From PCOS to OMR to VCM: hiding the crime

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Comelec’s re-baptized “vote counting machines” will churn out inaccurate, rigged Election 2016 results, as in 2010 and 2013.

The Comelec has re-baptized the notorious PCOS to hide its true nature. At the hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on election automation, Sen. Koko Pimentel asked why the PCOS is now being called OMR. Chairman Andres Bautista admitted to deodorizing its public image. The PCOS had come to be derided as “Hocus-PCOS,” he said. They switched to the generic OMR, but he heard it being referred to as “O-MaR,” alluding to Mar Roxas, the ruling Liberal Party presidential standard bearer in Election 2016. So he now layman-izes it to VCM, or “vote counting machine.”

They may later coin a Biblical name for it, as even the Devil can quote Scripture. But they can never live down the PCOS as inaccurate, illegal, flawed, costly, inappropriate, prone to tampering, and good only for cheating – therefore evil.

PCOS stands for Precinct Count Optical Scanner, the brand that Venezuelan dealer Smartmatic gave the product lent by Canadian developer Dominion Corp. “Hocus-PCOS” became apt due to its emergent dubious performance and traits:

• It flunked the 99.995-percent accuracy standard in all pre-election dry runs and post-election audits in 2010 and 2013;

• It not only violated that accuracy requirement of the Election Automation Act, but also lacked specified security features, like UV-light fake-ballot detector, voter-verification receipts, and election inspectors’ passcodes;

• It failed to transmit from precincts to canvassing centers nine percent of votes in 2010 and 26 percent in 2013, comprising thousands of votes for local and hundreds of thousands for national candidates;

• It over-counted the senatorial votes in 2013, prompting the Comelec to fudge the figures, prematurely declare “winners” although only 56 percent of precincts had sent in the results, and surreptitiously overprint more ballots for cover-up;

• It has cost Filipino taxpayers P16 billion so far to lease-purchase, accessorize, transport, and warehouse the 82,000 PCOS units since 2009, or nearly P200,000 apiece for only two usages – yet the Comelec is throwing another P14 billion into 94,000 new ones;

• All that, when what the country needs is to retain the old manual precinct count, and, as Filipino info-technologists demonstrated, automate with cheap ordinary tablets and cell phones only the transmission and canvassing where wholesale cheating used to be done;

• Despite the PCOS’ vaunted invulnerability, syndicates inside the Comelec still were able to sell party-list congressional seats and fabricate fake results, as proven in Compostela, Cebu; Biliran; Pasay City; General Tinio, Nueva Ecija; Dinalupihan, Bataan, and elsewhere;

• During the dry run a week before Election 2010, the randomly picked PCOS test units churned out votes only for the outgoing admin’s presidential bet, requiring the rush replacement and reformatting of 152,000 compact-flash cards by 6,000 Smartmatic techs, thus teaching the cheaters among them the secret programming codes;

• Again in 2013 Smartmatic technicians altered the figures of the Comelec Transparency Server, after PPCRV tabulators noticed the surge of an impossible 20 million precinct results, more than half of the estimated 35-million turnout, within only two hours of the closing of the balloting;

• The PCOS produced a 60-30-10-percent result for admin-opposition-independent senatorial candidates in all precincts, districts, municipalities, cities, and provinces – defying usual voting patterns, like regional junking for Bicolano candidates, ARMM preference for Muslims, and known bailiwicks.

In bidding for new PCOS machines this year, the Comelec reverted to Optical Mark Reader, OMR, the generic term for the scanning varieties. But the derogatory “O-MaR” emerged due to suspicions of cheating by the ruling LP, after Malacañang filled up the three Comelec vacancies with known allies. Mar Roxas’s campaigners loudly had complained about being cheated by the PCOS in 2010, but are now its staunchest defenders.

The new moniker VCM does not conceal the crimes committed via the PCOS. “Vote counting machines” predictably will be replaced with “vote cheating machine” when the Election 2016 fabricated results come in.

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Forecasting acute power shortage in two years, the DOE is inviting new generation companies (Gencos) to invest. But it is not offering normal incentives, like ease of doing business, assistance in basic set-up needs for land and infrastructures, tax breaks, and all-important freedom from extortionate BIR-Customs and local officials. Instead, it is enticing new Gencos by stacking the system in their favor, to the detriment of distribution utilities and electric cooperatives (DUs, ECs) – and consequently, us, consumers.

The DOE’s odd enticement is called CSP, for Competitive Selection Process. It is far from competitive though in determining the electricity rate in franchise areas. On the contrary, Gencos can jack up the rates through price fixing and supply tightening.

Under the CSP, DUs and ECs are compelled to hold biddings for long-term power supply agreements. But the new Gencos favored by DOE are not bound to join, only if they so wish as friendly competitors. (Most old Gencos already are locked into supply contracts up to their maximum capacities, so naturally cannot take on more customers.) Such process not only fosters collusion; Gencos also may divvy up for contracting among themselves the regional DUs and ECs.

An anomalous situation already has arisen in Central Luzon, where the DOE test-ran the CSP. The winning Genco bidder turned out to not be offering the lowest electricity rate, as the loser turned around and offered an even lower rate in the Ilocos Region.

That’s not the end of it. Gencos that had been left out of the Central Luzon bidding are now declaring ability to supply power at lower rates than ever. The lowest of the last-minute offerers is 50 centavos per kilowatt-hour less.

That discount would have been a big relief for residential, commercial, and industrial customers who are reeling from the costliest electricity in Asia. But the DU that conducted the DOE’s forced bidding has no choice but to sign up with the declared winner. Showing reluctance, it has been threatened with civil damage suits.

There’s another flaw with the DOE’s CSP. The winning bid price may not necessarily be what consumers actually would pay. The Genco can stick them up with the additional cost of fuel. If they happened to borrow in foreign currencies to set up shop, they can collect exchange rate differentials in case the peso value drops.

Worst is in case of a drop in contracted electricity supply. In such case, the Genco may opt out, leaving the DU or EC to scrounge around from the expensive WESM, or wholesale electricity spot market. Greater Manilans experienced price shocks two Christmases ago, when Meralco had to buy from WESM, as Gencos profiteered from the sudden maintenance shutdowns of DOE-run power plants.

The independent Energy Regulatory Commission frowns on the CSP. It believes the present system better, in letting DUs and ECs negotiate for themselves the best rates from tested Gencos. Operating under restraints in price setting and systems losses, they naturally look for the best deals, from which consumers ultimately benefit.

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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













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