the RMA are not due until June 18; but judging from all the maelstrom of innumerable complaints about malfunctioning machines and mysterious linear patterns exhibited in senatorial and even local elections, it’s not hard to imagine that more errors would register in the recent elections than in the 2012 mock-up exercise.


What do these accuracy figures all mean? How important are they? Would one or two points really matter?

 To quote the experts, the error rate in the mock elections of 2012 “can make or unmake mayors, governors, congressmen, and the bottom half of the councilors, provincial board members and senators!” Heaven knows how many local officials and even how many of the senators proclaimed in an indecently rushed manner based on 30% of COCs shouldn’t have been proclaimed.

For that matter, I’ve read comments in media now even questioning results of the 2010 elections for our top officials.


The problem is that despite the dismal accuracy record of Smartmatic’s leased PCOS machines in 2010, not to mention how many of them badly needed repairs, Comelec still chose to sink P1.8 billion into buying them for 2013---despite critics’ efforts to stop the purchase even at the doorstep of the Supreme Court.

 Moreover, the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC), which is mandated by RA 9369 to convene no more than six months after an election, failed to do so after the May 2010 elections (to the best of my knowledge JCOC only met in the last few weeks before the 2013 elections and even then, coverage of critical problems was so superficial).


Hence, never corrected were the original sins of the PCOS machines and Comelec such as the discarding of the mandated digital signatures for the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) for the 2010 and 2013 elections, which left those election results SO VULNERABLE TO TAMPERING.   

Manila Times columnist Giovanni Tapang aptly put it thus three days ago, “With the digital signatures disabled, the canvassing and transparency servers receive the data from the PCOS machine without verification, authentication nor acknowledgment. Therefore, the data can be incomplete, and even different, from what is being canvassed in the official ladderized system.” In 2010, Tapang noted, “out of the 60,000 or so election returns that have transmitted its data, around 13,000 were found to be incomplete.”


Jose C. Sison
Philippine Star’s legal columnist
As Philippine Star’s legal columnist, Jose C. Sison, put it, all the post-election tantrums and threats of resigning staged by Chair Brillantes were unfortunate indeed “because the period after every election is a golden opportunity to forge unity among the people, so that everybody could just look forward and work together for the common good. We seem to have lost that opportunity now.”

Now we have the chaos and incredible mess of the 2013 elections and the uproar of myriad critics, joined in by leaders of the Catholic Church united with those of other faiths in their clamor for investigation of various election issues. Ours is a country perched on a potential political volcano due to tainted elections.  

PPCRV and RMAT Chair Tita de Villa was quoted as saying recently, when queried in media on whether the “variances” detected in initial reports of RMA should cause worry over possible inaccuracies of results, “I will not say that. Machines don’t cheat, it’s the people who cheat.” But as one IT expert correctly pointed out, “machines can be like robots.  They obey 100% what people command (program) them to do.” Just how accurate the results were in 2013, the people have every right to know.

The JCOC should look into the recent turbulent elections and scrutinize, among others, the RMA issue. Under the AES Law RMA is supposed to be conducted on a pre-selected precinct in each of the 234 congressional districts and it should start as soon as polls close on election day.  

Presumably, that job ought to be finished in three days or as an official from another watchdog organization stressed, give it all of one week. But the RMAT is still conducting the task until now and Brillantes has given it a June 18 deadline for presentation of its RMA report. In the meantime, he says, hold all criticisms in abeyance.


But a month and a half is too long: meanwhile those ballot boxes are left without padlocks, as the Inquirer photo today clearly showed (padlocks were also removed by Comelec resolution) and as voters in the Hongkong advance voting denounced.

It also doesn’t encourage confidence in the RMAT’s track record that in 2010 it took all of two months to conduct RMA---and only at 75% finished.

To add another complication, Comelec under Brillantes passed Resolution No. 8800 earlier this year that pre-selection of precincts to be audited manually be made four days prior to the elections and DISCLOSED two days before the elections. This move seemed tailored to telegraph to all corruption syndicates which precincts are going to be audited---and therefore any manipulation of results in those precincts ought to be avoided.

Comelec has been guilty of election sabotage.  

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  2. I am not claiming to be a peritus.

    But it just my humble observation about the ballots were oversized and it had lots of empty spaces.

    It also is my humble opinion that the wider area the PCOS needs to scan, the bigger would be the chances for scanning errors due to paper twisting. The smaller the scanning surface the less twist the ballot would make and by far more accurate perhaps. Such is my humble theory.

    I have sent this suggestion twice to COMELEC but it fell on deaf ears. The ballot may even be reduced to Letter size bond paper with no need of prints at its back page.

    What makes the ballot big are the fully named party lists. Voters have been educated to remember numbers this elections, right?

    Once more please work on making ballot smaller in size. It would save the COMELEC paper and print costs.

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