Why did Comelec junk two poll safeguards?

MANILA, Philippines—All this time, I have written mostly about unnerving delays in the Comelec timetable and the absolute need for accuracy in the printing and delivery of the automated ballots and in the calibration and delivery of the PCOS machines. So readers asked why I have not taken up possible computer glitches like source code review, transmission failures and hacking of the system.

Overlooked safeguards. I have left these hi-tech issues to others who are more technically qualified than I am (like the Center for People Empowerment in Governance or CenPEG). If it is right in its assessments, then the automation problems are even more disastrous and could cause a nationwide failure of election, not just in some localities as I have feared.

That said, let me however take up two technical points that have not been raised by anyone. First, Comelec asked the SysTest Labs, a US-based software testing company, to certify the source code, but it did not ask for the certification of the two additional software that back up this code. Without such certification, the entire system could be vulnerable to wholesale cheating. Will the National Science Development Board accept the source code certification that excludes these two other vital software?

Second, Comelec inexplicably turned off in all the PCOS machines the ultraviolet scanning devise that detects the ultraviolet code embedded in the ballots. This is similar to the ultraviolet image embedded in our peso bills. Bankers use a simple ultraviolet light to detect this image and to sort out fake peso bills.

The PCOS machines were equipped with this “ultraviolet light” to reject counterfeit ballots. Why did Comelec turn off this detecting device in all the PCOS machines? Yet it strangely changed the color of the ballot boxes from clear to black on the alleged ground that clear boxes would allow sunshine to erase the ultraviolet markings on the ballots.

Indeed, why did Comelec junk these two vital technical safeguards?

Manual count of automated ballots. Here’s another question persistently raised by readers. If, for any reason, the PCOS machines fail to function, Comelec has a back-up plan: the manual count of the automated ballots. Isn’t this sufficient to cure any automation failure?

With due respect to Comelec, I say “No.” The back-up plan assumes that the ballots have been printed correctly and delivered correctly to the correct precinct at the correct time. Both the correctness and the timing of the ballot printing and delivery are precisely the big logistical ifs. The automated ballots and the PCOS machines are “precinct specific.” If the ballots are inaccurately printed (say, some candidates are omitted), or are not delivered properly and on time, no election would take place. Thus, there would be no “shaded” ballots to count.

In contrast, the manual ballots are “generic.” The candidates’ names are not pre-printed. The voters write down the names of the candidates on the blank spaces of the ballots. So even if, at the last minute, the Supreme Court orders the inclusion of candidates earlier disqualified by Comelec, no failure would ensue because voters can simply write the candidates’ names.

Incidentally, three little known courier companies have been named to deliver the PCOS machines. Why were the big couriers with undisputed track records not selected for this very vital job?

Question of a friend: When there was a failure to hold an election in a town or in a precinct, former Comelec Chairman Bernardo Pardo immediately ordered the calling of a new election on the next day. Can this be done now?

Answer: In case of a failure to deliver the correct printed ballots to the correct precincts, an election on the following day or week is not possible. To repeat, the PCOS system requires the pre-printing of the names of the candidates on the ballots, which could be done only at the National Printing Office where the unique printing machines and paper are located.

On the other hand, manual balloting would also not be possible because manual ballots would not be available. Under the manual polls supervised by Pardo, the ballots were generic and could be filled up by the voters by writing their choices. Hence, a new manual election could be called instantly.

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Grand Anvil for teachers. Congratulations to Metrobank Foundation (MBF). Its flagship project, the Search for Outstanding Teachers (SOT), has been awarded the Grand Anvil by the Public Relations Society of the Philippines. The Grand Anvil is the highest award, the “Oscar” of public relations.

Having been chairman of the SOT board of judges in 1997 and 1998, I am a witness to the value and worth of the search. I know that teachers all over the country look upon it as the “Olympics” of their career. Becoming one of the 10 yearly winners is their crowning glory. It means cash, plaques, grants and national recognition.

Apart from teachers, MBF spends P100 million a year to search for and reward outstanding soldiers, policemen, journalists, artists, designers, and scholars. A few months ago, the MBF, along with Toyota Motors Philippines Foundation, built and donated to the University of the Philippines a separate P100-million Asian Heritage House and Auditorium.

Kudos to Dr. George S. K. Ty, MBF chairman, for conceiving, supporting and funding the SOT and other MBF projects, and to former Secretary Chito Sobrepeña, MBF president, for steering and patiently shepherding them.

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