Human error uncovered in PCOS forensic tests

By Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 05 2010 10:05 PM | Updated as of Jun 06 2010 06:42 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Instead of signs of fraud, errors possibly committed by members of the board of election inspectors (BEI) were uncovered when the forensic examination of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines found at a poll technician's house resumed at the Senate on Saturday.

Ten boxes containing the machines were opened on Saturday morning to check if PCOS machines and their components are complete, and whether or not they have been tampered with.

Losing presidential candidate Nicanor Perlas, one of those who actively pushed for the investigation, noted a number of problems with the way PCOS units were packed after voting.

A PCOS machine used at a clustered precinct in Inuman Elementary School, for instance, does not have both the main compact flash (CF) card and its back-up. While the main memory card should be in the Comelec's custody, the back-up card must be sealed inside the machine. The back-up memory contains an encrypted copy of election results and a log of the machine's activities.

The back-up CF card of another PCOS machine from the same polling center was found in a plastic bag, not inside the machine.

"Baka pagod sila (They might have been tired)," Perlas said, referring to BEI members during the close of voting when they are supposed to carefully pack the machines.

Human error

Aside from this, one machine does not have any of the two i-button security keys used to start the PCOS. Most of the thermal papers do not have a Comelec seal while a printed election return, which was supposed to have been delivered to its recipient, was found inside a PCOS box.

"This thing was rushed," Perlas said of the post-voting procedures. "At the level of the precinct, ito na ang lumalabas (This is what comes out)."

Heider Garcia, electoral systems manager of poll automation supplier Smartmatic, believes the errors found should not be a cause for alarm because these are "simple human errors."

"We can only tell here that they didn't follow the procedure," he said.

Garcia said those problems are already beyond Smartmatic's control, and suggested that the BEI members themselves be asked to shed light on them.

He maintained that the investigation has so far yielded no proof of fraud.

CF card audit

Perlas said the errors could be indications of fraud, but added that he would rely more on the results of the CF card audit.

Along with the PCOS inventory, IT experts from Laggui and Associates are analyzing the contents of the back-up memory cards, which they copied to their computers. Smartmatic insists, however, that the files may only be accessed using facilities at its warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna because they are encrypted.

The Joint Congressional Canvassing Committee ordered the forensic investigation to check for hidden components inside the recovered PCOS machines, which some candidates suspect could have been used for fraud. The 60 machines were found at the house of a Smartmatic technician named Felipe de Leon in Antipolo City 8 days after the elections, when they should have been returned to the Cabuyao warehouse.

The technician has denied allegations of fraud, saying he only did his job of protecting the machines after the local Comelec office refused to keep them.

On the first day of the forensic examination on Friday, IT experts said they found nothing suspicious inside the machines.

Whether fraud is proven or not, however, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has said the probe will not affect the canvassing of votes for president and vice president.