Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Why aren’t we surprised?

The week started with Comelec announcing that Total Information Management Corp. of the Philippines has backed out of a joint venture agreement with Smartmatic of Barbados, Venezuela, and other parts, in a 7.2 billion peso election automation project designed for next year’s elections. Particion de bienes o particion de poder, they now say their differences are “irreconcilable”. And neither Comelec nor Malacanang, nor even the Supreme Court, can force partners to live-in if they have fallen out of love.

So why aren’t we surprised? In article after article in the past, we warned the public that full automation, that ambitious project to remove the Comelec from the shadopws of Garcillano and Bedol and Sumalipao and other creatures, does not seem forthcorming. By design.

The Comelec just went through the motions. But puppeteers were just pulling the strings for the blind gentlemen who could not distinguish a gigabyte from a megabyte, and now they’ve pulled not just the strings, but the whole rug from under the feet. As wags would now say --- na-tyo-bibo tayo. We were taken for a ride.

TIM says they want control over policy, even if the money was put up by Smartmatic. And why not? They are the local company. After the elections are held, using Smartmatic machines, and questions fly from all over, the Venezuelans or Barbadians can just fly out of the country, and only TIM executives will be left to face the wrath of the candidates, and perhaps the people.

How is this? Really simple. TIM is not the service provider; Smartmatic is. TIM is not the software designer; Smartmatic is. TIM is not the equipment supplier; Smartmatic is. And if garbage is sneaked in through program or memory card somewhere, then automated cheating is done, and people so mesmerized into thinking that full automation means foolproof canvassing will likely not know the difference in a close electoral fight. As in GMA vs FPJ in 2004.

Let me amplify. Suppose the election frontrunners are a GMA surrogate (official candidate or the Manchurian candidate) versus a real oppositionist, with the usual surveys saying the elections could be won or lost on the basis of just a million vote difference (“Will we still win by a million?”, asked the female voice on the line, remember?)

2GO, that Aboitiz company will handle the logistics of bringing the machines from TIM-Smartmatic warehouses or hubs to each of the 1,600 municipalities located in 7107 islands. Now this may be theoretical, but it’s not even a scene from Mission Impossible: If one machine equals 1000 votes, then 1000 machines equals 1 million votes, right? 1000 machines is just a tad over one percent of 82,000 machines, which is what the Comelec is buying, right?

Somewhere between the hub, where the machines were pre-inspected by Comelec, the political parties, PPCRV, etc. and the ultimate voting center destination, it shouldn’t be too difficult to switch the memory cards, or if need be, although this is a more risky and daring enterprise, switch the machines altogether with a privately-procured machine. That’s just about a hundred million pesos, okay, even 300 million at blackmarket prices. No sweat for either the official candidate or the surrogate candidate with billions and billions of money.

Assume further that the targeted municipalities are where the real opposition candidate is strongest (bawas), and his lead is whittled down to favour the presumptive, pre-ordained winner (dagdag). Or whatever is needed to just ensure that the real opposition candidate is cheated of a rightful 500,000 votes. Hindi halata, walang bisto, hindi ba? Just like in 2004, until Vidal Doble was asked to listen to the conversations between Garci and Glory-be.

These are the thoughts that raced through my mind while listening to last week’s Senate hearings, where the hubs and sub-hubs were unveiled. And who will appoint the project management officers that will oversee the actual operations of these newfangled electoral innovations? Why, the Comelec, of course! Has Melo cleaned the woodwork? Decidedly not.

These are on top of my fears as expressed in our previous article entitled “A disaster waiting to happen”, printed on this space last June 18, 2009. Fears in the confusion on voting day, the long queues, the switching or mis-printing of official ballots with some 300 names or choices, even the transmission glitches.

But nevertheless, let’s look forward. What can be done? Comelec commissioners are trying to get TIM and Smartmatic to forget their heart-aches with each other, baka nga naman tampuhan lang ito. And get them to re-join prior to official marriage. He,he,he…parang shotgun marriage.

Likely that will not work. Even if they conjoin, the public will already be too skeptical. The Senate will ask more and more questions Melo y su conjunto will not be able to answer. Full automation is dead.

Meanwhile, three improvised bombs either explode with minimum damage (clearly as planned) at the Ombudsman’s office, or do not explode at all (obviously as planned), at the Department of Agriculture and a condominium building somewhere in Quezon City. Kwitis lang pala, but perfect ang timing!

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde says the usual “destabilizers” are at worl again. The AFP, or is it the PNP, says this is “usual” each time the country braces for the President’s SONA. And media as well as the opposition smell a rat, and the direction of the stink emanates from the dank bowels of the stinking palace beside the stinking river.

A newspaper which is billed as oppositionist unveils an “Operation August Moon”, which looks like a cut-and-paste scenario with the base paper being the Class of 1978, and voila, the nation’s politics is agog once more.

I could almost hear the lady now confined at the Asian Hospital for self-quarantine giggling indulgently, saying to herself --- “Ang saya-saya!”.