Brillantes’ defense of the PCOS also reveals its flaw
A manual recount in Nueva Ecija
Last July 28, Mr. Jarius Bondoc’s column, Gotcha, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer featured the story of a manual recount of the votes cast for senatorial candidate Eddie Villanueva in three precinct clusters in Nueva Ecija during the 2013 elections. The recount was conducted in March 2014 by the Gapan Regional Trial Court and showed a discrepancy of 119 votes between the PCOS tally sheet inside the ballot box (which tallied 781 votes) and the manual recount (which tallied 900 votes.)
Comelec rebuts the recount
This provoked a reply from Commissioner Sixto Brillantes, Jr. (printed in Gotcha, August 18) to the effect that (a) the RTC decision has no value because it lacks jurisdiction, and (b) since the court lacks jurisdiction, then it has no rules of procedure and standards by which to conduct a recount, such as on appreciation of ballots and on how to ascertain that ballots have not been tampered with or substituted post-election. Thus, even if jurisdiction were conceded for argument’s sake, the recount would still be questionable for lack of competence.
Anxious perhaps to drive home the point that recounts must be entrusted only to competent authority using prescribed procedures and standards, he said that “the most common reason for variance (between manual recounts and PCOS data) is human mistake in the manual appreciation of the ballots.” He gave two reasons for this:
He added that there could also be “….post-election manipulation. Meaning, after election, interested individuals may have tampered with the original ballots…” But he pointed out that the Comelec has a counter to this, “….a key feature of the PCOS to counter old tricks. On election day, each PCOS captures the images of ballots and encrypts them in its memory. All the scanned ballot images are forwarded to the Comelec main office in Manila for safekeeping. These can be used to detect tampering….”
What the rebuttal reveals
The commissioner’s rebuttal reveals how deeply the electorate has been delivered into the hands of the machine:
a. Only the machine can read the votes with precision and accuracy, as human eyes lack the exactitude to do so.
b. Only Comelec with the aid of the machine protects us from post-election manipulation.
The implications are most problematic:
These concerns exist because the election process has been taken over by the computerized system. The people’s only role now is to feed ballots into the system, ballots that they are not even competent to accomplish properly. With the people’s participation in the process almost completely taken out, the controls they used to exercise are also out, most significantly the verification of the election returns. When it comes to post-election questions and protests, the electorate has no meaningful role, having no competence to appreciate votes. It’s only the Comelec and the machine who can resolve such issues. In brief, the apparatus has gone awry and Comelec holds it together with bailing wire. In both the election process and post-election resolution of questions, Comelec has assumed a key role, although it should really limit itself to just setting up and administering the elections, and is not supposed to be a participant in any way.
Empowering Comelec rather than the people
The disempowerment of the electorate is not a new concern but was pointed out long ago by PCOS critics. It manifests itself as gaps or questionable steps in the operation of the system, such as the lack or questionable way of verifying the vote. The problems mentioned above are just further manifestations, but for once it comes from the commissioner himself.
The PCOS system is plagued with these problems because its design clashes with the nature of elections. It was designed not as a tool of the electorate but of Comelec which is not a participant in the election. Comelec has its own all-important mission of enabling the people to exercise the vote without impediment or risk. Every time Comelec gets involved as a participant, it puts its impartiality on the line, erodes the integrity of its function and impairs the people’s sovereign act.