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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.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Many citizens ecstatic when Comelec threatened to return to manual count after SC TRO-ed Brillantes' midnight deal with Smartmatic for P268-M refurbishment of 82,000 old PCOS machines. But jubilation short-lived as Comelec recently "virtually awarded" P2.5-B contract to lease 23,000 new "optical mark reader" (OMR) machines, to augment PCOS units. This reinforces popular belief that P-Noy and LP gang are determined to corner 2016 elections to avoid a PGMA scenario for them. Fight vs. Comelec continues.








While the country has been embroiled in the Mamasapano tragedy and President Aquino has gone on his third still-nebulous speech on what truly happened last Jan. 25, civic-spirited citizens led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the umbrella group of Filipino IT experts, AES-Watch, went to the Supreme Court to stop the P268 million negotiated “midnight contract” awarded by retiring Comelec Chair Sixto Brilliantes to Smartmatic for diagnostics, refurbishment and repair of 82,000 PCOS machines used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

The SC responded with a TRO on the Smartmatic contract and this was met with a lot of jubilation by citizens.  

The SC's TRO, however, could mean that it would take months before the refurbishment case can be settled. By way of pressuring the SC magistrates to act fast and favorable to Smartmatic, Comelec has threatened to go back to manual elections in 2016---otherwise...

XXX

Actually, for millions of citizens who know of the shenanigans that marred the two past PCOS-conducted elections, the Comelec's threat to go manual merely strengthens the disqualification case recently filed by various citizens’ groups before the SC, against all those elected under the PCOS-manipulated elections where all safeguards were discarded---beginning with Benigno Aquino III, the entire Congress and all local officials. The citizens' contention is that these "PCOS-elected officials" have been fraudulently elected.

Thus, the Comelec threat to discard the PCOS and go manual in 2016 is not really a bad idea. In fact, it's HEAVEN-SENT. 

XXX

IT IS HEAVEN-SENT, FOR AS OUR MOST PROMINENT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY EXPERTS ASSERT, DUE TO THE WIDE USE OF CELL PHONES, IPHONES AND FAX MACHINES ALL OVER THE COUNTRY--- EVEN IN MOST RURAL AREAS----WE CAN HAVE AN EXCELLENT COMBINATION OF MANUAL ELECTIONS AND COUNT AT PRECINCT LEVELS AND ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION OF ELECTION RESULTS TO THE COMELEC (THE LATTER IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF RA 9369, THE AES LAW).  

THE NET RESULT WILL BE FAST TABULATION AND TRANSMISSION OF ELECTION RESULTS---WITH MINIMAL CHANCES FOR CHEATING.

XXX

WHY MINIMAL?  THE VOTING AND COUNTING IN THE PRECINCTS WILL BE DONE MANUALLY AND TABULATED  RIGHT AFTER THE CLOSE OF VOTING HOURS, IN THE PRESENCE OF THE VOTERS AND VARIOUS POLITICAL PARTY REPRESENTATIVES. THE FINAL TABULATION SHEETS WILL BE SIGNED BY COMELEC AND PARTY REPRESENTATIVES. ALL THESE SHOULD BE FINISHED WITHIN THREE OR FOUR HOURS.

THE POLITICAL PARTY REPS WILL THEN PHOTOGRAPH THE SIGNED TABULATION SHEETS, USING THEIR IPHONES, AND IMMEDIATELY RELAY THESE TO THEIR RESPECTIVE POLITICAL PARTIES.  COMELEC OFFICIALS WILL ALSO TAKE THE SAME PHOTOS  AND RELAY  THEM BY IPHONE TO COMELEC OFFICES.

THUS, THE POLITICAL PARTIES  AND THE COMELEC WILL HAVE THE SAME  SIGNED TABULATION SHEETS---DERIVED FROM THEIR OWN TALLIES BY PRECINCTS, TOWNS, PROVINCES AND NATIONAL.  


THUS THERE WOULD BE LITTLE ROOM FOR CHEATING AS COMPLETE RESULTS SHOULD BE KNOWN AND PUBLISHED WITHIN TWO TO THREE DAYS FROM CLOSE  OF VOTING IN THE PRECINCTS. 

WHAT'S GOOD IS THAT IT WOULD TAKE EXACTLY THE  SAME AMOUNT OF TIME TO DO IT MANUALLY AND IF COMELEC’S PCOS WERE USED. AND AT MINIMAL COST!  ABOVE ALL, TRANSPARENT. 

XXX

Many citizens began jumping  with jubilation at this sudden “threat” of Comelec to  go manual in 2016. But alas, it was a short-lived victory.  

For instead of returning the PCOS machines to their bodegas and sealing them because our 2016 elections---if it pulls through at all---would go manual as Comelec had threatened, the latest development is that the poll body has actually given the go-signal to acquire 23,000 precinct-based "optical mark reader" (OMR) units to augment the 82,000 PCOS that needs refurbishment! 

It should be noted that OMR and PCOS machines are both paper ballot-reading machines.

XXX

As the Manila Times editorial yesterday pointed out, Comelec “virtually awarded” to the joint venture of Smartmatic-TIM the P2.503-billion contract to lease to the poll body 23,000 units of precinct-based optical mark reader (OMR)---to augment its 82,000 units of PCOS machines of Smartmatic that were "illegally" used in the 2010 and 2013 elections. 

Said the Times: “We and other Filipinos concerned about the absence of transparency in the precinct-level electoral process because of the illegal use of the PCOS machines, thought that the Comelec Bidding and Awards Committee (BAC) decision to disqualify the Venezuelan company was the beginning of the total termination of Smartmatic’s role in our elections. We were wrong.”

This is because the Comelec Commissioners in a most recent en banc decision granted Smartmatic’s protest against its disqualification by Comelec’s very own BAC.

XXX

The Times noted that "Thus, in accordance with this en banc decision the Commission declared that the financial proposal submitted by the Smartmatic JV [joint venture] during the second stage of the competitive bidding for the lease of election management system and precinct-based optical reader optical scan system of the joint venture of Smartmatic-Tim Corporation, total Informational Management Corporation,. Smartmatic International Holding B.V., and Jaritech International Corporation is COMPLETE AND RESPONSIVE.' "

"Smartmatic, being the lowest calculated bidder, will undergo a post-qualification evaluation. The Venezuelan company will surely pass this evaluation and then be formally awarded the contract."

XXX

Citizens can only read this recent Smartmatic victory from the Comelec BAC to mean that its automated election system (AES) using PCOS machines---that made a mess of the 2010 and 2013 election---will once again reign over the next elections. This means that good and honest individuals who want to run for political office out of love of country and service to the people would again be discouraged from participating in what they see as tainted elections.

That system violates the transparency requirement of the law governing automated elections, RA 9369, whose title is “An act authorizing the Commission on Elections to use an automated election system …to encourage transparency, credibility …” This law also states that “the use of an automated election system … will ensure … that the process shall be transparent and credible …”. Sadly, the system set up by Smartmatic does the opposite. 

XXX

The Times editorial explains how the hocus-pocus happens: "The Smartmatic AES using the PCOS machines does all the reading of the ballots and the counting of results in the belly of the machines. The voters and the nation just have to believe that no error or cyber-tampering was done. The machine then spits out the vote count in the precinct and transmits it to the consolidation and canvassing centers."

Under the old manual system before 2010, explains the Times, "...the Board of Election Inspectors in each precinct reads each ballot and had the count tallied on a blackboard or whiteboard. The count and the process were seen by watchers from the rival political parties, the authorized election watchdog organizations and the press.

"One could then prove fraud was committed when the numbers sent to the canvassing centers were not the same as the precinct’s publicly witnessed counting and total results."

XXX

Subsequent problems arose from the PCOS machines, such as the appearance of lines in the electronic image of ballots, so that these were read and interpreted in ways that changed the election count. So many protests vs.these line images were lodged by candidates all over the country, to no avail AND THEY CAUSED SO MUCH POLITICAL INSTABILITY. 

These transparency problems as well as instances of failure by machines to transmit results have moved many political groups, supported by various professional groups, to push for abandonment of the Smartmatic PCOS machines. They cite many countries that have discarded automated elections and returned to manual---among them Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Australia and others–-about 18 countries out of the 30 that once tried out the AES system but subsequently returned to manual vote and count. 

Japan and the United Kingdom, on the other hand, have stuck to manual vote and count in precincts---because they give premium to total transparency.

XXX

The Times editorial pointed out other salient points: "Our laws say the accuracy of automated system used must be at least 99.995 percent. Smartmatic with the PCOS never met this legal requirement in in any of its tests and mock elections.

"There are safeguards in the process that Comelec and Smartmatic dismantled. The “source code” used by the machine’s software system by law should be reviewed by political parties and authorized IT expert groups." (This was never followed).

"Precinct election results should be signed and verified to be correct by the teachers making up the (Board of Election Inspectors). The results transmitted from precincts and precinct clusters had no digital signatures or any kind of affidavit of verification by the teachers. How could they when they don’t even know how the machine is counting the votes and adding them up?"

XXX

Sadly, however, despite all these and other unnamed defects the Comelec seems determined to use the PCOS machines again in the coming elections, if these materialize at all---and there's justified suspicion that the ruling LP just won't give up cornering election results---to save President Aquino and other ranking officials from jail.  

We have to continue fighting use of those wicked PCOS machines. 

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