Tuesday, March 27, 2012


by Ducky Paredes

VOTING 5-2, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has decided to take the "option to purchase" on the 82,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines used in the May 2010 elections, along with the software for the Automated Election System (AES) technology and a new consolidation and canvassing system for a discounted price of P1.8 billion.

While two Commissioners disagreed with the decision, it was probably the best way to go. The PCOS machines worked in 2010 where we had an election with all the results out in a little over a week and -- this is the important thing -- there were no major complaints from losing candidates. Of course, the PCOS machines could have done better. In the 2010 elections, several safety features were disabled. Still, the PCOS gave us credible results in record time.

For the 2013 elections, the present Comelec promises a PCOS that will work even better than it did in 2010. It should, because there are already persons trained on the machines and the voters are already familiar with the system. If the Comelec decided to try still another automated voting system, would they be ready in time for May 2013? In making its decision, the Comelec chose the least problematic route. The Comelec has neither the luxury of time nor the funds to gambit on new machines that may not even work for us. The PCOS, except to the techno-geeks who wanted the election to be even more rigidly protocol-compliant, worked wonderfully.

Getting the machines at a huge discount also removed this "major, major" headache for the Comelec: sourcing funds for the 2013 elections. The Comelec proposed a budget of P10 billion for next year’s political exercise, but Congress gave it only P7 billion. Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes had already pointed out in news forums as early as last year that opting to buy the PCOS units would be the most prudent and practical alternative for the poll body, because it would only cost P1.8 billion, or a third of its total value, to buy them.

We should all accept the truth that the PCOS elections in 2010 were our most successful elections ever. Proof of this are the results of the separate surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations, Stratpolls and Pulse Asia.

The international community also responded positively to the outcome of the 2010 elections. Major world economies like the United States and the countries of the European Union described the 2010 automated polls in the Philippines as a resounding success. In fact, officials of developing countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Liberia have expressed interest in visiting the Philippines to find out how we did our 2010 automated elections.

Henrietta de Villa, the chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), backed the Comelec’s choice of Smartmatic-TIM’s PCOS machines and technology for next year’s elections. Her only suggestion is for the Comelec to use shorter ballots to improve measures to preserve the secrecy of the votes cast and for election officers at the precinct level to undergo further training to master the use and handling of the PCOS machines.

The Comelec would not have the luxury of even considering these suggestions had it chosen to buy new machines, given its very limited time frame and the 30% cut in its budget.

While it has the support of the PPCRV, the Comelec’s decision did not sit well with mostly self-styled election reform activists who have so far failed to prove the so-called flaws of the PCOS machines.

AES Watch, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) and Tandem have made it their common mission to disparage the PCOS machines and Smartmatic-TIM.

These PCOS-AES bashers were the main backers of a rival technology—the Open Election System (OES), which the Comelec couldn’t have considered without violating the poll automation law. The OES proposed a mongrel system combining manual voting and computerized canvassing. The Poll Automaton Law called for total computerization of the electoral process.

Worse, returning to the use of manual counting using the OES would still have made possible Dagdag-Bawas, a system of wholesale electoral fraud that became past history with 2010’s full computerization of the balloting from the precinct-level voting to the canvassing of votes.

I have to wonder why Senator Koko Pimentel seems to be listening to the OES people. Koko was a victim of Dagdag-Bawas in 2007. These new allies of Pimentel claim that the PCOS machines are defective. How can that be when an international mission led by the Carter Center attest to the reliability of the optical mark reader (OMR) technology used for the PCOS machines?

Unlike touch-enabled devices using direct recording electronic (DRE) technology that leaves no paper trail, OMR technology assures the Comelec of higher auditability because it uses paper ballots. This is why the Comelec was able to carry out a manual recount of the votes in question in electoral protest cases, such as those in the city of Manila and the congressional district of Catanduanes. (In both, the manual count tallied with the computer’s results.)

Sure, there were glitches in 2010 but for 2013 Chairman Brillantes himself assures that these have already been addressed by Smartmatic-TIM. These include the lack of ultraviolet mark sensors and digital signatures, and problems with the compact flash cards, which contained stored voting data and other instructions on how to operate the machines. Smartmatic-TIM was able to address these concerns in preparation for the 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which was reset since it was synchronized with the 2013 polls.

The Carter Center, whose track record includes 80 election observation missions in 30 countries over the past two decades, lauded the Comelec and the other parties responsible for the clean and orderly conduct of the 2010 elections, which, it concluded, was "marked by relatively high public confidence and trust on the use of the OMR technology."

Further cementing the positive assessment of the Carter Center mission on the conduct of the 2010 elections were the various testimonies it had gathered before the National Board of Canvassers and the hearings of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms on electoral complaints regarding the AES, which "produced no concrete evidence of fraud and did not impact the proclamation and certification of electoral results." 

The observers noted, "voters generally appeared excited and willing to use the new technology."

Given these findings, we are surprised why Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III has joined the critics protesting the use of the PCOS technology for the 2013 elections. (What makes this even stranger is that Pimentel is running under the same Binay-led multiparty coalition as former Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was the Dagdag-Bawas beneficiary. But that is another story.)

Pimentel, who should know better, being a victim of Dagdag-Bawas, should be supporting, rather than protesting, the Comelec’s decision to reuse the PCOS machines. For one, his votes in 2013 would be better protected by a technology already tried and tested in the previous national elections.

The alternatives–a new technology yet unproven and unused in an actual election here, or, (heaven forbid), a return to the Dagdag-Bawas-prone manual voting and counting–would set back the impressive gains that the Comelec had achieved in restoring the integrity of the Philippine ballot and securing broad and deep support behind computerized balloting.

The Comelec did the right thing in going back to the PCOS and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Repost from Malaya Online


I am a Responsible and Principled Citizen.

I will educate myself and others about the issues at hand so that my vote is a meaningful and relevant exercise of my right of suffrage.

I pledge to vote for candidates who will abide by the duly constituted rules on campaigning because I understand that those who refuse to obey the law in the little things are not likely to obey the law in the more important things;

I pledge to vote for candidates who, by word and action, renounce violence, coercion, vote-buying, and corruption as means for getting elected;

I pledge to vote for the candidates who listen to their constituents and are responsive to the needs and aspirations of those they seek to represent;

I pledge to vote as my conscience dictates in all elections.

I make these promises freely and upon my honor.

(This Voter Pledge was read at the Unity Walk of 13 January 2013, by COMELEC Commissioner Elias R. Yusoph)