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Opinion

Lotto, pork barrels, elections: numbers that mesmerize

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Lotto queues grew longer after Saturday’s P236 million-jackpot. Bettors are tantalized that 433 winners got more than P500,000 each, and 331 second-placers P100,000 each. The six of 55 winning numbers were unusual: 9-18-27-36-45-54, all factors of 9. They daydream of quick, life-changing fortune from a P20 bet.

The chances of winning the 6/55 lotto is one in 29 million, says U.P. Math professor Guido David, PhD. The chances of 433 getting it is 1 followed by 1,224 zeros. Incredulous, Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel, Bar exam top-notcher and college Math honoree, wants an inquiry. So does House counterpart Mars Libanan, to preserve the integrity and credibility of the state lottery.

But do Filipinos care? Are they numerate at all? More than a decade of international exams in Math, Science and Reading Comprehension show Filipino grade-schoolers at the bottom of 79 countries. Learning has deteriorated since the 1950s, the World Bank and Filipino educators note.

Charity Sweepstakes chief Mel Robles dismisses talk of statistical improbability of 433 winners. They supposedly favored “lucky 9”. If so, then why didn’t 331 runners-up complete the multiples of 9?

Most Filipinos nurse numbers corresponding to their and loved ones’ birth dates. That’s why most combinations they bet on, whether in 6/42, 6/45, 6/49, 6/55 or 6/58, do not exceed 31, the days in a month. It has been so since the Spanish times. In “jueteng”, two numbers were bet on from 1 to 31 – until operators in the 1980s upped it to a more profitable 37. Bets are still 1-31 in “EZ2”, the legalized “jueteng”.

People think numbers in terms of cash on hand. For those living hand-to-mouth, that cash is in the low three digits. For middle-income earners, it’s five to six digits a month. Few Filipinos comprehend millions, billions, trillions. Those may mean the stars in the universe or sand in a bucket, never money in the pocket.

Can that be the reason why Filipinos don’t care about multibillion-peso intelligence and confidential funds for Malacañang, the Vice President and even the Secretary of Education? Is that why the House of Reps can forestall scrutiny of the 2023 national budget for more multibillion-peso hidden pork barrels?

That budget is P5.268 trillion. Separate is P588 billion in unprogrammed lump sums – pork, as outlawed by the Supreme Court. Too many zeros for the innumerate to grasp.

Last week, on President Bongbong Marcos’ certification of urgency, congressmen rushed budget passage: 289 “yes”, three “no”. All then went on five-week break, Oct. 1-Nov.6, to observe All Saints/All Souls Day. Photographed junketing in Singapore over the weekend with the First Couple were four congressmen: Marcos Jr.’s first cousin and wife, son, and female colleague.

Coincidental news reports were of billions of pesos in typhoon damage to agriculture, homes and shops, and tens of thousand evacuees to schoolhouses. Again too many digits to fathom.

“They’ve been fudging the big numbers,” asserts former information-communication technology secretary Eliseo Rio. He has been questioning the ballot count of last election night, May 9. The results from Comelec’s transparency server were statistically, physically and administratively improbable. More than 20 million votes surged for the top five presidential candidates at 8:02 p.m. An hour later came only 13.2 million, then tapered off every hour till 63 million.

As chairman of the Comelec Advisory Council in Election 2019, Rio has reason to doubt. He conducted time-and-motion studies of the electronic vote process. As in 2022, balloting ended at 7 p.m. But voters within 30 meters were let into the precinct to vote. Detailed procedures followed.

After formal closing, viewed by political party and poll watchers, the three members of the Board of Election Inspectors keyed their digital signatures into the vote-counting machines. A button was pressed to disallow any more ballots. After VCM response, more buttons commenced tallying. This took at least ten minutes. If errors were committed, the steps were repeated.

Eight copies of the election returns (ERs) for national results were printed. Tallies were for dozens of candidates for president, VP, senator, party list. Printing of one ER took three to four minutes, or 24 to 32 for the eight. Eight more copies of ERs for hundreds more local candidates followed. Another 24-32 minutes.

Only then were ERs transmitted to the transparency server; in 2022 at a university in Manila. Since election automation in 2010, the result graphs have always been bell curves. “Not this 2022,” Rio remarks. “The count peaked an hour after closing.” About a third of the 106,439 clustered precincts finished formalities and printing in less than an hour, posted 20 million votes for president, then subsided.

Rio questions other stats. How can the presidential winner get 31 million, when the previous got only 16.6 million? Why were there half a million more votes for VP than for president? Why were there more votes for president and VP than for the senatorial top-notch, when all elections since 1947 had the top three or four always exceeding them?

There is only one way to quell suspicion, Rio reiterated in a recent forum. Comelec must show proof, with transmission time stamps, that ERs did pour in bulk at 8:02 p.m. With former Finance Executives Institute president Franklin Ysaac and former Election Commissioner Gus Lagman, he requested the Comelec in July to publicize the records.

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

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