Antidotes to automated ‘dagdag-bawas’

MANILA, Philippines—Election cheating at the precinct level is said to be “retail” because it involves small quantities, while that committed at the municipal, provincial or national level is said to be “wholesale” because it defiles huge numbers of votes, running to hundreds of thousands, even millions.

Dagdag-bawas. At the retail level, “guns, goons and gold” are used to intimidate voters or to prevent them from voting at all. In contrast, wholesale fraud is not inflicted directly on the voters. Rather, it targets the election documents used in consolidating votes, like certificates of canvass and statements of votes. It reduces the tallied votes of one candidate and adds them to another.

For example, a document that originally shows 50,000 votes for candidate Juan is altered by adding the figure “1” to show “150,000.” Then, the votes of candidate Pedro, originally at 120,000, are reduced to 20,000 by erasing the figure “1.” In an instant, Juan’s votes increase by 100,000 and Pedro’s decrease by the same number. Quite descriptive of this dreaded wholesale fraud is the vernacular dagdag-bawas (literally, “add-subtract”).

The big question is whether dagdag-bawas can happen under the automated system. If the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines perform flawlessly as they should, this type of manual cheating is theoretically impossible because the machines prepare all election documents electronically, without any human intervention. Implicitly then, automated dagdag-bawas can happen if the PCOS, especially their “source codes,” are corrupted.

Antidotes, anyone? In Roque vs Comelec (Sept. 10, 2009), the Supreme Court said, “the Source Code, defined in RA 9369 as the ‘human readable instructions that define what the computer equipment will do…’ shall be available and opened for review by political parties, candidates and the citizens’ arms.” Obviously, the goal of the review is to detect and prevent possible perversion of the code.

However, before opening the review to the public, the Commission on Elections asked a United States-based software testing company, SysTest Labs, to certify whether the source code would work as expected. The Comelec will open the source code for local review only after the certification is received in February 2010.

If, after such review, it is proven that the source code is flawed, what would happen? Comelec IT consultant Renato B. Garcia replied that the Comelec might junk the PCOS and revert to the manual system. He said there is no way of preventing electronic wholesale cheating, except via this review and opening. But would a shift to the manual system be practicable in or after February 2010?

If Comelec Chairman Jose A. R. Melo has nightmares because of the delay in the delivery of the PCOS, I have insomnia thinking of how to detect and solve machine flaws that could lead to wholesale fraud. Does anyone know of antidotes to automated dagdag-bawas?

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Mega sweet victory. Congratulations to new Supreme Court Justice Martin S. Villarama Jr. I believe he personifies the four “Ins” of an ideal magistrate—independence, integrity, intelligence and industry. He holds the unmatched record of being nominated nine consecutive times, one for each of the last nine vacancies in the high court, starting in February 2007.

During those nine times, he was consistently on top of the nomination list not only of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) but also of the Supreme Court. No one has been as tenaciously honored as he had been. Despite not being anointed in his earlier eight tries, Villarama kept his head high and never stooped to beg for his appointment. “Bahala na lang po ang Panginoon sa akin,” he repeatedly sighed during our tennis games.

Congratulations too to the JBC for its grit and independence. As I have always said, the quality of our judiciary begins with quality nominations from a courageous JBC. Recall that a few months ago, it rejected the overture of the Palace to add more names to the original list of six nominees it earlier sent to fill up the two vacancies existing at the time. (For details of this constitutional standoff, see my columns on Aug. 2, 9 and 16.)

Victory for the JBC too. In the end, Malacañang blinked and accepted the JBC’s well-reasoned, granite-hard stance that “the decision whether to include… more names exclusively belongs to the JBC… it cannot be compromised in the tiniest degree without impairing the delicate check and balance in the appointment” of justices. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo retreated and appointed Justices Mariano C. Del Castillo and Roberto A. Abad from the unchanged JBC list.

That victory served the JBC well. As in the past, the JBC nominated only three for this new vacancy and did not include the perceived Palace favorites. Having been barred from asking for more names, the Palace appointed Villarama from the short JBC list.

Luckily, the other two nominees, Court of Appeals Justices Hakim S. Abdulwahid and Noel G. Tijam, will have new chances due to two more vacancies created by the retirement of Justices Leonardo A. Quisumbing on Nov. 6 and Minita V. Chico-Nazario on Dec. 5.

All Supreme Court members, including Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno who was named head of the judiciary on Dec. 7, 2006, are now appointees of President Arroyo. Nonetheless, I believe our people need not despair. I think we can still rely on the patriotism and independence of many justices who know only too well that, ultimately, history and posterity will judge them on how they judge their cases.

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