PCOS wRap: Are we ready?
MANILA, Philippines - The last major technical step before the May 13 elections was marred by cases of delays, glitches, unprepared Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) and defective machines.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) undertook the Final Testing and Sealing (FTS) of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines between May 6 to May 10 in election precincts all over the country.
The PCOS machines and election paraphernalia to be used on election day underwent several tests including the tallying, casting, reading and transmission of votes.
The FTS is required by law under Republic Act 9369 which stipulates that Comelec should “allow the political parties and candidates or their representatives, citizens’ arm of their representatives to examine and test the equipment or device to be used in the voting and counting on the day of the electoral exercise, before voting start.”
However, Kontra Daya convenor Dr. Giovanni Tapang believes that conducting the FTS is not enough. Election watchdog Kontra Daya closely monitored and reported problems encountered during the FTS.
“Technologies such as the AES (Automated Election System) will still not solve other types of fraud such as harassment, ballot snatching, pre-shading of the ballots and pre-selected voters. However, an improperly designed, poorly executed and opaque implementation will make things even worse,” said Tapang.
One of the common problems that BEIs encountered during the FTS is that most of them do not know how to assemble and install the back-up battery in the event the machine heats up or shuts down. This was experienced in Kabacan Central Elementary School in Davao City, City Central School in Dumaguete City, Fairview and Diosdado P. Macapagal Elemantary schools in Quezon City, as well as areas across the country.
Teachers from the Fairview Elementary School in Quezon City reported having limited time to operate the PCOS machines during their training.
Rodel Costuna of Lagro Elementary school told Rappler that several schools were merged for training due to cost-cutting by the Comelec.
“It appears that the Comelec has little preparation in making the information available for the BEIs. There might be a confusion among the BEI themselves and the voters because, in case the PCOS fails, they don’t know what to do,” Tapang said.
Kontra Daya also reported cases in Buhangin Elementary School in Davao City and Kabacan elementary school in North Cotabato where the BEIs broadcasted the PIN code of the PCOS machine, allowing people in the precinct to hear it clearly.
According to Kontradaya convenor Aya Ragragio, the unpreparedness of the BEIs is a result of Comelec’s neglect.
Missing election paraphernalia
Cases of incomplete election paraphernalia have been reported nationwide. This caused delay, confusion and, up to some extent, violation of election protocols.
In the FTS in the University of the Philippines Integrated School (UPIS), Kontra Daya reported missing replacement seals that should secure the printer and the compact flash (CF) cards. The BEIs present had to violate election protocol in lieu of their inability to reseal the PCOS machine.
In other places, BEIs had to resort to other means to reseal the PCOS machines and CF cards.
In Malanday Elementary School, paper seals were notdelivered for the CF cards. BEIs had to use scotch tape instead.
Kontra Daya also reported missing plastic seals in Torres High School in Manila City and Pedro Diaz High School in Muntinlupa City.
Machine glitches and delays
The bulk of the FTS reports that were filed also pertained to technical glitches ranging from defective machines, paper jams and overheating PCOS machines.
The PCOS machines distributed in Matina Central Elementary School in Davao City, Jose Rizal Elementary and Muntinlupa Elementary schools in NCR failed to initialize successfully.
In other areas, PCOS machines overheated and broke down. This happened in Trabucan, Calbayog in Samar, Guadalupe Elementary School in Cebu city and Matina Elementary School in Davao City.
Some PCOS machines also read votes inaccurately. In the Cotabato Central Pilot School, a PCOS machine counted what should have been invalidated ballots.
Wrongly-shaded ballots were also officially counted in Diosdado Macapagal Elementary School in Quezon City and Buhangin Central Elementary School in Davao City.
In Mandaluyong Elementary School, the poll machine failed to count the votes for the national candidates.
According to the Kontra Daya report, Comelec-Smartmatic technicians in Magallanes Elementary School advised the BEI to uninstall the CF card from the PCOS machine even when the polls were still unfinished which is a violation of election protocol.
As per Comelec protocol, the defective machines during the FTS should be replaced with contingency machines.
Are we really ready?
Despite these reports, Comelec commissioner Sixto Brillantes stood by his claim that the PCOS machines were ready to use and that the FTS was successful.
“Our analysis so far is that we have small glitches, which affect not the count, – so sa resulta walang problema,” Brillantes explained.
However, Kontra Daya belied the statement issued by Brillantes.
“We are not ready yet. [It] is no longer just about the technical problems, it is also about procedural problems,” said Tapang. - With reports from Rappler Ambassadors Paula Azurin, Therene Aquino and Tricia Villaluz/Rappler.com
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