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Comelec: OMR source code opened to public in October

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Vowing more transparency, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will open the source code of the 93,977 optical mark reader (OMR) machines to public review by Oct. 15.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista told The STAR yesterday they will come up with guidelines on how the public could go through the source code before it is certified by United States-based SLI Global Solutions (Systems Lab Inc.).

“There will be an initial review which we will open to the public before Oct.15. What has to happen is that there has to be, first, a base review and that has to be customized by the Comelec,” he said during a forum with editors and columnists of The STAR.

The source code will again be reviewed by expert representatives of political parties and organizations at the latest by Feb. 20, 2016. 

The source code is a set of alpha-numeric human-readable instructions that dictate how the voting machines should operate.

When the country’s elections were first automated in 2010, poll watchdogs complained that the Comelec did not really open the source code of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines for review. 

They said what the Comelec allowed was only a “walk-through” on the procedures. Currently, the source code of the PCOS machines is kept at the vault of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Own software

Bautista revealed that Smartmatic will have its own software for the 93,977 OMR machines that the Comelec is leasing from the London-based firm for next year’s elections.

Bautista added that he was assured by Smartmatic that the OMR machines have no third party licenses.

“In the past, the software being used by Smartmatic (for the PCOS machines) was owned by Dominion. Now they have their own software and they no longer need Dominion,” he said, referring to Dominion Voting System.

Before the May 2013 polls, Smartmatic and Dominion engaged in a legal dispute after the latter reportedly refused to recognize its global licensing agreement with Smartmatic.

As a result, Dominion withheld the release of the PCOS machines’ source code, delaying the review by political parties and civil society groups.

Bautista assured the public that Smartmatic’s having its own software would be beneficial for the Philippines because it will be “easier to pinpoint responsibility.”

“Now we know who to go after if there is a problem. When Dominion and Smartmatic were fighting before, we were caught in between. Now, that’s not the case anymore,” he said.           

The base code for the OMR machines has been surrendered by Smartmatic to the Comelec during the bidding process.

No extension

Meanwhile, Bautista said the Comelec has decided to “put on hold” its plan to extend the campaign period for local and national elections in the coming polls.

He conceded that the Comelec’s law department had determined that a law is needed to change the campaign period.

“Based on the advice of the law department, you have to amend the law. The Comelec cannot do it on its own,” Bautista said. 

The Comelec had considered prolonging the campaign period for national candidates from 90 days to 120 days and from 45 to 90 days for local bets as a “move against epal candidates.”

Under the Omnibus Election Code, the campaign period for national polls shall begin on Feb. 9, 2016, and March 25, 2016 for local elections. 

Right decision

Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) chairperson Henrietta de Villa believes the Comelec made the right decision to lease 93,977 new OMR machines amid a pending case before the Supreme Court (SC).

De Villa yesterday said Bautista only inherited the problems that should have been addressed by his predecessors.

“Chairman Bautista cannot do anything about these problems. Right now, he has to focus on how we could have a CHAMP – credible, honest, accurate, meaningful and peaceful – elections,” De Villa said.

The 93,977 OMR machines are covered by two contracts – for the 23,000 OMR machines and the 70,977 OMR machines. Smartmatic-TIM won in the public bidding for these two contracts. 

De Villa said the poll body has to move fast since there is little time left for the refurbishment of the 81,000 Comelec-owned machines.

She told previous Comelec officials that they should have inspected the machines six months after the 2013 polls.

She cited that there may have been machines whose spare parts or microfilms needed to be changed. There are also cases where the machine needed to be replaced entirely, she said.

With the elections only eight months away, De Villa said the Comelec does not have the luxury to wait for the SC to issue a decision on the parallel bidding.

“What if the Supreme Court would not yet make a decision by this month or in September? The Comelec will not have enough time to do anything anymore,” she said.

By January, the machines should be in the country in time for the testing that would take place during the first two months of 2016.

As to accusations that Smartmatic has the “monopoly” of the contracts on election machines, De Villa stressed that the Comelec followed a bidding process and it was unfortunate that there were hopeful contenders that did not qualify. – With Evelyn Macairan

ACIRC BAUTISTA CODE COMELEC DE VILLA MACHINES NBSP OMR SMARTMATIC STRONG SUPREME COURT
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