Sin­is­ter plot

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - MARICHU A. VILLANUEVA

In our dig­i­tal world to­day ma­chines are con­fig­ured to pre­dict the in­ten­tions of a user through pat­terns of their choices. It is amaz­ing how, when I browse through my Face­book feed, it shows dif­fer­ent ad­ver­tise­ments that are in line with my in­ter­ests or my last search.

Of course, de­spite the com­plex­i­ties of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, pro­grams can­not fully pre­dict your in­ten­tions or your in­ter­ests. This sys­tem is not an en­tirely new con­cept. Let’s turn back time to the May 10, 2010 elec­tions, a sys­tem like this was used to de­cide the fate of our coun­try and our democ­racy.

It was the first time when the Philip­pines had its ex­pe­ri­ence with mod­ern­iza­tion of our coun­try’s man­ual sys­tem of elec­tions. By virtue of Repub­lic Act (RA) 8436, sub­se­quently amended by RA 9369, our coun­try had its maiden ap­pli­ca­tion and use of au­to­mated elec­tion sys­tem.

Do­ing away with decades-old use of the man­ual vot­ing and can­vass­ing of elec­tion re­sults, the Com­mis­sion on Elec­tions (Com­elec) im­ple­mented ini­tial at­tempts to mod­ern­ize our elec­tion sys­tem. Af­ter hur­dling tech­ni­cal and le­gal chal­lenges, the Com­elec awarded to a Venezuela-based com­pany called Smart­matic Inc. the gov­ern­ment’s con­tract to sup­ply and ini­tially help op­er­ate the so-called Precinct Count Op­ti­cal Scan­ner (PCOS) which are ma­chines that read votes based on pen­cil mark­ings on a spe­cial type of pa­per.

When I went in­side our lo­cal pub­lic school, I in­tended to vote for cer­tain can­di­dates on the printed bal­lot. In or­der to show my in­ten­tion and my choice, I had to shade the oval be­side the name of my pre­ferred can­di­date.

Once done, we all had to go through the anx­i­ety rid­den ex­pe­ri­ence of in­sert­ing our bal­lot in the much de­bated vote count­ing ma­chine, wait­ing for a few sec­onds to find out if we’ve done our civic duty of plac­ing our vote for the coun­try’s next set of lead­ers.

For the first time in our coun­try’s his­tory of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, we had the re­sults at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble time and all the los­ing can­di­dates con­ceded with­out fil­ing any elec­tion protest. It was a wel­come change from many years of man­ual vot­ing and can­vass­ing sys­tem where los­ing can­di­dates al­ways chal­lenged the re­sults by fil­ing elec­tion protests be­fore the Com­elec all the way to the Supreme Court (SC).

Just like in so­cial me­dia where it ex­trap­o­lates our in­ter­est through what we phys­i­cally like or search, the vote count­ing ma­chine ex­trap­o­lates our choice or in­tended vote through our phys­i­cal act of shad­ing. This sys­tem has its flaws such as shad­ing too lightly or not fill­ing in the pre­scribed oval.

That is why Com­elec pre­scribed a min­i­mum level of shad­ing to make the read­ing more ac­cu­rate. In the 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, level was set at 50 per­cent – mean­ing one should shade at least 50 per­cent of the oval for their votes to be cast.

In the 2016 elec­tions, this was re­duced to 25 per­cent – mean­ing less shad­ing is needed for your vote to be read. In the­ory, this was a wel­come de­vel­op­ment be­cause that means the vote count­ing ma­chine needed less to read the vote of ev­ery Filipino choos­ing their lead­ers.

In the past few weeks, re­ports have sur­faced putting into light this shad­ing sys­tem. In the on-go­ing re­count of the Vice Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, the Pres­i­den­tial Elec­toral Tri­bunal (PET) ruled that only votes which ovals were shaded 50 per­cent and above would be counted. This means that it will take more ink for a vote to be counted in the re­count than dur­ing the ac­tual elec­tions.

The in­crease in the thresh­old of shad­ing means that a Filipino, who breathed a sigh of re­lief af­ter see­ing that the vote count­ing ma­chine was able to read their vote, might have that mo­ment re­versed.

This means that a lot of votes ini­tially ac­cepted would now be re­jected. In the over­all scheme of things, this would nat­u­rally cre­ate a dis­par­ity be­tween the tally dur­ing elec­tion day and the tally dur­ing the re­count.

This is a very alarm­ing de­vel­op­ment in the on-go­ing elec­toral re­count case be­fore the PET.

Re­ports fur­ther show that the votes for Vice Pres­i­dent Leni Ro­bredo have been ex­po­nen­tially de­creas­ing be­cause the pilot prov­inces of the re­count were her baili­wicks in the on-go­ing PET re­count pe­ti­tion by los­ing VP can­di­date, exSen. Fer­di­nand “Bong­bong” Mar­cos Jr. Log­i­cally, the more votes you have in an area the more chance there maybe votes that do not meet the 50 per­cent thresh­old.

This equates to a large num­ber, hun­dreds if not thou­sands, of Filipinos are be­ing dis­en­fran­chised for ev­ery bal­lot box the PET opens.

The most alarm­ing as­pect to these events is how it is turn­ing back the clock for the coun­try and for ev­ery Filipino voter. Re­mem­ber how in 1986 elec­tions when the votes of the late pres­i­dent Fer­di­nand Mar­cos ex­po­nen­tially rose and votes of his chief ri­val pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Co­ra­zon “Cory” Aquino ex­po­nen­tially de­creased be­cause of tam­per­ing in com­puter tab­u­la­tions.

Our coun­try’s first-ever foray with the com­put­er­ized vot­ing sys­tem was tested in the May 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. It pro­duced a win­ner who thus earned the ti­tle as the first PCOS-elected pres­i­dent Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III.

Aquino’s los­ing VP run­ning­mate, for­mer Sen. Mar Roxas II con­tested be­fore the PET the vic­tory over him by erst­while Makati Mayor Je­jo­mar Bi­nay. Roxas, who asked the PET for re­count of the so-called “null” votes for the VP race to his fa­vor, how­ever, did not pur­sue fur­ther his protest.

An­other form of hu­man in­ter­ven­tion of hack­ing posed more sin­is­ter threat to our com­put­er­ized elec­tion ma­chines. The Com­elec de­cided to drop the PCOS term and used in­stead vote count­ing ma­chines, or VCMs dur­ing the May 2016 pres­i­den­tial polls.

To­day, this might be the other way around. In­stead of ma­chines rig­ging the elec­tions, it is man-made de­ci­sions. Like in 1986, the Mar­cos regime ap­pa­ra­tus sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­en­fran­chised the Filipino voter to reach a po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion.

The sil­ver lin­ing to this is that in 1986 the peo­ple did not ac­cept dis­en­fran­chise­ment. I hope that his­tory, in a way, will re­peat it­self and peo­ple will not ac­cept an­other sin­is­ter plot of steal­ing our con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected right of suf­frage.

This is a very alarm­ing de­vel­op­ment in the on-go­ing elec­toral re­count case be­fore the PET.

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