@suncelltweets : Worst Customer Service experience ever courtesy of SunTel/Sun Cellular or How to lose customers in 3 minutes

@suncelltweets Extremely rude CSR (code CASCMRJSS) just called me up to tell me I'm past due w/ my SunTel acct since Nov29 when in fact my due date is every 4th of the month. This is my first time with Sun/Digitel and this happens to be just my 2nd bill. 1st bill is only 81.67!!! And the 2nd bill due Dec 4 is only 354.50!!! And the first one's already been paid through my BPI online! What's worse is that the CSR argued with me insisting that the due date reflected on my bill is wrong and that it's supposed to be the 29th??? He even dropped the call without my permission! Thank God this plan's holding period is only 3 months. People, beware of SunTel CSRs. If you can help it, I suggest you NEVER deal with Sun. That's the worst CS experience I've ever had in my entire life -- bar none. Attached are my copies of my bills. The first 2 bills and definitely the last 2 bills too. Will NEVER EVER deal with Sun Cellular or SunTel again. I will even drop my load Subdealer status right here right now. I will never use, promote or sell product that has anything to do with SunTel/Sun Cellular. Such a disappointing telecom company and such a traumatic experience for a paying customer.


#InAPerfectWorld every opinion carries equal weight. And each opinion, be it amazingly profound or despicably inane must be treated with the same level of respect if only for the fact that the existence of one validates the other." -- RJ Marmol Yes, I just quoted myself. It could well be taken as brandishing arrogance, but on the contrary, it is a humble display of my humanity. And you know why? Because each time I set out to write anything and manage to hit "publish", I submit myself to criticism. It's like diving in a sea of piranha -- you're injured at best, dead at worst. But I still dive just the same. Maybe because I'm masochistic. Or maybe because I believe that each "dive" amounts to something good for myself or for other people. That's what bloggers do. That's what people on Twitter do. They speak their minds. There's a hint of narcissism sometimes, a little ego-stroking on the side. But that's what 21st century living has become. This is what "media" has become. Everyone is an instant pundit, stylist, guru or what-have-you's. So when people who were 'born' pre-Twitter mock or worse, question a person's right to air his/her opinion over Facebook, Twitter or his/her own blogsite, I think those people need to seriously reconsider their position on the subject. The online community don't just gang-up on a certain person or group of people on a whim. In fact, unbelievable as it may seem, it is easier to organize a 'protest' in the 'real world' than it is to organize a 'hate' campaign online. And that's because those online know very well that doing so exposes them to a more traceable liability. When you 'tweet' or post a Facebook update, it is traceable to you and you alone. Whereas if you join a group of people marching in the streets of Mendiola, that 'protest' is traceable to a certain 'group'. In business analogy, it's like single proprietorship vs. corporation. If your company/group is drawing flak from the online community, one thing is for sure then, whatever it is that you've done has created a personal impression on each netizen. And at such huge numbers and immense personal impact that it appears to be an organized attack towards you. So instead of attacking people's opinion and belittling the 'weight' of their opinions, it is best to show them incontestable proof of one's innocence the best way possible. They have a term for it -- sweet revenge. Let's be thankful then that this isn't exactly a perfect world because we don't have to live with each other's assumed profundity and live in constant denial of the existence of our inanities. We have each other's opinion to keep ourselves in check.

Public Service: Calamba City Hall *NEW* Main Number (6349) 5456789

Public Service: To all Calambenos,

Calamba City Hall *NEW* Main Number:

+63 (49) 5456789

One number. One city. One Calamba.

The Politics of School Bullying (An Open Letter to the School Head/Parents)

To:    XX XX XX Thru: XX XX XX From: Cecilia Regina Aquino Blanquera-Marmol Parent XX XX Re: Request for dialog with XX's parents August 5, 2010 Dear XX XX, Greetings! Forgive me for opting to skip the usual niceties and allow me to go straight to discussing my concerns that compelled me to write this letter. I am Cecilia Regina "RJ" Marmol, mother of XX XX currently enrolled in your school in XX XX XX. It has come to my attention that my son is being bullied at school by a certain classmate of his, going by the name of "XX". I do not know his last name. As early as the first few weeks of this school year, I have been consistently nagged by my son that this boy I have mentioned has been causing him too much "bother" -- which, at first I did not take as anything harmful. I am a parent and have been a kid myself so I perfectly understand that such 'incidents' are relatively normal and I refuse to come off as an uptight or unreasonably protective mother (as there is no such thing). However, as days progressed, he came home with the same story to tell almost everyday -- and it always involved the same kid. He actually came home one day from school with his uniform looking like a canvass of aimless doodles of crayons, polo shirt, pants, socks and all. He cried a river and apologized profusely as soon as he came through the door. He said he and XX were coloring (like the rest of the class, I presume) until they found themselves coloring each other's uniform. He said it was XX who started it, but quite frankly, it is irrelevant to me who started what. What bothers me is that this seems to have been the acceptable norm and everyone seems to have either grown comfortable or apathetic to it. And if I may say so, I am disappointed. I'm sure you understand that it is difficult enough to instill good values at home only to be negated by uncontrollable outside influences. Further, the frequency of bullying and the level of damage is getting worse by the day. Today, he came home crying and complaining about painful cheeks while gesturing how XX (has once again) pushed him to the wall. I don't intend to wait until he comes home complaining about something far worse. This may be child's play, I know. But there has to be a fine line that separates child's play from ensuring 'safety first'. Besides, my son says that XX also hurts his other classmates and whenever he mediates (as he was taught at home), he gets the brunt of the slight 'child's play-beating'. I have enrolled my son in  XXX under the impression that he is in good hands. And much as I want to withdraw him, I've already paid for his tuition fee for a full school year last April. And it's barely two months into the school year. On a side note, I'd like to commend the teachers who have been painstakingly and continuously changing the seating arrangements to avert similar incidents. But this doesn't seem to be enough to arrest the root cause of the problem. They are now many seats apart yet the bullying remains to persist. I believe that nipping the problem in the bud the soonest possible will avert any future irreparable and regrettable damage to both kids and parents. My son is just 5 years old (as compared to supposedly more mature 6 or 7 yr-old classmates) and speaks rather poor to moderately understandable Filipino which he only learned/developed in your school last year (in Prep). I wonder if that has anything to do with the bullying, assuming it's a frequent 'misunderstanding' issue. But he tells me XX makes fun of him more than he does his other classmates. I'd like to know why. I have witnessed this myself when I fetched him from school a few days ago. XX purposely agitated my son to draw attention to himself and continuously fueled my son's annoyance with persistent name-calling -- so this is no telltale account. My little boy is a "volcano of energy" -- but mostly of the endearing and not of the annoying kind, and while he may be 'playful' for a grade one student, he is no war-freak nor does he incite kids to rebel or horse-play. He is retentive and most times, he plays only when he thinks he's done with his work. While I'm in no position to advise the parents as to how to deal with their son's behavior, I encourage them to have a serious and meaningful discussion with their son. I believe this will make a huge difference and I feel that discussing this with his parents together with their teacher is an important step towards behavior correction. In this regard, I am requesting for a dialogue with the parents of XX. According to the handbook, all issues about student behavior and requests for parental reprimand must be coursed through the teacher's/your office. Also, it is not in my nature to approach parents for casual conversations and conflict resolutions and I do not do things without paper trail. Please advise XX's parents as to when we can meet to rectify this issue. I look forward to resolving this once and for all in the interest of the kids and their well-being and education. Thank you so much for your time. Best regards, Cecilia Regina 'RJ' Marmol Parent Noted: _________________________________________________ XX, Class Adviser _________________________________________________ XX, Dept. Head

Life's A Joke

*** Let's take a short break from politics and technology, shall we?

Life's A Joke

by: RJ Marmol
If it's anything amusing, I would laugh as anyone would Roll on the floor, heck, laugh my guts out if I could! Be it fine, about wine Be it yours, be it mine We laugh at the fellow who can't read the sign A riddle, a rhyme, a look or a style A stutter, an accent, a behavior -- let it not beguile There's more to raw humor if you walked it a mile A prose poem like this or an essay like that We laugh at the ugly, we ridicule the fat The poor man rain-drenched on a mat, The pretentious idiot in his shiny, new flat Such a sport, such a vice A hypocrite afloat his fancy boat lies Warm and happy under rented blue skies Oblivious of the storm brewing in his eyes Delusions of grandeur Comparisons of the spectacular The last days are near To decimate the insincere Because a joke is a joke, even if it's on me And a lie is a lie, though untold you see How funny, how amusing, such a luxury maybe To laugh at yourself -- an ingrate on his knee.

iOS4 on the 3GS: First Impressions

Like most tech fans, every software update is an adventure. And like with every adventure, it's only reasonable to leave room for errors, miscalculated risks and glitches of all sorts. Not so with Apple. Or at least, with their latest iPhone OS now dubbed as the iOS4. Ever since this update was announced by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, everyone but the caveman waited in eager anticipation of its worldwide release -- it is after all a major update. The fact that it includes well over a hundred new features is nothing short of 'major'. Tonight (technically, morning, that is -- June 22 at 0110H PHT), I along with most Apple fanboys and fangirls excitedly counted down the time until its release. According to my internet world time, it reached my desktop at 1010H Cupertino and took me more or less 80 minutes to download and install. And in the next paragraph, I will tell you why it's well worth the wait.

iOS4 is the iPhone 3G S on Steroids

If you thought the 3G S (then running OS 3.1.3) was fast, wait 'til you pump it up with iOS4. It is very fast. It makes you wonder how fast and beautiful the iPhone 4 must be -- which will then result in either of the two: 1) You become so impressed and contented with its speed that you'd feel no need to buy an iPhone 4 or; 2) The thought of how fast the iPhone 4 must be will intrigue you enough to get yourself one. Either way, you will be happy.

A Thing of Beauty

Jobs, and by extension, Apple is widely known as creators of "beautiful" things. And this "beauty" goes beyond the aesthetics. We all know that they make gorgeous designs that you wonder just how many ways something "white" can be redesigned to look better and better each time, adding features without distorting its original essence. iOS4 on the 3G S makes something beautiful more powerful and efficient -- beauty and power coexisting in perfect harmony -- each one working in its optimum performance without sacrificing one for the other. You hold your phone in your hand and know that it's the same phone -- only better. When it comes to beauty, the iOS4 is no "window dressing" -- it is the designer manning the store.

You're a Multitasker. So Should Your Phone Be.

The iOS4's most loved and anticipated feature which has been persistently requested by users is multitasking. Debate has been going on as to whether it's capable of true multitasking or if it's merely 'fast app-switching'. I've put this to a test using my favorite 'background' apps (and by 'background' I mean those apps I would usually prefer running in the back ground while I am doing other tasks like surfing the web (Safari or Opera) or reading my email. The result: Cannot run third-party music apps like Boombox Pro (Blip.fm app) or the Smule Glee App and Radio Philippines in the background similar to the way you can listen to your iPod music while using the iPhone. The Yahoo Music app crashes. I think the Pandora demo proves that it does work with Pandora. Too bad Pandora and Last.fm apps are not available in the Philippines. However, fast app-switching works seamlessly. Double-pressing the Home key will bring up your active apps/processes to select which one you want to use. If you're through with the app, touch and hold the icon and wait for it to wiggle and display a minus (-) sign. Click on that and that app will be removed from the background.

Organizing with Folders

This works great, just as advertised. And it looks great too. The smart naming of folders based on app category is extremely helpful. You can always rename it as you please, so that's awesome.

Unified Inbox

You will never miss an email ever again. With the unified inbox, you have the option to read all your unread messages in one go, in one folder or to check each email account separately. It has become easier to skim through your email and prioritize as needed. And another good thing about it is that you don't even have to lift a finger to configure this. If you've already added/configured a few of your email accounts previously, the iOS4 will sort it out for you automatically after update.

The Verdict

It's an update every iPhone owner MUST install. Choosing not to is choosing to run your iPhone underpowered and inefficient -- and nobody likes that. :) There may be some features that may not deliver as demo'ed but probably only because certain apps aren't available here in the Philippines. Otherwise, it's a wonderful update packed with big-time and subtle changes to the iPhone's capability. Some of these features are readily seen and some perform quietly in the background, each contributing to make the iPhone work like it's supposed to because gadgets are meant to aid us in our chores and satisfy our needs. And Apple, with the recent software update far exceeds that expectation. (Note: Gotta get some shuteye for the moment. Will be editing this post in a few hours after I get some rest and the energy to play with the iOS4. Will add more feature reviews. Check back later for updates.)

What does it mean to be free?

One hundred and twelve years ago today, our forefathers proudly waved the Philippine flag to an equally proud and jubilant crowd in Kawit, Cavite. No other day before that seemed more important. It's Independence Day. Nothing can possibly top that. One hundred and twelve years after, not much has changed. Of course, people would harp on achieved 'independence', freedom, democracy -- you know, all the big words. But apart from the obvious -- our sovereignty, not much has been achieved in that area. Which begs the question -- what does it really mean to be free? We've heard the rhetorics and seen the parade many times. It's the same 'celebration' every year anyway. But when it comes to a deeper understanding of the essence of freedom and why it's such a big deal, most people would rather not give it a thought. If only more people understood what freedom is and how much sacrifice it took from high and low profile Filipinos of that time such a luxury entailed, maybe they'd care enough to spare it some minutes of contemplation and gratefulness. But like a spoiled child who's been given eveything he wants without a fight, negotiation or even a second thought, we've taken freedom for granted as if it were 'free' to begin with -- as if it were our birthright to enjoy and squander at will. Contrary to what most people think, freedom -- whose root word is 'free' -- is not something we were born with. It is not as free as the air we breathe. It is, like I always say, a luxury that comes at a steep price -- a price we have the pleasure of only writing or talking about now simply because our brothers and sisters that have come before us did the 'paying' for us. It is a debt we owe to our forebears and a gift that we are expected to pass along to our descendants. We are lucky to be bearers of such a sacred entity, borne of much suffering and patriotism. And compared to our great greats, our job is supposedly much easier. But look around you. Look harder and weep. There is not much to bequeath. As the vessel of freedom has been passed on from generation to generation, much of its essence has been lost in translation. Today, we have commercialized freedom and sold it as commodities. We claim that we are sovereign and yet we allow ourselves to be 'short-changed' by economic giants who dictate how they run their business on our shores when it's supposed to be the other way around. We let them mine our resources (natural and human) dry and even praise them for giving us 'jobs' and 'investments'. As a new administration is sworn in, jobs are promised in the form of 'increased foreign investments'. We are more invested in pulling-in foreign investors instead of say, empowering the SMEs ( small to medium enterprises) and micro businesses with access to affordable financing schemes, fast and reliable government support through specialized agencies and improved taxation to encourage businesses to register and use auditable receipts. That is just one concrete example of freedom in action, of freedom as it relates to real life. The days of fighting with bolos may be over. But every year, the fight for a modern yet simplistic form of freedom remains a struggle. It is heartwarming to see flag-waving ceremonies here and there but beyond the symbolic, there is a pressing battle we must win. The fight for freedom is a never-ending struggle. The battle gears may change, the strategy may be different, the soldiers may not be marchig to a similar tune -- yet the goal remains the same: to win our freedom over and over again. Because 'to never rest' -- that is what it means to be free. And that is what it means to be Filipino. Maligayang Araw ng Kalayaan!

Death by Suffrage

Death by Suffrage

I don't know how or where to start. Writing long and winding articles have always been where I'm good at. I have also been believed to have the gift of expression -- I find it easy to say (or write) exactly how I feel. But now I can't seem to mince words to express myself.

Something has gone awry these past few days -- since Monday night to be precise. My heart is heavy, if not completely shattered post-election day when the results started coming in. It just dawned on me -- just now, how I should begin this post. "Hi. My name is RJ and I am a sore loser." I have stopped updating my election results post just this morning after waking up to a persistent heartache -- that which pierces one's soul and wouldn't stop until you bleed to death. You might think I'm just being poetic, but I'm not. I have put up with this for almost a week. I need a breather. There is an air of melancholy in my otherwise bossa nova-filled house. I have been living-off in fast food since Monday. I can't seem to cook or even want to. I can't seem to empty my head of everything I'm seeing and hearing. I am filled with such sorrow as if someone had just died. For days now, I am trying to sort this out and have resorted to mindless singing and dancing and an obsessive-compulsive reading of news feeds since after elections. It's as if my phone is glued to my palm and my news feeds are what's keeping me alive. I check on the news by the minute, afraid that I may miss out on latest events. But the truth couldn't be farther -- I was (and still am)  hoping that one of these days I will find the answer to this nagging question: "What happened? Where did my vote go? Are you saying that while some candidates were hard put on raising issues and platform above 'personality' millions of people weren't even listening?" Maybe they were listening -- to public radio. Can you blame them? Debates are boring. Mudslinging is oh-so-fun. Scandals and rumors are titillating. Economic and constitutional reforms are not.

Plans vs. Zombies

I feel like a log drifting in open water. All these, because I have filled my heart and head with so much enthusiasm and hope that change is gonna come -- and my candidate of choice would be that "knight in shining armor" who will snatch this damsel-in-distress-of-a-nation from the clutches of hopelessness and jadedness. Like the "Prince Charming" of fairy tales, it was destined to wake up this sleeping-beauty-of-a-nation. Not for happily ever after, but at least, for sustained socio political and economic stability. But this is real life. No knight in shining armors, no prince charmings. Heck, not even "sober" damsels-in -distress! Nobody cares about sober plans. In this country, if you can gather a sizable crowd of zombies who idolize you (or the blood that runs through your veins), you can be president. Heck, you can even snatch the post if that's what it takes! You don't have to be believable. You just have to be a wonderful and convenient choice! If this is a fairy tale, this is "Peter Piper and the Charmed Herd: Destiny of Doom". Okay, I made that up.

All hail the hypocrites!

I am not happy that we have once again found ourselves at this road. Doesn't it all look  too familiar to you? The name. The reason. The circumstances. Even the battle cry. I refuse to put up with all this hypocrisy about unity and acceptance and moving on. I am sorry. I am a sore loser and I'll probably die being one. Go on your merry way with your unity rally, one less person isn't such a loss to you -- in the same way one more vote didn't turn out to be significant enough to change the course of history.

Where are thou?

I miss Jose Rizal. Not that I've known him  personally of course. I just wish he was here. His wisdom would have enlightened us. I miss Andres Bonifacio too. His courage and trusty bolo would have inspired us to damn the odds and just do what the @#$@#$ we had to do to straighten things up. I miss heroes of the old days -- those we can only read in books. Those whose sacrifices were so real that the stench of  their blood-soaked clothes  will kill you. Those who never, not once, thought of doing it for themselves, but always for the country. Those who despite standing alone, stood their ground and paid a dear price for it. Where have they all gone? Why is it so hard to produce the likes of them in this generation?

Mere tokens

I have, for over a year, written until my fingers refused to type any longer, read until my eyes drooped in weak surrender -- hoping and even believing that I was in fact, preaching to the choir. I was wrong. I could have tried harder. I could have done better than being a slacktivist. Because if I did better, maybe I wouldn't feel this bad. But then again, maybe even that would not have been enough. You've probably sensed the  stinking incoherence in my writing right now. I am sorry to disappoint you today. As of this time, I am going through  difficult stages of denial, anger, grief and pain -- in random order and in frequent attacks. I do not understand why I am not as happy as everyone else. And it's not just because my candidate lost. It's because he lost by a HUGE margin. So huge that I tear myself up each time I update the partial and unofficial results. As far as I can see, we are nowhere near the end of the tunnel. And even if we get there, them political swindlers will just keep on buying new tunnels -- because they don't want us to see the light. Because if we did, we'd be so terrified to see how monstrous they all look like in broad daylight. I won't tell you there is hope. There is none. We have single-handedly (as a nation)  killed hope in one day.

Parting words

Democracy isn't about conceding to the majority. It isn't about mindlessly following the herd to the ditch. It isn't about repeating history over and over just because someone said "Practice makes perfect." -- this isn't sports or arts -- this is the very fiber that holds us together -- the very ground we are standing on -- the very air we breathe. And logic dictates that it isn't even about the majority knowing what's best for everyone else. Democracy is an exercise of people's responsibility to defend the weak and to subdue the strong -- to uplift and protect the interest of the true minority in order to maintain balance, order and harmony. In simple terms -- to take care of each other. And by that definition, the democracy you all so proudly speak of -- is dead. P.S. Due to these recent events, I have decided to stall this blog. If it were up to me, I'd rather not blog about politics again. That's how devastated I am of these elections. I may or may not blog again.  And while I cannot bring myself to say good luck, I'd rather say God Bless the Philippines -- the land of my forefathers and the land of my descendants! Me and my son will serve this country the best way we can.
"...Buhay ay langit sa piling mo. Aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi, Ang mamatay ng dahil sayo." -- "Lupang Hinirang", Pambansang Awit ng Pilipinas

Villar concedes to Aquino #eleksyon2010 #purplethumb

Nacionalista Party's standard bearer Sen. Manny Villar has conceded to Liberal Party's Noynoy Aquino in a press con he has called this 11AM at his family-owned StarMall mall in Las Pinas. Latest official partial COMELEC count puts Aquino at 12,233,002 votes vs. Villar's 4,329,215. Villar, whose vow to eradicate poverty owing to his claim to being poor as a boy, has been consistently vilified by non-believers, said that he has done his best to offer himself and his plans to alleviate the condition of the poor but accepts that the people has decided and thus respects its decision. He added that he didn't take his family with him to the press conference because they have been subjected to enough stress already. He further reiterated his intention and vow to help the poor in 'other' ways. He also congratulated Noynoy Aquino.

Latest Results: Official Canvassing for 2010 Elections

The COMELEC domain which will house all canvassing results for this year's synchronized national and local automated elections is now reportedly up but with no data is available as of yet. In recent reports, the COMELEC is said to have adopted Senator Chiz Escudero's proposal to hold posting of election results until at least 20% of the votes are tallied to avoid 'trending'. As of last update, instead of waiting for 20%, the COMELEC will wait for at leaat 20,000 votes to come in before they publish the result online. This will updated real-time as votes from the precinct and municipal levels come in. The official website for checking the election results is here: http://electionresults.ibanangayon.ph/res_reg0.html I will also be updating this post as often as possible to report how the tallying of votes is going specially for my local area of Calamba City where we expect that results may be final by around 3-4AM of Tuesday. This will be delayed by an hour or so following the extension of voting scheduled which was moved from the original 6PM cut-off to 7PM. I urge you to visit the website and monitor the results. Your responsibility does not end in casting your vote: guarding your votes are just as crucial. Let's all be vigilant and optimistic but let us also prepare for any eventualities.

Search This Heart: A Voter's Prayer

Search This Heart: A Voter's Prayer

by: RJ Marmol

~~~ As we look back on our troubled past and look ahead to the future laid before us, I, along with 50 million voters,  come before You Lord and pray that You search this heart.   Of feelings of doubt, cynicism and pessimism -- search this heart. Of feelings of distrust, dissent and hostility -- search this heart.   As we cast our votes -- the only one we have -- plant a seed of hope and confidence, That after doing all that is humanly possible to reclaim our pride and banish our tainted reputation Through honest, peaceful and credible  elections -- Help us rest in the comfort that you will not forsake us.   Search this heart, oh Lord, and cast away ill-feelings for all candidates and their supporters. Search this heart and remove regrets over yesterday's mistakes, misjudgements and misdeeds that held us from believing that change is ever possible in this country. Search this heart and show us the path -- not of least resistance, but of least faults.   We may have heard all that we can from our candidates. We have debated day and night, for and against them. They have campaigned, we have listened. But there is one vote -- one voice, one debate -- one campaign that we are yet to listen to -- Yours.   So today, as we anticipate the day we have been waiting for in six years, We pray that You open our hearts and search it. Speak to us. We are ready to listen.   You have said that all authority comes from You.
In Paul's epistle to the Romans 13:1-7
1 Everyone is to obey the governing authorities, because there is no authority except from God and so whatever authorities exist have been appointed by God.  2 So anyone who disobeys an authority is rebelling against God's ordinance; and rebels must expect to receive the condemnation they deserve.  3 Magistrates bring fear not to those who do good, but to those who do evil. So if you want to live with no fear of authority, live honestly and you will have its approval;  4 it is there to serve God for you and for your good. But if you do wrong, then you may well be afraid; because it is not for nothing that the symbol of authority is the sword: it is there to serve God, too, as his avenger, to bring retribution to wrongdoers.  5 You must be obedient, therefore, not only because of this retribution, but also for conscience's sake.  6 And this is why you should pay taxes, too, because the authorities are all serving God as his agents, even while they are busily occupied with that particular task.  7 Pay to each one what is due to each: taxes to the one to whom tax is due, tolls to the one to whom tolls are due, respect to the one to whom respect is due, honour to the one to whom honour is due. 
Direct our hearts and minds to the right choice, and give us the strength and conviction to vote according to our conscience -- According to Your will.   Keep us in your loving embrace and guidance. Help us realize that our vote is as sacred as our love for this country -- That which You have blessed abundantly, and whose people You loved immensely -- That You sent Your Only Begotten Son to die for.   Search this voter's heart, oh Lord -- For Your prodigal son of a nation has returned -- remorseful and with an open contrite heart -- Not to ask for a feast, but for a genuine lasting peace -- on election day, and everyday.

Latest Issues Plaguing Comelec as of May 4, 2010

We are only six (6) days away from the widely-criticized Automated Local and National Elections and instead of reinforcing faith in the effectivity and reliability of the system, more and more problems are being discovered casting doubts that the COMELEC is capable of ensuring a successful conduct of the elections. To update you of the recent events, just in case you failed to catch-up with the news, I have summarized some of the issues below and have attempted to clarify, explain and allay the fears of voters like myself.
But first, a disclaimer: I do not claim any authority or expertise whatsoever with regards to both the technical and legal aspects of the Automated Election System. But being a computer technician by education and an equipment maintenance/technician by profession, there are aspects of the automation system that I can understand and have confidence on -- and consequently would like to do my part in dousing unnecessary fear and doubt about our very first automated elections. These explanations are a mixed bag of knowledge based on what I have read on the COMELEC website and elsewhere on the web, my experience and knowledge as a technician and my personal understanding of the process. Advice, comments and opinions in this blog and in this particular post must not be construed as 100% factual as this is primarily an opinion blog and not a news source. It is your obligation as a responsible citizen to be wary of the information you read online and elsewhere. Any mention of statistical information must be verified with the proper news source. Consider this my little way of shedding light on the issue which I feel I have the social and moral obligation to impart. If you feel this is helpful to you, your family, friends and colleagues, please feel free to share this post. All posts in this blog are licensed as Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Philippines.
Below is a list of current problems experienced during yesterday's dry-run which the COMELEC is looking into and finding solutions for: 1. Failure of the PCOS to "read" or count votes for certain candidates. Some political parties, Manny Villar's Nacionalista Party in particular are claiming that votes for Manny Villar were not counted in a dry-run held in Muntinlupa and that similar scenarios were observed in other areas (Mindoro, Batangas, Makati and Pateros). Other problems included incidents where only votes for Lakas-Kampi CMD (LKC) candidates were counted.
  • COMELEC's Response: In today's "Unang Hirit" interview with Winnie Monsod, COMELEC spokesman James Jimenez said that errors of miscounting only happened in counting LOCAL election candidates' votes because the names for the local candidates were printed/moved ON THE BACK SIDE of the ballot (this is a design issue done to shorten the length of the ballot), and that the error was caused by the CF (Compact Flash) cards failing to consider/adjust its parameters (software issue) based on the physical ALIGNMENT of the names on the back of the ballot.
In response to Winnie Monsod's clarification if this is only true for the LOCAL candidates and NOT THE NATIONAL candidates, Jimenez ensured that this problem only occurred for LOCAL candidates because the NATIONAL candidate names were printed on the front page and their 'alignment' were untouched.
  • What COMELEC has done/will do: Recall/pull-out ALL CF cards (all 76,000+ of them) and reconfigure it. This will happen from today and hopefully finish soon to give them ample time to resume with the dry-run. We have 6 days.
  • My Take:
Remember, that the PCOS, as implied by its acronym is primarily a counting/adding machine equipped with an OPTICAL SCAN capability. What does that mean? It means that its accuracy in "counting" or "considering" votes is based on OPTICAL RECOGNITION. The PCOS is not a "punch-card" machine that relies on "ballots" with holes in it. It is highly-dependent on physical "alignments" and "positioning" of candidate names on the ballot paper which it will check/verify/match against a set parameter in the software program. So if one candidate's name is "OFF" or not in its "expected" location in the ballot, a vote for that candidate may be considered for another candidate PRECEDING or SUCCEEDING the intended/preferred candidate's name on the ballot. Jimenez's explanation of the problem leads me to believe that the PCOS reads the ovals in the same way as "windows" or "square holes" on grade school Mathematics drill cards (A1, S1, M1 remember?). By analogy, if you move the "drill card" downwards or upwards, a different set of answers will be visible through the "windows" rendering your answers "wrong" or "off" because it was "moved" from its original position. Jimenez was sure on his claim, that this is MERELY a SOFTWARE issue. This means they only need to "pull-out" the CF cards (which is basically the heart and soul of the machine, in the same way a CPU is to a computer) from the PCOS machine in question and reload it with a "corrected" program. By "corrected", it means the initial parameters or measurements set in the program will be edited or adjusted accordingly based on the physical location of the names on the back of the ballot. So, if indeed it is true that in yesterday's dry-run, some or all votes for one candidate is being counted for another, IT DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MEAN that the PCOS has either been pre-loaded with results or that it has "programmed preference" for certain candidates or parties and definitely does not imply that there is an attempt to rig the election results. However, if this is not fixed and tested immediately with 100% confidence, this may result to inaccurate results. Other issues:
RMA (Random Manual Audit) Random Manual Audit will be done on the day of the elections, May 10, 2010 in 5 precincts per legislative district. Precincts that will undergo manual audit will be "drawn" from a raffle to be done mid-day. Actual random audit on selected precinct will be done at around 6 or 7 pm after the voting schedule. Votes recorded on the PCOS machine will be verified against actual votes cast on physical ballots. While 100% accuracy is not expected due to subjective human interpretation vs. machine parameters, Smartmatic claims no more than 0.5% difference. What happens if RMA fails for a certain precinct? Will it postpone the proclamation of winners in the municipal level/local posts? No -- because by the time manual audit is through, results would have been transmitted by the PCOS machines and the COMELEC will proclaim accordingly regardless of the result of the RMA. Protests and investigation will go through the usual course of action but IT WILL NOT STOP IMMEDIATE PROCLAMATION. So the scenario of a holdover or non-proclamation of winners is VERY unlikely.
2. Purposely delaying the voting process may result to reduced voter turn-out and adversely affect election results.
  • COMELEC's Response:
The possibility of this scenario has not been dismissed by COMELEC and 'attempts to disrupt the swift and efficient conduct of the elections' has been confirmed by COMELEC itself.
  • What COMELEC has done/will do:
They have released guidelines/specific instructions to BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors) and support staff (which can go as high as 8 people depending on the number of precincts clustered) to assist voters who are taking too long (10-15 minutes) in voting. COMELEC's time and motion study revealed that it will only take an average of 7-8 minutes for a voter to fully accomplish the ballot paper/vote.
  • My Take:
As I've written in my previous post, "Voter's Guide to Using the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machine", due to budget/geographical/manpower restraints -- to name a few, we only have 76,000+ PCOS machine available for 50M+ voters which has compelled us to cluster precincts. This has resulted to a voter count of as high as four times its usual number per precinct, so from an average of 250, it can go as high as 1000 voters per precinct. This poses a high risk for low voter turn-out due to various reasons including but not limited to: 1. New system = relatively steep learning curve for NEW voters and senior citizen voters. 2. Time constraint may lead to many frustrated voters deciding to pass-up on voting. 3. Locating precincts may take longer than usual, especially for those who didn't take time to locate their precincts prior to election day. What can you do to facilitate and speed up your own voting time in order to make room for others who take longer to vote and ensure everyone gets to vote? 1. Verify your precinct number prior to May 10. It's fastest to do it online -- Click here to "find out your own precinct number". 2. If you have a computer and printer at home, or if you can go online and print somewhere else (cybercafes/computer shops), please print a ballot sample so you can get a "feel" of how to shade the ovals, see how small they actually look like and test how fast you can do your shading. There are two (2) sample ballots in the COMELEC website -- one for the national posts, and one for the local posts. Print both. Note that in the actual ballot paper, the candidates for the local posts are located at the back of the ballot paper. Click below to download sample ballots: a) National ballot template for ARMM areas b. National ballot template for Non-ARMM areas c) Local ballot templates 3. Write down a complete list of your preferred candidates on a sheet of paper. Bring that with you on May 10. 4. Come to your precinct as early as you possibly can. 5. Watch out for people distributing "sample ballots" or other election-related posters or leaflets. Campaigning is NO LONGER ALLOWED during election day, May 10. If you see one, take note and report it. 6. When you have found your precinct number, approach the BEI and verify your identity with them against their registered voter's list. If everything is in order, they will give you your ballot paper and ballot secrecy folder. 7. Before leaving the BEI's table, do a quick scan of the ballot paper -- it should have prints on the front and back side, if you think there are missing information or something is defaced or blurry, inform the BEI immediately before sitting on your chair. 8. If everything looks okay, find a seat and shade ballots based on your prepared list of preferred candidates. 9. The ballot secrecy folder is not an accessory for display. Its purpose is to keep your vote SECRET. Use it! Your votes are sacred. Guard it with your life. 10. Shade the ovals completely. Dots and half-shades will not be counted. 11. Be sure not to overvote (or voting for more candidates than what is required, like voting for 13 senators instead of just 12). 12. Remember that it's okay to undervote ( or voting for less than what's required, like voting for less than 12 senators). 13. DO NOT WRITE ANYTHING ANYWHERE ELSE on the ballot paper. While Smartmatic claims that the PCOS will disregard any/all marks outside the ovals, it is better to play safe. 14. Do not crumple or fold your ballot paper to avoid problems when inserting it to the PCOS machine. 15. When you're done shading, go to where the PCOS machine is and insert your ballot paper. WARNING: No other person is allowed to do the inserting for you! Inserting the ballot into the PCOS machine is integral to the voting process. YOU HAVE TO DO IT YOURSELF. If it takes you longer than usual, the BEI may assist you but it is you who will insert the ballot in EVERY attempt. 16. If you have done everything according to instructions, the machine will get your paper and prompt or display a "Thank you for voting!" message on the small screen to the right side of the PCOS machine. That is your signal that your job is done. 17. The BEI will put indelible ink on your finger as a sign of your participation and as a reminder that you can only vote once. Wear that ink proud and relish the moment (even for a few seconds) that you have THE POWER to effect change -- that there is NO SMALL VOTE -- and that you have all the right to the benefits of democracy because you are an active participant in it and not a lousy, sourgraping and self-righteous spectator sitting on the fence. 18. Ooops! Hold on! Your job isn't quite finished. Guarding your votes is just as important as casting it. So don't leave the results to destiny and chance -- log on to the  COMELEC website and check on the real-time results for municipal level. Report all irregularities and resist all attempts to tamper results. 19. Wait for a few hours and you will have new municipal leaders proclaimed. Two to three days tops  and we should have a new president-elect, vice-president, senators, etc. 20. Don't be a sore loser. Whoever wins as president, as long as the elections are verified credible, support him or her with all your heart. After all, this country's future does not depend on one man alone. There are 94M of us, if everyone will do his/her job, we wouldn't have to blame one person all the time.