POSTSCRIPT / April 18, 2013 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Brillantes not worried about election failure?

NO PLAN ‘B’: What does Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. eat for breakfast? How come he is not the least bothered that something wrong might just happen on Election Day while many people, including lawyers, politicians and IT experts, are deathly worried?

Hope not, but supposing a significant number of the vaunted Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines of the Commission on Elections malfunction on May 13. What is the alternate plan of the Brillantes Comelec? None.

This is no idle question. Just last weekend in Hong Kong, Brillantes himself witnessed how two of his beloved PCOS used in the overseas absentee voting of Filipinos there “bled” and rejected ballots, disrupting the voting.

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MALFUNCTIONS: The HK bleeding was no surprise since the 60,000+ second-hand PCOS machines bought for P1.6 billion from Comelec’s “suki” Smartmatic have earned a reputation for acting up at critical moments.

In the mock voting conducted with fanfare in 10 scattered locations last February, the same old machines malfunctioned and cut short the demo election to the embarrassment of Comelec officials.

A machine at the UP Integrated School in Diliman, for instance, failed to initialize after the password was keyed in. When it finally started, it rejected four ballots that had no defects. Officials explained that they had just come from long storage, which is no excuse at all.

For that matter, way back in 2010 when they were still brand-new and used for the first time, widespread complaints about machine errors and false voting results were reported.

But the reported irregularities were ignored for fear the cases might put in question the national elections where then Sen. Noynoy Aquino came out president minus his losing vice presidential running mate Sen. Mar Roxas.

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SOFTWARE ISSUE: That is just about problematic hardware. Until this late date Brillantes has not been able to settle key questions about the software that will operate the machines.

Under the law, the source code — the readable equivalent of the set of programmed instructions given the PCOS in coded machine language — must be opened for review by specified accredited parties three months before Election Day.

It is already less than a month to May 13, and Brillantes has not been able to produce the source code for the required review.

He had given himself several (failed) deadlines for complying with that requirement, but the last deadline (April 15) came and went, but no source code was seen by anyone, even by Brillantes himself.

All that he keeps saying when asked is that he was 95-percent sure the legal dispute between Smartmatic (the PCOS hardware provider) and Dominion (the software developer) would be settled soon and make the source code available.

He even suggested the bizarre, possibly criminal, idea of Comelec advancing in escrow the $10 million that Dominion was reportedly demanding from Smartmatic.

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ALIEN-MANAGED: But even if the source code were opened this very day, it would still be in violation of the automated election law setting that critical milestone three months before Election Day to allow time for any revision or adjustment.

In fact, that was the same violation in the 2010 elections when the source code was never reviewed as required by law. The Comelec simply gave assurances that it was kept in the Central Bank vault. That claim was never verified or shown to be true.

So now many sectors monitoring the scary developments leading to May 13 are asking if Brillantes and his “commissioners” can be trusted to manage the 2013 automated elections to ensure it is honest, fair and orderly.

In 2010, the Comelec virtually turned over to a foreign firm (Smartmatic) the management of the elections. This may be understandable, because no poll official understood the technical mumbo-jumbo, but nonetheless illegal.

Not only that. The Comelec illegally turned over to the PCOS machine the human task entrusted by law to the Board of Election Inspectors to sign and validate the election returns per precinct!

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BLEEDING: Explaining the Hong Kong spectacle, Brillantes said the PCOS machines malfunctioned when a smudged ballot was inserted. The form “bled” because the marker’s ink used to shade the ovals ran and smeared the ballot.

Bleeding is likely to happen when substandard (possibly overpriced?) marking pens and/or inferior ballot paper is used.

Because of the bleeding, two PCOS could no longer read correctly the ballots so had to be laid aside. Now if that happened in Hong Kong, whose ambience is more favorable to computers than that of the humid, dusty Philippine countryside, what will happen on May 13?

Possible scattered, if not widespread, PCOS malfunctioning raises a scary scenario in this archipelago of more than 7,000 islands some of which lack dependable electricity.

Are Brillantes & Co. ready for a failure of elections and, maybe, impeachment?

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CAMI INDUCTION: At his Coconut Palace office yesterday, Vice President Jejomar C. Binay inducted the newly elected Board of Trustees of the Capampangan in Media Inc. They were: Cris J. Icban Jr. (Manila Bulletin), chairman; Fred M. de la Rosa (Manila Times), vice chairman; Federico D. Pascual Jr. (Philippine Star), president; Ernie Y. Tolentino (dzRB/Kami Naman), vice president/Metro Manila; Ashley Manabat (The Voice, Punto), vice president/provinces; Nonnie L. Pelayo (Business Mirror), treasurer; Jose P. Cortez (Philippines Graphic) secretary-general; Vot Vitug (Business Mirror), auditor; and trustees Willie Capulong (NOW), Jake Espino (PNA), Tony Lozano (dzRB/Kami Naman), John Manalili (BCS, PCOO), Al G. Pedroche (Pilipino Star Ngayon), Fred Roxas (PNA), and Vet Vitug (BCDA).

The CAMI is a non-profit professional organization of Capampangan members of print, broadcast and allied media. With an initial 40 members, CAMI was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in December 2004.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 18, 2013)

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