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What’s holding PH from having a smooth automated election?

by Marje Pelayo   |   Posted on Thursday, May 16th, 2019

2019 midterm elections at Commonwealth Elementary School, Quezon City (Rodel Lumiares/PVI)

MANILA, Philippines – It took the Philippines 18 years before it finally applied the automated election system (AES) in 2010, the time when Benigno Aquino III was named the country’s 15th President.

The plan to fully automate the electoral process was raised in 1992 by then Commission on Election (Comelec) Chairman Christian Monsod during the term of then President Fidel Ramos.

Speaking to UNTV News, Monsod explained that the main purpose of automation was to expedite the election process and to make the job easier for the Commission.

“The vision is really to have the returns faster. It’s two – accuracy and speed. Those are the two objectives,” Monsod said on Thursday (May 16).

In 1996, the election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was declared a success.

It was then that the computerized election system in the country was pilot-tested using the technology provided by a U.S. company American Information System, Inc.

In December 1997, Republic Act 8436 or “An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Use an Automated Election System in the May 11, 1998 National or Local Elections and in Subsequent National and Local Electoral Exercises, Providing Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes” was signed.

However, it was applied only to specific areas like Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and not to the entire Philippines.

During the term of former President Joseph Estrada, poll automation did not push through.

In 2004, the administration of then president Gloria Arroyo awarded the P1.3B poll automation contract to Mega Pacific E-Solutions but the Supreme Court (SC) nullified the contract due to irregularities in the bidding process. A complaint against then Comelec Commissioner Benjamin Abalos Sr., other commissioners and executives of the Mega Pacific E-Solutions was filed in relation to the contract but the case did not prosper due to lack of probable cause.

It was in 2008 that Smartmatic-Sahi Joint Ventures entered a contract with Comelec as the provider of the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Technology while the Active Business Solutions Inc. and Avante International provided the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) Technology.

The said technologies were applied in the ARMM elections that time but several glitches manifested.

In 2009, the contract for the 2010 presidential elections was awarded to Smartmatic-TIM, the same technology provided tapped in the succeeding polls in 2013, 2016, and this year 2019.

This preference to Smartmatic raised doubts and questions to the credibility of the election process.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, for one, suggests that Smartmatic must be replaced by a different technology provider.

 “Matagal na noong January pa (ay) sinasabi ko na yan. Ang problema noong nag-privilege speech ako (ay) nakapag-award na ang COMELEC. Remember, kasi napakadaming problema,” Sotto said.

(I have been reminding them, ever since January. But then when I gave my privilege speech, Comelec already awarded [the contract]. Remember, there were many problems before.)

The recently concluded 2019 midterm polls was not spared from glitches and problems as many SD cards appeared defective and more vote counting machines malfunctioned as compared to the election in 2016.

But the poll body argues that it is only Smartmatic that passes their bidding requirements aside from the company’s experiences in the previous elections.

Comelec added that this year, not all election materials were provided by a single supplier which, according to the agency, justifies why there were defective supplies.

“In 2016, bundled ang aming bidding…Ngayon iba ang supplier ng makina, iba ang supplier ng SD cards, iba rin ang supplier ng papel at marking pens so doon ang nakita naming problema hindi masyadong nagma-match,” argued Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas.

What the poll body is looking at this time is whether or not to still reuse the VCMs despite their service in the two consecutive elections. – (with details from Rey Pelayo) Marje Pelayo

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Pentagon removing Turkey from F-35 program after its purchase of Russian missile defense

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Friday, July 19th, 2019

F-35 Fighter Jet | Courtesy: Lockheed Martin / Reuters

The United States said on Wednesday (July 17) that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, a move that had been long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system last week.

The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to the Murted military airbase northwest of Ankara on Friday, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia, which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.

“The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program,” said Ellen Lord, the Undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Used by NATO and other U.S. allies, the F-35 stealth fighter jet is the world’s most advanced jet fighter. Washington is concerned that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to gain too much inside information of the stealth system.

“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.

Washington has long said the acquisition may lead to Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program.

The Pentagon had already laid out a plan to remove Turkey from the program, including halting any new training for Turkish pilots on the advanced aircraft. (REUTERS)

(Production: Labib Nasir)

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Over 21,000 evacuated after torrential rain in Guangxi, China

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Friday, July 19th, 2019

Rescuers evacuate residents @Daxu Town, Lingchuan County, Guilin City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, south China | Courtesy: Reuters

Over 21,000 people have been evacuated Wednesday following continuous torrential rain in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, according to the provincial emergency management department.

In the region, a total of 47 counties and districts in nine cities, including Nanning, Liuzhou, Guilin, and Baise, suffered floods which affected 65,000 hectares of crops and destroyed 1,250 houses.

The local government activated contingency plans for rescue and relief work.

Both rescue and relief efforts are still currently underway. (REUTERS)

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Chip allowing brain-computer communication to come ‘before the end of next year’ — Elon Musk

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Graphics showing implantation of threads and chips | Courtesy: Neuralink/ Reuters

Elon Musk’s start-up Neuralink is aiming to connect the human brain with a machine interface “before the end of next year,” the CEO announced on Tuesday (July 16).

Speaking at a conference in San Francisco, Musk presented ‘version one” of his neuron-sized threads and microprocessor chips that he claims will help people with severe brain injuries and eventually grow to allow humans to connect with advancing artificial intelligence (A.I.) technology.

The implantation of the threads, which Musk said are a tenth the size of a human hair, require the use of a special robot, but a minimally invasive surgery.

Once the threads are implanted into the brain, their connecting chip would wirelessly connect with a device worn outside the body.

Neuralink is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval and while Musk said his preliminary task is to help people with disabilities interface with computers using their minds, the end goal is to keep up with A.I.

Tuesday’s conference was designed as a marketing tool – Musk told the crowd gathered at the California Academy of Sciences that Neuralink was actively seeking out potential employees to join their team. (REUTERS)

(Production: Bob Mezan)

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