Comelec to sell P9-B PCOS, then buy P60-B substitutes

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Correcting a wrong with a bigger wrong. That’s what the Comelec will do in selling its old unreliable voting machines, then buying costlier but equally unreliable ones.

The Comelec is considering selling its 82,200 precinct count optical scanners (PCOS) to a country that is automating its own polls. Chairman Sixto Brillantes said the commissioners are studying the direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines.

Computer experts and anti-graft crusaders instantly slammed the plan, for various reasons. The former have been denouncing the PCOS for opacity in recognizing and counting the votes. The latter see the DRE as six times more expensive.

The AES (Automated Election Systems) Watch, for one, maintains that there’s no need to automate the precinct balloting and vote tallying. Manual ways have been devised to prevent cheating, foremost of which is opening the count to the public. It is the canvassing of various precinct results, at city halls and provincial capitols, that needs automating for speed. This is to avert large-scale dagdag-bawas (vote padding-shaving), pulled off by highest bidding candidates. The AES Watch groups together election experts, info-technologists, and mathematicians.

The Movement Against Graft and Abuse of Power (MAGAP), for its part, says the present PCOS system is apt for the 2016 general election. Defective and dilapidated machines can be repaired, under the supplier’s five-year warranty. The P60 billion needed to acquire the touch-screen DRE machines would be a “desecration of public funds,” the MAGAP says.

The anti-corruption group says the Comelec plan to shift to DRE technology contradicts Brillantes’ old pitch for the PCOS. The Comelec chief had described as “a good move” the Supreme Court’s 11-3 ruling to let the poll body use the PCOS.

Other poll officials have been making contradictory statements too. Comelec executive director Jose Tolentino told a recent congressional oversight committee hearing that a switch to the DRE is anti-poll fraud. Politicos already have mastered the PCOS in two elections, so know how to manipulate the results, he said. Yet ever since it acquired the PCOS under experts’ objections, the Comelec has been heralding it as foolproof.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez has told reporters that the 82,200 PCOS units can be offered to the election agencies of Japan or Korea. Overlooked is that those countries are leaders in robotics, and would not think of buying much-maligned, decrepit scrap from the Philippines. Jimenez also assured that the machines are still usable, but in the same breath said they are dilapidated, so replacing them would be best for the next election.

The Comelec leased the PCOS machines for the 2010 presidential, then purchased them for the 2013 congressional elections, for a total of P9 billion. It spent another P3 billion to warehouse, maintain, and repair the units from 2009 to 2013.

In the PCOS, the voter shades balloons beside the candidates’ names on the ballot, and the machine counts them by scanning. The system was purchased after a contentious bidding in which the top US makers were disqualified. The winner was Venezuela-based Smartmatic Corp., which, being a DRE producer, ironically had belittled the PCOS in its website as “prone to cheating.”

Just the same, the Comelec awarded the lease-purchase contract, in gross violation of the Automated Election Systems Act of 2008. The law required the supplier to be the developer-owner of the software. Yet the software owner of Smartmatic’s machines is Dominion Inc. of Canada; the two are fighting in a Delaware court over marketing rights. The law also specifies security features. But the Comelec allowed Smartmatic to dunk, among many others, the ultraviolet recognizer of authentic ballots, passwords of precinct election inspectors, confirmation slip of votes cast, and certification of tallies.

In the election of May 2013, one in every four PCOS machines failed to transmit votes. The precinct tallies were never finished. The Comelec never disclosed the system software for anti-fraud review by computer experts and political parties. The Comelec nonetheless announced the winners, and candidates had no way of verifying the true results. The senatorial canvass showed an odd 60-30-10 percent trend of votes for the administration candidates in all 82,200 precincts, This was despite the usual cultural, or religious preferences in various regions.

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Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, Tolstoy tells us. Yet the unhappy Weston family in “August: Osage County” has so much in common with most others — that it became a Broadway hit. Credit that to playwright Tracy Letts. The 2007 black comedy sews together heartbreaks that can befall a family — drugs, suicide, incompatibility, infidelity, and incest, among others. That makes it easy to empathize with this totally dysfunctional one — worthy of the Pulitzer, and a 2013 film version starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

“August: Osage County” runs every weekend till Mar. 16, with 3:30 p.m. matinee and 8 p.m. regular, at OnStage, Greenbelt-1, Makati. Tickets to the Repertory Philippines show are available at TicketWorld, (02) 8919999, and online via www.repertoryphilippines.com.

Pinky Amador, Baby Barredo, Liesl Batucan, and Sheila Francisco lead in bitingly sad-happy twists. Others in the cast: Tammy Monsod, Richard Cunanan, Angeli Bayani, Thea Gloria, Leo Rialp, Arnel Carrion, Hans Eckstein, Noel Rayos, Kenneth Moraleda. Director: Chris Millado.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

E-mail: [email protected]


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