(First published in The Philippine Star issue of Feb. 14, 2013)

THY WILL BE DONE: The formal selection by a conclave of cardinals of the successor of Pope Benedict XVI, who has resigned effective at the end of the month, is not a viva voce affair nor anything remotely approximating Philippine elections.

The world may understand how raucous Filipinos sometimes can be, but it is better that we not be too loud or overly demonstrative in expressing our desire to have our own archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle succeed to the See of St. Peter.

At 55, Cardinal Tagle is the youngest of the papabili or potential popes. His election would be a departure from the long line of the papacy dominated by Europeans and now seemingly swerving to princes of the Church from Latin America.

God works in mysterious ways. Our humble Chito Tagle, I am sure, would just want us to fall silent and pray “Thy will be done.”

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FALLBACK NEEDED: It looks like even Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. is now conceding that with time running out on the Commission on Elections, the poll body may have to fall back on manual voting and counting.

As recently as last week, a piqued Brillantes was raising the specter of manual elections on May 13 -- but only as a threat to his critics. The other day, however, he sounded he was conceding “baka manual na.…” (We may have to go manual).

If that possibility of manual elections has advanced to a probability, where is the Comelec’s Plan B, or a fallback strategy? If there is none yet, it may be time to at least think seriously about it.

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MISSING SOFTWARE: Foremost among the Comelec’s problems is the refusal of the owner of the operating system for the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines to allow Smartmatic (the PCOS supplier) to use the software on the computers.

Without that software, the more than 80,000 PCOS bought from Smartmatic for P1.8 billion will not run in the precise manner the Comelec wants.

We are assuming, of course, that (1) the second-hand computers will all be in perfect running condition when deployed to some 77,000 clustered precincts, and (2) other peripherals, including compact flash cards containing specific parameters for each machine, also work properly.

Note that when some of the PCOS were used two weeks ago in mock elections, some of them malfunctioned. Will all the machines work with 99.995-percent precision come Election Day, which is just three short months away?

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MANUAL NIGHTMARE: Brillantes has said that the business and legal dispute between Smartmatic and its software developer, US-based Dominion Voting System, was not beyond solution.

But will it be resolved soon enough? Whether over money or higher principles, if the dispute drags and disrupts the election timetable, the probability of manual elections will loom bigger by the day.

The sheer volume of work and the number of variables involved in a manual election make it a nightmare for the poll agency that is not known for administrative skills in planning and execution.

If it has a Plan B for manual elections -- even just a rewrite of the manual used in pre-2010 elections -- the Comelec should give other responsible officials, if not private technical groups, a chance to examine it.

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COMPOSITE MODES: There are different modes of conducting manual national elections. Among those I have seen, I prefer the composite version that calls for manual voting and counting, complemented by computerized consolidation of tallies and electronic transmission of results.

Being a non-lawyer, I was worried that reverting to manual elections might violate the law mandating that we move on to automated polls.

So I hastened to consult veteran election lawyer Romy Macalintal, arguably the best chairman the Comelec never had.

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MAC ON THE LINE: Here is a transcript of the interview I rushed yesterday via SMS with Attorney Mac on the subjects of the day. (“Subjects” is plural, because there is another red-hot topic of the day – Valentine’s Day.)

Dik: Will the law on automated elections stand in the way of the Comelec if it is forced by circumstances to fall back on manual voting and counting?

Mac: If by force of circumstances we go back to manual polls, the automated election law can be the basis to run after the officials who caused such fiasco, but not to invalidate a manual balloting and counting. Manual election is better than no election at all as long as proper security measures and accuracy of count are in place.

Dik: Won’t holding manual elections violate the law prescribing automated elections?

Mac: No, because the automated poll law does not altogether prevent Comelec from holding manual polls.

Dik: What do you think of a composite system: We vote and count manually, but consolidate and transmit electronically?

Mac. Such system is better than straight manual. It also shows that manual poll is not barred by the automated election law. The danger of a composite system is there will be more objections against ballots on the precinct level as every ballot counts. If this system is adopted, Comelec should impose stricter rules on ballot appreciation to prevent baseless objections as it will involve hundreds of ballots subject to objection per precinct similar to objecting to an election return or certificate of canvass during canvassing.

Dik: Thanks, Atty. Mac! Di ka ba naawa sa pañero mo sa Comelec? Nangignitim na ang buhok niya!

Mac: Naawa nga ako. Buti na lang marunong akong sumunod sa gusto ni Mrs. Mac. Kung hindi, baka ubos na ang buhok ko. Kaya kailangan sumunod tayo sa gusto ni misis lalo na bukas, Valentine’s Day!


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