I beg to differ to some of the hysterics I’m seeing and hearing. I think the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) did a great job within the scope of its ability to influence outcomes. That last phrase is key. You can’t really worry about things that are clearly beyond the scope of your control once you’ve identified known risks and mounted a reasonable enough effort to mitigate them.
A lot of people confuse risk management with security management. Risk management is a field that involves the identification of possible failure points and weighing the cost of implementing safety measures around those points versus the expected cost of failure at those points. Security management involves (1) the implementation of said safety measures that have passed this cost-benefit analysis risk managers apply and (2) operating said measures.
Was it really worth quibbling at the fringes over some perceived lapses in the security and safety measures implemented by the COMELEC for these elections given how much fraud can actually be prevented by the COMELEC itself? The last 24-48 hours seem to have already answered that question.
The issue of election fraud is bigger than the COMELEC. It is a social issue that encompasses Philippine society. It is broad and deep — so deep it is ingrained at the very fibres that weave the fabric of the character of the Filipino. Indeed, election fraud is a mere small subset of the vast framework of culturally-ingrained criminality in the Philippines. If we regard crime using its simplest definition, violating the law, then it becomes easy to recognise that Filipinos can be characterised by a banal criminality that they carry from cradle to grave.
From birth Filipinos are raised to be on the look out for opportunities to put one over the other. This is not at all remarkable in a low-trust society such as the Philippines where fraud and corruption are but components in a self-perpetuating cycle aggravated by the implementation of half-brained “solutions” to mere symptoms. Because, by nature, Filipinos cannot be trusted to do the right thing, draconian control measures are implemented in even the most basic bureaucratic processes — like registering a car or a business, for example. These stopgap controls then make these processes long, convoluted, and complicated — perfect breeding ground for more fraud and corruption. More fraud and corruption make good fodder for more “experts” to come in an recommend even more controls.
Catch my drift?
The common denominator here is the characteristic lazy and sloppy thinking Filipinos are renowned for. Suffice to say, solutions that do not recognise root causes create bigger problems. Jaime Licauco in an Inquirer article dated 22 May 2001 went as far as saying that: “A nation whose policies and rules are based on the assumption that everybody is a cheat and liar unless proven otherwise cannot long endure. Take a close look at our bureaucracy and its rules. It is burdened by elaborate and often unnecessary checks and balances so that nothing ever gets done in the process.”
The COMELEC was hammered for months on the issue of its inability to make the source code for its Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines available for scrutiny. Wankers in social media turned this into a big issue throwing around IT concepts their vacuous attention-deficited minds barely understood. As I had written previously, one does not need source code to develop a reasonably good picture of how a system might behave within given parameters. You just need competent test analysts who can build a tight testing approach to infer (within reasonably defined levels of confidence) the soundness of a system.
To insist that a source code is required to establish the soundness of the COMELEC’s PCOS system is like saying that it is impossible to reasonably asses how good or bad a person is without knowing precisely how a brain works.
Surrounding the “expert” pontifications around this “core issue” are the girly hysterics around machine failures and perceived lapses in precinct security. Some complained about being asked if they had already voted even as they queued to have their fingers marked with indelible ink citing this oversight as an opportunity to create fraud. Fortunately, some people did the maths, as the Inquirer.net editor pointed out today…
True enough, there were many reports of machine breakdowns on Election Day. The poll watchdog Kontra Daya said such cases were â€œwidespread and had a major effect on the conduct of the elections.â€ But Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting [a.k.a. the PPCRV], was more sanguine in her assessment, saying that â€œthe 400 issues or machines that suffered some malfunction is not such a bad percentage against 77,889 machines used for the elections.â€
By the end of the day, as the numbers began piling up, the general impression seemed to be that, despite the glitches, the elections had run more or less successfully. Charges of cheating were at a minimum compared to previous polls, and the speed with which the figures were being transmitted and tallied were in line with the similarly fast results that characterized the 2010 presidential election, the first time the Philippines had employed automated polls.
So, credit where credit is due. If the results hold up and the numbers are eventually ratified, the Comelec, and the thousands of teachers, volunteers and sundry personnel across the country who worked hard to ensure that the elections came off as fair, honest and credible, deserve appreciation.
The trouble with people who talk a lot — and tweet a lot — is that they consistently fail to think and calculate.
Point five percent machine failure is close enough to perfect as one could ever get when operating newly-implemented large-scale IT systems. If this reckoning by the PPCRV is correct, that gives the COMELEC’s IT implementation work a grade of 99.5. Certainly in a society renowned for its pwede na yan mentality, this is a sterling performance deserving a standing ovation.
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