Unfounded suspicions

It is remarkable how quickly some quarters move to discredit the work being done on automation. Less than a week after the release of the bid documents for the Automation of the ARMM elections in August, some “local IT companies” have gone straight to their favorite columnists – instead of properly bringing up the issue directly with the COMELEC  right away or at the scheduled pre-bid conference – raising the spectre of irregularities simply because there is a provision requiring that the automated election system being peddled should have a track record. According to these companies, this effectively shuts out potential local participants.

The problem with this approach is that it gives the pundits a one-sided appreciation of the issue, which is then published or broadcast in the guise of giving the COMELEC the opportunity to respond. Well, why not give the COMELEC the opportunity to respond before slamming the project? (Isn’t that how journalistic objectivity used to be practiced?) If the official explanation remains unsatisfactory then publish the complaint. That way, there is at least the semblance of fairness. Otherwise, airing one-sided complaints only give rise to unwarranted suspicions about the project.

Fortunately, the Advisory Council’s (and PPCRV’s) Amb. Henrietta de Villa was on talk radio this morning confirming that the provision (A-13 in the bid documents) was supported by the Advisory Council as an important safeguard.

My opinion

Now for my own take on the specific issue of whether the track record provision should be used.

The complaint basically points out that local IT companies are effectively prevented from participating in the project. Integral to this complaint – and I believe the only substantial claim that can be derived anyway – is the issue of whether Filipino tech should be promoted.

Well, of course it should. But for the elections? Local IT companies trumpet their “innovations and inventions” which are supposedly suited for the “peculiar needs of Philippine elections.” The first question that comes to mind is: how sure are we that those innovations and inventions will actually work as advertised? Remember Namfrel’s much bally-hooed SMS-based reporting system? That was touted as a home-grown innovation as well and it crashed and burned nevertheless.

The point simply is this: do we want Philippine elections to be the guinea pig for these untested systems? While it is true that Filipino ideas and innovations should be supported, I doubt that we should do so at the risk of the electoral exercise. The COMELEC would be amiss in its mandate if it were to allow the use of technology that it knows is untested and carries with it a higher probability of failure.

It is true that Filipino developers must be helped; but not at the expense of elections.

About the Philippines being a unique electoral environment: true enough. Does this mean, however, that Filipinos have a monopoly of knowledge on how to deal with that unique environment? Technology is not about nationality.

Examples have been bruited about to bolster the complaints of these local IT companies:

Example 1: The ARMM elections in 1998 used machines that did have a track record. They did not work.  

False. The machines worked. The problem was with the ballot paper which was trimmed to the wrong size by an employee who had no training, much less authority, to do so. The machines themselves counted correctly.

Example 2: The ACMs for the 2004 elections. The argument goes if the South Koreans had imposed a “track record” requirement on their developers, they would never have built their own ACM.

Example 3: The Indian Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). Same argument; if the Indians had the same prohibition … so on and so forth.

Not quite the same thing. In South Korea and India – especially in India – they have a multitude of small elections nearly every year. We have one BIG election every three years. The stakes are much higher in this country because one failed election affects major elective offices like Senator and Member of the House of Representatives. In 2010, the stakes are even higher: President and Vice-President. Will the nationality of the technology used be any comfort when we fail to elect a President because we used an untested system?

In places like India, these machines were first rolled out in small elections, affecting small constituencies. This allowed them to field test the equipment with very limited adverse effects in case of failure.

So, does the track record guarantee success?

Of course not. What the track-record requirement does is it lowers the probability of failure.

When you get a system that has been used in other elections, what you get is a system that necessarily includes experience with unforeseen or unforeseeable  problems encountered in actual operation. When you get a virgin system, on the other hand, all you have are theoretical scenarios which do not necessarily cover 100% of all the things that might go wrong. If you have an untested system in place and an unforeseen problem crops up, then the support team for the system will not have a well-defined procedure for dealing with problem and they will likely be improvising as they go along. Again, you want to entrust the success of major elections to a bunch of people who, in essence, are just winging it? They may be geniuses – which they probably are in all fairness – but the stakes are simply too high.

Would you leave a nuclear power plant in the hands of a child prodigy?

In any case, the COMELEC reassures the public that this provision will be discussed fully during the pre-bid conference scheduled for the 26th of February (that’s tuesday next week). Everyone who thinks the track-record idea is wrong can go there and tell the COMELEC so. Of course, since this provision was already extensively discussed before it was even included in the bid docs, people should not expect the COMELEC to simply fold and take the provision out. Expect to be argued against. After all, it is through argument that we can ensure that the ensuing decision has the highest probability of being the right one.

4 Responses

  1. The main problem is that we have a very illegitimate democratic system. Our voters elect only those people who are popular and not if they are capable. The big dilemma if GMA is ousted, the VP will take over who was elected PURELY because he’s popular with the masses, and not because he’s capable to lead the nation. Our economy has never grown this much, I don’t want to take the chance by entrusting it to someone solely popular with the masses.
    To prevent this transfer, no matter how believable Lozada initially is, his credibility is now being questioned. He admitted that a certain level of corruption is acceptable to him. Questions have arisen whether he was kidnapped, because his celphone was not confiscated, he dined in Outback restaurant, and he was able to go to the place he wanted to go all along, that is, La Salle Greenhills. I even read he committed a sin of omission regarding his consultation with the wife of Sen. Joker Arroyo. He didn’t correct the impression in which it appeared the wife invited him to her house to urge him not to testify, when the fact of the matter is (based on what I read) Lozada was the one who contacted the wife around September before Joey de Venecia testified, and he was crying and that he doesn’t want to testify. So the wife invited him to her house, and told him she couldn’t lawyer for him due to conflict of interest since her husband is a Senator, while he was then president of Philforest. She advised him then, since he was so distressed, that he doesn’t have to testify if he didn’t want to. Since this was one of those ordinary free consultations, she didn’t bother to tell Joker about it. So Joker was surprised when his wife was mentioned.

  2. Hi James,

    I can’t find a copy of the report of the Advisory Council. Can the COMELEC make it accessible on-line? Also the links to Bid Bulletin 1-3 on the COMELEC website don’t seem to be working.

    About track record, I understand DRE technology itself doesn’t have a very good track record in elections in other countries particularly the US – so why are we still bidding for it here?


  3. Hello Fatima,

    DRE is presently the most efficient solution on the market. However, you’re right about that: DRE does have a spotty record in other countries. But that has more to do with the implementation of the technology rather than with the core tech itself. So, we have to be more discerning in deciding who to award the contract to – to make sure that if the problems encountered in other places don’t happen here.

    I’ll see what I can do about getting the AC report on-line, and I will try to find out what the problem is with the links you mentioned. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. Below is a transcript of a supposedly wiretapped conversation between Joey and Jun I got from a website. Judge for yourself if Jun Lozada is indeed deserving to be treated a hero, but of course after ascertaining if this is genuine.
    usapang udifuta
    TRACK 3…


    Joey (allegedly, Joey de Venecia): Hey Jun.
    Jun (allegedly, Jun Lozada): Hey Joey.
    Joey: Jun, can you hear me?
    Jun: Yeah. Go ahead.
    Joey: Yeah, where are you to put Chair (Abalos)?
    Jun: Ang formula ko doon is kuha ako ng points dun sa 130.
    Joey: Uh-huh…
    Jun: Di ba? Kasi saan ko pa kukunin di ba? (laughs) Itong mga …
    Joey: Kaya lang pare, we need to get some… at least from… something from them, di ba?
    Jun: Yeah.. from both sides. P*t@ng!na…
    Joey: Pare.. start from the thing.. Because he’s the gatekeeper of the votes. P*ta. I can understand, but not that amount.
    Jun: Oh yeah. that’s too big, right. That’s too big.
    Joey: Pare, let’s develop a plan to talk to him.
    Jun: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So…
    Joey: And you know what he told me, between you and I. When we were in Hong Kong… in Shenzen. Don’t quote me ha. Sabi niya kasi, marami akong…… Tinanong ko bakit ba ang laki-laki? Singkwenta.. Sabi niya marami ako kelangan bigyan. Pati yung NEDA. He said the word NEDA ha. P*t@ngina. For your information pare.
    Jun: Information? I would understand that… He’d like to look at…
    Joey: Maybe, wait, you can quote me and say, sabi ni Joey meron daw… sabi mo sa kanya may NEDA dun. (laughs) Di ba? He told me pare. (laughs)
    Jun: Sige, sige…
    Joey: P*t@ng!na, baka magwala na naman yung… (laughs)
    Jun: For some reason, I have this chemistry with him. Sabi ko Chair… In fact, sabi niya, Jun, ikaw na mag-referee bukas ha. Sabi niya, I want you to be there. Ikaw na mag-referee, ikaw na magsabi kung papaano. Sige po Sir, ako na ang mag-aano sa ano… (laughs)
    Joey: Well anyway, so that’s where I’m looking at right now. .. ought to get you.. And then, uh, think of a strategy for Ben (Abalos?), and if you need me to back you up, I’ll be there.
    Jun: Hey Joey, regarding this Chinese embassy thing. I think I struck a motherload no? I’ll put them in Roxas Boulevard. P*t@ng!na, di ba?
    Joey: In the Reformation? (Reclamation)
    Jun: No, p*t@ng!na, that’s not prime. We’ll put them in the CCP complex.
    Joey: Yup, got it.
    Jun: P*t@ng!na. Yeah, that’s, wala.. I can ??? that ??? agreement. (I can swing that gddam deal pare)
    Joey: You mean, owned by the Central Bank?
    Jun: Yeah! Can you imagine? P*t@ng!na, same stature as the American embassy, better pa, di ba? The Japanese Embassy is in Roxas Boulevard. The American embassy is there. So p*ta, I just arrived that we put the Chinese embassy right in the midst of it all, di ba? Joey: Yes, yes, of course. That’s ??? to hear. That’s foresight. (That’s perfect)
    Jun: … don’t mention my name. I think he knows me well.
    Joey: Gaano kalaki, pare?
    Jun: P*t@ng!na, as much as 15 hectares. (laughs)
    Joey: P*t@ng!na. Tapos siguro kumuha rin tayo dun. Pero we need 10 finances. (10 financers)
    Jun: No, no, no, no. P*t@ng!na. I cannot just tell you all the things that I’ve been asked to do. But that one I think, I can ??? for ourselves.
    Joey: I’ll talk to the…
    Jun: Talk to him right away.

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