Brillantes defends PCOS, threatens walkout
He was the humblest official awaiting his confirmation as chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) at the Commission on Appointments, then, being quite deferential to the senators and congressmen in the panel, patiently answering their queries and accepting with docility whatever was asked of him by the CA.
But now that he has been confirmed by the CA, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes remained belligerent yesterday and refused to even admit or identify what had caused the glitches during the mock polls conducted last week, defending to the hilt, Smartmatic. Lawmakers failed to get Comelec officials admit or even identify the causes behind the glitch that marred the operations of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines during the recently-held mock elections and were even told the oversight panel that the poll body is not about to junk the supplier, Smartmatic, despite what had happened.
It was not known why the members of the CA, that generally have such vast powers to make their resource persons answer their questions, took this attitude of the Comelec officials sitting down.
Comelec officials also indicated that they are not about to hold another round of pilot tests and mock polls to assure the public that all of the errors and technical malfunctions have been addressed before the actual holding of the poll exercise and one that will yield credible results.
Brillantes would not hear of it, saying that the technical difficulties encountered are already being addressed by them although some were dismissively attributed to mere incidents of “crumpled” or folded sample ballots and light shading of the “ovals” on chosen candidates which explains, they said, why these ballots were not read by the machine.
Still, the Comelec chairman remained confident in dealing with the system’s glitches encountered in the mock polls, although there were countless of times that he appeared to be already engaged in a clash with members of the joint congressional oversight committee on automated election system, including some of the resource persons.
At one point, Brillantes already asked the committee that he wanted to walk out as he could no longer bear the issues being thrown at the poll body, repeatedly, by those questioning the role of Smartmatic in this year’s mid-term elections, saying his ears were already burning, hearing the same critics repeating their statements over and over again.
A representative of a poll watchdog group AES Watch told the committee that Dominion Voting Systems, which owns the technology being used by Smartmatic. has already terminated its license being used by Smartmatic and this leaves the Comelec’s supplier of the PCOS machines with “no authority at all to use the technology for May 13 elections.
“What they are going to use is a technology that is full and replete with errors that have remained uncorrected because they have no authority at all to correct all of this. Show us proof and I think they have to submit a full documentation of what have been corrected because the problems that appeared in the mock elections are only about the ballot.
“But we have to see the internal problems of accounting, the capacity of the machine to digitally sign....the source code review has not been done....there has been no certification of the source code by the SLI, by Dominion and the technical evaluation committee. There has been no certification at all and this is very, very important for the machines to operate come election day.
It added that without a certification and without being informed that all errors have been corrected you would expect preloading, multiple transmissions, jammings to occur. We are not doomsaying here but we want proof that the machines will be functioning well, accurately and reliably,” said Marikor Akol of AES Watch.
Brillantes was ready to walk out instead to answering all these statements made by the AES Watch, saying:“I don’t know if we have to repeat it but we’ve heard it already about a hundred times. We have been doing our job. If it will be repeated again, can I just step out?”
He claimed that he has been getting their statements in writing, in the media, and they repeat the same charges, saying they have not been getting in touch with the Comelec.
But the critics also say that Brillantes and his commissioners have never answered their letters and never replied to their queires.
An official of the National Printing Office (NPO) admitted before senators and congressmen that the issue of the “thickness” of the ballots, which in some cases, encountered problems such as “jamming” in the PCOS machines “can vary and is not absolute” but Brillantes said this will definitely not be an issue come election day as this is already being attended by them.
Every single ballot is being tested before and so far, those printed since Feb. 4, some 200,000 ballots out of the 800,000, none has been rejected so far by the PCOS machines.
“All of them go to the PCOS machine. It will be a concern if there is a problem with the thickness...I just want to qualify that if there is a rejection, it does not necessarily refer to the thickness but some other cause,” he said.
Bayan Muna party list Rep. Neri Colmenares tried to sway Brillantes into holding another mock poll noting that the matter of raising awareness among the public, to a large degree, helped a lot despite the glitches.
“The fact is, the Comelec just said it’s an initial perception. So we we’re really urging the Comelec to conduct another mock polls and at the very least say 10 days before the elections or even 15 days in the House of Representatives and the Senate for the last time, just to assure members of Congress and this committee that all things are okay,” he said.
Cayetano said he will also try to work it out with the Comelec chairman to agree to their request.
In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Brillantes remained confident in carrying out the automated system despite the many issues being thrown at them, including the alleged possibility of some groups hacking the system as there’ aresupposed to be some “operators” who have already approached some candidates this early.
Brillantes said they’are actually trying to find hackers who tamper with the system but so far, they could not find any.
But with the disturbing glitches discovered in the PCOS machines during last Saturday’s mock polls, members of the House minority bloc yesterday expressed willingness to revert back to manual elections in case the Comelec fails to resolve the problems concerning the election machines.
At their weekly press briefing, House Minority Leader, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez enumerated the glitches found on the PCOS machines, describing them as enormous to effect the overall results of the May 13 midterm elections.
“With less than 100 days to go before the elections, the glitches experienced during the mock polls conducted by the Comelec last Saturday showed that the same technical difficulties experienced during the 2010 polls still exists and has not yet been resolved by the Comelec or Smartmatic,” said Suarez. “Though Chairman Sixto Brilliantes was quick to downplay the implications of Saturday’s exercise, we beg to strongly differ from his opinion.”
Among the glitches observed Suarez noted were: 1) ballots rejected despite not having any known defect, 2) PCOS transmission failures, 3) PCOS machines with missing clips and rollers that did not work, 4) jamming of paper ballots, 5) difficulty in starting them up and 6) problems keying in the pin code of the machine during the initialization process.
“Initialization, for those not yet oriented with the PCOS operations, is the process wherein the Board of Election Inspector (BEI) verifies that there are no votes or entries stored in the PCOS machine’s memory as proven by an initialization report to be generated by the machine afterwards,” Suarez explained.
Another disturbing development, Suarez said is the revelation made by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) claiming that certain tech-savvy individuals are offering their services to local candidates for P20 million to P70 million to manipulate poll results in the candidates’ favor.
“These concerns cannot and should not be brushed off lightly by the Comelec; moreover the Filipino people should not be held hostage by the threat of having them choose between accepting the automation process with its attended deficiencies or just go back to manual process as what Chairman Brilliantes has irresponsibly retorted in response to expressed concerns over the Comelec’s readiness for the midterm elections in May,” Suarez said.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court (SC) has held that the digitized copies of electronic voting ballots cast through the PCOS machine may be be used in determining the number of votes in election cases.
In a 20-page decision by Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, the court dismissed for lack of merit the petition filed by former Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons-Chato against the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).
Chato is questioning the HRET ruling directing the copying of ballots for her poll protest against Rep. Elmer Panotes of Camarines Norte 2nd District. In the 2010 elections, Panotes won with 51,878 votes over Chato by 3,882 votes.
Chato sought redress before the high court after the HRET proclaimed Panotes as the rightful winner in October last year.
HRET Chairman, Senior Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr. and members, Justices Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta took no part in the ruling, while others justices concurred with Bernabe’s verdict, including Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno.
The SC held that “the acts complained of in these cases pertain to the HRET’s exercise of its discretion, an exercise which we find to be well within the bounds of its authority and, therefore, beyond our power to restrict or curtail.”
The tribunal said that while in the May 10, 2010 polls used a paper-based technology, “each voter was then required to personally feed his ballot into the [PCOS] machine which scanned both sides of the ballots simultaneously, meaning, in just one pass.”
The Court also agreed with both the HRET and Panotes that “the picture images of the ballots, as scanned and recorded by the PCOS, are likewise official ballots that faithfully captures in electronic form the votes cast by the voter, as defined by Section 2(3) of R.A. No. 9369.”
“As such, the printouts thereof are the functional equivalent of the paper ballots filled out by the voters and, thus, may be used for purposes of revision of votes in an electoral protest.”
With Charlie V. Manalo and Benjamin B. Pulta