Despite scathing criticisms damning the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) system, the automated elections will be held tomorrow (Monday) as scheduled. Let us all go out and vote.
Major criticism. The critics’ main complaint is that the PCOS system lacks transparency, making it very vulnerable to fraud and manipulation. From the time the ballot is inserted into the machine until the winners are known, the counting, transmission and canvass are done faster than the speed of knowledge in total secrecy without human intervention, thereby preempting any lawyerly “Objection!”
Compounding the secrecy is the failure of the Commission on Elections to open the source code for review at least six months prior to the casting of ballots, as mandated by law. That the source code was made available a few days ago gives critics little comfort because it can no longer be tested and scrutinized before Election Day; and if corrupted, it can no longer be exposed and corrected on time.
Critics also lament the use of rewritable compact flash (CF) cards, thereby allowing the embedded program to be altered. They aver that the fraud-proof WORM (write-once-read-many) CF types should have been procured. Inserted into each of the 82,000 PCOS machines, the CF cards are programmed to read the names of the local candidates printed on the ballots in specific towns and cities. Once corrupted, they would not be able to read the “precinct-specific” ballots.
The adamant refusal of Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. to conduct a parallel manual count to countercheck the secretive electronic count, and his sequestration of the random manual audit (RMA) to only one per legislative district, aggravate the critics no end.
Worse, the Comelec chief’s justification for his aversion to a parallel count—that a manual count will not match the electronic count—boggles them into concluding that the PCOS system is unreliable and should not have been adopted in the first place.
These criticisms are not really new. They were aired during the 2010 presidential election. Nonetheless, I agree that, ideally, they should have been addressed, settled and cured by the Comelec during the last three years. That would have quieted down the criticisms and ensured more credible 2013 elections.
Orderly and peaceful. Having said that, I nonetheless believe that, barring unforeseen circumstances beyond the Comelec’s control, the elections tomorrow will be generally peaceful, orderly and credible. Why?
Definitely and most assuredly, the preparations for this year’s elections are better than the previous one in 2010 when the CF cards had to be hurriedly replaced 10 days prior to Election Day, and when logistical nightmares (like the hodgepodge delivery of the “precinct-specific” ballots) threatened the viability of the election.
During the 2010 polls, there were genuine fears that, should automation fail, no new president would be elected (no-el) and proclaimed (no-proc), thereby enabling President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to hold over indefinitely, or military adventurers to take over amid the electoral vacuum.
This time, these dire scenarios are nowhere. The presidency is not at stake, and even if automation fails, the government can continue functioning. Despite all these criticisms and the Comelec’s sloppy preparation, the 2010 exercise turned out well and the overall results were accepted by the people and by most defeated candidates.
To his eternal credit, second-placer Joseph Ejercito Estrada acknowledged the People Power tsunami and promptly conceded the presidency to Benigno Aquino III, a tribute to him and to the much-maligned PCOS automation system.
Notably, none of the election protests filed in the Comelec and the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal belied the PCOS counts. True, there were minor glitches here and there, but no electoral protest succeeded in discrediting the automated count.
Parallel manual count. The delay in the review of the source code is not a legal ground to stop or annul the elections. Brillantes repeatedly assured our people that the binary code, the machine-readable equivalent of the human-readable source code, is already imbedded in the CF cards that will run the PCOS system. I think Smartmatic and Dominion, the hardware and software suppliers of the system, will not risk their worldwide automation businesses by delivering a defective source code.
Brillantes’ reluctance to conduct a parallel manual count is understandable. A parallel count is not only expensive and tedious but also confusing and troublesome. The manual count will not always match the electronic count simply because different rules of appreciation govern the two counting systems.
For example, the PCOS machines are programmed to read shaded ovals and will not count “checked” ones. On the other hand, a checked oval shows the voter’s intention to vote. Hence, a manual count will include it. Machines will always count as programmed. But humans are not “programmable” and will not count like automatons.
Automation hastens the counting and canvassing, and lessens the opportunity for human machinations. But it is not completely fraud-proof or error-free. Neither will it eliminate “guns, goons and gold” and vote-buying. But all these risks should not deter us from casting our ballots tomorrow. I invite the proponents and critics of the PCOS system to lay aside their verbal wars temporarily, go to the polls early, queue up patiently, shade their ballots carefully, and choose our leaders wisely and peacefully.
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