Monday, August 31, 2009

The Filipino Desaparecidos

TODAY, August 31, is the National Heroes Day for the Philippines. Yesterday was no less significant with the global observance of the International Day of Desaparecidos. Bulatlat produced a video (Philippines: Remembering the Disappeared) for the rather morbid celebration in honor of the "more than 200 Filipinos--mostly activists--[who] have disappeared" under the reign of the EDSA 2 Illegitimate.

The video presented some 40 or so "victims of the regime's brutal policy against critics, particularly the Left." The first human face of the contemporary Filipino desaparecidos under the Gloria Arroyo regime is Honorio Ayroso who disappeared February 2002 in Nueva Ecija. Not even the elderly seems spared, as evidenced by the case of Patricio Abalos, who was 61 years old when he went missing in March 2005 at Catbalogan, Samar.

Even women count among the desaparecidos. A matured face belongs to Gloria Soco who, by newspaper accounts, was not even a member of any left-wing group although she was a sister-in-law of a consultant of the National Democratic Front. Perhaps, most harrowing were the cases of Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan--promising young lasses from the University of the Philippines and who remain unaccounted for since being abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan last June 26, 2006.

EDSA 2 Ironies for the Media & the Left

The penultimately featured desaparecido is Jonas Burgos, whose disappearance can be called an indirect case of press freedom irony, given that Burgos is no less the son of Joe Burgos, press freedom icon and founding publisher of the newspaper Malaya. It can be recalled that one of the ludicrous claims made back in January 2001 was the supposed absence or "death of democracy" under former President Joseph Estrada, who was actually too human-rights-conscious to disperse the irreverent mix of EDSA 2 conspirators and gullible mob.

The traditional media organizations went practically all out in support of the swift ouster of the democratically elected Estrada and the installation of Arroyo. As things unfolded, it proved to be an unwise, nay, stupid "People Power" exercise that gave birth to a government that turned out to be not only the most unpopular in Philippine history but one which, as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines puts it, stands to leave "a legacy of bloodshed and repression, its acts of omission and commission nurturing the impunity with which the enemies of press freedom have operated."

Beautiful but dreadfully poignant Tagalog poetry graced the presentation. The Balagtasan-style ode to the missing stirs the patriotic and compassionate heart:

Hinahanap-hanap ka sa payapang dagat,
Sa bawa't kislot na aking maaninag;
Pinaghahanap ka sa tilamsik ng alat
Sa bula, sa kislap ng bawat lagaslas.

Maging ang buhangin ay pinagtanungan,
Saan aabot ang dalampasigan?
Hapag kainan ba ang paghahandaan,
O kurona't ilaw ang iyong tahanan?

Hahanapin kita sa angil ng punlo,
Sa tinik ng gubat, silahis ng sulo;
Ipagtatanong ka sa libong kamao,
Sa kaway ng bandera't dagundong ng maso.

Hahanapin kita sa luntian bukirin,
Sa ngiti ng sanggol, sa ihip ng hangin;
Kung sa paglaya na ang iyong pagdating
At wala ka roon ay hahanapin pa rin.

Hinahanap hanap ka, hanap ka.

-- Adora Faye de Vera

Apparently, the victims of extra-judicial killings or disappearances under the Arroyo government have mostly been the left-leaning activists. Such is no surprising news because their side of the political spectrum has traditionally been the target of repression by a government who holds "special friendship" with its former colonial master and global nemesis of the communists, socialists and nationalists, the United States of America.

However, in another EDSA 2 irony, it is a fact that the repressive Arroyo government was a product of the 2001 power grab conspiracy that well included the Left. In a way, the Left who came to EDSA 2, or at least the leaders who forged the anti-Estrada coalition with the forces of Arroyo and ex-President Fidel Ramos, are indirectly responsible for the obtaining spate of disappearances and other forms of human rights violations. Arroyo, in a sense, is a big, big stone the leftists hit their own heads with. Still, that's no excuse not to contribute one's voice in the campaign against possible state-enforced disappearances or murders of Filipinos.

Pragmatic in perspective as I am, this article and the independently disseminated video will most probably be heed only by a few. To activate the gentler, just side of human nature of even not many a soul is good enough for me, though. Who knows if it can eventually lead to a government that refuses to be stained by the blood of Filipino desaparecidos, those of the leftist ones, at least.


SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Musing about bookstores and Galileo: Antichrist

I have to thank Nanay's (Soccoro Ramos) National Bookstore (NBS) for making available decent books at affordable prices. I'm not advertising NBS but the truth is my bibliophilic generation is truly "Laking National". When we were much younger, only NBS had carried good books in many of its branches. True there were other more specialist bookstores with fine books like Erehwon, Bookmark, Solidaridad and Popular, these bookstores were located in faraway Makati and Ermita (I lived in QC) or in the case of Popular just off Avenida Rizal near the Rathaus beerhouse. The first two bookshops are defunct, Sionil-Jose's Solidaridad is still around and Popular has moved to a trendier location on Quezon City's Tomas Morato near the Boy Scout roundabout. When I was an undergrad, a lefty friend of mine and I would take public transpo to get to Popular since this was the only place where we can read "commie" books. This is where I got my whole edition of Marx's Das Kapital. Recall that this was in the waning years of the Marcos dictatorship.

Popular was also the only bookstore to carry erotic classics like Boccacio's "Decameron" and the Olympia Readers. But NBS wasn't left out. NBS carried these titles too but were not prominently displayed. NBS had a wider clientele than Popular.

The lefty friend and I trooped to the new Popular in Quezon City a year ago and while the "commie" books are still there. In these more democratic times, reading communist books is a ho hum but one thing is missing, the proletariat feel of reading "forbidden books" in a dingy bookshop is gone. In the old Popular, I could fantasize as a would be Lenin. In the new Popular, I could fantasize as a would be Bill Gates!

Now back to NBS. The store has recognized the maturing readership of its customers and now carries a wide range of books. Its spinoff, Powerbooks and Bestsellers carry many of the good titles but the old NBS even has better titles if you know where to look. It is only in NBS that a copy of "Hitler and Aesthetics" can be had. For the arki types, the book should be a good read since Imeldific and Ferdie understood that Architecture is Power and Imeldific like it or not is immortal since she undoubtly understood the Theory of Ruin Value.

The nice thing about NBS is that it has a twice a year "cut price" booksale. In these recessionary times, they cut the prices of books up to 80% off. I found the latest Galileo biography by Michael White "Galileo: Antichrist" in a pile of books at NBS Quezon Avenue. It was on 50% discount.

I have an interest in Galileo and have a few of Stillman Drake's autobiographies of the man. (BTW I got these books for a dollar each at a Louisiana flea market). I also got the Cambridge reader on Galileo which I bought for 60% off the shelf price at a cut price sale three years ago. My interest here is how science can clash with religion. The thesis is that science will always clash with religion. While in Galileo's time it was with the Roman Church, today it is with the various Christian fundamentalist sects, Islam, anti GMO environmentalists, animal rights advocates and even Marxists.

The Roman Church is unlikely to meet science head on since it is still shell shocked by the Galileo affair. This even if Pope John Paul II had issued an "apology". The Church was able to survive the Reformation but it isn't likely to survive a clash with Science with its reputation intact.

To his credit John Paul II had come to terms with Galileo since he had an interest in science and as a Pole, had interest in the Copernican theory. However John Paul II's Galileo commission reduced the Galileo affair into three points

1) Galileo did not understand that the Copernican theory was a hypothesis
2) The theologians then did not correcty understand Scripture
3) When Copernicanism was verified, the Church accepted this and admitted implicitly that it was wrong in condemning the hypothesis.

Roman Catholic apologists today lay the blame on Galileo for not understanding what a scientific hypothesis really was. Galileo may have been a garrulous man but he did have some empirical evidence for the Heliocentric theory (in fact by demonstrating that Venus had phases and moons orbited Jupiter, he falsified the Ptolemaic theory).

This apologists' stance represents a scandalous twisting of facts. The Church wasn't really interested in the scientific merits of Copernicanism but was in threats to its power as represented in its worldview. Neither Bellarmine or Barberini in Galileo's committee were interested in the science and were trained scientists. Joseph Ratzinger then a cardinal said that the Church was more faithful to reason than Galileo himself was.

White's thesis is this and refers to motive: Science is motivated by a desire to know and understand while Religion is motivated by fear. Fear that its hierarchs will lose their power over the faithful.

White says that the Church had Galileo gagged since one of his works "the Assayer" had a passage that denied Transubstantiation. I reproduce the passage in Stillman Drake's translation from the original Italian

"Now I say that whenever I conceive any material or corporeal substance, I immediately feel the need to think of it as bounded, and as having this or that shape; as being large or small in relation to other things, and in some specific place at any given time; as being in motion or at rest; as touching or not touching some other body; and as being one in number, or few, or many. From these conditions I cannot separate such a substance by any stretch of my imagination. But that it must be white or red, bitter or sweet, noisy or silent, and of sweet or foul odor, my mind does not feel compelled to bring in as necessary accompaniments. Without the senses as our guides, reason or imagination unaided would probably never arrive at qualities like these. Hence I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in he consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated. But since we have imposed upon them special names, distinct from those of the other and real qualities mentioned previously, we wish to believe that they really exist as actually different from those.

Here Galileo has anticipated the empiricism of John Locke. In fact this empiricism remains the philosophical foundation of modern science.

This "denial of Transubstantiation" argument should thrill DJB! The question that is still valid today is how far can fundamentalism deal with science and its goal of objective truth? And this is not with the Roman Church alone, but also with the secular social constructivists and relativists and all sorts of ideologies.

While White's thesis needs more documentary evidence (the denial of Transubstantiation is old Protestant argument and there is no evidence to show that Galileo was indeed a Proteastant), I believe White's title is misleading. Galileo wasn't antichrist but more antichurch.

But White and I agree. Science wins!

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Automated elections should be postponed until 2013

by John Marzan

I don't trust this administration and I don't trust Arroyo's COMELEC.

Virgilio Garcillano could not have done this all alone without any help from other COMELEC operators and administration officials. Pero sabi ni Chairman Melo nung na-appoint siya para palitan si Ben Abalos na hindi raw niya papakialaman ang "Hello Garci", kaya hanggang ngayon wala pa ring napaparusahan o nakulong sa 2004 Garci presidential elections at sa 2007 Maguindanao "vote count".

In that same presscon, Chairman Melo clearly wanted to use the "computerization" of 2010 elections as a way to fix COMELEC's credibility problem and present it as the "reform" needed to move beyond Hello Garci.

But Melo got it backwards, and it is obvious he does not have any idea how the technology works or how it can be abused. Computerized voting won't make the elections more credible--just ask all the election experts around the world. It is ALWAYS about the people running the elections. By letting veteran admin and garci's lieutentants have unfettered access to the computers--cheating would become 10 times easier and faster. And almost undetectable. So any uninformed "stamp of approval" from a church group like the PPCRV on the 2010 elections won't really mean a thing.

So I am strongly in favor postponing the automated polling until 2013. By 2010, may bagong administration na (either Roxas or Villar) and the crooks that continue to remain "untouched" inside the COMELEC will no longer get any backing or protection from the Arroyo administration.

And by 2013, hopefully we'll be able to get a new COMELEC chairman that is younger and not as out of touch.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Friday, August 28, 2009

US Forces Do Participate in Philippine Military Operations

The revelation by Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, the so-called Balikatan whistleblower, that US forces participated in military operations against the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf is not something new. The terms of Balikatan 02-01 - that huge joint RP-US military exercises in Basilan in 2002 - clearly say that US Forces can engage in combat as an act of self-defense.

It is interesting to note that our government officials are trying very hard to deny the embedding of US forces when in fact the very document signed by the government to govern the terms of these joint military exercises clearly states this. The same thing goes for the US Embassy in Manila. In a 2006 article by US Army Colonel Gregory Wilson, who has served as operations director for Special Operations Command South (based in Florida) and a command position for US forces in Southern Philippines, entitled Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and the Indirect Approach (found on the US Army website!), he wrote the following:

In February 2002, the United States dispatched JTF-510, comprised of 1,300 U.S. Troops, to the Southern Philippines. Its mission was to conduct unconventional warfare operations "by, with, and through" the AFP to help the government separate the population from, and then destroy, Abu Sayyaf. The bulk of the force consisted of an air component in Mactan, Cebu, and staff and support personnel located at the JTF headquarters in Zamboanga. The tip of the U.S. spear consisted of 160 SF personnel and, later, 300 members of a Naval construction task group. All U.S. Forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement. Once on Basilan, SF advisers deployed down to the battalion level and moved in with their Philippine counterparts in remote areas near insurgent strongholds. . . (citations ommitted)
Although Colonel Wilson was careful enough to emphasize that US forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement, as are other public records on the matter, the undeniable fact is that US forces participated in Philippine military operations. And there is no denying the fact that when they did this, whether their presence is called on an "advisory" capacity only, they were not merely bringing hammers and shovels; they were in full combat gears! Now in a highly explosive conflict situation, where the object is to hunt down and kill Abu Sayyaf insurgents, firefights are bound to erupt - as in fact they did. So what would these highly trained American special forces units do in such a situation? We all know the answer to that.

But considering the colonel only said that US forces were deployed at the battalion level, which is equal to saying that their involvement in actual conflict would still be remote, skeptics would still be not convinced. The following, however, should erase any doubt about the embedding of US forces:

Soon after Balikatan 02-1, JTF-510 reorganized into a much leaner organization called the Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines (JSOTF-P), which continued advisory efforts with selected AFP units at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels . . . Deployed at the tactical level, SF advisory teams called Liaison coordination elements (Lce) are small, tailored, autonomous teams of special operations personnel from all services.57 they advise and assist select AFP units in planning and fusing all sources of intelligence in support of operations directed at insurgent-terrorist organizations.58 LCEs conduct Decentralized planning and execution using a robust reachback capability to the JSOTF-P to leverage additional assets in support of AFP operations.
The "SF units" referred to above means special forces, such as Green Berets, Navy Seals and other highly specialized and trained units of the US Armed Forces. If during the Balikatan 02-01 (also known as Operation Enduring Freedom) US forces were only deployed at the battalion level, the above passage clearly says after that operation, the US Forces started deploying at the tactical level - which means at the company or even platoon or squad levels, in which the actual military operations are carried out. Sure they are merely there as "advisers," but that is a very deceptive term. It will be recalled that during the early years of the Vietnam War, US Forces started being embedded on South Vietnamese Army units as "advisers" also. And, as previously observed, being deployed in a conflict situation creates the strong likelihood of being engaged in actual combat. So all this talk about US Forces being subject to restrictive rules of engagement while accompanying Philippine troops in pursuit of insurgents is nothing but quibbling.

To further prove my point that indeed US Forces participate in Philippine military operations, the following passage in a January 15, 2009 Congressional Research Service (public policy research arm of the United States Congress) report entitled Republic of the Philippines: Background and US Relations is very revealing:

In 2005, the Philippines and the United States developed and implemented combined operations against elements of Abu Sayyaf operating in western Mindanao and Jolo. The operation apparently had three objectives: (1)neutralize Abu Sayyaf-Jemaah Islamiyah training; (2) kill or capture leaders of Abu Sayyaf; and (3) root out the Abu Sayyaf forces and organization on Jolo in a similar fashion as the successfulcampaign on Basilan in 2002. The U.S. role in western Mindanao reportedly involved intelligence and communications support of the AFP, including the employment of U.S. P-3 surveillance aircraft; deployment of Navy Seal and Special Forces personnel with AFP ground units; and rules restricting U.S. personnel to a non-combat role (although such rules normally would allow U.S.personnel to defend themselves if attacked)
Note the objective of capturing and killing leaders of Abu Sayyaf and the deployment of Navy Seal and special forces personnel with AFP ground units (in boldface). US Special Forces units will accompany Philippine soldiers in undertaking missions to capture or kill Abu Sayyaf leaders or in neutralizing them. Any sensible person would know that such a dangerous mission would entail combat or actual military hostilities. Surely, these Navy Seal units won't only shout advises to Filipino soldiers while taking fire from insurgents! As also noted above, they would be allowed to defend themselves. But if the mission is to actively seek out and exteminate insurgents, the phrase self-defense appears contradictory.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

'Etchos' and 'eklavu'

I was surfing channels when I chanced upon what looked like Cristy Fermin and Boy Abunda on “The Buzz.” But Fermin isn’t in that show anymore and Abunda looked like he overdosed on glutathione.

Something is wrong with the picture, I thought. So I turned to the wife.

“Sweetheart, Boy Abunda turned white.”

“Idiot!” she exclaimed. “That’s not Boy Abunda, that’s Gary Olivar, the presidential economics spokesperson, justifying Gloria’s lavish dinner at Le Cirque.”

“But why is Cristy Fermin sitting beside him?”

“That’s not Cristy Fermin, that’s Cerge Remonde!”

I felt so stupid, fooled by doppelgangers.

To save face, I told the wife, “In that case, could you please turn up the volume so we can hear what they are saying?”

“I’ve got better things to do than listen to etchoseras (bullshitters, in gay speak),” she said.

I had nothing better to do so I listened to the etchoseras.

Gary Olivar was talking about Gloria Arroyo’s pasalubong to the nation.

"You are looking at $6 billion (the amount Gloria claims she brought home), very rough estimate. That's about 312,000 dinners at Le Cirque.”

“Honey, Gary Olivar just introduced a new unit of value!”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“He announced that Gloria Arroyo’s trip to the US was well worth the expense because she brought home about 312,000 dinners at Le Cirque…”

I couldn’t finish the sentence because my wife interrupted.

“Gloria didn’t bring home anything other than a huge travel bill!”

“What about the $500M grant from the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC)?”

“What grant? She has to pass the MCC’s control of corruption benchmark before they give her a cent!”

“What about the $1B in potential garment exports?”

“That depends on the US Congress passing a law that will make the US garment market more open to us so don’t hold your breath.”

“What about the $1.6B under the General System of Preferences?”

“That program has been there for many years but we never took full advantage of it. Now we suddenly did?”

“What about the $1B investment of Coke?”

“Yeah, sure. Coca-Cola never considered investing in the Philippines until Gloria came and assured them that Filipinos will drink billions of liters of Coke.”

“So you’re saying those liars just pulled numbers out of their ass?”

“Yes, and they want us to swallow it.”

“Eeew…que asco. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.”

“Well, what did you want to talk about?”

“The new monetary unit created by Gary Olivar, the Le Cirque Dinner unit.”

“Le Cirque Dinner unit is too long. Give it a shorter name.”

“Okay, how about eklavu?”

“Eklavu? Why use the gay term for bullshit as the name for Gary Olivar’s new monetary unit?”

“Umm….kasi… eeehenyway, one eklavu equals a one million peso dinner at Le Cirque. We can use eklavu to see how much value Gloria places on her soldiers.”


“Gloria spent a grand total of P7 million, that’s seven eklavus for the soldiers who were ambushed in Basilan. P7 million is broken down to P250K for each of the families of the slain soldiers, P100K for each seriously injured soldier, and P50K for those not as seriously hurt.”

“So, as far as Gloria is concerned, a soldier’s life is not worth one eklavu?”

“The numbers speak, don’t they?”

“Hay naku, then I hope she gave them cash and not dinner coupons.”

“But she puts more value for military service than hospitality services.”


“She only gave P6 million in tips for all the waiters, chauffeurs, bellboys, and other service personnel who attended to her needs in Washington, DC and New York.”

“Well, soldiers certainly deserve a larger tip. After all, ambushes are not an occupational hazard for bellboys.”

I could sense my wife’s mood was about to turn nastier. It was time to switch channels. And then Cerge Remonde spoke…

“Allow us, in all humility, to say that if not for the aggressive foreign engagements of the President, the state of our economy would be worse than what we are having now…”

“What do you think of that?” I asked.

“What do I think? I think THAT is Cristy Fermin’s evil twin.”

SOURCE: Life in Gloria's Enchanted Kingdom

Did SCoRP Not Buy the Massive Failure of Elections Scenario?

OPPONENTS of automating the 2010 national elections have been predicting a MASSIVE FAILURE OF ELECTIONS as a corrupt and incompetent Comelec and "foreign-controlled" Smartmatic are overwhelmed by dried out felt tip pens, yard-long ballots, malfunctioning PCOS machines, bogged-down telecomm facilities, and millions of disenfranchised voters."  

THE VERA FILES Half Truth Is Their Business Manaslatas laid out the possible scenarios: What if the two special felt-tip pens allotted per precinct dry up before voting ends and voters have nothing to write their choices with? What if the counting machine gets jammed when ballots are being fed to it? What if the local GPRS connection is bad and slows the transmission of the results from the precincts to the municipal or city canvassers? Or what if someone snatches the laptop computer at the canvassing center?

But has the Supreme Court bought this scenario? It would appear NOT as there is a noticeable change of tack in this week's salvo from PABLO MANALASTAS, (the I.T. expert of the Center for People Empowerment and Governance) which suggests that the Supreme Court Justices may not have been spooked or impressed enough by the above Failure of Elections Scenario.

So here comes the Automated Cheating Scenario  where a completely transformed Comelec and Smartmatic are about to pull off a Mission Impossible-style Heist of the 2010 Elections with precision and stealth to make Virgilio Garcillano proud:
But these scenarios aren’t as worrisome as what else could happen: The whole system could be rigged, and all computers—from those at the precincts all the way to those at the Commission on Elections and Congress that will canvass the results for the senatorial and presidential elections—could be pre-programmed to make certain candidates win.

How could this happen?

The Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines could arrive at the precincts with prepared ballot images and election results already inputted into the system, and the computers for canvassing with prepared Certificates of Canvass (COC) and Statements of Votes (SOVs). And at any stage of the elections, someone who has the root password could log into the system from a remote site and control the canvassing computers—and the canvassers wouldn’t even know. This could happen as early as municipal canvassing because the computer will stay connected to the network for 24 to 72 hours via modem starting at 6 p.m. of election day.

Meet the automated version of “Garci,” the infamous Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano whose manual operation of swapping genuine ERs, COCs and SOVs with the ones he and his “operators” prepared allegedly helped President Gloria Arroyo get her extra million votes in the 2004 elections. The whole operation was documented in leaked wiretapped phone conversations.

Well there you have it folks: exposed for all of us Blind Dummies by the I.T. Expert of CenPeg writing at The Vera Files. How could we have missed it? We are so stupid! "...someone who has the root password could log into the system from a remote site and control the canvassing computers—and the canvassers wouldn’t even know."

And yet this wouldn't work at all would it?  This brilliant scenario being peddled by The Vera Files and Pablo Manalastas CANNOT WORK as described since Comelec's canvassing computers do not control the canvassing computers of the Dominant Majority and Minority parties, the Accredited Citizen's Arm (Namfrel or KBP), the Kapisanan ng Mga Brodkasters (KBP)--to which the Election Returns from all 82,000 plus PCOS Machines can also be sent in parallel.  In a sense this is the central feature of the Smartmatic system design aimed at the heart of wholesale cheating during the Canvassing stages of the manual election system.  By essentially giving us the ability to distribute the Election Returns in digital form--compleat and unexpurgated--to the above entities the Canvassing Stages in effect become matters of PUBLIC COUNTING. 

This is also the exact opposite of what CenPeg, Harry Roque, Pablo Manalastas, et al have been claiming about the Smartmatic system design.  For the first time in Philippine electoral history, the Canvassing Stages (above the precinct level) are now the subject of PUBLIC COUNTING in the digital age.  For the first time in history, "poll watching" by the dominant parties and citizens watchdogs will be enabled with all of the data on 250,000 voting precincts.  Perhaps "someone with the root password" can log into and modify the Comelec computers.  But even a Brochure reader like me can tell you this is futile since such a person could not also break into the Other Canvassing Computers -- over at Namfrel, KBP and the dominant parties.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An email to a student who thinks she is a flunker

Dear Ms_______

i read your email about your decision to drop the course.

At this time, I would suggest that you meet with your program adviser, revise your program of studies and take at least one refresher course such as Statistics 101 and if needed Math 11 before re-enrolling in my course. I don't believe that there are dumb or "tanga" students. All students have what it takes. What is important is to bring it out of them! You are indeed on the right path. One half the "it" has been brought out and the bringing out the other half shouldn't be that difficult anymore.

Sometimes it may require what it seems to be superhuman effort but in school there are no such things. Nothing is a miracle, everything is due to our efforts. Everything is possible and everything is doable! I recalll the movie "Stand and Deliver" where the underprivileged and discriminated high school kids which the education bigwigs say they couldn't pass the math and calculus exams. With sheer determination from the teacher and more determination from the students, they topped the exams over the privileged and "smart" kids. Sometimes it is just how we and a few silly people believe we are supposed to be but in fact THIS IS NOT WHAT WE REALLY ARE!

I'm pretty certain that you will succeed. Just do it.


your Prof...

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Automation Debate Between CenPeg and James Jimenez

COMELEC spokesman JAMES JIMENEZ--a prolific writer, blogger and speaker in his own right--has been having a running debate with the Center for People Empowerment in Governance over the ongoing 2010 election automation project. Personally, I think that James Jimenez's intelligent sense of humor is the perfect antidote to the Y2K-bug-like tendentiousness and fearmongering to which the worst of CenPeg's "analyses" descend.  

In its May, 2009 "Policy Critique," the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg) questioned the TRANSPARENCY of the proposed 2010 automated election system:

The Precinct Count Optical Scan-Optical Mark Reader (PCOS-OMR) technology chosen by the Comelec goes against the basic democratic principle of “secret voting and public counting.” This is because the OMR system makes the counting, canvassing and consolidation of election results hidden from public eye and, hence, lacks any transparency as the Constitution and RA 9369 require. The proclamation of winners will be done in 2-3 days making it extremely impossible to file any election protest which is expected to be widespread – and poll watching almost futile.

Here is what JAMES JIMENEZ wrote in a recent Facebook Note  in response to many of the points raised by CenPeg and lawyer Harry Roque in a suit to TRO the automated election contract with Smartmatic/TIM.  I am happy to share it with readers and writers of Philippine Commentary because of its uhmm, transcendental importance.

I would have said everybody a watch-dog, but that term has always carried - for me at least - the unfortunate connotation that someone, somewhere is gonna turn rabid. So, "everyone a quick-counter" it is; because that's how it's going to be.

But before we get to that, this is how the canvassing flows - bottom up. Start from the precinct where a paper report is generated in the form of election returns. The ERs are then delivered physically to the first canvassing level which is at the city or municipality. The city or municipality canvassing board then produces its own reports: the certificate of canvass and a statement of votes by precinct. Each city or municipal canvassing board then sends its report to the next canvassing level: the provincial. Provincial produces its own COC and SOV then reports to the National Board of Canvassers. The National Board canvasses the results for Senators and Party-List, while Congress canvasses results for President and Vice-President. 

The problem with this process is that it takes too long. Delivering the reports can take days, sometimes even a week or more. In the meantime, people get antsy and worried that the reports are being manipulated or altered in some way. Especially worrisome is when the outcome of the elections is made to hinge on reports that haven't been canvassed yet; the fear being that the manipulators are waiting to see just how much padding or shaving they need to do. So time, essentially, can be a tool for manipulators and a very destabilizing factor in the mandate of whoever emerges the winner.

Obviously, the solution is electronic transmission. 

Electronic transmission drastically cuts down the time necessary to transmit election results from level to level. But, naturally, in order for electronic transmission to be possible, the data - essentially the written reports generated by each level in the process - has to be in electronic form. How to do that?

One solution is to manually count the votes, manually prepare the election returns, and then encode the election returns into a computer with electronic transmission capabilities.

Sounds simple enough. But let's examine that a little closer.

Manual Counting

A manual count has its benefits, foremost would be that there would be no need to teach voters how to vote. The ballot will be the usual thing - a long sheet of paper with the names of the positions being voted on (what I call the "races") followed by blank lines where the voter can write the names of the candidate he's voting for. So that's good, right?

Well, yes. In the sense that inertia is your friend. But that kind of voting runs into all sorts of problems all the time. First, there's the problem of illegible handwriting. Then there's the issue of voters who don't write the full name of the candidate. And of course, there are instances when some candidates have the same name, and the voter isn't specific enough with his choice. All these problems add up to questions of voter appreciation. The teachers engage in adhoc interpretations of what the ballot is actually trying to say about the intent of the voter. It's a guessing game, really, where the main players are the lawyers of the candidates. Not the voter - his part is done. It's the lawyers trying to outdo each other in convincing the BEI to see things their way.

Another result of this is that it draws out the time needed to complete the count; hence the counting proceeds in fits and starts until dawn the following day. And again, time can become a tool for subverting the vote. During the wee hours, when non-partisan people are mostly no longer around to watch the proceedings, all sorts of attempts are made to subvert the vote count: power outages, intimidation, thuggery, bribery .. you name it. Teacher's lives are put at risk, the integrity of the ballot is challenged mightily, and the outcome of the elections becomes suspect. 

Over the past few weeks, you've probably heard a lot of people saying that the vote count is the easiest thing in the world to secure; that the vote count is the cleanest part of the process; that a manual count is the best because it is witnessed by the public. HAH!

The vote count is the most difficult part of the process to secure for the following reasons: first, the sheer scale of it. You're talking about counting going on more-or-less simultaneously in more than 250 thousand locations throughout the country. Second, it takes too long. Counts run up to 12 hours during which time any number of attacks on the integrity of the elections can ensue. And third, the majority of the counts all over the country, as well as a significant chunk of the counting process itself, are NOT watched by the public: there are simply too many counts going on at the same time, and too many non-partisan observers simply cannot stay all night. In the end, many watchers simply come back the following day to claim copies of ERs that they can nitpick about.

ER Preparation

Manual ER preparation has its share of problems, naturally. The most significant being the mis-recording of the data. Let's forget about fraud for awhile and just focus on fatigue induced error. 

On election day, the members of the BEI are up and about by 4 am, getting their election supplies. Elections run from 7am to 4pm. Counting usually starts at 6 pm and runs till 6 am the following day. Which means that by the time the ERs are being prepared, the teachers doing the job will have been up nearly 24 hours. Fatigue is inevitable, and when people get tired, people make mistakes.

How inevitable is error? It is so inevitable that when an ER is presented and shows no erasures or errors of any kind, it's perfection is considered a good indicator of fraud. Chew on that for awhile. Our system is so prone to error that if no errors are evident, we suspect that something fishy is going on. How twisted is that? Nevertheless, it is a sound observation. Because of the strain placed on teachers, fatigue is one of the most significant causes of error through inadvertence.

Add to that, deliberate error brought about by coercion or corruption and you realize that ERs prepared manually are probably not as pristine as some people might want you to believe. And that's where the lawyers come in.

A lawyer's job is to make sure that his candidate wins. This means, if you're being brutally frank about it, that a lawyer will try everything he can to influence the way the results are reported. He can influence it during preparation of the ER, or he can influence it by challenging the number of votes reported for his candidate. Either way, under a regime of manual preparation of ERs, lawyers will exert an inordinate amount of influence in the way the vote is reported, and they will also contribute mightily to the delay in the reporting.

ER Encoding

So, the ER - whose faithfulness in reflecting the will of the people will, by now, have been diluted - now has to be encoded to produce an electronically transmittable document.

The most straightforward solution is to have someone reading from the ERs while someone sits and encodes everything he hears. Now it's obvious that neither can check what the other is doing. The encoder can't verify everything the reader tells him, just as the reader cannot check whether his words are being tapped into the computer accurately.

This sets up two points of vulnerability: the reader (who can be coerced or bribed into dishonesty) and the encoder (who, by the way, can be coerced or bribed into dishonesty). 

Ironically however, despite these vulnerabilities - from counting to ER preparaton to ER encoding - there are some quarters who would rather see us stuck rather than try out the other way for getting the ERs ready for electronic transmission.

The other way

The other way is automated counting. If you automate the counting, then the counting machine presents the count in two ways: a paper election return report, and an electronic version of the same report. Kinda like having a print-out of that word document you typed. You have a hard and a soft copy. 

With the electronic version generated at the same instant the count is completed, the transmission can then proceed seamlessly, with no need for anyone to interpret any ballots or to encode anything. 

You save time and you ensure that there will be no discrepancies mediated by human error or human malice.

Now there are those who would belittle the importance of saving time with the electronic count. With all due respect but very little fondness, let them tell that to the teachers who have to stay up more than 24 hours just to complete the counting and preparation of ERs; let them tell that to the teachers who have to spend the night wondering whether the next hour will bring goons with guns; let them tell that to the teachers who have to turn away bribes, knowing full well that there may be adverse repercussions arising from their nobility.

And of course, there are those who will belittle the trustworthiness of the COMELEC in conducting the automated counting. Fair enough, I would say. Don't trust the COMELEC, but don't let that distrust consign the rest of the country to repeating the same old processes with the same old vulnerabilities; don't let that distrust get in the way of getting the teachers out of harm's way; and don't let that distrust become a stumbling block to the improvement of the electoral system.

On another level, don't use that mistrust to mislead the people.

People with avowed distrust for the COMELEC like saying that the machines can be programmed to count wrongly; to favor this or that candidate; to ensure a pre-determined outcome. People who distrust the COMELEC slam the system for a supposed lack of transparency.

A hand-count is not the only route to transparency. 

First, all a hand-count really does is show that ballots are actually being read. It does not guarantee any individual voter that "his vote is being counted accurately." All it does is give people - the BEI, the lawyers - the opportunity to argue about what the voter intended. And since no one can actually say for certain that the ballots are being read according to each voter's intent, how can a hand count guarantee anything? If you think about it, the ability of lawyers to question the accuracy of the vote ultimately rests on the uncertainty of how to interpret the source document - the ballot. Remove that uncertainty and the ability to question the accuracy of the count evaporates.

Now consider an automated election system where the ballots unequivocally show voter intent and where the resulting machine count can be verified against the actual ballots? Sure, you don't see ballots actually being read, but that doesn't put you in a worse position vis-a-vis a hand count. Besides, any re-count will still go through the same process of lawyers trying to outdo each other in convincing the authorities that the voter voted this way and not that. With the automated system, however, the hand re-count is much easier and much more definitive precisely because there is no mistaking voter intent. If the oval is shaded, it's a vote. If not, then not.

There are those who argue saying that by the time a hand recount of the modern ballot is undertaken, the winners will have been proclaimed. I may have missed something, but isn't that how it is with a hand count? 

Second, the automated system has the advantage of being tamper-evident.

Tamper evident

Tamper-evident only means that if someone monkeys around with something, the monkeying is obvious. Like meds. No one seriously believes that those flimsy foil things prevent tampering with the pill inside. The main strength of the foil is that if someone does try to get to the pill inside, the damage to the foil will be so obvious that no one in his right mind is gonna think that everything's okay. Once you know that the pill has been tampered with, you know right away to chuck it in the trash.

It's kinda the same with the automated election system. Unlike a foil pack, the design is such that the speed of counting and consolidation make it very difficult to tamper with the results; but just like a foil pack, the design also ensures that any unauthorized tampering is immediately obvious.

The results, you see, are transmitted directly out of the precinct and sent to several recipients all at once: to the municipal canvassing center, to the COMELEC central server, to the servers of the dominant majority, the dominant minority, the accredited citizen's arm, and the KBP. And yes, it will also be sent to a publicly accessible website.

That's seven different recipients of the same data, all in one go. And that's not even counting the 30 hard copies of election returns that will be made available to practically everyone.

Now if someone were to tamper with one of those results, for whatever reason, the discrepancy with all the other copies available makes the tampering immediately discoverable. So, if your shenanigans are immediately obvious, why bother doing it at all? You won't make a difference in the final result and you're likely to be found quickly. Bottom line, the widespread availability of precinct results makes fraud more trouble than it's worth. 

Even better, having the results published on the web essentially democratizes quick-counting. Literally anyone with internet access and a calculator can do exactly what Namfrel used to do, can do exactly what the COMELEC is doing. Everyone becomes a quick-counter!


And this is why I can't help but shake my head at the irony of people trying to derail automation. In one breath, they thump their chests and proclaim themselves concerned only with the cleanliness of elections, and yet in the next, they do everything they can to scupper this excellent opportunity we have to actually improve the cleanliness of elections.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Friday, August 21, 2009

Yellow Fever

Since Pres. Cory Aquino passed away, the people seemed to have been afflicted by the Yellow Fever. Is this an awakening or simply a passing fancy? I'm well aware of how we have very short attention spans. I'm surprised by how many fell by the wayside and have forgotten the true essence of People Power and how we should never forget it. I suppose those only used People Power to achieve their political goals and realized their personal ambitions.

So what have we done in the last two decades? We squandered our gains and allowed those with agendas to bastardize the essence of People Power. As my good friend Leah Navarro said, We are in search of a Camelot, in search of heroes that will fight the battles for us. If Ninoy and Cory were alive today, they'd be frustrated as I am. People Power is not about heroes, it's about empowering ourselves. People Power is about us.

So I see blogs and other social networks bearing yellow ribbons and bloating members reaching in the thousands. But when the time came to show the current dispensation our warm bodies, our numbers, these thousands are nowhere to be found. We have fence sitters watching in the sidelines while others fight the battles. When the smoke clears and the fighters are winning, these fence sitters suddenly appear out of nowhere and claim victory for themselves.

How I wish the this Yellow Fever sweeping our populace is real and true. I wish that those who seems to understand what Ninoy, Cory and those who unselfishly gave up their lives for freedom and democracy really take to heart what these heroes represented. Noynoy Aquino is right, we don't need an Aquino to lead us into battle. We are all heroes. It is all up to us to carry on the legacy of those who went before us. We should stop waiting for someone to come along tp inspire us. Ourselves and our future are enough to inspire us to commit ourselves in the fight for change, freedom and democracy.

Today is Ninoy's death anniversary. Let us not insult his memory with a passing fancy called as Yellow Fever. Let us show the world that we do not have short attention spans. I hope this fever is genuine this time around. There's still time to redeem ourselves. It's funny how death can start sparks and stir a people to its senses. I just hope that this time around, we truly understand the meaning of People Power.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Thursday, August 20, 2009


<Illustrious names pray for probibition before the Supreme Court--
“Petitioners National Artists Virgilio Almario, Ben Cabrera, Bien Lumbera, Napoleon Abueva, and Arturo Luz have the right under the due process clause of the 1987 Constitution to not have the honor they have been conferred with diminished because of an irregular and questionable award made by the President to the four private respondents,”
To me, this hardly seems to be a dignified thing for the National Artists themselves to be doing. It is as if the 1999 Miss Universe Winner were to protest that her glory and honor previously conferred, was being diminished because she and her supporters think that the 2009 Winner is ugly and undeserving.
They asked the high court to declare as grave abuse of discretion on the part of President Arroyo the inclusion of the names of Cecille Guidote-Alvarez, Francisco Manosa, Jose Moreno, and Carlos Caparas in the recipient list of National Artist awards, as well as the deletion of the name of Dr. Ricardo Santos.
I think this very statement reveals a particularly disdainful type of hubris, fostered by state-sponsored art from Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, in susceptible awardees such as the "Petitioners" in the instant case. They have come to believe that they themselves were universally accepted as deserving of the award, or that they ARE now. Thus the very premise of the prayer is wet, shifting sand--that Miss Universe 1999 can hold all future judges of such contests to her own arbitrary standards is clearly self-serving and specious. Moreover, the Congress and the President could easily diminish the cash awards, or make the award posthumous, or modify it in some other way deemed beneficial to its aims. So that there is literally no truth to the assertion by National Artists to some kind of right not to have their honor diminished for all eternity!

But I have much bigger trouble with this fol-de-rol than the self-aggrandizing behavior of our national artists. I have come to the conclusion that the National Awards themselves ought to be ABOLISHED because they are a violation of the Bill of Rights guarantees on Freedom of Speech and Expression. My basic position is that ART is like Religion, a most fundamental and basic human mental and emotional activity, possession and faculty, which, like Religion, ought not to be the realm of the Government to be anything but absolutely neutral in. Those things, feelings, ideas, and activities which we consider to be religious, are hardly distinguishable from things we would consider to be artistic. Whether worshipped as a powerful Deity external to ourselves, or perceived by a human being as something divine or sublime within himself and others, both Religion and Art refer to something fundamentally and inherently human--and therefore the possession of every human being. Both to believe and not to believe compose the freedom of religions. Likewise, the beauty and truth that we see in things artistic are fundamentally matters of our subjective and individual opinion.

The 1987 Constitution's Bill of Rights upholds in quick succession Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion as part of the basic Right to Life, Liberty and Property. In a way, our thoughts ARE our Life, our Liberty and our most precious Property!
1987 Article III
Section 1. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall a ny person be denied the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

Section 3. (1) The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law.

(2) Any evidence obtained in violation of this or the preceding section shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.

Section 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
So that if we the People, have erected a strict Wall of Separation between the doings of the State and the freedom of religion, so too must we prevent the State from either promoting or impeding the freedom of speech, thought and expression by raising up from the vast diversity of arts some particular choice to be named "national artist". If we allow the State to dictate what is Good Art, good enough to be called "national art", then how long will it be before that State begins to dictate what is Good Journalism, Good Speech, Good Thought and Expression?

I think it is time to abolish the National Artists awards. Or at the very least they ought to be made only posthumously and only rarely, and certainly not by the Government. The world's major prizes--the Nobel, the Oscars, the Grammys and Pulitzers--are all privately made. Even Miss Universe!

Anecdotally too, there is some perception that after receiving a National Artist award, many awardees set off on commercial ventures and hardly ever produce any NEW ART as significant as before they received it. (And who would dare criticize them?)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Eats meets waste

“I ask our people to spend on the basics first before the luxuries so our children will have enough to eat.”—Gloria Arroyo

DEAR Dr. Anthony Golez,

Allow me to congratulate you for placing your president’s behavior in the proper context and for putting her critics in their place. You said it so beautifully I must quote your statement in full.

“The issue at hand cannot be the sincerity of this President’s commitment to uplifting our poor. Whatever monies may have been spent for the appropriately ceremonious conduct of her official trip abroad are but a tiny fraction of the billions of pesos she has committed, and will continue to commit, to the alleviation of hunger and the amelioration of poverty in our country.

“In their frenzy to score media points at the President’s expense, these critics will go so far as to demean and debase the office of the presidency itself, not just its current occupant.

“They would now have us believe that the leader of our nation is somehow not good enough to be hosted in the best hotels, or chauffeured around town, whenever he or she travels abroad as the representative of one of the 15 largest countries in the world.”

You’re absolutely correct; the issue is not about Mrs. Arroyo’s commitment to fighting poverty. It’s about what she’s entitled to as the head of a regime whose survival depends on exported labor and the largesse of rich countries.

Mrs. Arroyo must travel in chartered planes, ride in limousines, stay at the best hotels, and wine and dine at the finest restaurants because we don’t want anybody to think she’s not good enough.

She must always travel with a large entourage because we don’t want anybody to forget that the Philippines is one of the 15 most populous countries in the world.

Dr. Golez, your statement came at the right time. The trash talk about those dinners has gone out of control. Mrs. Arroyo’s critics connected those million-peso meals not only to hunger and poverty but also to the lack of proper equipment for the soldiers fighting bandits in Mindanao.

The latter connection is absurd. Everybody knows that passing on those dinners won’t help our soldiers. Filet mignon does not make good leather for combat boots and lobsters shells can’t be used as body armor.

That said, I would like your take on the comportment of Rep. Danilo Suarez, the host of the $15K dinner at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse in Washington, DC. The Washington Post thought he was a woman.

“…[A]t the conclusion of the meal, an unidentified woman opened a handbag stuffed with cash, counted out bills and paid the $15,000 tab.”

Do you think it was proper for Representative Suarez to dress in drag while he was still in Washington, DC? Shouldn’t he have waited until he got to the Bay Area in California before morphing into Danielle? Do you think he will clobber me with his purse if I continue asking questions?

Before I go, I hope you won’t mind some unsolicited advice.

Your statement, as beautiful as it is, was a bit too long for TV sound bites. Keep it short and sweet. Instead of that long-winded declaration, you could have simply said, “Mrs. Arroyo believes that the Filipino is worth dining for.” Trust me, it conveys the same message.

Hugs and kisses,


SOURCE: Life in Gloria's Enchanted Kingdom

Rat eating pitcher plant

British botanists made public their discovery of a new carnivorous plant from Palawan that makes Audrey II in the Little Shop of Horrors closer to reality. Named Nephentes attenboroughii after nature documentary filmmaker Sir David Attenborough, the plant is big enough to eat a rat. Attenborough was reported to have been much flattered. The honour was more than what a BAFTA or a Queen's honour could give.

I am not surprised at all.

The Philippines remain as a place where evolution is on overdrive. Among the mammal groups whose evolution is on overdrive are rats and mice. The Philippines has probably the world's most number of endemic rodent species. Luzon has cloud rats, shrew mice etc. Mindanao has rock mice etc.

With few predators save for snakes, it isn't unusual that a plant will go into the rat eating game.

Now in the aftermath of the le affaire Le Cirque et Bobby Van, Pinoy wags have had a field day. Some wags want the plant to decorate the House of Representatives or the Palace by the River. Can the plant gobble a congressman or a president? As for the latter, the wags say an unqualified "yes"!

After the claims for perks affair in the British parliament, Brit wags want it too inside the Commons!

Too bad that these plants can't survive outside their misty mountain habitats. In fact it is illegal to collect pitchers and some are on the endangered list. Pitchers sold illegally in Manila die of the heat and possibly the pollution.

Some mad scientist can genetically engineer one to be pursuit predator specializing in congressmen!

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Automation and the Obsolescence of Trust

OPPOSITION to the automated election system being prepared by Comelec for 2010 comes from a surprising direction--not Garci, Bedol, the Palace, the trapos, nor even the political opposition--but from certain elements of Civil Society who simply do not TRUST the government and Comelec to come up with a secure and honest system. In this of course, Comelec itself has given them much justification, such as the last time they tried to automate in 2004 under Ben Abalos.

In a justifiably cynical sense of course they are right: Comelec can't be trusted. But I think these elements also miss the essential point: that a successfully implemented automation system will largely obsolete the need to trust Comelec in the old-fashioned sense of the word, much as we do not have to "trust" our banks in that way. However getting to that point may not be so easy, since it is Comelec itself that must implement automation! It looks at first like a classic Chicken-or-the-Egg situation. But it is NOT because in fact it is the Congress which is mandating the Comelec to modernize a hopelessly defraudable manual election system. Even though Comelec is an independent Constitutional Commission, it is actually the Congress that is empowered by the Constitution to provide for a system to secure the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot and uphold the the Right of Suffrage. So I believe the most utilitarian way of looking at this situation is that we, the People, through our elected representatives, are in fact forcing reform upon the Comelec by making it adopt an automated system that will disempower the Garcis, Bedols and Abaloses within that all important institution!

In the meantime, however I believe the chances are much greater than 50/50 that the Supreme Court will TRO a Monkey Wrench into the 2010 automation project. What the Civil Society opponents of automation want before allowing automation is a trustworthy Comelec. And because Comelec may have done some things wrong even this time around they have unwittingly done the Dirty Work for those who really don't want automation anyway: the Palace, the trapos and those who know how to cheat the old fashioned way. If this happens, and SCoRP rules against automation, Garci will probably christen his new yacht next year as the M/V Harry Roque.

COMELEC COMMISSIONER RENE SARMIENTO writes a defense of the worthy ambition to automate Philippine elections in 2010: A Moment in History: Understanding Poll Automation for the 2010 Elections (Business Mirror). He rises to Biblical eloquence in his concluding paragraph:
Hebrew soldiers said Goliath was too big they could not kill him. David said Goliath was too big, his slingshot would not miss him. Attitude. Equipped with the correct attitude, our people can view this electoral breakthrough called poll automation, and the generous support of many all over the land, young and elderly alike, as reasons for hope and optimism. With prayer and work (ora et labora) that there are better days ahead, Filipinos will succeed. If we whine, we complain, we bemoan that the Filipinos are beyond redemption, we will fail. Against gloom and doom, we labor and hope that change is within reach, and proclaim that God provides and He will never fail the Philippines!
Many voters, in particular the youth and new registrants, are looking forward to the automated polls and I believe would be unlikely to vote at all under the old, fraudulent, cumbersome and messy manual election system.

Ominously, the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Philippnes (SCoRP) heard oral arguments last July 29 on a taxpayers suit filed by UP Law Professor Harry Roque that would effectively stop the Comelec's plan to conduct the first nationwide automated election in May 2010.

ABSCBN reports on Justice Carpio's question about "foreign control" of the elections during last week's oral arguments in Roque v. Comelec in what could be another case like ITF v. Comelec (2004):
Justice Antonio Carpio raised the issue of foreign control of the polls after he pointed out the mandate of the Comelec, which is to supervise and administer the election process. Carpio noted that the winning foreign bidder, Barbados-Venezuela Netherlands-based Smartmatic, will have exclusive possession of the public and private keys for the operation of the electronic machines.

Carpio, one of the few IT-knowledgeable magistrates in the tribunal, explained that the public key allows access to the main system (or administrator) while the private key is essentially the password for the operation of the individual machines. The precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that will be used in the polls will count, consolidate and transmit the election results.
In response to Carpio's line of questioning, Lead Petitioner Harry Roque reportedly posited that if Comelec grants exclusive possession to Smartmatic, it also cedes exclusive control of the election process:
Lead petitioner UP Professor Harry Roque told the High Court that it will be Smartmatic which will have control of both public and private keys. During the elections, the private key will be given to the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) in the precincts.

However, the BEIs will have to depend on the private keys (or passwords) to be given by Smartmatic. By having control of both public and private keys, the set-up, in essence, reposes to Smartmatic the exclusive control of the election process.

Roque said the scheme amounts to “complete abdication of the function of Comelec” to supervise the polls, which is unconstitutional.
I think this an unjustifiable and rather naive assertion. It is like claiming that because I insist upon my bank having exclusive possession of the combination to their safe, I have completely abdicated my control over what the bank does with my money. Conversely, they seem to suggest that there ought not to be exclusive possession of these all important keys by Smartmatic. What? Maybe they would like to give Cyber Garci a copy of them?

Moreover, there appears to be developing here a Y2K-bug-like superstition about CRYPTOGRAPHY based on ignorance of its true essential and central role in securing the elections and disguised by the use of technical verbiage. Where the IBM PC clocks were made an object of mysterious power to foment disaster, Roque et al have tried mighty hard to invest the same mystical malevolence in the cryptographic keys used in an automated system like this.

To foster great public understanding of this all-important SECURITY feature of the automation systems, we must look for documentation and information about this aspect of the automation project from independent and reliable sources. Fortunately, the winning bidder of Comelec's automation contract, Smartmatic Corp. has participated in a number of United States elections and in the process has been forced to adopt U.S. Federal and State standards, guidelines and qualification procedures for its systems and products in order to compete in that very tough market.

Before suddenly rendering any historic decisions, I think it would be most helpful and beneficial if everyone involved, even "I.T.-knowledgeable" Justices of the Supreme Court, would become familiar with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's General Security Requirements for Voting Systems, which covers the following topics:
Cryptography: Requirements relating to use of cryptography in voting systems, e.g., use of U.S. Government FIPS standards.
Setup Inspection: Requirements that support the inspection of a voting device to determine that: (a) software installed on the voting device can be identified and verified; (b) the contents of the voting device’s registers and variables can be determined; and (c) components of the voting device (such as touch screens, batteries, power supplies, etc.) are within proper tolerances, functioning properly, and ready for use.
Software Installation: Requirements that support the authentication and integrity of voting system software using digital signatures provided by test labs, National Software Reference Library (NSRL), and notary repositories.
Access Control: Requirements that address voting system capabilities to limit and detect access to critical voting system components in order to guard against loss of system and data integrity, availability, confidentiality, and accountability in voting systems.
System Integrity Management: Requirements that address operating system security, secure boot loading, system hardening, etc.
Communications Security: Requirements that address both the integrity of transmitted information and protect the voting system from communications based threats.
System Event Logging: Requirements that assist in voting device troubleshooting, recording a history of voting device activity, and detecting unauthorized or malicious activity.
Physical Security: Requirements that address the physical aspects of voting system security: locks, tamper-evident seals, etc.
What one discovers from a careful study of this comprehensive document is that CRYPTOGRAPHY is essential and necessary to all these aspects of system security and operation. It would be literally impossible to carry out its mission and guarantee that system security if Smartmatic were not given exclusive possession of them.

The cryptographic public and private keys referred to are a necessary and indispensable piece of information without which the Automated Election System could not be operated properly, nor could the system provider then guarantee the integrity, authenticity, verifiability or even the source of election data generated by the 82,500 PCOS machines. Thus, the unavoidable FACT is that Smartmatic must have possession of these keys. Does this constitute "foreign control" of the polls? The short answer is NO, simply because legally speaking, Smartmatic/TIM is 60% Filipino! The long answer is also NO, since it would be dumb-ass foolish NOT to insist on exclusive possession and indeed absolute secrecy and confidentiality of the private keys to the PCOS machines and of all other machines in the AES. I cannot see how any "I.T.-knowledgeable person"--whether or not they happen to also sit on the high bench of SCoRP--could possibly think that sharing the private keys with Comelec for example could possibly be a wise or sane thing to do!

The EXCLUSIVE POSSESSION by Smartmatic is certainly not "foreign control of the polls" but a necessary security feature of the whole automation system! It seems to me that we ought to view exclusive possession by Smartmatic of the public and private keys as a virtue and strength, not a vulnerability or undesirable feature at all! We surely do not want non-exclusive possession, such as by allowing Comelec to know these codes! Comelec has no need of these codes that I can see. But if it grants exclusive possession to Smartmatic, does it also cede exclusive control of the election process as effusively asserted by Petitioner Harry Roque, in response to Justice Carpio's lines of questioning?

In order to understand WHO should control the CRYPTOGRAPHIC KEYS that are used to secure the individual ballot data, the election returns and the entire process of digitally canvassing the results of the elections, we must first understand what these keys are and how they are used. I do not wish to controvert the claim that Justice Carpio is "IT-knowledgeable" but if his position was accurately reported above, that knowledge does not show in any suggestion that he agrees with Roque's conclusion. First of all, the referred to "public keys" and "private keys" are indeed essential not only to the operation of the Smartmatic Automated Election system (both its hardware and software) but also to the overall SECURITY of the data streams exchanged between Persons and among the various Machines involved. As such, it is both right and proper that Smartmatic have control of these cryptographic reference materials, for otherwise they could not conduct the election! However, it is purely hyperbolic for Petitioner to assert that this amounts to Comelec abdicating its Constitutional duty. Control of the cryptography is central to the system's data integrity and security.

This happened already once before --in the 2004 SCoRP decision ITF v. Comelec--whose incomplete restitution has left a sour taste in everyone's mouths about Comelec and automation. The Court-ordered recovery of over a billion pesos paid to provider Megapacific in that case has never happened! As a result of the 2004 fiasco over Ben Abalos' Automatic Counting Machines there has developed a justifiable cynicism and distrust of Comelec. Many people are simply unwilling to grant Comelec the benefit of a second doubt in the case of the proposed Smartmatic Automated Election System and Comelec has not done much to win the Public's TRUST since the Garci Scandal of 2004, indeed, insult was added to injury with that slow-motion Maguindanao scandal in 2007 involving the votes of Migz Zubiri and Koko Pimentel, and Mr. Garci Junior himself, the accurately-named Lintang Bedol!

Of course, ANY first attempt to conduct an automated national election involving up to 50 million voters has got to be fraught with pitfalls and challenges. However, I do not agree with Petitioners in the case aforementioned that there is a big risk of an outright failure of election because of a massive and systemic failure in the Smartmatic system software and hardware. Against such a possibility -- say their PCOS disappears and another cannot be delivered in time -- each Board of Election Inspectors is expected to conduct a manual count of the executed ballots and to process their Election Return in the normal way: by submitting it to the Municipal Board of Canvass. They are obligated to do the same any way under RA 9369 except that they could also forward the PCOS-generated E.R. In a sense, manual election operations become the fail-over mechanism should the PCOS machines be unable to do the job on the voters' ballots. The Smartmatic Real Time Information System (REIS) claims to be able to accomodate manually counted and reported Election Returns from precincts without functional PCOS machines.

Some paint a picture of possible widespread inability to operate the Smartmatic PCOS machines; or that these machines will spit out and transmit inaccurate or dishonest election returns that cannot be questioned and corrected. Such an eventuality would be a grave disappointment, of course.

It is easy to believe the speculation that the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo stands to make a hefty commission from the deal, and not much less credulity to think that the FG or similar evildoers may even resort to "wholesale automated cheating".

I guess, I am prepared to believe that certain persons in High Places stand to make money from a seven billion peso contract, but I do not personally believe that Smartmatic Corp. is primarily interested in selling out to some Filipino politician instead of trying to establish itself as a long term leader in a rapidly growing global market for automated election systems. The calculus here is pure greed, since Smartmatic stands to make more money providing secure, reliable election systems than colluding with Filipino cheaters for a small time score.

Accusations have been made that these cryptographic codes in the possession of "foreign companies" will be used to conduct "modernized cheating" or digital dagdag bawas during the transmission and canvassing phase. The main accusation of petitioners is in fact "Comelec has abdicated its Constitutional duty " to conduct the 2010 synchronized national and local elections if it agrees to give Smartmatic Corp. "exclusive possession of the public and private keys" used in the elections.

I believe this characterization to be HYPERBOLIC, if not hysterical. It is equivalent to claiming that one ought not to allow one's Bank to exclusively possess the combination to its own SAFE because then it might cheat one of one's money, or not yield to an audit of the balance on demand.

Exclusive possession of those cryptographic keys by Smartmatic is WISE, as opposed to shared possession with say Virgilio Garcillano and others at Comelec--which strikes me as a singularly idiotic idea.

Diatribe on Edsa 2--& why God gave us 'Arrobobastic' Gloria

(Arrobobastic - adj. 1. plunderously bombastic; 2. extremely ostentatious in lifestyle, beyond any reasonable SAL, or Statement of Assets and Liabilities. [See "Gloriastic is the new Imeldific" Philippine Commentary article & comments.] "Arrobobastic" is a neologism derived from the incumbent Philippine President's surname, the English word "bombastic," and "dorobou," a Japanese terms meaning "thief.")

Together, the $20,000 + $15,000 U.S. dinners of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are not the Illegitimate's greatest sin, or alleged sin. Those immorally expensive meals certainly cannot be worse than the alleged-but-widely-believed "Hello Garci"-styled electoral fraud of 2004, nor the NBN-ZTE attempted deal, nor the August 2008 war in Mindanao brought about by the MOA-AD that is said to have been part of Gloria's bid for term extension. At worst, the dinners just constitute the icing on the cake of a sinful presidency baked in the undemocratic urn of Edsa 2.

EDSA 2 - blunder, coup, cover-up

Edsa 2 was simply a big, seditious lie hatched by opportunists in cahoots with those frustrated by the masa vote, a Machiavellian exercise, a "People Power" power grab that disrespected the sanctity of the ballot. A few tens of thousands of emotional gullibles, along with a few conspiratorial leaders, flushed down millions of Erap votes down the constitutional toilet big time. It could even be construed as discriminatory “People Power" coup based on its success in deposing Erap and the non-success of the counter-"People Power" in unseating Gloria four months later.

A more massive crowd that was Edsa 3 tried to undo the sacrilege of the pretender "People Power," but was not allowed. A sinful cardinal categorized them as the "great unwashed" not eligible for the holy Latin privilege of “vox populi, vox dei.” Masa "People Power" was simply 'devoid of political power,' so derided a UP political professor/analyst and Arroyo puppy.

Edsa 2 not only overturned the mechanisms of democracy relating to the presidency as instituted by the 1987. It also operated outside the constitutional framework when it went about the mandated guidelines for presidential succession. Of course, the court of Chief Justice Hilario Davide, the avowed street party-goer circa 2001, later legitimized Estrada's ouster by claiming the most mysterious legal doctrine of "Constructive Resignation," thereby ruling for Arroyo's installation. History, however, will always be reminded of the foresight of a 2001 Time magazine editorial on Edsa 2:

Again, therefore, whatever curious legal construction anyone may now attempt to put on the ouster of Estrada, he was ousted by a military coup, with the connivance of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, major business groups, and two former presidents.”

God's Purpose for Gloria

Back to the lustfully fine dinners, those nearly P2 M-worth meals fit for a royal power grabber have come to highlight the excesses of a leader brought forth by a grandiosely covered-up coup. When analyzed within the framework of a "divine plan"--which Filipinos are wont to adhere to, is it possible that God gave us the Illegitimate, a.k.a. Gloria Arrobo (says limited edition P100 bills), as a grim lesson never to repeat Edsa 2?

I recently partly concluded a months-long chat debate with a left-leaning Edsa 2 defender who bothered to engage me and who I bothered to reciprocate in my blog's Shoutbox. He finally gave in a bit, at least saying sorry for Gloria's installation and admitting that Erap wasn't given "a chance to defend himself by ousting him." The exchange made me realize that Gloria made it easier to prove the undemocratic fallacy of Edsa 2.

Had Arroyo been anything like Cory Aquino, the Edsa 2 forces would probably still be bragging about the "wisdom" of their move to unceremoniously unseat a duly elected leader. They would probably have convinced the world that even a power grab laced by a gullible mob is righteous.

Had the Arroyo presidency not suffered from the perception of being the "Most Corrupt" in history, owing to the almost endless litany of corruption scandals, the conspirators and gullibles of the fake "People Power" would still be gloating today.

If only her administration had been clean, not seemingly plunderous, and simple in lifestyle, not obviously ostentatious; the Edsa 2 coup would have been vindicated to a satisfying height. Perhaps, then, the cover-up of the Edsa 2 coup by the rich and the rapacious would have been sealed tight.

The excesses and misuse of power by the Edsa 2 President simply made it crystal-clearer for Filipinos that whenever due process of impeachment justice is denied a duly elected leader, the process of impeachment will thereafter be railroaded to deny the people the right to unseat a corrupt incumbent. Just perhaps, the Creator is telling us through Gloria that if the media is allowed to be used to demonize a popularly elected President, that same media will be used to perpetuate a mandate-less administration.

Gloria Arroyo could possible be God's way of drilling down on the fallacy of Edsa 2. Her "Hello Garci" episode could be a grim reminder that when the people's electoral will is subverted through the ouster of a President who held the numbers, the ballot becomes stripped of its sanctity and big-time cheating becomes fair game.

The realm of the divine is perhaps teaching our people that that the short-circuiting of the Constitution by any cult movement against a man popular with the masses deserves a punitive lesson like Gloria. "Lies," the heavens could be saying, "breed more lies and more sins."

Gloria and Erap both profess some divine providence: the power grabber claims "God put me here" while the ousted swears to some purpose from above. Who knows? What is clear is that Gloria's 'arrobobastic' presidency made it easier for the Filipinos and the world to see that "People Power II" was undemocratic and immoral. Sorry to the adamantly unapologetic Edsa 2 people, but your own choice made sure that you won't get away with it unscathed.



SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Friday, August 14, 2009

Science,art and politics: There is more to the national artist and scientist fiasco

Professor Flor Lacanilao has thrown in his bit on the national artists fiasco. He writes in a post for a Pinoy scientist blog

"The naming of National Artists and National Scientists in the Philippines has been continually threatened or beset with fake artists and scientists. Quite surprisingly, however, our respected artists and scientists have different attitudes to the selection process that dishonors art and science. Whereas the artists have always strongly opposed such farce, the scientists have been silent all these years."

The good professor has in many blogs written about the politics in the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST). The NAST recommends who will be given the national scientist title. The perks for national scientists are comparable to that received by national artists. The final perk is a plot at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Prof. Lacanilao's beef with NAST is that the selection process according to him, hardly ever has research performance and credibility as criteria, but age! The wags have a field day and NAST has to shed off the waggish meaning of its acronym, "National Academy of Senile Teachers"! BTW the wag who told me of this meaning is herself a NAST member and could be a national scientist one day.

Nonetheless to answer Prof. Lacanilao's concerns, we may have to brush up on our history. Throughout the ages and to the present, artists and scientists needed wealthy patrons. In a more democratic milieu, the state took over the role. Scientists on the other hand became more professionalized but still needed patrons. Today the science bureaucracy and big business are the patrons and no longer some eccentric lord or duke.

In Nazi Germany, der Fuhrer was the patron of German science and art. There was no room for degenerate science and art. Aryan art and science was in. If you are out, then you are in Dachau or the furnace at Auschwitz!

A few forgettable artists benefited from the Hitler regime. We don't remember their names except for Albert Speer, who we remember as Hitler's so so architect and the top Nazi who escaped the Nuremberg noose (He also was tasked to manage the Nazi atom bomb project as armaments minister). Speer served his 20 years and history calls him the "good Nazi". None of Speer's work survived the war save for a row of lamposts in Berlin.

Most artists went into the concentration camp or up the chimney in Auschwitz. The few who were lucky to escape were exiled in the US and Britain and they enriched the cultural life of their countries of refuge.

Scientists however were inclined to cooperate with the Nazi regime. John Cornwall's "Hitler's Scientists" narrates that the physicists first were coopted, the chemists followed, the physicians too (the most famous Nazi physician-scientist is no other than Dr Josef Mengele), the engineers, anthropologists, economists and almost all scientists. The scientists who went into the Nazi research establishment got perks as reich scientists of the highest degree. Some like Werner von Braun were desperately needed by the victorious Americans, were quickly deNazified and put on the science Cold War front. The truth is without Nazi science we won't have NASA science!

Cornwall writes "scientists are unusually dependent [on the state] compared with artists". While some can dispense with the perks, if it comes with dispensing survival, the choice is clear. Scientists will keep their mouths shut.

Artists were different. Some did choose the chimney since they knew their art will survive them. The scientists weren't sure.

If we learn the lessons of the Nazi horror, then we would realize that it is a sign of impending dictatorship when the Head of State interferes in the selection of national artists or scientists in the name of prerogative. In a democracy prerogative is exercised sparingly, and the President's approval of nominations is a largely ministerial function.

In Hitler's Germany, it started with "degenerate" arts and science. The degenerate art and science extolled the most evil in human society.

As for Nazi science, some good did come out of it aside from the Cold War space race. Our present day ideas on cancer epidemiology are based on what Nazi doctors did. Nazi scientists were the first to link tobacco smoking with lung cancer and meaty and low fiber diets with colon cancer. This is a consequence of fascism and Hitler being a non-smoker and a confirmed vegetarian!