Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Venezuelan candidate

Because Ninoy Aquino offered his life so that freedom and democracy may return, a day which we will commemorate tomorrow, Cory Aquino was able to preside over the return of those cherished freedoms during her presidency. The most fundamental of those rights is the right to freely choose the men and women who shall lead the country, as president and as lesser officials.

I am afraid that unless the Supreme Court strikes down the automated system of counting the votes come May 10, 2010, we will be electing not a leader chosen freely by the Filipino people, but one chosen by a foreign company, working for whoever, most likely the present wielders of power who will want to make certain their choice prevails over the true will of the majority.

The foreign company happens to be Smartmatic, with original provenance in the Barbados, supposedly controlled by citizens of Venezuela, or assigns of its current political leadership. The adventures and mis-adventures of this company and its limited participation in elections elsewhere in the world would be enough to make even a simpleton think twice before awarding the contract to supervise the elections in a country with close to 45 million voters.

But not the Comelec. Not those who have abdicated the responsibility for clean, open, honest and orderly elections to this foreign company, which may well choose the Venezuelan candidate or whosoever its real client assigns, and decides --- to be its successor-in-fact.

Article 3.3 of the July 10, 2009 contract entered into by the Comelec with Smartmatic-TIM constitutes a wholesale abdication of its constitutional mandate, because it gives complete control of the technical aspects to this foreign-owned and controlled corporation, in joint venture with a local firm.

The public and private keys to the PCOS machine, 82,200 units of which will be deployed to all our voting centers, will be under the control of Smartmatic. The expedient reason given to this queer set-up is that only the Smartmatic technicians, yet-to-be-hired, yet-to-be-trained, would best know how to operate those optical scanners, not the board of election inspectors, not our teachers who likelier than not, are computer-illiterate or butter-fingered.

One thousand voters, or those who would otherwise vote secretly in five classrooms constituting their voting precinct, will shade small-sized oval spaces beside the names of some 300 or more names of candidates and parties, such as perhaps, Alyansa ng mga Sabungero and Alyansa ng Matatakaw, using two Smartmatic-provided felt-tip pens. If the 200th voter sees that his felt-tipped pen has run out of ink, then he can ask the BEI for the second felt-tipped pen. If the 399th voter sees that the felt-tipped pen has also run out of ink, he will likely force his fingers to squeeze whatever shading the pen can imprint upon the ovals. Those will no longer be read, because the optical scanner cannot read light shades of grey. And the 400th voter, all the way to 1,000th voter, will be effectively disenfranchised. Why not use pencils then, or metal-tipped ball pens? Question --- the optical scanner may reject the same, which means the ballot, yes that 30-inch long ballot, will just fall into the bin, un-read, and wasted.

Now pause to think about the likely time-and-motion this whole process will take, and picture in your simpleton of a mind how this will act out on Election Day. Chaos.

Go further and wonder what would happen to a 30-inch long by 8.5 inch wide paper (longer than your average newspaper, and as wide as common bond paper) if it is fed by a line of one thousand (even less) voters into the slot provided by one PCOS machine, and imagine if such a narrow but long piece of paper should fold or crumple when fed into that machine. The machine jams. Chaos.

But here is the trick --- because only Smartmatic controls the keys and the source codes, not Comelec, not the Republic of the Philippines, is it possible for Smartmatic to pre-fabricate the results of enough counting machines (PCOS) so as to give a numerical advantage (“will I win by one million?”) to the choice of its real client? Most certainly it can.

In fine, the Venezuelan candidate, or better yet, whosoever among Villar, Noli, or Gibo is favored by the real client of the Venezuelan company, can be made to win. In place of one Garci, we can have ten thousand Garci’s, operating beyond our sight, beyond our mind.

But wait! The software that runs the PCOS is not even owned by Smartmatic-TIM, let alone Smartmatic standing alone without its local alalay and labor sub-contractor TIM. The source codes are controlled and owned by Dominion Systems, a Canadian firm! Which means that Smartmatic just put together Canadian voting software, which the Canadian firm leased but not sold, got some backyard industry in China or elsewhere to assemble the parts, and sold the whole caboodle to Comelec and the Republic of the Philippines.

Ah! The wonders of globalization. Even the agents of Hugo Chavez can talk turkey with the Canadians up north, incorporate a firm in the Barbados, order hardware from China, and sell to a Fourth World country a system which would decide the fate of 92.5 million poor souls, after (after?) the reign of Dona Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, y, nunca te olvidare --- su esposo fabuloso.

In any case, the legislators who crafted Republic Act 8436, as amended by R.A. 9369, presciently provided as condition precedent to the nationwide implementation of an “automated election system”, under Sec. 5 of the same, that pilot-testing be done by the Comelec before it goes all-out. Even the deliberations of Congress show a deliberate intent that pilot testing is a condition, precisely to obviate any failure of elections.

But Comelec is unperturbed. Neither, it would seem, is the PPCRV, or those who constituted the advisory group that, along with the Special Bids and Awards Committee of the Comelec, supervised the testing of these PCOS, using shorter bond paper, using a few and certainly less than a thousand would-be voters, under controlled conditions. They have simply put their faith, their trust, their confidence, their Pollyanna dreams, upon this Barbadian company, its sub-contractors, its sub-lessors, its “good” faith, it’s uncertain reputation.

And only the Supreme Court stands between sanity and chaos, come the 10th of May, 2010.

God help this benighted land!