Finally, deal opens PCOS to scrutiny

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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To ensure transparency, Filipino groups may soon scrutinize PCOS machines after a crucial deal

SCRUTINIZING PCOS. A deal allows Philippine groups to review the PCOS source code. File photo by Rappler/John Javellana

MANILA, Philippines – A US-based firm has agreed to release the source code of ballot-counting machines for review by Philippine parties, a condition which, according to critics, will ensure election transparency.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Sixto Brillantes Jr on Monday, April 1, said the US-based Dominion Voting Systems, in talks with a rival firm, has “basically agreed” to release the source code for precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines. 

The law defines the source code as “human readable instructions that define what the computer equipment will do.”

We’re already in the 95% stage… 95% (chance) na matutuloy na, makukuha na namin ang source code. Meron lang mga konting detalye na (aayusin), pero basically nag-agree na lahat halos,” Brillantes said in an interview with reporters. (There’s a 95% chance it will push through; we can now get the source code. We just have to fix a few details, but basically they have agreed.)

There is a small chance of disagreements that will prevent a source code review, Brillantes said.

Puwede pa rin namang mag-disagree, puwede pa namang mag-bog down finally. Pero malas na lang kung nag-bog down pa,” he said. (They can still disagree, it call still bog down finally. But it’s plain misfortune if it still bogs down.)

The Automated Election System Law requires the Comelec to “promptly” make the PCOS source code “available and open to any interested political party or groups which may conduct their review thereof.”

A legal battle between Dominion and Smartmatic, a Venezuelan firm, however, has stalled the source code review for months. Due to its squabble with Smartmatic, Dominion initially blocked the release of the source code for review by Philippine groups.

‘No malicious code’

Before this deal, a report already certified that the PCOS is secure.

In February, the Comelec released an expert committee’s certification that it is safe to use the PCOS machines on election day.

In a report submitted to the committee, the Denver-based SLI Global Solutions said the “critical” or “major” programming issues concerning the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines “have been resolved.”

SLI added: “There were no instances discovered of any intentionally malicious code having been written by the vendor and included in the voting system source code.” (Read the 4-page committee report below.)

Based on the report, Brillantes has ruled out the possibility of manual elections – a fear raised by Comelec’s critics due to the legal squabble between Dominion and Smartmatic.

Speaking to reporters in February, Brillantes downplayed the importance of a review by local groups, because “what is important is the international certification, which is totally independent.”

He admitted, however, that a local source code review will end fears among detractors. – Rappler.com





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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com