Only quake can stop May polls, says Melo
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The automated election system is so foolproof it can’t be hacked and only a massive earthquake can stop the May 10 balloting, Election Chair Jose Melo said Tuesday.
Melo and Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., chair of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, said that it was virtually impossible to cheat electronically in the first nationwide computerized voting.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) chief also gave a “zero percent” possibility of a failure of elections.
“I don’t entertain that idea. If there will be one, it means the Philippines was rocked by an earthquake just like other countries,” he said.
Melo and Locsin visited the Cabuyao, Laguna, warehouse where the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the polling and the ballots printed by the National Printing Office were stored.
“If I will corrupt the system or hack, I’d be better off just buying the election. So why cheat? If you’ve already spent a lot, just buy the elections and you’re sure to win,” Melo said in an interview after a hearing on the status of the preparations for the elections.
Melo said that even if Sen. Manny Villar had all the money, he could not buy everything. He could not buy out his closest rival and end up being the only candidate.
“That will be a huge amount even if you have the money,” he said.
“I urge candidates who want to cheat, just buy off the voters because you cannot cheat through the machines. The only problem with buying voters is they don’t like to stay bought. Just take the wonderful advice of the saintly and beloved Cardinal Sin, take the money and vote your conscience. I don’t think he should have said that,” Locsin said.
He said candidates should not be fooled by people claiming they could do an “electronic Garci” because it could not be done. “They would be lying,” Locsin said.
The Makati city representative was referring to concerns about the possibility of a vote-padding controversy revealed in wiretapped conversations purportedly between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.
Administration critics claim the wiretaps were evidence Ms Arroyo stole the 2004 presidential election, a charge she has denied.
36-digit encryption code
Melo said that Smartmatic used an encryption code containing 36 digits.
“Can you imagine that figure? I can only count to a trillion. You need a big amount of money and lot of time to hack just one PCOS. How can you hack 82,000?” Melo asked.
Locsin said that it was possible that one or three PCOS machines could break down but there were still more than 80,000 units that would be working to guarantee that there would be no nationwide breakdown.
He said the only hitch he could see was a deliberate attempt to sow confusion in the distribution of voter’s list in districts where a certain candidate had a poor chance of winning. He posed this query to the Comelec officials and he was not given a straight answer.
Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said that while he was satisfied with the presentation of the poll automation provider and operator, Smartmatic-TIM, he remained skeptical on the speedy transmission of the results.
Suarez pointed out that the three mobile phone service operators had no coverage in 300 far-flung municipalities.
Results in 48 hours
Despite these fears, Melo said that the Comelec was confident that the election results would be known within 48 hours.
The Comelec also does not see any problem with voters registered in at least two different precincts because it expects most of them to vote only once.
Locsin said that the Comelec was virtually helpless in stopping this form of cheating.
“Everybody talks about double voting but these people want to vote only once but not in their district. They do it because they are paid to do it. If you try to go to the court to disenfranchise these voters, it’s hard. A court case can take up to 10 years,” Locsin said.
Melo said that “padded voter’s lists” were not a problem for the Comelec because it believed that a big percentage of the “double registrants” just made a mistake.
“For example, I was registered in San Juan and I went to Quezon City. I did not cancel my San Juan registration but it doesn’t mean I’ll vote in San Juan. Not all double-registrant people are ill-intentioned. A big percentage merely forgot to cancel their old registration,” Melo said.
Melo said the Comelec had put in place several measures to discourage double voting such as the biometrics registration (at least half of voters have their photos and thumbprints in the Comelec databank) and the indelible ink (the Comelec added more nitrate content to make it more difficult to wash off).
But Locsin said these measures would still not solve the problem of buying voters wholesale.
“If you know your district has been heavily voter-padded, you have to go out and bring the undecided voters for you. That’s life and no amount of automatic elections can override a person’s conscience,” Locsin said.
The Ang Kapatiran Party, which if fielding Olongapo City Councilor John Carlos “JC” de los Reyes for president, has asked the Comelec office in San Juan City to investigate reports of double and multiple registrants.
AKP president Eric Manalang told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that in the 2007 elections, San Juan had 72,070 registered voters.
Since registration of new voters ended on Oct. 31 last year, the number had swelled to between 170,000 and 200,000, he said.
“This contradicts reports we have received from local officials that San Juan’s population is currently declining,” Manalang said.
San Juan is the only part of Metro Manila where AKP is fielding a mayoral candidate, Glenn Angeles. With a report from Jerome Aning