Thursday, January 28, 2010

Serious problems with hybrid elections

Talks are rife that pragmatically there will be "hybrid" elections in May.
There might be partial automated elections and partly manual elections.
Some say the automated elections will only be limited in the urban areas, but the remote areas may have to conduct the elections mannually.
I am not sure of the legality of conducting hybrid elections.
But certainly it poses serious problems.
The law says nationwide automated polls.
If it is nationwide, then it must be the entire nation that should hold automated elections.
To my mind, holding hybrid elections will not reflect the true will of the electorate.
If some of the paper ballots will be counted manually, by human discretion, instead of using the machines, then there will be significant differences in the appreciation of the paper ballots.
Humans differ from machines in the matter of appreciation of ballots.
Under Comelec guidelines there is a threshold in the shading of the spaces in the balot that would manifest a voter's choice.
If there is a fifty percent (50%) shading (or beyond), the machine can still count it as a vote.
But a machine appreciates the degree of shading differently from a human eye.
A certain shade may be acceptable by the machine as a legitimate vote.
But the same shade may not be acceptable if evaluated by a human eye.
And vice versa.
There will be as many appreciations of a particular shade in a ballot as there are human evaluators.
Remember, in automated elections, voters will no longer write the names of candidates, but will only shade those spaces corresponding to the candidate.
There will be differences in appreciation of the shading of the ballots.
If there are different instruments used in evaluating the threshold of shading (machine vs. human eye) then the elections may not reflect true voice of the electorate.
Hybrid elections will really pose serious problems.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is HDO lawful in a contempt case?

I recently encountered a question: Can a hold departure order (HDO) be lawfully issued in a contempt case?
A hold departure order is a directive issued by a regional trial court in a criminal case preventing an accused from leaving the country.
Once, a judge was asked to explain by the Supreme Court why he issued a hold departure order against a doctor who was respondent in a case for support.
In the case for support the doctor-husband failed to comply with the court’s decision to give support to the wife.
So the wife asked the court to issue a hold departure order against the doctor (husband).
The wife apparently found the hold departure order useful because the doctor-husband was hired by an airline to fly and assist ailing passengers when traveling. (The wife sought to paralyze the husband’s source of income, for failing to provide her support)
The judge issued a hold departure order upon the doctor
The doctor, filed an administrative complaint in the Supreme Court against the judge for issuing a hold departure order against him, when there was no pending criminal case against the doctor.
In his explanation to the Supreme Court, the judge said that the doctor’s failure to give support (as commanded by a court decision) may give rise to an action for contempt which is in the nature of a criminal action against the doctor.
Hence, the hold departure order was deemed justified, the judge explained.
The Supreme Court did not buy the judge’s explanation.
The Supreme Court ruled that a hold departure order may be issued only in criminal cases.
An indirect contempt proceeding is not a criminal case. Hence no hold departure order can be lawfully issued.
The Supreme Court said “Indeed, contempt is in the nature of a criminal action, but only with regard to its procedural aspect.”
“A contempt proceeding is sui generis. While it has elements both of a civil and a criminal proceeding, it is not a criminal proceeding even though the contemptuous act involved could be a crime,” the Supreme Court explained.
Contempt is remedial and civil in nature, emphasized the court.
”Contempt is a special civil action that cannot be converted into a criminal action”.
Supreme Court circular no. 39-97 provides clearly a hold departure order may be issued only in criminal cases.
The judge was found administratively liable.
(A.M. No. RTJ-04-1836, July 14, 2004)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Disclose source code now!

What makes the coming May elections interesting is its unwitting attempt to follow plots of fiction movies.
The May elections remind me of the notoriously controversial fantasy film "The Da Vinci Code".
In that movie, it was suggested that the famous works-of-art of Leonardo Da Vinci contained cryptic codes, which became the subject of analysis by a Harvard symbologist (character played by Tom Hanks).
In the movie, viewers are led to to a series of decoding of "hidden" codes purportedly left behind by Da Vinci in his works.
But that is fantasy.
Yet reality---I learn--- is not too far away.
In the coming May elections, there are also a set of "codes" which the Commssion on elections is keeping secret from the public.
The operation of election counting machines is controlled by what is called a "source code".
What is baffling is that the commission on elections is apparently leaving the Filipino public to play the role of a symbologist, in order to decipher the source code, and find out how the election machines will function in May.
Many are wondering why up to this time the commission on elections still refuses to reveal this “source code” of the election machines to the public, even as this is mandated by law.
Comelec’s refusal to publicize the source code of the election machines is casting a dark cloud on the integrity of the process and results of the coming May elections.

What is this “source code”?

This is a new legal term in the election law which many lawyers, including myself, are even unfamiliar with.
This is because the phrase “source code” is an IT terminology.
The law defines a “source code” as: “human readable instructions that define what the computer equipment will do
An analogy advanced by IT experts to understand a source code is a food recipe.
A recipe is to food preparation, as a source code is to automated elections.
A recipe contains specific, step-by-step , chronological instructions on how to prepare a particular food from start to finish product.
If you want to know the step-by-step process in preparing a particular food, then an IT expert similarly wants to know the step-by-step process in the operation of the election machines.
There are at least thirty IT groups and institutions, including Ateneo, La Salle, UP who are volunteering for free to review the source code for the election machines, to ensure the integrity of the election process.
The problem is that time is running out.
It would take at least two months to be able to review the source code from start to finish.
To review a source code, an IT expert says, they would have to read literally millions of "human-readable" lines and characters of instructions or commands.
Until now the Comelec still refuses to reveal to the public the source code or the specific instructions of the election machines.
Republic Act 9369, the new election law which specifically mandates transparency in the electoral process, states in Section 12:
"Once an AES [Automated Election System] technology is selected for implementation, the Commission shall promptly make the source code of that technology available and open to any interested political party or groups which may conduct their own review thereof."
The law is very clear.
The AES has long been selected.
It has long been the duty of the Comelec to PROMPTLY reveal the source code (the instructions for the machines) to anyone capable of making a review thereof.
As a member of the voting public, it is to our interest to know exactly how these machines work, and how it counts, and how it comes up with the results.
This is very important.
We don’t just place our ballots to the machines, and then sing hallelujah, and accept as gospel truth what the machines will report.
We want to know HOW IT WORKS, HOW IT COUNTS.
This is precisely the reason why the law commands the Comelec to reveal the source code.
Without the source code revealed, are we the electorate to remain ignorant as to precisely how the election process will work?
Are we going to again cast a blind trust on the agency who will administer the elections?
God help us.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wholesale election cheating?

I am voicing this concern over the use of nationwide automated election system (AES) in the coming May 10 2010 local and national elections.
It is susceptible or vulnerable to election cheating.
I am not saying there will be cheating.
I am saying the possibility is there.
One of the main concerns is that the private foreign firm that supplies the election machines, Smartmatic will have access capabilities to the election data derived in the elections, including the results of the voting.
We cannot afford to let a foreign entity have the capability to access, much less, possibly alter election data, including the results of the elections.
With this frightening scenario, we are virtually surrendering the integrity of the core of our democratic rights ---the right of suffrage.
The coming national elections, will be highly technical because it will be already using machines to count the votes.
Its no longer manual or “tally-tally” and “kahon-kahon”
Yet no matter how technical this electoral system may be, we must be familiar with how it is going to be operationalized.
I must admit, I am ignorant of many facets of this “new” electoral system.
But let us not shy, but take courage to know, and to educate ourselves.
The worst thing we can do as Filipinos is to sport a blind trust and cast a risky reliance in our government institutions.

Danger: Access to Passwords.

The coming automated elections will make use of what we commonly know as “passwords.”
For our discussion, let us avoid technical terms because we are laymen.
The Board of election inspectors will be given passwords and “keys” to operate the election counting machines on election day.
The problem is that Smartmatic will know all of the passwords of all board of election inspectors for all the election machines all over the country.
Smartmatic will manage and control the “directory” of passwords for all these machines.
I shiver at this thought.
Why will Smartmatic, a private foreign entity, which is not even a government agency, have password access to the data generated by the votes of Filipinos?

Let us have an analogy.
If you have an ATM card, you very well know that you have a password to access your bank account.
You alone, the account owner and depositor, control this password.
You alone, are the one who has knowledge of your own password.
Not even the bank will know your password.
As a matter of fact, when you open an ATM account, the bank will give you a temporary password.
But you will immediately be instructed to go to an ATM machine and change your password of your own choice.
Would you be comfortable if the bank will also know your password?
Will you be able to sleep at night, aware that there is somebody else--- the bank, the operator of the ATM machine--- who also knows your password and can gain access to your bank account?

Another analogy would be your email account.
If you have an email account, you will definitely have a password.
Only you will have knowledge of this password.
You do not let anybody else know this password.
Otherwise, somebody may just access into your email account.

The same thing with the election machines.
The Board of Election inspectors must generate their own passwords.
Some see this as safeguard against possible wholesale election cheating.

What is the use of giving the election inspectors passwords if it is shared by somebody else---Smartmatic?
Smartmatic must not have shared knowledge of the passwords.
Otherwise, Smartmatic will have the capability to have access, and even possibly change the data derived from the voting of the machines.

Pablo Manalastas, Phd IT consultant reports in the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) that “the COMELEC has ruled that it is SMARTMATIC who will designate who should control or manage the Certification Authority (CA) of the election canvassing and transmission systems.”

In technical terms, a Certificate of Authority is the directory of passwords, and the users who are authorized to hold or keep the public and private keys.

“In effect, we now have a foreign entity that will have full control of a process that is at the heart of our national security” Manalastas comments.

What about you?
Would you be comfortable if Smartmatic invents, controls and manages the passwords to the election machines?

Friday, January 08, 2010

The vote-rich provinces

Anyone who is running for public office must know the basic things.
First, how many total registered voters are there?
Second, How many do I need to get my self elected?
Third, Where will I get these votes?
Those running for national elective posts like the presidency, vice presidency and senate know by heart the vote rich provinces and cities, and how many registered voters these provinces have.
Common sense would dictate that by just landing consistently in the winning circle in these vote rich places, will increase the chances of getting elected.
Here is the list of total number of registered voters of the top twenty vote-rich provinces in the country, as per Comelec data as of December 14, 2009.
This data is obviously prior to the extension of registration of voters last December 21, 2009 as directed by the Supreme Court.
The order is from the highest number of registered voters to the lowest (twentieth):

01. Cebu Region VII 2,416,368
02. Cavite Region IV-A 1,654,986
03. Pangasinan Region I 1,622,094
04. Negros Occidental Region VI 1,550,850
05. Bulacan Region III 1,479,765
06. Davao del Sur Region XI 1,465,611
07. Laguna Region VI-A 1,440,660
08. Nueva Ecija Region III 1,289,804
09. Iloilo Region VI 1,257,661
10. Rizal Region IV-A 1,256,194
11. Batangas Region IV-A 1,226,698
12. Pampanga Region III 1,114,484
13. Quezon Region IV-A 1,020,010
14. Leyte Region VIII 1,013,569
15. Zamboanga Sur Region IX 920,995
16. Camarines Sur Region V 916,349
17. Isabela Region II 867,053
18. Misamis Oriental Region X 780,333
19. South Cotabato Region XII 733,566
20. Bohol Region VII 729,815.

Its is always helpful for a national candidate or campaign team to know the top vote-rich provinces.
With this information, they will know where to “strike” (whatever electoral meaning you may attach to that).
Expect in these vote-rich provinces, the concentration of campaign activities, like rikoreda, rallies, media boosts, among others.
If a candidate lands in the winning circle in as many vote-rich provinces as possible, he has a good chance of making it.
In the last presidential elections, Cebu province (No. 1) solidly delivered for administration candidate President Gloria Arroyo.
So did Bohol (No. 20).
Whether the “delivery” was done cleanly is another story.
So for national candidates, they know where to place their “operators”.
By the way, Negros Oriental is number 22 with 714,761 registered voters as of December 14, 2009.