Updated March 25, 2009 12:00 AM
Finally, a special budget has been signed into law for poll automation in 2010. Not a hybrid type – automated in most parts of the country, manual in a few areas… such as Maguindanao, perhaps? The greatest fear of those who opposed hybrid elections was that manual voting would be retained in selected areas so that those not yet familiar with manipulating automated voting could still cheat the old way. The fear went both ways, with some quarters believing that it would be easier to cheat using vote counting machines.
Regardless of where one stands on poll automation, concerns about electoral fraud in 2010 persist. That fear can be useful if it increases public vigilance against cheating. Public expectations are unusually high that the general elections next year will herald long-awaited reforms. The Commission on Elections, working with electoral watchdogs and other concerned groups, should do its best not to frustrate those expectations.
The other day President Arroyo signed into law the supplemental budget for poll automation. Palace officials said she wanted to make modern elections part of her legacy. The enactment of the supplemental budget lifts the last barrier to the holding of fully automated elections. The next step is to ensure that the new system lives up to its promise of clean and orderly elections and a quick vote count.
Problems can start right at the procurement of vote counting machines. The nation is still stuck with P1.2 billion worth of automated counting machines, all delivered and fully paid for, that are deteriorating, unused, in a rented warehouse. For 2010, the bidding and awarding of the contract for the machines must be aboveboard. The machines must then be tested for glitches and protected against hacking and tampering.
It will take more than voting machines to make elections credible. The Comelec must clean up voters’ lists. It must level the playing field for all candidates by enforcing elections laws on campaign spending and premature campaigning. Law enforcement authorities must also do their part by preventing poll-related violence and harassment of voters. There are many ways of undermining the true will of the electorate. Poll automation is just one step in making the 2010 elections credible.
IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT many people, including senators and congressman, are under the impression that election automation would automatically lead to clean elections.
In an automated election, good old Garcillano might not be able to employ his old tricks. But there are countless computer whiz kids who could modify programs and alter voting results electronically.
Many ways to cheat
If we look at the election process, there are many ways to cheat.
1. People in power or with lots of money could buy support from local leaders or directly from voters.
No automated system can prevent this.
2. In the old days of guns and goons, voters were either coerced to vote for certain candidates or scared away and their ballots used.
We thought we had progressed beyond this. Unfortunately, cheating prevailed in 2007 in Maguindanao and other areas.
3. Ballot box stuffing or ballot substitution.
With the proposed Comelec Automated Election System, ballots would have to be substituted before these are fed into the counting machine.
This is a little more difficult, but the actual production of the fake marked ballots is a lot easier. And it is harder to identify ballots marked by one person.
4. Misreading/mistallying of votes during precinct count.
Normally, OMR counting machines can be very accurate. But who can tell if the machine has been programmed for automated and undetected dagdag bawas? Comelec has not done enough to assure the public that this will not happen.
5. Substitution of election returns (ER).
This may have happened in the 2004 elections in ARMM.
We suspect that in Pampanga, Cebu, Iloilo and Bohol, Namfrel and the other parties may have been given fake ERs.
An honest, automated system would prevent the substitution of ERs with previously prepared faked ERs. But we can never tell if manipulation is done inside the OMR counting machine.
6. Substitution of ballot box and ER on the way to the municipality.
In the automated system, electronic ERs would be sent to the municipal canvassing center through the communication system.
How can we be sure that the results transmitted are not changed at the source or at the receiving end?
7. Fraud in the computation of the municipal COC.
This is hard to detect if the precinct results are not visible to watchers.
In the automated system, we will not see how computations are done in the canvassing server. There is no independent means to cross check what the server generates.
I think that contrary to the common belief that delays create opportunities for cheating, some delays are needed for checking and auditing.
In an automated election, moving too fast without checks and audits could result in massive cheating.
8. Substitution of Municipal COCs on the way to the province.
This could have happened in Muslim Mindanao in 2004.
Proponents of automated systems suggest that this would be prevented with secure electronic transmission. There still is the possibility of manipulation within the system.
9. Fraud in the computation of the provincial COC.
This could have happened in 2004 and could happen again within the provincial canvassing server.
10. Substitution of COCs on the way to Congress and Comelec.
This could have happened in 2004. And even with an automated system, this could still happen.
11. Errors in computation of national total.
The P9.5 billion the Comelec intends to spend on the rental of 80,000 OMR reading machines will not hasten the completion of national election counting. But the use of reading machines could lessen retail cheating in peaceful areas.
However, OMR voting is not a deterrent. For cheaters, OMR voting facilitates the production of ballots.
Hazards and safeguards
Comelec would like us to assume that automation will prevent cheating.
That is not true. Let us make sure that safeguards and audits are instituted.
The OMR system is similar to the classic, paper-based election system, except that:
1. Voters mark candidate of choice instead of writing the name.
2. The OMR ballots are machine-counted instead of being read and tallied.
For those who think that cheating can only take place when human hands are involved, this would look like a fraud-free system.
Comelec’s new procedure calls for each voter to physically feed his ballot into the machine.
A picture of the ballot is then taken.
As we pointed out earlier, the voter in some areas may be influenced or forced to feed another ballot into the machine.
Programmed to cheat
Let us pretend we are in a precinct where law and order prevails, and you are the voter feeding in your ballot.
How can you be sure that the machine will not change one or more of your votes?
How can you be sure that the total votes in the printed ER are truly what the voters in the cluster voted for?
The law provides for testing of the machines prior to Election Day.
If the machines are not stand-alone, how can you be sure that a modified program was not downloaded on Election Day to add votes for certain candidates and subtract from others (electronic dagdag bawas)?
At the end of counting, the original program could be restored.
The Election Law should call for stand-alone machines.
To verify that the OMR machines are counting properly, the two parties and the Citizens Arm should be allowed to run their test ballots before the start of counting and at the end of counting.
If discrepancies are detected, these should be noted and could be the basis for reverting to a manual count or a protest.
The Comelec proposes to automatically transmit election returns from the 80,000 OMR counting machines to the municipal servers.
While this is the fastest way to do it, it does not guarantee honest elections and does not provide transparency of the election counting process.
If the OMR counting machines can send electronic ERs to the municipal servers through the communication system, someone who knows the system well could change the programs on the machines from a remote and undetected location.
The best way to detect fraud is to create and provide at least seven printed and electronic copies of the ER.
The OMR Counting Machines should not be equipped with any communication capability.
There should be a separate stand-alone PC from where the ERs can be sent to the municipal canvassing/consolidation server as well as to the seven organizations entitled to receive the seven copies of the ER.
The Comelec AES does not provide for visible canvassing or parallel transmission and canvassing.
This will raise concerns about the honesty of the count and would certainly result in a loss of credibility of the results.
The Comelec should provide PCs for the major parties in each municipal tabulation center.
There should also be at least three projectors in each canvassing center.
The projectors would show the statement of vote for the municipality.
Watchers would be able to compare the projected totals on the three computers (Comelec, majority and opposition).
The COC should not be finalized until the discrepancies are resolved.
There are 1,631 cities and municipalities, 80 provinces, 13 regions and two national canvassing centers for a total of 1,736 sets.
Let’s provide 10-percent backup sets. That would be 1,910, let’s say 2,000.
The total cost would only be P360 million.
One could easily reduce the cost of the OMR Counting Machines by increasing the cluster size per OMR machine to 10 and allowing feeding of ballots into the machines by the BEI after the end of voting.
That would mean savings of at least P4.5 billion, which is more than enough to pay for a transparent and more credible transmission and canvassing system.
Hopefully, wholesale cheating could be lessened.
But let us not expect canvassing for national candidates to be done in three to four days.
(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is president of Systems Sciences Consult Inc. Feedback at email@example.com. For previous articles, please visit .)
The lone bid in the P10-billion, 25-year North Harbor modernization project will be opened by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) this month. The lone bidder is a joint venture of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and Harbour Center Port Terminal (HCPT).
The other bidders were disqualified due to deficiencies in the requirements. And this prompted workers’ unions in the waterfront to buy full-page advertisements in three newspapers claiming that the project was going through “the classic bid-rigging formula, where the Terms of Reference and Contract of the project have practically been tailor-fitted to match the whims and caprices of the winning bidder and is obviously disadvantageous to the government.” The winning bidder has answered all the allegations made in those advertisements.
What I can say is that the modernization of the World War I North Harbor is long overdue. Not many people have gone through there (these are the piers where inter-island vessels from the provinces dock) but for those who have, it is a horrifying experience. It is a stinky, decrepit port devoid of any semblance or benefit of the modern age. It is the perfect picture of a Third World country: you find everything that is trash and find nothing pleasant and worth remembering.
Vendors hawking all sorts of merchandise everywhere; con-artists trying to trick the poor “probinsyano” [provincial] into parting with his hard-earned money; stevedores fighting to carry the cargo of the passengers; confused passengers; chaotic traffic; even more chaotic cargo handling; dilapidated buildings; garbage strewn everywhere; pickpockets and unruly taxi drivers galore; generally a system of utter chaos; its underwater structures deteriorating at an alarming rate — this is North Harbor.
North Harbor used to be the crown jewel of the Philippine transport industry. Not anymore. It is now an example of everything that is wrong in a waterfront. It suffers in comparison even with other ports in the country, like Port of Batangas, where one can marvel at the modern equipment.
It is in this context that the PPA crafted plans on how to convert North Harbor into a sprawling world-class facility and to regain its old glory as the gateway to the country’s major seaports.
The modernization project will boost inter-island shipping and improve the economy. The harbor will be dredged to accommodate bigger ships. The port will be fitted with modern cranes and a bigger and wider container depot to accommodate more container vans coming from the provinces.
Mulcting drivers will no longer be around as the proponent included in the project the fielding of modern buses to collect passengers from the port to their destinations anywhere in Metro Manila.
The government will earn P6.8 billion in 25 years. On the first year of operation, the PPA will earn P160 million, more as the years go by, on top of other fees to be collected.
Phase 1 of the project will be implemented over a period of six years. First off, the two-lane piers will be widened. During the first year, the crane rail for two LO-LO (load on, load off) births at Terminal 1 and concreting of container yards will be completed. After the LO-LO berths, the operator will procure two shore cranes and support equipment.
The other components of Phase 1, such as reclamation, construction of the PTB, construction of additional LO-LO and RO-RO (roll on, roll off) berths, including the development of an information technology (IT) system, will be completed within three years from the start of the contract.
Phase 2 will cover the development of Terminals 2 and 3 and the second Passenger Terminal building at Slip 5, which will be constructed within three years after the completion of Phase 1.
The project is economically feasible and will not be disadvantageous to the government as alleged by some quarters.
First, the modernization of North Harbor to a world-class port will be done without the government spending a single centavo. The PPA will be guaranteed a fixed fee of P6.8 billion for 25 years regardless of economic conditions. The PPA will retain collection of fees for usage, wharfage and anchorage, among others.
Second, the winning bidder will reimburse the PPA P15 million as consultant’s success fee within 10 days from signing of the contract. The bidder will reimburse the PPA for past service benefits advanced by the PPA in the total amount of P113 million.
Third, the main criterion for award of the contract is lowest tariff, meaning reduced fees for the port user.
And fourth, upon expiration of the contract, all improvements, structures, buildings and facilities will belong to the PPA.
The project will retain the government’s sovereign power to levy tariff. During the 25 years of the contract, the government will continue to levy port charges, such as usage fees and wharfage charges. It will continue to approve the rates on cargo-handling charges similar to contracts on the South Harbor and the Manila International Container Terminal.
And it is the PPA, and not the winning bidder, who will be responsible for the removal of the squatters within North Harbor.
In concrete terms, modernization will bring world-class facilities and services to North Harbor; seamless domestic trade connections to Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao; service reliability and safe operations; tightened security to eliminate crime; sustained employment to 5,000 direct and 20,000 indirect workers within and without the area.
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Kapihan notes: Among the guests at this Monday’s Kapihan sa Manila media forum will be Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who is currently in the hot seat and against whom an impeachment case has been filed.
IN a move to boost the modernization program of the Department of Interior and Local Government’s Bureau of Fire Protection, Republic Act (RA) No. 9514, the Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008, was signed into law on January 15, 2009, repealing the 31-year-old Fire Code.
RA 9514, enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives on October 6, 2008, and October 8, 2008, respectively, created a Fire Protection Modernization Trust Fund (FPMTF). Under the law, 80 percent of the Fire Code fees shall be remitted to the National Treasury for the FPMTF, while 20 percent shall be set aside by the city or municipal government concerned for the use and maintenance of the local fire station.
Private fire volunteers and fire practitioners are required to undergo a mandatory training and competency evaluation to be conducted by the BFP. These volunteers will be under the direct operational control of the BFP fire ground commander during firefighting operations. This initiative will ensure that fire volunteers and fire practitioners will be properly prepared and equipped with the needed skills to respond to critical situations.
The new law accords the BFP chief authority to issue closure orders for buildings or structures declared as fire hazards, and “deliberately order the removal of hazardous materials or halt hazardous operations of business establishments whose physical layout is prone to industrial-related fire incidents, or order the work stoppage of structures still being constructed for the absence or violation of any approved construction plan.” It imposes accountability on public officials and employees, as well as criminal penalties for negligence, malfeasance, or misfeasance in performing their sworn duties to the country.
The Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008 will go a long way in carrying out the much-needed rehabilitation and modernization of our country’s firefighting equipment and facilities and enable our firefighters to perform their duties more efficiently and effectively.
Opinion and Editorial