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IT experts warn of ‘implosion’

By Kristine L. Alave, Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:39:00 05/10/2010

Filed Under: Inquirer Politics, Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Computing & Information Technology, Satellite technology

MANILA, Philippines??This will implode today.?

Rodolfo ?Jun? Lozada, a computer expert, made this bold prediction that echoed the fears of other information technology (IT) professionals as the country holds its first electronic presidential elections on Monday amid last minute hitches.

The computer experts and watchdog groups warned on the eve of the balloting that the haphazard preparations of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) would produce an avalanche of technical problems that would turn Monday?s exercise into a catastrophe.

Despite the fears, Sen. Richard Gordon, author of the election automation law, remained optimistic.

?I know it will work. I don?t have doubts about that,? said Gordon, who is running for president. ?There will be hitches, but there will be no failure of elections.?

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s spokesperson, Gary Olivar, said he was confident the elections would be credible, adding its success would bolster the country?s democracy.

?This administration will put all of its resources behind a successful transition of power and preserving the stability and continuity of our republican institutions,? Olivar said in a statement.

Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo of the Philippine Bar Association said he would say a prayer on Monday that the Comelec?s brave claims on the reliability of the system would turn out to be true.

?I will just pray that they are right. This is one of the few occasions where I will hate myself for being correct. I am hoping I will be wrong, but I?m preparing for the worst,? said Marcelo, who was among those calling for safeguards to protect the integrity of the vote.

Sign of doom

Lozada, an IT expert who blew the whistle that led to the scrapping of the $328-million national broadband deal with China in 2008, said that the defective 76,300 compact flash cards discovered a week ago was a sign that the automated balloting was doomed.

?There was a problem in the process. In every IT project, one has to test the process and then adapt the machine. Here, the machine was assigned first,? he said in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

?The problem was in the fundamentals. If something is wrong with the fundamentals, the patch will bring another problem,? he said.

The transmission test is also incomplete and there is no assurance that the servers, which will receive the official tallies, are secure, he said.

?This election has been shattered. Whoever wins will not have credibility,? said Lozada.

Delayed results

The Pacific Strategies and Assessment (PSA), a think tank that assesses the risk for multinational companies, said the balloting would be fraught with delays.

?There is a high probability that election results will be delayed,? the PSA said in its Friday report.

?In fact, the Comelec has already admitted that it will likely not be able to canvass results and release national data within the previously determined 36-hour timeframe,? the report added.

On May 5, tests revealed that the compact flash (CF) cards in the voting machines contained wrong instructions that led to inaccurate counting of ballots, prompting the Comelec to recall and replace the 76,300 cards in the machines.

Edmund Casino, an official of the Philippine Computer Society, said he expected many precincts to experience technical problems.

?If the failure is multiplied in x-amount, then that would be disastrous,? he said.

Haphazard project

That Smartmatic-TIM was caught unaware of the problem showed haphazard project management planning, Casino said. The contingency plan, he said, ?was below the industry standards.?

Marvin Beduya, a professor at the Asian Institute of Management, said queues, especially during the first three hours of balloting, should be managed well.

?On Election Day, this waiting can be a flash point just as the morning temperature also rises. The more bothersome issue is: How many people effectively choose to be disenfranchised because of the prior failure to avoid queues?? he said.

According to the master list of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines obtained by the Inquirer, 4,690 polling centers have no cell phone signal from telecommunication firms Globe Telecom, Smart Communications and Sun Cellular.

The affected polling centers have about 10,000 PCOS machines, accounting for 13 percent of the 76,300 total voting machines to be used in Monday?s elections.

Satellite transmission

The precincts have been allocated Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) equipment so they can transmit the results via satellite. A total of 5,600 BGAN equipment and 680 Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) have been assigned to the areas where cell phone signal is unreliable.

Precincts with two or more voting machines will have to share one BGAN unit.

The poll watchdog groups Bantay Eleksyon and Kontra Daya warned that these precincts were vulnerable to sabotage and vote manipulation that could delay the transmission and proclamation of candidates.

A significant number of precincts with no reliable network signal, according to the document, are Abra, Cavite, Davao City, Naga City, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Bohol, Laguna, Leyte, Masbate, Aurora, Tarlac, and Pangasinan.

The areas in the list are also included in the places that might not get the replacement CF cards on time.

These areas, including Negros Occidental, Isabela, Cagayan, Palawan, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur, were identified as places that might not have compact flash cards on time.

These areas, Bantay Eleksyon convenor Ramon Casiple said, are being monitored because the delays in the voting in these places could affect the results for the national contests.

Improbable numbers

Poll watchdogs also cited the ?improbable? number of registered voters in provinces in Mindanao.

The National Citizens Movement for Free Elections noted that voting population in these provinces was greater than the national average.

Based on Comelec data, Lanao del Sur?s voting population grew by 16 percent to 459,012 in 2009 from 396,722 in 2007; Sulu by 12 percent to 280,257 from 250,571; Tawi-Tawi by 11 percent to 156,027 from 140,232; and Basilan by 8 percent to 195,845 from 181,445. Maguindanao recorded the biggest increase at 78 percent, from 336,774 to 601,057.

?Without quick and reliable transmission facilities, these areas that are prone to violence and fraud can experience more than just delays in counting. The delays make them vulnerable to other more serious problems such as threats, violence and sabotage of the machines and election materials,? said Kontra Daya convenor Renato Reyes said. With reports from Edson C. Tandoc Jr. and Jerome Aning



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