Sep 202014

The Commission on Elections is putting in place a slew of reforms and new initiatives meant to replicate, if not surpass, the success it had in the two previous national polls.

In addition to adopting the “multiple or mixed technologies” proposal of the multi-sectoral Comelec Advisory Council (CAC), Comelec will partially use a Biometric Voter Identification Apparatus, which can identify a registered voter at once using his thumbprint; look into Internet voting by seafarers and other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs); address the problem of long queues come election day by trimming the number of voters per precinct from the current 1,000 average to about 600-800 per station and at the same adding more voting precincts nationwide; and institutionalize or allow the early review by political parties and other interested parties of the source code of all components of existing technologies for use or re-use in the next elections.

Speaking of multiple or mixed technologies, Comelec will use in the 2016 elections the same Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines or optical mark reader (OMR) technology used during the automated polls of 2010 and 2013. It will also pilot a secondary, more advanced Direct Electronic Recording (DRE) technology—using the touch screen mode in Metro Manila and other highly urbanized centers like Cebu and Davao.

But the same critics in 2010 and 2013 were quick to pounce anew on the Comelec for adopting the CAC-recommended “mixed or multiple technoligies” approach with their same-old doomsday poll scenario and same-old call for the return to manual voting.

These critics have yet to accept the fact that the computerized 2010 and 2013 polls driven by PCOS/AES is probably the most efficient and effective we’ve ever had. The global community and even the country’s most credible pollsters – Social Weather Stations (SWS), Pulse Asia and StratPOLLS- attest to this.

Budgetary constraints dictate the use of the mixed-use formula.

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Using the cutting-edge DRE technology/equipment in place of the PCOS/AES system supplied by Smartmatic International across the Philippines come 2016 is probably the most ideal, but it is just a pie in the sky if one considers the price tag estimate of a whopping P55 billion for the Comelec to purchase about 800,000 DRE needed for the 80,000 precincts nationwide.

Comelec executives said that with a budget of only P10.3 billion, the agency would be able to use/upgrade its existing 80,000 PCOS units, buy new ones and cover printing and ballot-box acquisition costs for a total of P6.9 billion—thus leaving it with just P3.4 billion for other poll-related programs and projects. Comelec opted for a combination of “old and new” machines after Malacañang rejected the agency’s original budget proposal of P16 billion for an “integrated system.

Using the tried-and-proven OMR technolgy of PCOS/AES will make the 2016 electoral exercises a lot cheaper and hassle-free, technology-wise, as the Comelec will no longer have to train its field staff and familiarize voters, along with teachers assigned as poll precinct officers on a new, to unfamiliar voting apparatus considering that they have been accustomed already by now to Smartmatic’s computerized paper-based OMR setup after two consecutive elections.

Obsolescence is a non-issue because, as noted by Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, the PCOS machines will not be outmoded or considered antiquated if used in 2016 and even in 2019, given that the same machines have been used several times in countries like the United States, Brazil, Belgium, Venezuela, Curacao, Bolivia and Zambia.

It has been claimed that those who are against the PCOS/AES automation, led by Gus Lagman, are pushing a manual-cum-automated mongrel system called Open Election System (OES), which oddly combines manual precinct voting and counting with computerized  canvassing of votes.

This weird OES system was formally proposed in 2010 by the Lagman-led umbrella group of supposed poll reform activists, but was rightfully rejected by the Comelec along with proposals by other bidders that year, in favor of the PCOS/AES system proposed by Smartmatic and its local partner Total Information Management (TIM).

In Resolution No. 2014-002 dated August 13, 2014, the CAC endorsed the re-use of the existing OMR technology as the primary technology or voting system because of the “acceptability of the OMR technology with paper-based ballots by the electorate and the BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors) as they have been exposed to this technology, thus minimal voters, education is required.”

But because the existing machines will not be sufficient to accommodate the entire voting population, the CAC cited the need to acquire more machines to fill the gap and recommended the conduct of public bidding to allow the entry of other OMR technology providers for this requirement.

But the CAC emphasized that a new OMR technology provider should be accepted, on condition that this supplier “shall accept the same data inputs” from the primary technology, “shall accept the same paper ballots, and shall be interoperable with the existing system.”

Aside from the primary OMR technology, the CAC proposed engaging one or more secondary technologies, possibly “the DRE technology or other election systems, with preference to Filipino-developed technologies, which shall be likewise selected through open public bidding,” provided that this new technology shall be “interoperable” with the primary one, and be pilot-tested in Metro cities/areas comprising at least one voting center with a minimum of 20,000 voters.

Desperate moves

Last Sept.12, an “agenda setting” meeting was suddenly called at the Malacañang Palace.

The only item in that meeting, however, was a speech delivered by President Aquino. There was nothing new. As usual, he blamed the problems on the previous administration, cited reforms that he had adopted, casted innuendos on political rivals, and defended officials of his administration involved in controversies.

There was no discussion after the speech. It was clear that the various personalities were there for photo ops to show that the President still enjoyed support from his applies.

It is said that the “agenda setting” event was intended to cover-up for the flop called COMPRe. In a vain effort to counterbalance the people’s protest against pork at the Luneta, pro-Aquino groups assembled at the Ateneo campus to show support for the President. The event was so badly attended, the program had to be abbreviated. The much-vaunted coalition for reforms collapsed even before it could take off. That flop must have dismayed Aquino to no end.

To make up for the flop, LP partisans quickly put together another show of support to prop up the President’s sagging image. 

The Malacañang event was also intended to advance the Liberal Party agenda: separate Vice-President Jojo Binay from the rest of the official family. This is the first step towards the goal of securing Aquino’s endorsement of Mar Roxas to be standard-bearer in the 2016 elections. Roxas and his cronies (particularly Jun Abaya) dominated the show, while Palace propagandists made sure Binay’s absence did not go unnoticed.

 To further cover-up the incompetency of the Aquino administration, the LP, led by Senate President Drillon, has thrown its support to the ongoing and never-ending Senate inquiry on the Makati City Parking Building II and all other projects in Makati City to distract the public from the increasing criminality, imminent power blackouts, unemployment and higher prices of basic commodities such as rice and garlic.    

The Aquino administration has failed in every respect. It did not build the infrastructure our economy needed. It produced disastrous policies that aggravated the nation’s problems, from congestion at the ports to congestion in the streets.

The people know better the next time around.

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