To Take A Stand -- By Gus Lagman

Comelec to buy PCOS machines?

Posted on January 25, 2011

What’s wrong with the Commission on Elections? Is it still in denial? After all the flak hurled at the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, it still has the temerity to think of purchasing 5,000 of them? According to abs-cbnNEWS, "[Comelec chief Sixto] Brillantes [Jr.] told radio dzMM that the Comelec is planning to buy at least 5,000 PCOS machines from Smartmatic for the ARMM elections.

"He added that he consulted IT consultants of the Comelec, and was advised that they would be doing the right thing if they bought the machines. [Note: The Philippine Computer Society filed a case against the Comelec last year for the latter’s lack of transparency with respect to the system, so it’s interesting to find out who the IT consultants being referred to here are.]

"He said that the initial estimated cost of the machines, plus the software that will be used for the ARMM elections, was P1 billion."

What is going on in the minds of the commissioners?

I’m sure they are aware that the Comelec had been advised by IT practitioners, directly or via media, about the many defects of the Smartmatic-TIM system. The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) wrote a 435-page report about the May 2010 elections discussing this in great detail.

Even earlier, the Comelec Advisory Council declared that the commission should not purchase the PCOS machines.

Even the "Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms Hearings on the Alleged Fraud and Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) Machine Manipulation in the May 10, 2010 Automated Elections" (the congressional committee hearings chaired by former Rep. Teodoro Locsin) concluded that, "Before the next automated election, all the loopholes in the PCOS and the automated election process should be firmly plugged by either the current provider or by another more assiduous supplier. If not, a reversion to manual elections with heightened vigilance by organizations like the PPCRV and NAMFREL would probably yield more credible and accurate results."

In his talk during the J.V. Ongpin Annual Lecture Series, former Comelec Chairman Christian Monsod said, "Finally, there was agreement that the PCOS machines should not be purchased. Thus, if the Comelec decides to purchase the machines, it might be a good idea to insist that all those involved in the transaction be subjected to a lie detector test and asked the question: how much is the commission on this deal?"

Let’s take a look at the figures: 5,000 units is one-sixteenth of the 80,000 units used in the 2010 elections. Since the total cost of the 80,000 units was P7.2 billion, then 5,000 units should only cost P450 million. So why P1 billion?

A few months ago, Comelec said it would only cost the agency 30% more, if it were to purchase the machines. Depending on how that’s interpreted, the 5,000 units should therefore cost only P150-192 million! So why P1 billion? Tsk tsk ...

But some people are saying that the 2010 elections were credible and therefore successful.

The election was credible only because President Noynoy Aquino’s lead was in the millions. It was a landslide victory not unlike the victory of former President Erap Estrada in 1998.

If it were not, here’s what might have happened, according to the congressional committee report, "A tight presidential race, however, where the difference was in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, say, in conjunction with the anomalies uncovered in our hearings, would have thrown the country into turmoil. So, on the national level, our assessment is of a mixed success. Automation showed no substantial advantage. On the local level, our assessment is profound unease."

And Mr. Monsod said, "In short, the Comelec was incredibly incompetent but it was also incredibly lucky. But the cheaters will not be in shock and awe next time and they will be more prepared. And the margins may be small enough to change.

The Comelec commissioners probably believe they are untouchable. They can therefore do anything they want. That the people have no right to question their decisions. They seem to forget that their position is a public trust.

How they are able to get away with violating laws and violating even a direct Supreme Court order, is still a wonder to me. But then, the Supreme Court today, just like the Ombudsman’s office, is but a sliver of what it’s supposed to be.