Postscript: The five mysteries of 2013 elections

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A month after the midterm elections, mysteries still surround the electoral exercise that was marred by irregularities at every step of the way – from the final testing and sealing up to the canvassing of results. Too many questions cropped up, to the extent of putting the credibility of the entire elections in question. Even with that, Commission on Elections(Comelec) came up not with brilliant answers to those questions but with recycled tirades against critics as it insisted that everything is okay with the conduct of elections.

It is tragic for Comelec to busy itself with all sorts of gimmick prior to the elections – from the crusade on proper postering to the whimsical money ban – only to be caught flat-footed in dealing with poll automation woes despite persistent reminders from poll watchdogs. What really happened to their avowed 99.99 percent preparedness? Probably, Comelec trusted Smartmatic’s erroneous machines and canvassing system too much.

Of course Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. will never admit that the recent elections were a disaster. For him, the 2013 midterm election is the “best ever”.

Brillantes will not confess to the Filipino people that poll automation was a costly illusion – at around P1.8 billion worth of people’s money. What he did was to induce, in a lame manner, the illusion of poll automation speed through his hasty proclamation of winning senatorial candidates “based on projections” as around one-fifth of results were not yet transmitted to the Comelec server.

Even with the Comelec’s not-so-creative improvisations, the people still need plausible explanations to the questions on poll irregularities which arose in the recently conducted elections. Those questions will not rot. They will just keep on haunting the poll body and the nation every three years.

1) Source code and the terms of Dominion-Smartmatic settlement

Just days before the May 13 elections, Comelec chair Brillantes announced that Dominion, the real owner of the poll automation technology, and Smartmatic, the software vendor, have reached a settlement regarding their dispute. The announcement was made as both Dominion and Smartmatic belatedly presented to the public the supposed source code of the precint count optical scan (PCOS) machine in CD form. Without any hash code matching, how can we be sure that the supposed source code, currently in escrow at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, matches with the one in the 78,000 PCOS machines?

What are the terms of the settlement between Dominion and Smartmatic? Did the Philippine government paid any or both parties to reach such settlement?

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Dear Candidates: Anong tindig nyo sa 2013 poll automation?

PCOS machine

Dear politicos,

Napansin ko na karamihin sa inyo ay tikom ang bibig kapag pinag-uusapan ang samu’t saring kapalpakan ng PCOS machines at bulnerabilidad ng buong automated election system (AES). Nauunawaan ko ito – Bakit mo nga naman kwekwestyonin ang automated system na inaasahan mong magpapanalo sa iyo. Kauna-unawa ang inyong katahimikan sa isyung ito, pero hindi iyon katanggap-tanggap.

Pansinin natin ang mga ulat hinggil sa ginaganap na final testing and sealing (FTS) ng mga election paraphernalia:

  • Sa halip na serialized plastic seal ang gamitin sa pagselyo ng makina at mga balota, packaging tape lang ang ginamit sa ilang tukoy na mga presinto mula Luzon, Visayas hanggang Mindanao. Kumbaga, walang “sealing” na naganap sa aktwal
  • May mga ulat ng di pagtutugma ng manual count at PCOS count
  • May ulat din hinggil sa pagkaantala ng delivery ng election paraphernalia sa ilang probinsya
  • At tulad noong 2010, may mga insidente na biglang huminto ang makina o di kaya’y isinusuka ang mga balota.

Hindi pa kasama sa FTS ang ibang aspeto ng poll automation, tulad ng transmission at canvassing – na noong eleksyong 2010 ay minarkahan ng aberya at anomalya. Naalala nyo pa ba noong lumabas sa central canvassing center na 256 million ang kabuuang bilang ng botante sa Pilipinas?

Kanina, naganap ang malawakang brownout sa Luzon nang nagka-aberya umano ang 5 planta. Hindi ka ba mananawagan sa Comelec na maghanda ng contingency plan kung sakaling mangyari ito sa mismong araw ng halalan? Hindi ka ba na-alarma na maaring may nilulutong malawakang pandaraya? O baka bahagi ka ng maitim na balak?

Huwag mo ring kalilimutang wala pa rin ang source code, ang instruksyon sa PCOS machines kung paano ito dapat magbilang ng boto. Dahil walang source code, wala pa ring source code review kahit pa itinatakda na dapat itong isagawa ayon sa RA 9369 o poll automation law. Ngayon, biglang nagpapakitang gilas si Brillantes na ilalabas na raw ang source code, at isasagawa raw ang source code review pagkatapos ng halalan.

Kung sakaling manalo, susuportahan mo ba ang source code review na isasagawa ng Comelec? O magsasalita ka na lang ba hinggil sa AES kapag lumabas na ikaw ay talunan? Talunan ka na sa akin ngayon pa lang kapag ikaw ay ganyan.

Walang ibang pinapanigan ang iyong katahimikan kundi ang pagkompromiso sa demokrasya. Pag-isipan mo iyan.



Senatorial bets with labor agenda: Dissecting the platforms

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Despite the country’s much praised economic growth, lack of decent jobs and meager wages continue to hound Filipino workers. Based on the latest jobs data, nearly 3 million Filipinos are unemployed while one out of five employed workers are looking for additional jobs to augment meager incomes. Average daily wage in the country is only at P317.44, or roughly $8/ day. Such dire situation is forcing nearly 5,000 Filipinos to leave the country and look for work overseas every day.

Not surprisingly, several 2013 senatorial candidates are using key labor issues as springboard for their electoral bids. But how do we separate those who have genuine labor solutions from those who are merely using the jobs mantra to secure a job in the Senate?

Yardstick should not be mere inclusion of jobs in the platform, but the strategic positioning of employment generation in the overall economic agenda. In other words, what kind of jobs do they want to create? Business process outsourcing jobs? Manufacturing jobs? Informal jobs?

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Perilous penchant for PCOS

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Poll automation will push through in next year’s midterm elections. But here’s the caveat: the 2013 polls may be hounded by the same glitches and irregularities we experienced during the 2010 elections, thanks to the poll body’s decision to purchase and reuse the 82,000 Precint Count Optical Scan(PCOS) machines at a P1.8-billion price tag.

The PCOS purchase, which was signed on March 30 by the Comelec,was declared valid last Wednesday by the Supreme Court, now headed by acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio. It should be noted that the purchase was done way beyond December 31, 2010, which is the expiration of the original contract between Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM that contains the option-to-purchase provision. But the high court argued that the contract was still valid and existing since the performance security bond posted by Smartmatic-TIM was not yet returned.

Interestingly, the SC decision was made two days after President Benigno Aquino III candidly expressed  supportfor the use of the highly flawed PCOS machines for the 2013 midterm elections.  Why wouldn’t he, when doing otherwise would also resurrect questions on the PCOS machines’ credibility and thus stir doubt on his victory in the presidential race? Indeed, the SC decision saved Aquino’s presidential victory in 2010 from potential scrutiny as the PCOS deal is cleared from legal infirmities at the very least.

The same goes for Vice PresidentJejomar Binay, who expectedlypitched in his support for the Comelec’s purchase of the counting machines. So, with the two highest elected officials and the high court stamping the seal of approval on the PCOS machines, Smartmatic-TIM seems to be almost unimpeachable in its exclusive role over the country’s poll automation.

The foreign-led consortium (90-10 in favor of Smartmatic, which actually violates 60-40 constitutional provision on joint ventures) must be really smart for formulating a brilliant contract that allowed them to cover two elections in one shot. They earned P7.2 billion for the lease of counting machines and other election-related services rendered during the 2010 automated elections. Now, they will earn P1.8 billion more for selling the machines without even going through public bidding. And the Comelec is still very happy with that. I wonder if the commissioners are really keen on the supposed security features of the PCOS machines. Or perhaps they don’t know other automated voting solutions exist aside from PCOS.  That is the problem of a Comelec whose composition did not adjust to the need of the times for poll automation.

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