POSTSCRIPT / March 25, 2007 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why Comelec junked computerized elections

‘BOTONG PINOY’ — Days ago, I witnessed a demonstration of how nationwide elections could be automated, how the counting and tabulating could be made faster and cheating thereby minimized — at practically no additional cost to the government.

Called “Botong Pinoy,” the simple system put together by the Mega Data Corp. (not to be confused with the Mega Pacific e-Solutions consortium) goes like this:

A dedicated software is installed in ordinary home or office computers placed in polling precincts. The software converts them into instant voting machines!

On the computer screen, the voter sees the names and small photos of the candidates. He touches the pictures/names of his chosen candidates and presses an Enter key. His vote is registered, saved, safeguarded, and counted with other votes cast earlier.

Next voter comes in and follows the same simple procedure. All he needs is one finger to touch the screen. Nothing to write or sign.

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TAMPER-PROOF: At any given time, there is a running total. At the end of the voting period, the computer is made to print out a tabulation (aside from showing it on the screen) and the score for that computer/voting machine is known.

If two or more machines have been installed in the precinct to enable simultaneous voting, these are pre-wired together and one of them is made to consolidate their individual vote counts.

From that precinct, the voting results are transmitted to a tabulating center (say, the Comelec office in City Hall or the provincial capital and/or the Comelec main in Manila).

Data are electronically transmitted either by telephone lines as in dial-up Internet/email connection or by wireless/radio connection as in texting or calling by cellphones.

In a nationwide election, or at least in places with wireless connections, it is possible to get the consolidated national results by morning of the next day.

The tamper-proof speedy count eliminates the notorious delays in counting, consolidating and transmitting election results using the primitive manual procedure that spawns endless charges of cheating.

* * *

PINOY SOFTWARE: The heart of the system is the dedicated software, which is the program or set of commands that runs or operates the computer and makes it function as desired.

The software or program was written by Filipinos purposely for the unique Philippine setting. The Comelec can use it for free.

Voting is simplified since the voter just touches the picture or name of the candidate of his choice on the screen. It is like ordering on a vendo or transacting through a bank’s automated teller machine (ATM).

Any computer can be used, although laptops are not favored because their moving screens make them cumbersome to use. Computers to be used can draw power from any source, even from the lighter outlet of a car.

The Comelec need not spend another P1 billion to buy new computers. There are many civic-spirited persons and organizations in every town or city willing to lend their desktop units to ensure an honest and speedy count.

Still, the Commission on Elections has thumbed down automation or adopting the “Botong Pinoy” system for the May 2007 polls.

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ZERO COST: Magkano ba yang special “Botong Pinoy” election software?

Jose O. Avedillo, vice president/chief marketing officer of the Mega Group handling the project, said their conglomerate was willing to lend the software to the Comelec at zero cost to the government.

So, I said, that’s why the Comelec rejected it. Elections are held only every three years and here is the Mega Group telling the poll commissioners they do not have to spend one billion for anything this time!

Come May 14 then, be ready for the old mano-mano procedure, and brace for the usual fallout of poll protests.

Pray that our fragile democracy can survive the wear and tear.

* * *

U.S. MEDDLING: Americans and their local runners need not froth in the mouth reacting to local news and commentaries on US intervention in Philippine domestic affairs.

Foreign intervention is a historical fact. It is also policy. No amount of angry rhetoric, denial or letters to the editor can expunge that reality.

When we report on it, we do not necessarily advocate an immediate end to it. Having been around long enough, we have realized that nothing can stop American meddling in our affairs — as long as we have strategic value to the US and we have leaders who are in cahoots with or in perpetual bondage to Washington.

One dream we have is that one morning, we would see our president finally leveling with the people and making sumbong about things he/she is being forced to do despite the knowledge that such action is damaging to long-term national interest.

But if they treat us fairly, our American friends need not worry about Filipinos turning against them.

By and large, we are pro-American. In fact, I dare say that nine out of every 10 Filipinos will not mind having these fair islands incorporated into the American union.

It is not nice to hear, but it is true.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 25, 2007)

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