So he finally admitted it. The number of precinct count optical scan machines that had experienced transmission problems, said Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. last Thursday, wasn’t in the hundreds but in the thousands—18,000, or 24-25 percent of the around 78,000 machines deployed in the midterm elections.
Interestingly, that number roughly dovetailed with the figure cited by poll watchdog Automated Election System Watch in its statement on May 18, which noted that “four days after this year’s election, 18,187 clustered precincts or 23 percent of the total number failed to transmit election returns, affecting if not potentially disenfranchising 8.6 million votes.”
That distressingly high number of machine failures is a far cry from the assurance confidently given by the Comelec on Election Day: that the PCOS failure rate would be at most 2 percent, or about 1,560 out of the 78,000 machines—a rate that the poll body declared was quite reasonable and acceptable.
Earlier, Brillantes also had to admit that some compact flash cards containing the encrypted election results that were transmitted to Comelec servers were damaged or corrupted. Asked how these could have been destroyed, his answer was: “Sinasawsaw sa tubig, nilulublub sa tinta, scratches, hindi ko alam.”
Hindi ko alam. I don’t know. There, in a nutshell, is the biggest stumbling block to any effort at ascertaining whether the midterm elections were indeed clean, fair, honest and transparent, or the product of some pervasive sophisticated skullduggery that only the most tech-savvy among us can grasp. Brillantes’ flippant, dismissive, often hostile attitude toward any attempt by concerned citizens or civic groups to inquire into the manner and outcome of the elections has been most exasperating, if not downright dangerous.
Anyone trying to delve deeper into the conduct of the Comelec, or to independently appraise the performance of the automated system it had imposed on the public at enormous cost and despite widespread doubt about its efficacy, has been met with Brillantes’ by-now-patented hissy fit. The man has threatened to file charges against critics, is purveying stories of a “conspiracy” to smear and bring down the Comelec, and has swatted away all questions about poll irregularities as coming from sore losers, or, in the case of former Comelec commissioner and IT expert Gus Lagman, as mere sour grapes by someone with alleged vested interests in an alternate technology that the poll body had rejected in favor of Smartmatic’s PCOS machines.
It may be that Brillantes is right in his suspicions—but so far none of his answers addresses the main issues. If the machines had conked out by the thousands, how did it happen, and what could the effect have been on the final election tallies? If the CF cards were deliberately corrupted or destroyed through immersion in water or ink, who might have been responsible, and for whose benefit? Which part of the myriad problems the Comelec began encountering even before the close of polling precincts last May 13 pointed to fraud, to the systematic undermining of the system—and which part pointed to natural, explainable causes, if any (such as Brillantes’ complaints that signal problems by telecom firms were the chief cause of transmission delays, a charge the firms have denied)?
Who knows? Instead of trying to find out, Brillantes has invariably chosen to go ballistic. Similarly, now that an Ateneo math professor has raised what looks like a “60-30-10” pattern in the election results, Brillantes’ response has been to describe the pattern as mere “trending,” with nothing unusual to it. He did add that the Comelec would look into the numbers. But, with no details or timetable to his promise, the assurance seemed more like an afterthought, lacking the conviction and the urgency one would expect from the nation’s chief election overseer.
Brillantes needs no reminding that he swore to the task of making sure not only that every vote is counted, but also that no stone will be left unturned to get to the bottom of election fraud—to punish the perpetrators, but more importantly, to understand how the deed was done, in order to prevent it from ever happening again. Throwing tantrums every time an inconvenient new question is asked about the elections that he said the Comelec was “99.99 percent” ready for is certainly not the way to do it.
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