POSTSCRIPT / April 28, 2013 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Source Code review vital to poll integrity

ONCE AGAIN: This is another attempt to explain what a Source Code is. And why it is crucial to ensuring the integrity of the May 13 automated polls using Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) computers.

The PCOS hardware is run by software or a set of instructions written in Binary Code which uses strings of ones (1) and zeroes (0) that only the machine can read or interpret.

The binary code is actually a translation of the source code, which is the original program written in a technical language that humans can read.

It follows that the binary code installed in the PCOS machine must be confirmed to be a correct and exact translation of the source code written for it.

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BINARY STRINGS: After the source code is written, a compiler converts it into binary code using only two bits – one (1) and zero (0) – to rewrite the program in machine language.

Binary encoding has been simplified with the use of only “1” and “0”, which are the bits generated by the “on” or “off” states that the computer take. (These two bits do not have the same meaning or value as the 1 and 0 in our decimal number system.)

The letters of the alphabet are written in binary as: A=01000001; a=01100001; B=01000010; b=01100010; C=01000011; c=01100011; … etc. … X=01011000; x=01111000; Y=01011001; y=01111001; Z=01011010; and z=01111010.

So the word “ax” would be written in binary as 0110000101111000 – long and incomprehensible to humans, but read in a flash by a computer.

Note that even the capital and the small letters have different binary representations. The 10 digits (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 0) of our decimal system are also represented by eight-bit patterns. Same thing with special characters, symbols and punctuation marks.

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NO REVIEW: Since we humans — including Comelec officials, politicians and information technology experts — cannot read binary, the election law orders that at least three months before Election Day, concerned local parties must be able to review the readable source code.

There must be absolute certainty that the instructions to the PCOS are flawless, fair and not malicious. For instance, what if a line had been inserted in the tenor of “for every five votes for Candidate A, credit one of the five votes for Candidate B”?

This sample computerized “dagdag-bawas” cannot be detected if there is no review of the source code. That required review by local shareholders such as political parties and poll watchdogs has not been done.

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BY FAITH ALONE: Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. of the Commission on Elections said that the 80,000 or so PCOS machines will run even without the source code since they already have its equivalent, the binary code, installed.

He could be right — if the binary code has not been tampered or corrupted. But how sure are we that the binary code waiting in ambush in all those PCOS machines is a faithful translation of the source code?

Until now, nobody knows for sure, except for a US-based reviewer contracted to do it. Brillantes wants us voters to accept by faith that everything is in order.

And then, if the correct binary code had been installed in the sample machines being shown by Comelec, what is the assurance that the same safe code was installed in each and every PCOS deployed all over the country?

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OTHER KINKS: We are just talking here of the source code and the problematic PCOS.

What about the other critical details such as the transmission and canvassing of scores, the setting aside of the digital signatures of the Board of Election Inspectors required by law to validate returns, the use of rewritable compact flash cards that have been vehicles for substituting fake results, etc.?

With the series of delays and cover-ups by a commission seemingly captured by its favored foreign supplier of PCOS machines and paraphernalia, voters are left with no choice till Election Day except to bow to the inevitable.

It’s too late, Brillantes said with a hint of triumph in his voice. We the citizens have been reduced to wondering if we are really this helpless.

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LOSSES MOUNT: What is the government doing to solve the electricity problem that might disrupt the elections in Mindanao?

The proposal of Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla for industries to shut down for a day or use their generators on May 13 even if there is enough power supply in the Mindanao grid is easier said than done.

It could even aggravate business losses. As it is, productivity has declined during this summer marked by daily brownouts of six to eight hours a day.

Low production means higher costs for factories and businesses. An official of the chamber of commerce in Southern Mindanao complained that losses could reach as high as P100 million a month. Industries pay up to P2 million more every day to run their own generators.

One tuna canning factory in General Santos City paid an additional P200,000 for salaries even if it was forced to suspend operations for two days because there was no electricity.

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SLOW POKE: The government has included in its list of fresh power sources for Election Day some 30 megawatts from a 30-year-old power plant in Iligan City revived recently after being down for almost two years.

Experts are worried that the 98-MW Iligan Diesel Power Plant sold to Mapalad Power Corp. which started repairing its old diesel generators only last March may be unable to deliver the 30-MW by May 13 considering many technical problems in reviving ageing equipment.

Mapalad also has to deal again with bureaucracy and public support for its power supply agreements with various electricity cooperatives controlling distribution in the area.

Without Energy Regulatory Commission approval, electricity produced from the Iligan plant, or any other power plant in the country, cannot be sold to anyone. And Election Day is just two weeks away!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 28, 2013)

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