MANILA -- The poll body described Wednesday the one-day field testing of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) units in 10 voting precincts located in five areas in the country as a “success”.

“It’s very good,” said Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal.

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The field test was conducted in Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Taguig and Taguig National High School in Taguig, Pateros Elementary School and Aguho Elementary School in Pateros, Cabutotan Primary School and Beto Elementary School in Benguet, Alfaco Elementary School and Balran Elementary School in Cebu, and Bacdulong Elementary School and Bandala Elementary School in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

“The purpose of this field test is to test the machines and the canvassing system... (A) field test is where we replicate the end-to-end testing of the system," Larrazabal earlier explained.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, for his part, said the test was conducted for the transmission system only.

Minor problem

According to poll officials, the field test experienced only one minor glitch, specifically in Aguho Elementary School where the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card used was not able to transmit the data.

Larrazabal said after the SIM card was replaced, the PCOS machine immediately was able to transfer the data.

Some precincts, which do not have cellular signals, made use of broadband global area network (BGAN) satellites to transmit data.

“(The) satellite transmission from Benguet was successful. The transmission from other areas using mobile networks was also successful," noted Larrazabal.

Areas which do not have cellular network coverage were discovered through the site survey conducted by Smartmatic-TIM.

Pateros and Taguig, both areas from the National Capital Region (NCR), finished almost the same time at 12 noon, said NCR Regional Director Michael Juneda.

In Cebu, Provincial Election Supervisor Lionel Marco Castillano received feedback that the province was the first to feed its test results to the national office.

When asked if the success of the transmission confirms its readiness for the automated elections in May, Castillano said, “Not yet. We need to conduct the mock elections.”

The mock elections are scheduled on February 6 in two areas in Cebu City.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Comelec is still waiting for the data from the precincts located in Lake Sebu.

Jimenez said they already expected a delay in transmission from Lake Sebu because of the zero network coverage there.

"If something does not work in one place, then we will move in a place where it will work because we know that we cannot have 100 percent ideal conditions in the whole country," he said.

One possibility considered is to transfer the memory chip of the PCOS machines to the nearest area where data can then be transmitted.

Round 2

In Wednesday’s testing, pre-shaded ballots were used since only the transmission needs to be evaluated.

Jimenez said the test was supposed to ensure that the data transmitted to the municipal, provincial and Comelec central server will be transmitted in the right manner and the data to be received by the servers are correct.

The field test was conducted in the presence of one official from the Technical Working Group, one from Smartmatic, and one election officer.

Larrazabal said the Comelec is conducting a series of tests on the PCOS machines to make sure the country will be ready for the first-ever automated elections this year.

As such, another field test will be conducted on Friday in Pateros and Taguig, as some members of the joint congressional oversight committee have requested to observe it.

The poll body will also conduct a one-day mock election on February 6. Details on this are yet to be finalized.

Contingency plan

As to the Comelec’s contingency plan, Comelec Commissioner Armando Velasco said that 30 percent of polling places were not covered by Global Positioning System (GPS), which will be used by Smartmatic-TIM for the transmission of the ballot count.

For towns without GPS, the broadband global area network satellite (BGAN) will be used.

Smartmatic-TIM Project Manager Ruliena Piñate said their survey, which is already 99.5 percent complete, showed that some places in Leyte, Maguindanao, Sulu, Davao del Sur, and Lanao del Sur have no cell phone signal.

Parañaque Representative Rolio Golez expressed concern over this 30 percent figure, saying a contingency plan for such a percentage of the polling precincts is too high.

“Even five percent has a big effect. If we have a system where the Comelec himself has a 30 percent contingency, they have already allowed maneuvering,” he said.

The presence of a contingency implies that there could be a possible problem.

Golez cited the 1992 elections, where former President Fidel Ramos's lead over Ramon Mitra was only one percent.

Comelec Legal Department head Anthony Rafanan, however, explained that the “very conservative estimate” of 30 percent does not pertain to projected failure but only for preparation.

He also clarified that the 30 percent has nothing to do with transmission but in the failure of the PCOS machine.

“Those are only for comfort. Not really because we foresee that there will be manual counting... Failure of machine will only be remote because we have several intermediate steps before we resort in the end to manual,” he said. (Kathrina Alvarez/Angela Casauay/JMR/With JGA of Sun.Star Cebu/Sunnex)