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.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mar's appointment with destiny at last? Pinoy-made 'lotto-type' voting system using the common tablet, confirms candidates you voted for, costing only P20,000 apiece, vs. PCOS at P70-90T apiece and says only 'congratulations.' Comelec thumbs down Pinoy invention right away, in favor of new PCOS. What gives?

Father-and-son Filipino voting-machine inventors, Arnold and Angelo Villasanta, chatting with Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon after she voted in recent mock elections using this alternative to PCOS

Yours truly waiting for Nora Aunor to finish shading her "vote" at 'TAPAT' mock elections. Man in purple shirt behind Nora is National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera.

After President Aquino heaped fulsome praise on DILG Secretary Mar Roxas in his State of the Nation Address last Monday, all media deserted other personalities and swarmed around Mar in the House lobby, pressing him for a statement on the informal launch of his candidacy. No, said the LP presidential bet prudently at that point, “Don’t read it as a launch,” but he promised to continue P-Noy’s “Daang Matuwid.”

Pundits are now outdoing one another in assessing just whether the President's grand plug for Roxas’ candidacy last Friday at historic Club Filipino would boost or harm his prospects for the presidency, once occupied by his grandfather whose name he bears---the late President Manuel A. Roxas.  

The question political pundits are tripping all over now is the tantalizing predicament of Mar: Is P-Noy’s all-out support a boon or a curse for him? Coronation or crucifixion?


Let me illustrate my theory with an incident last weekend while I was buying medicines at a Mercury branch. I overheard two salesladies talking, where one said, O ano, eh di si Mar na ba? The other shook her head, asserting, “Ah naku, never.” When the latter gave me my meds, I asked her, why not Mar? She replied that this candidate might as well skip Leyte in his campaign as he’d get no votes there. Her eyes then welled up and fighting back tears she narrated that she lost a two aunts and two cousins in “Yolanda,” and alleged that the P-Noy administration, with its point man there, Mar Roxas, has done little to alleviate the sufferings of people there, many of  whom still live in tents.  
UN special rapporteur Chaloka Beyani echoed the salesgirl’s reading when he recently said that nearly two years after Yolanda battered Tacloban the government “still has not done enough” for those left homeless. To which the Palace could only weakly respond that it would build more houses for them from hereon.  


This is the agony of Mar Roxas. In the Arroyo administration, before he joined the Hyatt 10 in demanding GMA’s resignation, Roxas as Trade Secretary was publicly credited with successfully pushing and promoting PH’s business process out-sourcing industry and nobody can take this away from him. He was riding high up to that point, clearly in his element and milieu as a self-confident hard-driving technocrat. 

In addition, he has what other politicians could only envy: an eminent political pedigree backed up by enormous family wealth and a Wharton education and Wall Street experience. Moreover,  he gained sympathy points when he unselfishly gave way to Sen. Benigno Aquino III in what seemed like a call of destiny for the latter.


But unfortunately Mar has also become identified with an administration that will be remembered for monumental blunders, in addition to Yolanda’s winter of discontent--- such as Mamasapano and questionable deals such as repeated allegations of PCOS machinations, incompetence in public service (the MRT, port congestion, etc.) horrendous traffic in Metro Manila, etc.

When the sharp technocrat was moved to DILG which was conceived to be his springboard to the presidency, he was re-tooled to be a man of the masses which he is not (thus, social media bloomed with contrived photos of Mar hammering a loose desk, carrying a sack of onions or rice from the pier and riding a pedicab in the storm). But more importantly, he was painted as a most faithful P-Noy follower, but this only made him look like the uncomplaining doormat of P-Noy.

Folks assert that Mar's shining moment could have been his dramatic resignation when he, supposedly with jurisdiction over the PNP, was bypassed in the Mamasapano tragedy. Even the ill-disguised political courtship by P-Noy of Grace Poe didn’t help Mar’s wimpy image.

But as Philippine politics goes, the plus side for Mar would be the employment of the entire LP political machinery---the most powerful political machine ever assembled here. And if you believe Prof. Leonor Briones, ex-Sen. Panfilo Lacson and party-list Rep.Terry Ridon, there's are DAP resurrections in the hundreds of millions of pesos embedded in the 2016 budget, that will surely fuel that machinery and mobilize LGUs for Mar. Critics assert that the 2016 budget is ill-disguised election budget.

Pundits opine that in due time, with the aid of these budget lump sums the electorate would see Mar's systematic climb in surveys. Then there’s the PCOS machines. Interestingly, two companies formerly bidding for refurbishment of the 81,000 machines used in the two past elections have backed out, and there are studied opinions that this is all moro-moro, and that an entirely new warehouse full of machines would be imported--- never mind the cost and that this would circumvent RA 9369, the AES Law, that clearly stipulates the testing of new election machines prior to elections. Obviously there won’t be time for testing.


Speaking of voting machines, it is ironic that the lack of time for testing was used as reason, among others, why the Comelec brushed aside a “lotto-style” voting machine billed as the "Transparent Election System" or "TAPAT" (True)  for short, invented by a Filipino father-and-son IT team and endorsed by the “Filipino IT for Elections (FITFE) " experts.  

A mock election was held two weeks ago with various personalities, including new Comelec Chief Andres Bautista, Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, Bishop Broderick Pabillo and celebrities like Nora Aunor and National Artist for Literature Bien Lumbera, invited, along with students, to test this new voting machine at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. Interestingly, Bautista's prompt reaction was to express fear that the voter verification list that’s printed out by this machine after voting, would encourage vote-buying! 

But wasn’t it worse that the old PCOS machines never even told us whom we voted for in 2010 and 2013? Wasn’t this non-verification (all that the PCOS machines said was, “Congratulations”) far more conducive to cheating and massive vote-buying, and caused so much political instability?


Arnold Villasanta, 47, a licensed electronics and communications engineer and graduate of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and his son, Angelo Villasanta, 23, a computer engineer and graduate of the Ateneo University, have designed this new voting system as “an alternative solution to the PCOS machine.” The Villasantas’ invention, billed as a “lotto-style vote-counting system,” will operate using the common TABLET everyone’s grandchild is familiar with.

The inventors, who run a computer firm called A-GICT, connected the voting machine to a thermal printer that would print out and furnish each voter the list of candidates he voted for---all told, taking a minute max.  Moreover, the Villasanta invention has a big memory (about 16 gigabytes) and can accomodate an estimated up to 5,000 voters per precinct. In addition, a random manual audit of votes is saved in the unit. 


At the PLM mock election, the voting machine tested was already the third version, which took 1 ½ months to develop. We “voters” shaded names of “candidates” for various posts in the ballots (mock “candidates” with photos were  national artists of various disciplines, such as Franz Arcellana and NVM Gonzalez) and then fed these “ballots” into the Villasanta-designed voting machine. 

While Comelec Coimmissioner Guanzon said she was satisfied with the speed of this lotto-style machine (about 40 seconds for voting and issuance of certification), Chair Andy Bautista worried about the possibility of cheating, as each voter has a copy of his vote. But Baustista’s apprehension should easily be nullified by the fact that the voter, after perusing his copy of his vote, is required to drop it into a box in the precinct before leaving, and the total ballots can then be counted separately---by the machine and election personnel. 

Besides, we all know that mass vote-buying and selling are already planchado the day or evening before elections.


What’s good about “TAPAT” is that it’s Filipino-designed and more transparent as it tells us whom we voted for, much cheaper at about P20,000 per machine, than the disgusting PCOS machines which cost from P70,000 to P90,000 each. To import 93,977 new PCOS machines (as two bidders recently backed out of a refurbishment contract for those 89,000 old PCOS) an estimated P12.6 billion of tax-payers' money will be needed. Arnold Villasanta assures that his firm can produce 100,000 TAPAT machines in five months and P20T cost per machine could even go down with volume.

The PCOS has already been discredited all over the world, the latest in parts of the US;  in fact many countries have returned to manual vote. The big question is, why is Comelec, even with the new leadership, hell-bent on using NEW PCOS machines to be imported that, as Bautista has said about the Pinoy invention, has run out of time to test. Something's rotten and it's not in Denmark! 

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