Lim vs Erap poll war worries Comelec

Posted at 06/18/12 4:43 PM

MANILA, Philippines – There’s reason to worry over the looming electoral race between re-electionist Mayor Alfredo Lim and former President Joseph Estrada for the mayoral post of Manila, a spokesman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Monday.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the fight between Lim and Estrada will be closely guarded by both camps to ensure that no cheating will take place.

“That’s certainly giving us a lot of worries simply because the personalities involved will change the dynamic a lot and it will put a lot of people on guard,” he said in an ANC “Headstart” interview.

Jimenez said that while Comelec stands by the accuracy of the poll results, many people still question if the country’s automated elections are really reflecting the people’s will.

“There are some places where it is not just the elections or accuracy but it’s really how people will accept the results,” he said.

Several quarters have questioned the accuracy of the 2010 polls due to numerous problems that plagued the country’s first nationwide automated election. Among the problems were:

•    deactivation of the UV ink detector in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines,
•    lack of digital signatures for the poll results sent by the PCOS machines
•    late configuration of compact flash (CF) cards used in the election.

The same PCOS machines will be used in the local and national electoral races in 2013.

In the interview, Jimenez said Comelec decided to deactivate the UV ink detectors in all 80,000 PCOS machines in the 2010 polls due to the lessened density of the UV ink used in the printed ballots. “There were problems with the printing process which might have resulted in a lot of rejections if we had let it go through,” he said.

To remedy the problem, he said Comelec bought handheld UV lamps that could do a better job of detecting the UV security features on the ballots. However, he said the UV lamps were delivered too late and many of the boards of election inspectors (BEI) opted not to use them because they were not used to them.

“We’ve received assurances that the problems with the UV ink will not be repeated so there might not be a need to use the handheld,” he said.

Jimenez said Comelec decided to discontinue use of a digital signature in the transmitted poll results because of a lack of a digital certification authority in the Philippines. He said coordination with BEIs is also problematic since some BEIs do not even show up on Election Day.

Jimenez said the Comelec relied on encrypted information sent by the PCOS machines to ensure that the information is correct.

Regarding the late CF cards, he said the cards had to be changed after the layout of the ballots was changed very close to Election Day.

“The problem was not in the machine but on the programming side. It was a people error. It was an error of the programmer and project management, which were not in sync with each other. Napalitan yung balota pero hindi napalitan yung system to look at the ballot,” he said.

Jimenez denied that the late delivery of the CF cards could have led to massive cheating in the 2010 polls. He said one way to ensure that no preloaded results are in the CF cards is to perform the “zero out” function of the PCOS machines before voting starts. This is done by printing out how many votes have been counted by the machines to make sure that it reflects zero.

The Comelec spokesman admitted that preloaded CF cards is an “understandable fear” because people do not see how the actual counting and transmission is accomplished.

He said: “A ballot box you can shake and turn over and you’ll see it doesn’t have anything inside. With a PCOS machine, it is easy to generate doubt but there are a lot of safeguards.”

Jimenez said use of the PCOS machines for the 2013 polls is already final after the Supreme Court junked petitions questioning Comelec’s purchase of the vote-counting machines from Smartmatic-TIM.

He said purchasing the secondhand PCOS machines is the best deal since all 80,000 machines now cost only P1.8 billion.

“At the same time, you have the groundwork established in 2010. We’re talking about voter education, and people being familiar with how the system works and what the ballots look like. There’s a level of comfort you can expect,” he said.