POSTSCRIPT / January 15, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Pinoy ingenuity ensures holding of May elections

TULOY ANG ELECTION!: Relax lang po tayo. It’s not the end of the world.

As you will soon discover, the national elections will be held as scheduled on the second Monday of May as set by the Constitution and with a degree of computerization as mandated by law.

The Supreme Court only voided the defective contract between the Commission on Elections and the Mega Pacific eSolutions Inc. (aka Mega Pacific consortium) for the automation of ballot counting and canvassing. The court did not forbid automation or computerization of the electoral process.

Filipinos are ever resilient and resourceful. We are confident that the Comelec, despite some of the “commissioners” who had infiltrated it, will find a better alternative to Mega Pacific’s discredited computerization scheme.

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DEVASTATING DECISION: The 101-page en banc decision penned by Associate Justice Artemio V. Panganiban is devastating in its simplicity, lucidity and being straight to the point. Read its opening three pages:

“There is grave abuse of discretion (1) when an act is done contrary to the Constitution, the law or jurisprudence; or (2) when it is executed whimsically, capriciously or arbitrarily out of malice, ill will or personal bias. In the present case, the Commission on Elections approved the assailed Resolution and awarded the subject Contract not only in clear violation of law and jurisprudence, but also in reckless disregard of its own bidding rules and procedure.

“For the automation of the counting and canvassing of the ballots in the 2004 elections, Comelec awarded the Contract to ‘Mega Pacific Consortium,’ an entity that had not participated in the bidding. Despite this grant, the poll body signed the actual automation Contract with ‘Mega Pacific eSolutions, Inc.,’ a company that joined the bidding but had not met the eligibility requirements.

“Comelec awarded this billion-peso undertaking with inexplicable haste, without adequately checking and observing mandatory financial, technical and legal requirements. It also accepted the proffered computer hardware and software even if, at the time of the award, they had undeniably failed to pass eight critical requirements designed to safeguard the integrity of elections, especially the following three items:

  • “They failed to achieve the accuracy rating criteria of 99.9995 percent set up by the Comelec itself.
  • “They were not able to detect previously downloaded results at various canvassing or consolidation levels and to prevent those from being inputted again.
  • “They were unable to print the statutorily required audit trails of the count/canvass at different levels without any loss of data.

“Because of the foregoing violations of law and the glaring grave abuse of discretion committed by Comelec, the Court has no choice but to exercise its solemn “constitutional duty” to void the assailed Resolution and the subject Contract. The illegal, imprudent and hasty actions of the Commission have not only desecrated legal and jurisdictional norms, but have also cast serious doubts upon the poll body’s ability and capacity to conduct automated elections.”

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VINDICATION: On a personal note, we welcome the Supreme Court decision because it vindicates us and the Infotech experts, one of them Gus Lagman, whom we have been consulting.

The ruling slapped down, for one, a certain Atty. Alfredo Lazaro of Mega Pacific who insisted on defending the indefensible. He told the public, even in the op-ed pages of the PhilSTAR, that we did not know what we were talking about and have been peddling falsehoods.

Regular readers will note that while Atty. Lazaro disputes the facts we have been citing since last year in this column, the Supreme Court itself affirmed the same facts and struck down the Mega Pacific contract being justified by him.

Atty. Lazaro may want to advise his clients not to move for reconsideration as such futile exercise would just delay further the preparations for the May 10 elections.

He might also want to advise them to get a better lawyer since they will soon face serious charges related to the attempted rip-off running into hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money.

* * *

MAKING MONEY: Oh yes, the money… With more than P849 million already paid to Mega Pacific, graft-busters should check if part of the money has been kicked back to some commissioners at the poll body.

We were having lunch days ago with some foreign diplomats who wanted insights into the coming elections. On alleged corruption in the poll body, we tried defending our Comelec, but our effort may not have registered well.

We pointed out (and we regret having done so) that some poll officials have a chance to make money only once every three years when elections are held. The rest of the time, we said, they just sit around and twiddle their thumbs to make the musty air in the office move.

We gave a parallel in the publishing business. If you publish a weekly magazine, you have 52 chances in one year to make money. But if you are publishing a daily newspaper, you have more (365) chances in the same period.

If you hold elections only once every three years, we said, you crawl through the desert for three years before reaching an oasis. Will you be forgiven if you leaped into the water and quaffed it in gulps? (Don’t answer that one.)

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USED IN CALIFORNIA: We reported earlier about a FilAm election technology expert who uses ordinary desktop and laptop computers — linked to a nationwide network, safeguarded by the latest encryption technology and running on a specially written program — to achieve the same results, and more, contracted with Mega Pacific.

The computers will be loaded with a common software or program written for the purpose. Each machine will have something like an exclusive email address using the Internet domain of the Comelec (it already has one).

The results of the vote-counting in the precincts are saved in the computer’s hard disk (and backed up on a CD if a CD burner is installed). The data are transmitted immediately to the Comelec like in sending an email. The head office automatically tabulates and consolidates the reports so totals can be had within one day.

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SIMPLE & SECURE: What if there is no electricity in the remote barangays? No problem. The computers can be hooked to 12-volt car batteries or similar sources of DC power.

The transmission can be through (PLDT or dedicated) phone lines in dial-up fashion. Where no such cables are available, cellphones can be used. (Many journalists in the field compose their stories on their laptops and use their cellphones to transmit the data to their editorial offices.)

Nobody can intercept and tamper with the data being “emailed.” If goons hijack the computer and attempt to send false reports, they have to first beat the password out of the poll chairman in the presence of voters, kibitzers and party representatives keeping watch. (There will surely be a big crowd since elections are a national pastime and a spectator sport in this neck of the woods.)

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HEART & SOUL: Anybody with a legitimate need for a copy of the results (the media, political parties, Namfrel, etc.) can be given a hard copy since the computer will have a printer attached to it. The recipients can countercheck their copies against one another.

In the richer barangays, like maybe Forbes Park, a big screen can be set up so more people can watch the tabulation as it progresses. There can be these add-ons, but the basic hardware will be the computer and the printer operating on a special program.

The heart and secret of the simple and comparatively inexpensive setup (definitely not P1.3 billion!) is the program. The Fil-Am proponent has written and successfully used such software in various elections in California. He can tailor it to suit our peculiar situation.

He told us that the entire computerized setup could be put in place with ample time left for testing and demonstration.

Note, btw, that until now Mega Pacific has not even submitted the final program that its Korean counting machines were supposed to use. It has been overtaken by the adverse court decision.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 15, 2004)

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