By CAROL PAGADUAN-ARAULLO
Posted by Bulatlat.com
From the beginning, the question of whether automation will significantly reduce electoral fraud, or it will merely accelerate and open new opportunities for it, has been the subject of increasingly heated, albeit unresolved debate.
On one hand, many were willing to grant that elections automation would eliminate if not undercut fraud in the counting and canvassing of votes by its sheer efficiency and speed. It was claimed that the cheating mafia inside Comelec, candidates like Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who make phone calls to Comelec officials to ensure their victory, and the warlords who undertake wholesale “dagdag-bawas” at gunpoint would be stymied by the advances in technology.
Modernity was finally catching up with an antiquated elections system prone to all sorts of crass as well as sophisticated shenanigans designed to thwart the will of the people. Or so it was argued.
Instead we have witnessed one so-called glitch after another including major booboos like the failure to incorporate security markings into the ballots and test run the transmission system in place as well as certify ballot production tools, modems and canvassing servers that will consolidate all the election returns from the precincts.
Comelec and Smartmatic have characteristically pooh-poohed concerns raised then come up with and make do with slapdash solutions. As the level of anxiety and mistrust over the Automated Election System (AES) rose, Comelec resorted to branding critics as nay-sayers, creators of doomsday scenarios and even downright saboteurs who deserve to be slapped with penalties including jail terms. All said, the issues, problems and warnings raised were never squarely confronted, much less adequately addressed.
A week before Election Day, nearly everyone has been jarred to reality by the most recent failure of the PCOS machines to correctly count votes cast while undergoing final testing. Our worse fears have come to life anew: automation will fail miserably causing generalized confusion, disorder and disenfranchisement at the polling place; there will be automated fraud on top of good old-fashioned cheating; and worst of all, these conditions can pave the way for a failure-of-elections cum GMA hold-over, open-ended scenario.
Is this just a case of incompetent people in charge, Comelec officials who don’t know any better but pretend to by relying almost exclusively on the foreign company Smartmatic, who it turns out is using us as a guinea pig for this technology. (Engr. Ernesto R. del Rosario, resigned head of the Comelec Technical Working Group, pointed out that the AES is new not only to us but also to Smartmatic because this is the first time they are using the PCOS machines.)
Why has the Comelec persistently ignored warnings from independent information technology experts and citizen watchdogs? Instead it keeps trying to cover-up weaknesses and short-cuts in complete disregard of the automation law and procedural and technical standards and safeguards.
Certainly COMELEC Chair Melo and his lieutenants got their marching orders on how to prepare for and conduct the 2010 elections from Mrs. Arroyo herself. We submit that it is not only Comelec and Smartmatic who must be held to account. The buck stops at the doorstep of none other than de facto president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Under Mrs. Arroyo’s watch the Abalos Comelec oversaw the 2004 presidential elections marred by the “Hello Garci” fraud scandal. Mrs. Arroyo was proclaimed president in the wee hours of the morning under a dark cloud of doubt that massive cheating had taken place in her favor.
We were not surprised that instead of dismantling the syndicated fraud machinery in Comelec, Mrs. Arroyo appointed retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo to the Comelec chairmanship when Mr. Abalos was forced to resign over the ZTE-NBN scandal. (By the way, this scam was also covered up quite effectively by Mrs. Arroyo’s invoking “executive privilege” to suppress damning testimony; the Arroyo-packed Supreme Court upheld Malacañang’s position.)
But why Mr. Melo? He headed the Arroyo-created Commission on Extra-judicial Killings that got away with appearing to pillory the notorious Gen. Jovito Palparan and some purported rogue elements of the military but firewalled the GMA regime and its counter-insurgency program from any accountability. No one, not even Mr. Palparan, got to be investigated much less prosecuted. He eventually got installed as a party-list congressman and now has the gall to run for senator courtesy no doubt of the Commander-in-Chief who gushed about his achievements in her State-of-the-Nation address not too long ago.
Mr. Melo raised nary a whimper over this. He had done his job which was to deodorize the Arroyo regime and buy it time to appear to be doing something in earnest regarding its bloody human rights record after coming under fire from the international community.
Mrs. Arroyo is thus accountable for appointing an incompetent Comelec head and assembling other incompetent commissioners to complement him. She did this at a time when the historic, gigantic and complex shift from manual to automated elections is set to be implemented. At the minimum, Mrs. Arroyo is guilty of the same incompetence, by virtue of command responsibility.
On the other hand, one can accuse Mrs. Arroyo of many things but hardly incompetence. She has been very competent getting way with all sorts of corrupt deals; trampling national sovereignty by letting US military forces play “war games”all over the country and maintain a permanent presence to boot; wringing the people dry using the hiked RVAT; allowing oil, power and water monopolies to manipulate prices at will; borrowing like there was no tomorrow; imposing emergency rule to clamp down on legitimate dissent; declaring martial law (in a part of the country) to demonstrate her will to go after private warlord armies that she had coddled in the first place; the list goes on ad nauseam.
Malacañang is cultivating the impression that it has nothing to do with the conduct of the 2010 elections, that it is just as surprised and worried as everyone else that things are going badly in terms of preparations and that it is quite helpless in this regard.
In truth, the ground has been set and diabolical schemes are in place to subvert the electoral process for either massive fraud or failure of elections, Mrs. Arroyo clearly aiming to benefit from either case.
The people must remain vigilant. (Bulatlat.com)