(First published in The Philippine Star issue of Feb. 12, 2013)

DEEP SHIT: Based on figures from the Commission on Elections, congressional committees, information-technology groups and election watchdogs, it is obvious that we – the Comelec and the entire nation by extension -- are in deep shit.

The Comelec should stop pretending it is in full control and ask for help from well-meaning sectors. The elections are just three short months away. Time is running out!

It appears that the Comelec has been captured by Smartmatic, its favored automated voting equipment supplier, while Smartmatic in turn has been rendered inutile by its software developer/supplier that had rescinded their contract.

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ACTION PLAN: Comelec should be compelled to produce right away and make public a detailed action plan -- not just a timetable -- for successfully holding the May 13 elections.

Before the joint congressional oversight committee last week, the Comelec reported that of the 82,200 second-hand Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines bought from Smartmatic, 1,200 were beyond repair.


It said that 78,000 PCOS were to be deployed in clustered precincts nationwide, while 3,000 were to serve as backup. It was not clear where the backups were to be stored for rapid replacement.

In other forums, meanwhile, it has been reported that some 10,000 PCOS were irreparable, with some 30,000 still needing repair.

This leaves only 42,000 PCOS (for 77,000 precincts!) presumed to be usable in an ideal field environment. But when some of these PCOS were used in the mock polls the other week, they malfunctioned!

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HORROR STORIES: We are not yet talking of the missing PCOS operating system, the program that will run the machines. We are not yet talking of the Compact Flash memory cards to be inserted into the machines for instructions on the precinct, province, and other parameters.

It has been discovered that the Comelec had ordered CF cards, at an overprice, that could be edited, written over or tampered, contrary to the write-once specifications required.

That opens the PCOS to another round of cheating -- a kind of automated dagdag-bawas -- without any paper trail against which to double-check results and file protests if warranted.

With this, we are ready to believe the 2010 horror stories of some PCOS spewing out election results of other regions, of poll documents and CF cards being found with the trash, of precinct counts reporting no results for candidates although voters swear they had voted for them, etc.

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EVIDENCE LOST: The other night, I was talking with somebody from Laguna who told me how a mayor paid P70 million in 2010 to somebody claiming Smartmatic links. The deal was for her complete slate from mayor down to the councilors to win.

The “Smartmatic” guy delivered, except for one opposing councilor who could not be dropped because a religious sect wanted him in.

How can losing candidates protest when there are no ballots, no tally sheets, no paper trail, to hold on to?

And by reusing the old PCOS, the Comelec itself may have destroyed machine evidence of any PCOS flaws and automated cheating!

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BIG GAMBLE: From any angle, yesterday’s visit of President Noynoy Aquino to Camp Daranan, the stronghold in Sultan Kudarat of the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was a big step in the quest for peace in Muslim Mindanao.

It was also a big gamble.

The visit -- dubbed as the Sajahatra Bangsamoro (an Arabic-Melayu-Bahasa derivative meaning Peace Bangsamoro) -- was a reaching out to the Muslim minority seeking autonomy and a fair deal from the central government.

It was meant to reassure them of the government’s sincerity in the ongoing negotiations for a legal framework for a Bangsamoro sub-state within the Republic.
We have to grant the good faith of all parties. But it is too early to assess the visit’s success.

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RISING EXPECTATIONS: An indication of how expansive is the President’s equal-opportunity program for the Muslim minority is his bringing with him his Cabinet core group.

Malacañang has given advance notice that Sajahatra Bangsamoro will focus on health, education and livelihood services to be carried out through an inter-agency mechanism.

We hope that after the visit a composite group will have continued presence through a full-service bureaucracy attending to the community’s rising expectations.

The greatest threat to the peace process is a failure to live up to commitments.

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MILF DISARMED: As we write this, we are awaiting reports of how the security arrangements worked, considering the presence of the President and key members of his Cabinet.

We are also curious as to whether or not the Philippine flag was flown. If not, why not? If flown with the MILF flag, why so?

The advance notices said the presidential route was to be secured by the military, the regular police and MILF fighters -- except that, to be sure, only the government’s military and police elements were to be fully armed.

Knowing how Moros are as attached to their weapons as to their manhood, it would be interesting to know how the uniformed MILF fighters took their having been disarmed.

Let us hope their energies and competitive spirit have been absorbed by the friendly matches in football, softball and volleyball. (Basketball was reportedly excluded, because it could stoke excessive fighting fervor among the players and the spectators.)

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POLITICAL SPIN: Sen. Franklin Drilon, Liberal Party campaign manager, did not have to remark that the administration’s senatorial candidates must win in May so President Aquino could push through with the Bangsamoro framework.

He was quoted as saying that the government’s peace initiatives in Mindanao may be wasted if the LP senatorial bets fail to dominate the Senate in the next Congress.

Justifying the President’s going to the MILF stronghold, he criticized former President Erap Estrada’s entering the camp (then known as Abubakar) after it fell to government forces early in his term.

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