Voting machines fail

Voting machines fail
76,000 memory cards to be replaced
By Michael Lim Ubac, Tarra Quismundo, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Now, it can be told officially. The tests produced weird results.

This sent embarrassed officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its partner, Smartmatic-TIM, scrambling to save the historic computerized balloting on May 10 by recalling 76,000 compact flash (CF) cards that are in the heart of the counting machines.

“We didn’t expect this to come out, but we are responding on time,” Cesar Flores, spokesperson for Smartmatic-TIM, at a nationally televised news conference said.

Flores blamed the glitches, which first surfaced in two precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines last month at the start of advance overseas voting in Hong Kong, on “human error.”

“We are taking all measures to remedy this,” Flores said, just five days before the May 10 national and local elections.

“We are optimistic that there will be no failure of elections,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento. “We are taking all measures to remedy this.”

“I will not be honest if I will say that my confidence has not been diminished because, as I said, what will happen next?” said Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the Comelec’s citizen’s arm.

In mock elections on Monday conducted by the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM in six towns in Occidental Mindoro, votes for presidential candidates Manny Villar and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III were counted for Gilberto Teodoro Jr. of the administration party, according to the Nacionalista Party (NP).

This prompted supporters of Villar led by his NP spokesperson and senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla to rush to the Comelec office in Manila to file a complaint.

Automated cheating?

Remulla showed to reporters a tally sheet from the PCOS and a manual count.

“There were five votes for Villar, five votes for Aquino, but when it came out (in the machine), there were no votes for Villar, no votes for Noynoy and 10 votes for Teodoro,” Remulla said.

“Is this automated cheating?” he asked, adding that the inability of the machines to properly count the votes in the mock elections proved persistent talk of a failure of elections.

Comelec officials reported that in tests in three far-flung towns of Cuyo, Magsaysay and Brooke’s Point in Palawan province, the machines only read portions of the ballots containing the names of candidates for national races, according to the Inquirer’s Southern Luzon Bureau.

Similar problems occurred in tests in the provinces of Bataan and Pampanga.

Flores said that the eleventh-hour glitch surfaced Monday during testing and sealing of machines in 50 to 100 precincts to show that the automated election system is working and has no malicious data.

Cards to be replaced

He said the problem was in the flash cards, equivalent to the SIM card in cell phones.

Although the company has no final numbers on defective compact flash cards, it is moving to replace the memory cards for all the 76,000 PCOS machines already sent to regional hubs for field distribution, according to Flores.

Present at the news conference were representatives from the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) and its technical evaluation committee, and Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections.

The wrong tallies stemmed from the memory cards, Flores said.

He noted that the cards contained wrong “instruction” regarding the local ballot face that caused the PCOS machines to give “contradictory” readings of the names and the votes for the local contests.

Officials said the PCOS machine read the races for the national posts correctly.

Precinct-specific cards

Each PCOS machine contains a compact flash card which has the details on the specific precinct. It has the number of voters per precinct and the names of the candidates vying for local posts, among others.

For the ballots, which are precinct specific, to be read and recorded correctly, the program inside the card and the software inside the PCOS machine must work together.

During the printing of the ballots, the spacing of the local ballot face was adjusted to double space from single space, the formatting used for the national contests.

This change was not included in the compact flash card, Flores said. As such, the PCOS machine read the local ballot face as if it had a single-space format, causing the machine to wrongly allot votes to certain candidates or skip other names.

“The flash cards inside the PCOS were not able to locate certain candidates to positions,” Flores explained.

“For some reason, the configuration was telling the machine that the second row visually is actually the third row,” he said. The next row was read as a “blank space,” he said.

Who’s to blame?

Although there had been several mock elections and the PCOS machines were tested before they were dispatched, the problem was not discovered until Monday, Flores said.

He said that the ballots used in the mock elections and in the warehouse testing had different faces from the ballots that would be used on May 10.

Flores blamed the Comelec for the snafu, saying the poll body did not want to use real ballots to test the PCOS machines. The Comelec was authorized to print no more than 50.7 million ballots, the number of registered voters.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Smartmatic-TIM had 20,000 flash cards on hand, which they had started to configure with the right instructions.

The company has also ordered more memory cards from local and overseas suppliers, he added.

Flores said the problem was “surmountable.” Correcting the instruction on the memory cards is “easy,” he said, adding that the challenge the company and the Comelec face is on the delivery of these cards to the precincts.

‘It will be done’

Although the schedule was “tight,” Flores said the company would be able to change the compact flash cards starting Wednesday night.

“It is a tight schedule but it can be done and it will be done,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM had yet to finalize the delivery of the replacement cards.

Larrazabal said the Comelec was devising a procedure for the orderly recall of the flash cards to allow for an inventory. He said the Comelec would probably destroy the defective cards recalled.

Pending the replacement, the Comelec and Smartmatic canceled the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines.

Flores said the operation would resume on Thursday and Friday. Machines that will not pass the testing and sealing will not be used on May 10, he said.

New round of tests

Under the law, the testing and sealing operation of the PCOS machines is scheduled three to seven days before the elections.

“The machines from Tuesday will be tested again on Thursday. Some on May 7. All machines will be tested before Election Day,” Larrazabal said.

CAC chair Ray Roxas Chua said he did not expect defective memory cards to cause delays in the last-minute election preparations.

“We are not sugarcoating this. This is definitely a setback, but one that is not insurmountable,” said Chua, who is also information and communications technology secretary.

De Villa said she had received several calls and text messages from volunteers reporting problems with the PCOS machines in Pasay, Parañaque, Makati, Pasig and Las Piñas, and Batangas and Mindoro.

“Most of the complaints were PCOS failure, PCOS did not count, PCOS counted national (votes for national candidates) but could not read the local, all candidates for mayor except one,” De Villa said.

Problem can be fixed

She said that the Comelec had vowed to fix the problems. She expressed confidence in the automated polls and disagreed to proposals to hold a total manual count of election results. “It will just be confusing,” she said.

“And how can you validate a system with a process that is also corrupted? We wanted to automate because we were so unhappy with the manual system that has been corrupted, so why are we validating a new system with a corrupted system?” De Villa told reporters.

In the provinces, officials said unexpected problems arose during the testing and sealing of the vote-counting machines, prompting the suspension of their distribution. They said the Comelec office in Manila had sent instructions that technicians would be sent instead to fix the problems.

In San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, acting election officer Perlita Villanca told local radio dzVT that the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines had been deferred. PPCRV volunteers reported that in Magsaysay, Sta. Cruz and Sablayan towns, the machines did not count votes for a congressional candidate.

In San Fernando, the Comelec recalled PCOS machines in Central Luzon after 95 percent of some 700 units used in tests in Pampanga and Bataan failed to count votes for local candidates.

Officials said the distribution of machines in Cebu, Negros Occidental, Zamboanga del Sur, in Region IV, composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan had been ordered suspended.

Comelec Director Juanito Icaro said the advice from the Comelec national office was only “to stay put” and technicians would be sent instead. With reports from Redempto D. Anda, Marrah Erika Lesaba, Maricar P. Cinco, Fernan Gianan, Mar Arguelles and Madonna T. Virola, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Carla Gomez and Nestor Burgos Jr. and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Ryan D. Rosauro and Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao; Tonette Orejas, Charlene Cayabyab, Carmela Reyes-Estrope and Anselmo Roque, Inquirer Central Luzon; and Delmar Cariño and Charles Keith, Inquirer Northern Luzon

AFP on red alert in preparation for May 10 polls

AFP on red alert in preparation for May 10 polls
By Alexis Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The military will be placed on red alert starting today as part of security preparations for the May 10 elections.

Col. Ricardo Nepomuceno, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)–Task Force HOPE (Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections), said the red alert status will be implemented until May 20 to allow the military to monitor the security situation in the field.

“The red alert will start at 8 a.m. It will be nationwide. We will start the manning of our (HOPE) operations center and that is the signal for us to start implementing our security operations,” Nepomuceno said.

A red alert means that all the military personnel should be readily available for deployment anytime. Such alert level would also entail the cancellation of all leaves to ensure adequate manpower.

Nepomuceno said the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the citizen arm of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), would send representatives to the HOPE operations center to enhance the gathering of poll-related updates.

He said the agreement with the PPCRV would allow HOPE to get feedback on the security issues on the precinct level.

The HOPE operation center would be located at the AFP general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City and will be open to the media.

The PPCRV, as the Comelec’s deputized citizen arm, has been authorized to monitor the results of the May 10 elections. This is intended to promote transparency and accountability in the conduct of the polls.

The AFP is not allowed to engage in partisan politics but has been tasked to provide security during the transport of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to polling precincts nationwide.

In fact, heavily armed police and military forces were already deployed in strategic areas of Metro Manila yesterday to ensure the safe delivery of the PCOS machines.

Joint elements of the National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) and the AFP’s National Capital Region Command (NCRCom) in full battle gear were seen securing vehicles transporting 7,555 PCOS machines, 6.13 million ballots and ballot boxes and election paraphernalia to 743 precincts in Metro Manila.

NCRPO chief Director Roberto Rosales said the police and NCRCom vehicles securing the delivery trucks had global positioning system (GPS) devices for monitoring purposes.

The central hub is being secured by eight NCRPO and 15 NCRCom personnel who barred police officials and journalists who cannot produce access cards issued by Smartmatic from entering.

PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa, on the other hand, said that agencies like the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Energy (DOE), Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and the local government units (LGU) help in the implementation of safety measures during the polls.

“All other government agencies cannot afford to be mere bystanders in this historic and very important national exercise. Everyone has a moral obligation and duty to choose a new set of national and local leaders in an honest and orderly manner,” said Verzosa.

Because of this overwhelming effort by the AFP and the PNP, Malacañang expressed confidence that their respective members would remain professional and not allow themselves to be influenced by partisan groups.

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said the soldiers and policemen would remain true to their oath to defend democracy.

“Let us remember even in election time despite attacks on the integrity of certain individuals, the fact is the AFP and the police have performed their jobs in securing the elections and affirming our democratic exercises even beyond the call of duty,” Saludo told a news briefing.

He said the Armed Forces and the PNP play a key role in ensuring the success of the elections.

Old generals support Noynoy

Meanwhile, a group of retired military and police officers yesterday expressed support for the candidacy of Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and vowed to guard against cheating in the upcoming May 10 polls.

In a statement, the group claiming to be EDSA 1986 veterans said Aquino can implement genuine reforms in the government and provide solutions to the problems plaguing the county.

“Many of us in recent years followed our ailing President Cory Aquino in her crusade to change a more oppressive, corrupt regime and unite the Filipino people in a fight for true reforms in ourselves, in our institutions and in our national character,” the statement read.

“Our beloved President Cory is now in the heavens but the torch of this crusade is now passed to her son, Senator “Noynoy” Aquino, who is seeking the presidency in 2010 to effect the reforms that all Filipinos are longing for,” it added.

“We would like to inform our people that we are now prepared to protect the votes of every Filipino and to ensure that these votes will be counted. We will see to it that the PNP and armed forces will do their duty,” he said.

Montaño said they will also remind those in active service to be faithful to their duties and to remain non-partisan.

He said they have learned their lesson in 2004 when they backed the candidacy of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr., the closest rival of President Arroyo in the presidential race.

“If we know how we were cheated last time, we know how to counter it,” Montaño said. – Non Alquitran, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Paolo Romero

'Poll watchers getting advance pay in GMA district'

‘Poll watchers getting advance pay in GMA district’
By Ding Cervantes
The Philippine Star

LUBAO, Pampanga , Philippines  –  Liberal Party (LP) re-electionist Gov. Eddie Panlilio urged yesterday the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to investigate reports that his gubernatorial rival has been paying advance salaries ranging from P1,500 to P4,000 monthly to people who will act as poll watchers in the second district of Pampanga, where President Arroyo is the official congressional candidate of Lakas-Kampi-CMD.

“I urge the Comelec in Pampanga and Central Luzon to check out reports that my fellow gubernatorial candidate, Mrs. Lilia Pineda, and her campaigners at the Lakas-Kampi-CMD are doing a massive recruitment of poll watchers beyond what is allowed by election laws,” the Pampanga governor said in a statement yesterday.

Panlilio said that a “first batch of poll watchers have been designated as barangay coordinators” and have been required by the Pineda camp to recruit 10 poll watchers each.

“Election laws allow two poll watchers per party in every clustered precinct to work on alternate duty. When the precinct is small, the BEI can ask the poll watchers to leave. Only a representative of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting will be allowed,” he noted.

Panlilio cited reports that barangay coordinators are already being paid P4,000 monthly while the recruited poll watchers were promised P1,500 per month.

“They are being given identification cards so they can regularly collect their allowance. This could be a form of vote buying. I pray that the Comelec check into this to be able to protect the sanctity of the election,” he said.

Mrs. Pineda and her campaign manager Rosve Henson did not respond to phone calls and text messages.

Mrs. Pineda, wife of Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda who was tagged as a big-time gambling lord during the Senate impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada, is a close friend of Mrs. Arroyo.

A cabal in Pampanga

More family members of the President and Mrs. Pineda are running in the May 10 elections.

President Arroyo’s rival in the second district, LP congressional candidate Adonis Simpao, noted that Mrs. Pineda’s son, outgoing Lubao Mayor Dennis Pineda, is the congressional nominee of the Ang Galing Pinoy party-list, together with presidential son Rep. Mikey Arroyo and outgoing Bacolor Mayor Buddy Dungca.

Simpao added that Mrs. Pineda’s youngest daughter, Mylene, is also running unopposed as administration candidate for mayor in Lubao where the President is a registered voter.

In Sta. Rita town, Dennis’ wife Yolanda is seeking re-election, also under the administration party. Only independent candidate Arthur Salalila, a former mayor and Sangguniang Panlalawigan member, is challenging her.

Lubao and Sta. Rita are within the second district where the President is running for Congress.

Simpao likened the looming Pineda dynasty in Pampanga to the buildup of the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao.

The rise of the Pinedas’ political stock, according to him, was based on political patronage.

He added that the President’s support for the Pinedas was also reflected in the electoral case Mrs. Pineda filed against Panlilio.

Only recently, the Comelec’s Second Division ordered the ouster of Panlilio in favor of Mrs. Pineda after a recount of votes cast for governor in 2007 purportedly revealed the latter as the real winner.

The poll body has yet to decide on the petition for reconsideration filed by Panlilio, on top of another petition filed by Pineda to immediately assume the gubernatorial post.

Simpao said the buildup of the Pineda political dynasty could be part of a scenario to strengthen Mrs. Arroyo’s political base once she becomes House Speaker or even prime minister.

“There have been a lot of declarations and denials in the past years which have been later contradicted, such as the President’s announcement not to run in 2004 elections, then the denial by Malacañang that her frequent visits to the second district was politically motivated. It turns out she had wanted all along to run for Congress in the district,” he said.

Simpao also noted that despite similar denials by Mrs. Arroyo’s camp that her congressional bid had nothing to do with reports she is interested in being House Speaker or prime minister under a parliamentary form of government, her allies are now hinting otherwise.

Comelec prepares for manual audit

Comelec prepares for manual audit
By Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is preparing for a random manual auditing of elections results, according to Henrietta de Villa, head of the poll body’s committee on random manual audit.

She said part of the plan is the deployment of an additional 3,500 public school teachers to ensure the accuracy of random manual auditing.

De Villa said the committee has recommended the creation of a special board of election inspectors to undertake the manual audit.

The Comelec has rejected calls for a parallel manual canvassing of poll results, saying it is no longer necessary since a random manual audit is enough to do the job.

The Philippine Bar Association (PBA) insisted yesterday that parallel manual counting of votes is not an impossible task for the Comelec.

PBA head and former ombudsman Simeon Marcelo stressed that preparations for manual counts in all precincts for five elective posts could be completed in less than five days.

“Yes, it’s not as simple as buying vinegar in the grocery store. It’s as simple as counting money the way bank tellers do,” he told The STAR in reaction to a statement from Comelec spokesman James Jimenez over the weekend that a manual count was “almost impossible” at this point.

De Villa said she agreed with the Comelec’s position that a parallel manual count would defeat the purpose of automation and would be tantamount to putting together two systems: manual and automated.

She also said the Poll Automation Law does not mention anything about having parallel manual counting.

De Villa, who also chairs the church-based poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting or PPCRV, said the recommendation for the creation of SBEIs is now awaiting Comelec’s approval.

She explained that fatigue had been a very big factor that had affected the accuracy of manual election system in past elections.

“But if we will have the SBEIs instead of the regular BEIs, the teachers will not be very tired and they would exhibit fresh look, fresh minds in conducting the random manual count,” De Villa said.

Last week, the Comelec decided to increase from one to five per legislative district the number of precincts to be subjected to the random audit.

A total of 1,145 clustered precincts will be subjected to random manual audit involving three BEI members. She said the involvement of 3,435 members of the SBEIs would be necessary.

Not impossible

Marcelo said it would only take a day or two to print additional election returns and three more days to deliver them to polling precincts all over the country.

“If only Comelec will agree, it’s not impossible at all. We just want parallel manual count for five positions – president, vice president, congressman, governor and mayor – and that will just take an hour,” he explained.

Marcelo said their proposal is the last external check to verify results of the precinct count optical count (PCOS) machines.

Meanwhile, local business leaders are scheduled to meet with the Comelec today to discuss the group’s proposal for a parallel manual count for president, vice president and mayor.

The Makati Business Club has urged the public to support the parallel manual count for an honest elections.

With the elections two weeks away, the group, which included Bishops Oscar Cruz and Deogracias Iniguez, called on the Comelec to rule on the matter immediately and not to wait until April 29.

Meanwhile, Malacañang called on critics yesterday not to destabilize Comelec, adding that it is in the final stages of election preparations.

He said the Comelec would need all the support from the public to ensure its success.

“What we believe in is the law that mandates an automated counting of votes. If there would be different results from the two (automated and manual), what would be followed is the results from the automated count,” Olivar said.

“We can’t be shifting from one mode of counting to another. We must learn to respect the law,” Olivar said.

Meanwhile, former president Joseph Estrada said the automated elections should be done in urban cities while far-flung areas should adopt the manual count. “Even in the US, they have not perfected the automated system, how much more here and right now, in Mindanao, there is brownout almost everyday. There could be a   24-hour brownout on the election and this might result in a failure of elections,” he said.

In Davao City, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino senatorial candidate and spokesman on poll automation Joey de Venecia III said Comelec’s rejection of parallel manual count might actually compromise the credibility of the automated system.

“It is puzzling that while the Comelec and Smartmatic officials broke out the champagne for completing the printing of official ballots several days ahead of their deadline, they choose to ignore multi-sectoral calls for a parallel manual count that’s precisely meant to validate that the untested precinct count optical scan (PCOS) system works,” De Venecia said.

“Has the digital dagdag bawas system been set up?”

De Venecia was among the politicians who arrived in Davao City to attend the 60th birthday celebration of evangelist Pastor Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ The Name Above Every Name congregation.

De Venecia said that a Princeton University study has found that PCOS machines could be infected with a malicious ware that could carry out automated vote shaving and switching.

Worst, he said, the malware has self-erasing capability thus it cannot be detected easily.

He said the possibility of the malware infecting the PCOS machines may be counter-checked by manual counting.

“It is plain to see that if the count for president, vice-president and mayor are accurate, then the people will accept even the counts for councilors and congressmen,” De Venecia said.

With Jess Diaz, Edith Regalado, Jose Rodel Clapano, Edu Punay, Paolo Romero, Ma. Elisa Osorio, Rainier Allan Ronda.

Palace to public: Help ensure success of automated polls

Palace to public: Help ensure success of automated polls
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang decried yesterday people spreading rumors of a failure of elections on May 10 and called on the public to remain vigilant and help the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ensure the successful conduct of the country’s first nationwide automated polls.

The Comelec, on the other hand, dismissed speculations of a failure of elections that could favor President Arroyo, saying it is considering an independent unofficial partial count of the election results.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza commented on various allegations – including that of Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III – that the Arroyo administration was planning to sabotage the polls to prolong its grip on power.

“We are doing everything to make these elections very credible and the last thing that we should have is a failure of elections. I don’t think that’s good for the country,” Mendoza said.

No failure of elections

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, meanwhile, said the poll body is deliberating whether to allow the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and the Kapisan ng mga Broadcaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) to conduct a separate tally of the results of the May 2010 polls.

Larrazabal said the proposal is for the PPCRV and KBP to consolidate the election returns or tally data from the Comelec’s website.

“As soon as the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines transmit the results, we will make the data available in the website and to the majority and minority parties,” he said.

He, however, emphasized that the poll body is discussing ways to prevent the possibility of “trending,” which could affect the credibility of election results.

“The thrust is that we will be releasing data every so often to keep the people abreast of what is happening, but posting the running total will still be discussed,” the commissioner said.

The sum of all fears

The idea of a parallel count sits well with Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manny Villar Jr., even as he admitted that he also had doubts about the automated system.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, on the other hand, reiterated his calls for the election of a new senate president to forestall “chaos after President Arroyo’s term expires on June 30.

“I have been in Mindanao lately and people there have been experiencing eight hours of power failure each day. If power shortage leads to automation failure in Mindanao, that’s 25 to 30 percent of votes gone,” he said.

Angara, who is one of the senators whose term lasts up to 2013, said that without results of the elections for national positions by noon of June 30 when the terms of the president, vice president, Senate president, and House speaker expire, “a frontier area will result, where he who has guns will be the winner.”

He noted that shifting to manual elections in problematic areas could also delay the results of elections for the national posts, amid the apparent lack of preparation of the Comelec and the political parties for manual counting.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s term ends this June, although he is seeking reelection.

Under the law, the Senate President is third in the order of succession to the presidency.

Angara said there is no question among his colleagues that the election of a new Senate president could assuage fears of a leadership vacuum.

There is also a possibility that the counting of votes for congressional and local candidates could be finished way ahead of those for national positions in the May elections, with Pres. Arroyo winning in Pampanga’s congressional race and being elected as House Speaker.

The speaker is fourth in the line of succession to the presidency.

Check Comelec expenditures

But the manual counting and the possible power vacuum in case of a failure of elections are not the only problems that need to be addressed, according to Senate Minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Pimentel called on the Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System to convene to help Comelec Chairman Jose Melo ensure the proper use of extra funds.

“There is so much money at the disposal of the Comelec that the temptation to provide operators with golden parachutes for their retirement is so great,” Pimentel said.

More than P2 billion was allocated for the cost of the election automation with Smartmatic aside from the P10 billion allotted for its operation under the national budget.

“For instance, the Comelec will have to deliver 76,340 ballot boxes to the election registrars of 120 cities and 1,501 municipalities. The total cost of transportation of those ballot boxes would sit at P519 million. That means that the cost of transportation per ballot box is P6,800,” he said. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Ding Cervantes, Christina Mendez, Rainier Allan Ronda, Perseus Echeminada, Eva Visperas

He added that there is unverified information that another P499 million has been set aside for the delivery of the ballot boxes to 1,600 treasurers throughout the country.

Perlas: Postpone the elections

But independent presidential candidate Nicanor Perlas is painting a grimmer scenario.

Perlas called for a postponement of the national elections by three months, doubting the poll body’s ability to pull off the automated elections.

He said the glitches that plagued the recent Hong Kong absentee voting serves as proof of the Comelec’s lack of readiness.

He also noted that calls are being made for a review of the indelible ink contract and bidding process and took notice that the Comelec admitted in a forum that the winners will not be known within 48 hours due to the sheer number of candidates.

“The way things are being handled by the Comelec, the automated system will be the black hole of the election. Pushing through with the May 10 elections will just further plunge the country into chaos that is potentially violent,” he said.

Partido ng Masang Pilipino senatorial bet Jose de Venecia III, for his part, said the Comelec should remove its blinders and stop pretending that a “failure of elections scenario” is inconceivable. – Mayen Jaymalin, Ding Cervantes, Christina Mendez, Rainier Allan Ronda, Perseus Echeminada, Eva Visperas

Larrazabal: Comelec won't allow poll failure for GMA power grab

Larrazabal: Comelec won’t allow poll failure for GMA power grab
By Ryan Chua

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will never allow failure of elections to happen, especially if it’s designed to let anyone perpetuate himself or herself in power, a commissioner said on Friday.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said speculations that failure of elections will happen to let President Arroyo serve longer as president have no basis.

“We won’t allow failure of elections to happen to favor anyone,” he said. “We simply won’t allow failure of elections to happen.”

Larrazabal added that although the poll body has had a past marred by accusations of fraud, corruption, and incompetence, “this is a different commission now.”

He also said the poll body has been working hard to ensure this year’s elections will be successful.

“The elections is bigger than PGMA’s administration…bigger than all the candidates combined. This is the future of the Philippines, and people should realize that,” he said.

Larrazabal also answered certain points of the latest study by Pacific Strategies and Assessment on the automated elections. The report criticized the Comelec, saying it is not prepared for poll automation.


– “All machines have been delivered. All machines have been tested.”

– “We’ll be having a testing and sealing of the machines at the municipality where the voting will be conducted … Three to seven days before the elections, you’ll know that the machine is accurate.”


– “The testing of the machines was conducted at the Cabuyao warehouse in the presence of the Comelec, Smartmatic-TIM, DOST, and COA. … PPCRV was there to observe, political parties were invited to observe.”

– On why political parties were not present: “You can’t tell a person to do something if he or she doesn’t want to do it.”


– “In Hong Kong and Singapore (OAV), the batteries are connected to the PCOS machines.”

– “We would suggest to the political parties to fly to Hong Kong and Singapore at their own expense to see the voting … The best way to see that it works is to just fly to Hong Kong and see that it works.”


– The source code review and certification was done by US-based SysTest Labs, “one of the leading companies accrediting election systems in the world.”

-“We did a walk-through last February with representatives of political parties and some civic organizations. During the walk-through, we also gave them the guidelines for review. Some complained, some said it’s restrictive. The walk-though was just the start of the source code review.”

– Unfortunately, Larrazabal said, some groups like CenPEG did not attend the actual review and just kept complaining. Larrazabal said they did not even give suggestions on how the review should be conducted. “They just went there, has themselves interviewed, and left.”

– Source code is now kept in escrow at Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.


– “The configuration of flash cards were done in the presence of Smartmatic-TIM, the Comelec, NCC, and CIA. There’s an audit of it. Even if you go to a ship where you buy flash cards, that flash card is useless (to rig election results) because it doesn’t have the files.”


– “What if on election day, buong Pilipinas mag-blackout? Will the machines work? Yes, because it has a 16-hour battery.”

– “What if mag-brownout sa munisipyo? Can they still canvass? They can. The canvass of the municipality has a laptop which can last four hours. If they run out of battery, you have a generator asset.”

– “Not all areas in the Philippines have (cellular) coverage. What do you do? There’s satellite transmission-BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) and VSAT (Very Small Aperture Transmission) to transmit data from areas that have no cell phone coverage.”

– “Can you manipulate the (electronic) results? You cannot manipulate it because it’s encrypted. Even if you do, you’ve already printed 30 copies of election returns at the precinct level. You have people going around town with the results.


– “They were already trained, tested,” he said, referring to training in March. Training was two days–lecture on first day; test and certification on second day.

– To reinforce what they have learned, “We will be giving them last-minute guidelines and instructions. IFES is coming up with pamphlets to be given to BEIs.”


– “Smartmatic gave us a document that says that there are people needed for the positions vacant. They are oversupplied now.”


– “We don’t cluster barangays. We cluster established precincts. What will happen is that you’ll still be going to the same barangay elementary school. Probably in a different classroom but the same school.”

– He advised voters to look for their precincts as early as now by asking the local election officers or using the Comelec’s online precinct finder at comelec.gov.ph.


– “Poll automation is not a solution to cleansing the list of voters. We’ve ordered election officers to manually cross out voters with multiple registration.”

– However, “The AFIS (automated fingerprint identification system) is ongoing. So there are steps.”

18 contentious deals taint Comelec image

18 contentious deals taint Comelec image
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondo
The Philippine Star

How can the Comelec properly automate — when rackets distract it? Since 2008 at least 18 big-ticket expenditures have brought the poll body shame:

• ARMM poll automation 2008 — Bidding for the P600-million project flawed. Only Smartmatic-SAHI qualified at first; the only other bidder Sandz Solutions failed. Later Smartmatic-SAHI flunked technical tests. Still Comelec awarded it the contract for direct recording electronic (touch-screen) voting in Maguindanao.

• ARMM election paper — Supply of voter registration and election forms won by lowest bidding newcomer Advance Paper Corp. Then, Comelec debarred Advance because allegedly blacklisted — a falsity. Contracts handed out to higher bidders Consolidated Paper Products, Philand Industries, and Forms International, three of nine firms that have been cornering Comelec deals. Comelec lost P8 million. Ex-chairman Ben Abalos and successor Jose Melo were sued last week for approving and implementing the transaction.

• Automated Fingerprint Identification System, 2009 — P1.6-billion fingerprinting of 50 million voters supposed to be rushed in time for May 2010 election. Bidding reportedly rigged for NEC-Japan, partner of Unison, one of the nine frequent Comelec contractors. Soon after signing the deal, Comelec lengthened implementation period to three years, giving NEC-Unison P600 million in savings. But contract price stayed the same. Paper and printing contract given to Consolidated Paper.

• Carbonless paper — P180 million-P400 million worth of paper for Election Returns, Statements of Votes, and Certificates of Canvass for manual balloting. Contract reportedly given to Noah Paper Mills, one of the nine. All this will go to waste since Comelec opted for full automation.

• Watermarked paper — P800 million worth of paper for manual ballots awarded to one of the nine. No clear bidding. Now also useless with automation.

• 2010 Automated Election System — Bidding for P11.2-billion project faulty. Five bidders debarred for incomplete submissions, but Smartmatic-Total Information Management passed even if also lacking. Bid was P7.2 billion, 36 percent lower than agency budget, grounds for rejection under old Public Bidding Act. In test run, battery wire of the precinct count optical scanner shorted and burned. Still Comelec awarded contract. After which, Filipino-owned TIM nearly backed out for being eased out of control by Barbadian Smartmatic. They then reincorporated as 1920 Business Inc. In Hong Kong last Sunday the PCOS in one of 20 voting precincts rejected all ballots, resulting in 5-percent failure rate. Automation law requires 99.995-percent accuracy.

• Ballot boxes — P243,367,740-fabrication of 77,000 boxes awarded to Smartmatic without bidding, on lame excuse that only it knows the exact size of its PCOS. Original design was for transparent polycarbonate, but Comelec switched to opaque plastic to avoid sunlight soiling ballot ultraviolet markings. Boxes thus became like common trash bins. Yet price remained at P3,160 apiece, thrice costlier than the old P900-metal box.

• Ballot paper — While part of Smartmatic’s commitments under its P7.2-billion offer, the Comelec is mum if the supplier is again one of the favored nine.

• Ballot redesign — Smartmatic saved two to three inches in ballot length — consequently tons of paper — when listing of candidates was made horizontal instead of vertical. Yet Comelec did not renegotiate price cut.

• Late PCOS delivery — Smartmatic missed by two weeks its deadline to deliver first batch. Under the contract, it should have been fined one percent of contract price, or P72 million, per day of delay. But Comelec exempted it.

• Performance bond — The contract required Smartmatic to post one-percent performance bond, or P1.12 billion, based on approved budget, for the duration of the procurement. Smartmatic took out a letter of credit from HSBC in the equivalent $25.3 million to obtain Comelec’s notice to proceed. Then, with no legal basis, Comelec let Smartmatic withdraw $21 million and leave only $4.3 million.

• Ballot transport — First batch of 12 million printed ballots trucked from Quezon City to Manila for P92 million. No bidding.

• Voter education — P240 million nearly awarded sans bidding to Comelec communication consultant who owns ad agency.

• Packing paper and services — for Optical Mark Reading ballots. P180-million contract allegedly went to Synergy Corp., one of the nine.

• Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) — P480 million went to security barcode instead, but for the same low effectiveness.

• Ballot-secrecy folders — P700 million awarded to OTC Paper Corp., one of the nine, to fabricate 1.815 million “special” covers for Election Day. No bidding, only unsolicited proposal with no clear Swiss Challenge. Work was for 22 folders in 82,500 precinct clusters, when there are only 76,340 clusters. En banc approved contract on say-so of Comelec Bids and Awards Committee, then rescinded it when poll watchdog PPCRV protested.

• Ultraviolet lamps — P28-million deal first awarded to OTC Paper Corp. as lowest bidder and consolation for scrapping of P700-million folders. Precinct officers will use the lamps to read secret ballot U/V marks. This is because Smartmatic switched off the PCOS U/V reader when it couldn’t get the right mix of ink during ballot printing. Thus, this should be paid for by Smartmatic, not Comelec. After public scrutiny, Comelec called for re-bidding because the three bidders, including Philand and Embu Integrated Trading Co., had insufficient papers after all.

• Indelible ink — P77-million contract given to Texas Resources Corp. for ink to mark voters on Election Day. When PPCRV exposed Texas’s ink to be erasable, Comelec said it would hold new bidding. Then it claimed the mix was indelible after all when inkbottle was shaken before use. No, really.

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“Life is not what you see on the surface; it is lived in the depths of your experience and love.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ

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E-mail: [email protected]

Nograles, 30 congressmen leaving Lakas for NP?

Nograles, 30 congressmen leaving Lakas for NP?
By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Prospero Nograles and at least 30 congressmen are reportedly set to bolt the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD party and join the camp of Sen. Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party (NP).

A source close to Nograles told reporters yesterday that the Speaker and his group made the decision after Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte publicly declared his support for Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Nograles did not confirm nor deny the report when sought for comment.

The Speaker is running for mayor in Davao City against Duterte’s daughter Sara, who is the incumbent vice mayor. Duterte, on the other hand, is his daughter’s vice mayoral teammate.

The city has about 950,000 registered voters, including thousands of dead and multiple registrants discovered recently by the Parish-Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.

The source said if Mayor Duterte, “who is an administration ally and a close friend of President Arroyo, is supporting Noynoy and not Mrs. Arroyo’s candidate Gilbert Teodoro, the Speaker and his group should not be expected to stick it out with Lakas-Kampi.”

He said Nograles has also become “frustrated with the kind of treatment he is getting from the administration.”

“His concerns are not being addressed, including his request for adequate government response to the political killings and summary executions in Davao City,” the source said.

What made matters worse is the designation of Madeline “Bebot” Marfori as Lakas-Kampi’s chief campaign manager of Teodoro in Davao City, the source added.

He pointed out that Nograles, who is the ruling party’s vice chairman, considers the designation as an affront to him since Marfori is a Duterte supporter.

If the Speaker makes good his threat to bolt the ruling party and join NP, he will be Villar’s biggest catch.

Earlier, former governor Luis “Chavit” Singson of Ilocos Sur and Gov. Jose Zubiri of Bukidnon defected to Villar’s camp.

Zubiri said there was no money involved in his support for Villar, contrary to rumors that his political enemies are spreading.

“I won’t ask a single centavo from him. I am spending my own money. We have an organization down to the precinct level. You don’t need to buy votes here. People look at the candidate’s program, and that is how they choose,” he said.

Before shifting support to Villar, Zubiri said he wanted Senator Aquino to grace a political rally in Bukidnon, “but the Acostas, whom we soundly defeated in the last elections, are preventing him from accepting any invitation from the province.”

“There were emissaries from the Liberal Party camp, asking if I can help in Noynoy’s campaign, but I told them that I don’t want to be a cause of his breakup with the Acostas,” he said.

Zubiri was referring to the family of former Rep. Nereus Acosta, who is in Aquino’s senatorial ticket together with another Bukidnon resident, Rep. Teofisto Guingona III.

In the 2007 elections, the Zubiris fielded neophyte Candido Pancrudo Jr. in the first district against one of the Acostas. Pancrudo won and is now seeking a second term.

Zubiri said he resigned from Lakas “because (he) cannot stomach its alliance with Kampi.”

“Kampi has fielded a crook who made money in the Department of Agriculture as one of its congressional candidates here,” he said.

Saving Lakas party

Meanwhile, former House speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said Lakas-Kampi-CMD is now floundering after the defection of some party members, prompting him to retrieve and rescue Lakas before “it sinks with the Titanic.”

De Venecia said this is the reason why he is going all the way to the Supreme Court to fight for it and bring it back to life as it is “now dying with the merger.”

“Why am I doing this? Because the Lakas-CMD, not the merged party, which I founded with President (Fidel) Ramos and (Senator) Raul Manglapus, is the only party of its kind in the world,” said the Pangasinan fourth district congressman.

“They’re killing it,” he added.

He said he and Ramos denounced the merger at the Commission on Elections as an illegal marriage and now he filed a motion for reconsideration with the Supreme Court (after it initially declared it as legal and constitutional).

De Venecia said the original Lakas-CMD is the only party in the world to put together Christians and Muslims under one political roof, which was never done before in Asia and Africa, except in Lebanon.

He said they have anticipated the emerging Christian-Muslim global conflict when they created the party.

“They have killed it by merging it with Kampi. That is the passionate reason, that is the ideological reason, that is the scholarly reason for my attempt to retrieve it before they kill it completely and totally,” he said.

De Venecia said he is contacting the Lakas originals so that possibly in the next 10 days, they would come out with a declaration as to whom they will coalesce with. – With Eva Visperas

Domestic helper, teacher cast first ballots in Hong Kong, Palau

Domestic helper, teacher cast first ballots in Hong Kong, Palau
By Pia Lee-Brago
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A domestic helper and a high school teacher were the first to cast their votes in Hong Kong and Palau at the start of the overseas absentee voting (OAV) yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

Rowena de la Cruz, a domestic helper, had camped out in front of Hong Kong’s Bayanihan Kennedy town center on Friday afternoon and was the first to vote yesterday morning.

Noel Reyes, a 36-year-old teacher in Palau High School, was the first to vote in the

Philippine embassy in Kokor, Palau. Reyes wore a white t-shirt bearing the phrase “Ako ang Simula” when he voted.

Some 589,830 overseas Filipinos out of the estimated nine million Filipinos living abroad have registered for the OAV. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is expecting a voter turnout of 60 to 70 percent.

Comelec records showed that Hong Kong has the largest number of Filipino absentee voters (95,355), followed by Saudi Arabia (90,022), United States (48,293), Singapore (31, 853), Kuwait (20, 256), Abu Dhabi (17,051), and Italy (13,313).

DFA spokesman Eduardo Malaya said voting “commenced smoothly” in the 93 embassies and consulates general worldwide.

The OAV started at 8 a.m. in individual countries yesterday and will end at 6 p.m. Philippine time on May 10.

Absentee voting is automated in Hong Kong and Singapore. Voters in other countries can mail or manually cast their votes at the nearest Philippine embassy or consulate.

Malaya said the embassies and consulates can receive votes eight hours a day, or may adopt a flexible schedule to accommodate more voters.

Abs-cbnnews.com reported yesterday that De la Cruz, a member of migrant workers’ group Migrante, voted for Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. and his running mate Sen. Loren Legarda.

She also voted for NP senatorial candidates Reps. Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said, however, this should not set a trend.

“On the surface of it, it’s newsworthy… (But) we want to assure the public that this does not mean there is trending and we’ll study the situation,” he said.

Jimenez said the Comelec does not want the OAV to set trends that would influence local voters during the nationwide synchronized elections on May 10.

“We’ll see what we can do over the next few days just to prevent the appearance of trending. It’s very important for us that the election here in the Philippines will not be perceived as having been influenced by any outside factor such as trending or a bandwagon that will be generated by the OAV,” Jimenez said.

Automation test

Absentee voting in Hong Kong and Singapore, which has a combined voter base of 128,000, will test the automated balloting system to be used in the Philippines for the first time.

Precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines will be used in the month-long OAV in the two countries, 20 of which will be used at the Bayanihan Center in Hong Kong.

“Through this (OAV), we will know whether or not this really works,” Comelec Commissioner Armando Velasco said. “We hope to learn a lot from the process.”

Jimenez said the first day of absentee voting in Hong Kong had been generally peaceful.

He said it took the voters a minute and a half to fill out the ballot, faster compared to five minutes recorded during initial field tests.

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) chairperson Henrietta de Villa said they were satisfied with the conduct of the first day of absentee voting in Hong Kong.

“They (Comelec) prepared well, there was no problem on the first day. They conducted an extensive voter’s education,” De Villa said.

PPCRV is a Comelec-accredited citizen’s arm.

Women’s party-list group Gabriela yesterday urged Filipinos overseas to participate in the OAV.

“The essence of OAV is to allow OFWs, majority of whom are women, to exercise their democratic right to choose their leaders, thus it is important to ensure that the genuine will of our compatriots be upheld,” said Gabriela vice chairperson and second nominee Emmi de Jesus. – With Sheila Crisostomo, Evelyn Macairan, Michael Punongbayan

Indelible ink deal rebidding eyed

Indelible ink deal rebidding eyed
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering conducting another bidding for the contract to supply the indelible ink to be used on election day, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said yesterday.

“There was a failure of bidding, failure in the sense that we did have an eligible bidder but the ink, upon testing, was found not to have met the specifications of the Comelec,” Jimenez said.

Two bidders vied for the contract last month but only Texas company passed the initial bidding.

The firm’s indelible ink failed the first test but it was allowed to reformulate the product. During the second test, the ink met the Comelec’s specifications.

Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) member Arwin Serrano said the Comelec should not have allowed another test, and should have called for a rebidding.

Jimenez said he understands that Texas’ ink had almost passed the test, but admitted that another bid should be conducted because it would be fairer to other bidders.

He revealed that the Comelec is also studying the possibility of increasing the required silver nitrate content in the indelible ink so that it would not easily be removed from the voters’ fingers.

At present, the Comelec only requires seven percent silver nitrate in the indelible ink.

“In India, I think it’s 25 percent. But of course there are health issues that we have to take into consideration so this is being studied as of now,” he added.

Despite all these problems, the Comelec has started the distribution of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

Reports obtained from the Joint Security Coordinating Center of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) showed that government security personnel escorted yesterday the shipment of 907 Palawan-bound PCOS machines.

Aside from the machines, 1,111 batteries and 31 back-up generators were pulled out and loaded on two trailer trucks owned by Ace Logistics from the Smartmatic warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Poll watchdogs breathing down Comelec’s neck

Poll watchdogs have been closely monitoring the developments at the Comelec.

Kontra Daya called on the agency to junk any deal for the purchase of ultra-violet (UV) lamps with OTC Paper Supply, citing the company’s “overpriced” ballot secrecy folders.

The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg), on the other hand, hit the Comelec for its lack of safeguards and its refusal to heed proposals from various civic organizations, leaving the elections “with few processes and features to thwart or prevent electoral fraud.”

Kontra-Daya convenor Bibet Orteza said the Comelec should “not be spending a single centavo to solve a problem caused by Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (TIM).”

“Moreover, Comelec should not be entering into any deals with firms already implicated in overpriced contracts,” Orteza said in a statement.

Cenpeg information technology consultant Lito Averia said Comelec’s withholding of the source code review; disabling of the machines’ capability to scan the ballots’ UV security mark; non-requirement of the Board of Election Inspectors’ digital signature to attest to the accuracy of the election returns; use of an untrustworthy compilation process; lack of voter verifiability of vote counts; lack of random manual audit; and the non-categorical language of the certification of the Technical Evaluation Committee of the source code review conducted by a contractor are part of the “striptease act” that the poll body is doing which compromises the integrity of the May 10 elections.

Orteza said the Comelec should not use taxpayers’ money to purchase some 80,000 UV lamps since it was the “responsibility of Smartmatic-TIM, being the ones doing the printing of the ballots and acquiring the ink.”

Smartmatic-TIM, however, explained that the machines’ UV ink readers were “fine” but there was no time to configure them owing to the late release of the list of candidates and polling precincts that would be printed on the ballots and the late proposal of the National Printing Office to have its own security markings on the ballots.

Orteza said the joint venture should have been penalized for the problem.

“Why is Comelec quick to pick up the tab for the UV lamps? What adds insult to injury is that taxpayers will be paying for a contract with a firm already implicated in an earlier overpriced deal. It cannot be helped that this latest Comelec transaction will be viewed with suspicion,” she said.

Last Monday, the Comelec cancelled the P690-million contract with the OTC Paper Supply after finding out that the 1.8 million ballot secrecy folders were priced at an exorbitant P380 each.

“Pushing through with the deal with OTC will further undermine the damaged credibility of the Comelec. Heads must roll. The problem with Comelec is that no officials, even those involved in electoral fraud, were ever held accountable in the past. Will this trend change now?” Orteza added.

Palace: No stopping now

Meanwhile, Malacañang remained optimistic that the Comelec would be able to conduct the first-ever nationwide automated polls in the country in spite of concerns about possible electoral fraud and even a failure of elections.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar, in an interview over Radyo ng Bayan, said he was assured by the Comelec, through Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, that there are no major issues in the poll body’s efforts to implement the automated elections this May.

Olivar said the recent controversies over the procurement of equipment by the Comelec have all been addressed because of prompt intervention by the agency.

“According to him (Sarmiento), this is being investigated, this was stopped and not a single centavo was spent for this contract,” Olivar said in Filipino.

As far as the UV lamps are concerned, Sarmiento told Olivar that it was just one of many security features being used by the Comelec to help prevent fraud in the electoral process.

“So, again, this is all a matter of perception, the reality on the ground is much different and much more optimistic,” Olivar said.

“Again we ask our voters to think in terms of success, do not think in terms of failure. We can do it. We are better than what some politicians say we are,” he added. – With Jaime Laude and Marvin Sy