‘No pre-poll review of PCOS source code’

Edu Punay, Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The source code for the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines is finally arriving, but there is no more time to open it to scrutiny by political parties before Monday’s polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said yesterday.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said Smartmatic International Corp. and Dominion Voting System finally settled their dispute last Friday in the United States, paving the way for the delivery of the source code this week.

Brillantes made the announcement as the Supreme Court (SC) ordered the Comelec yesterday to answer a petition demanding that the source code be opened to political parties for review.

The SC is cutting short its month-long break to tackle a petition of senatorial candidate Richard Gordon, seeking to compel the Comelec to open the source code for scrutiny.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno set the case for oral argument at 4 p.m. tomorrow in a special full-court session.

In a resolution released yesterday, the high court also directed the Comelec to answer Gordon’s petition not later than noon before the hearing.

Gordon, who authored Republic Act No. 9369 which amended the automated election law, argued that the source code is crucial in ensuring honest, clean and credible elections.

He said the poll body has no discretion on whether or not to allow political parties to review the source code, which is a set of computer instructions to be followed by the PCOS machines that will tally the votes candidates will get. Source code contains human-readable instructions on how PCOS machines should run.

“Placed in the wrong hands, the source code could be manipulated and used to systematically subvert and frustrate the people’s will,” Gordon warned.

Brillantes, however, said the source code may no longer be reviewed by political parties and other interested groups this week for lack of time.

“We are opening it for review to all people interested, but this will have be completed after the elections. If we do this now, it won’t be finished because source review takes time. It can be done after the elections,” Brillantes said.

Smartmatic and Dominion had a falling-out last year, compromising the delivery of the source code.

Brillantes tried to intervene and forge a tripartite agreement with the two companies. The alternative, if the two companies failed to reach an accord, is for the Comelec to utilize the same source code used in 2010, the first time that the country held fully automated elections.

“Once the source code is here, coming from Dominion itself, then the credibility (of the elections can no longer be questioned),” Brillantes said. “Those who have been making noises that we don’t have the source code will stop.”

The SC, in its order yesterday signed by clerk of court Enriqueta Vidal, declared that based on the issues and arguments presented by Gordon in his petition filed last week, “it is necessary and proper to require the respondents to comment on the petition and to set the case for oral arguments.”

Gordon questioned the decision of the Comelec not to open the source code for independent scrutiny.

“The law is clear,” he argued. “Section 14 of the Automated Election Law says that the Comelec ‘shall promptly make the source code of that technology available and open to any interested political party or groups which may conduct their own review thereof.’”

He explained that the word “shall” is mandatory and it imposes a duty, which must be enforced by the Comelec.

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