Comelec checks PCOS machines for 2016

Michael Bueza
Comelec checks PCOS machines for 2016
The Commission on Elections tours a senator and members of the media in its PCOS warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna

LAGUNA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has started checking the status of the Philippines’ voting machines for the national and local elections in May 2016. 

To explain this process, the Comelec on Friday, March 20, toured Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated elections, and members of the media in its warehouse for precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines in Cabuyao, Laguna. 

Comelec acting chairman Christian Robert Lim, commissioner Arthur Lim, and spokesman James Jimenez accompanied them during the walkthrough. 

The Comelec has stored the PCOS machines in the Cabuyao warehouse for almost two years. The Philippines has used these machines twice, during the Philippines’ first two automated elections in 2010 and 2013.

Around 100 Smartmatic operators conduct the diagnostic tests. Jimenez said 25 Comelec information technology personnel supervise the operators to “ensure the quality of work.” 

Ten components of the PCOS units are being tested. These include the PCOS memory, scanner, LCD screen, thermal printer, and modem port, Jimenez said. He added that there will be no disassembly of machines at this stage.

STAGING AREA. Smartmatic technicians are in blue shirts, while supervisors from the Comelec IT department are in yellow. Photo from Rappler video

PCOS units that fail the tests will be “quarantined.” These will be repaired or replaced only after the tests on all the voting machines have been completed.

Acting chairman Lim said the Comelec and PCOS supplier Smartmatic agreed on the procedures, and established what he called a “chain of command” to determine who will decide in case of disputes.

He also said he is confident that Comelec personnel are capable of supervising the diagnostics, as they have undergone trainings.

As of Friday, 1,456 PCOS machines have been diagnosed since the process started on March 16. Among these units, 135 have been quarantined for minor repairs.

Once the diagnostics process is in full swing, around 1,400 to 1,500 PCOS units will be tested per day, said Smartmatic Asia Pacific technology manager Marlon Garcia.

“By June, the 80,000-plus machines will all [have been] checked and repaired if necessary,” Garcia added.

Security is tight in the 8,600-square-meter warehouse in Cabuyao, and only authorized Comelec and Smartmatic personnel are allowed access inside. Visitors can view the interior of the warehouse through the CCTV monitoring area outdoors.

More transparency

WALKTHROUGH. Senator Aquilino Pimentel III and acting Comelec chairman Christian Robert Lim. Photo from Rappler video

Pimentel thanked the Comelec for the walkthrough and said the process was fine. He suggested, however, that the Comelec “relax their rules” so that technical people can see the diagnostics process, for the sake of transparency.

“You need some technical people to understand what is happening in detail,” Pimentel said.

“I hope the Comelec will open up the procedure not only to lawmakers like me but also to Filipino technicians who may be interested in seeing and knowing the details,” he said. “Let not this be the last time for such an activity like this.”

Acting chairman Lim, for his part, said the poll body can accommodate future walkthroughs if there are requests for it.

Pimentel also reminded the Comelec about the issue of “digital lines” involving the PCOS machines. Its exact cause has yet to be conclusively determined, as the Comelec’s probe into the matter is still ongoing.

“I will never let go of the issue of the digital lines, because actually the digital lines are causing inaccuracies in the count. Dapat nating malaman ang puno’t dulo,” Pimentel warned. (We need to know its root cause)

He said that Comelec officials will report their findings at the next JCOC hearing. –

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Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.