By GILL H. BOEHRINGER
Under pressure from many quarters, Comelec’s stubborn Chair, election lawyer Sixto Brillantes, has finally admitted that there were flaws in the election. This is front-page news of course, e.g. in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 29th, “Poll discrepancies found: Flaws bared in initial audit, says Brillantes”.
According to the PDI, “The initial findings of the random manual audit (RMA) of the May 13 elections showed “discrepancies” in some precincts compared with the computer-generated tallies…” citing Brilliantes. He added that “the Comelec had received the reports from 167 out of 234 randomly chosen precincts across the country but could not immediately state the extent of the problem” It should be noted that Brillantes had vastly reduced the number of precincts to be audited (from 1170 in 2010 election), as well as eliminating almost all safeguards against vote manipulation.
He must be disappointed that evidence of flaws, or fraud, is now beginning to surface, lending credence to the view of many that this election was a swindle and that, after two such elections, the portents for 2016 Presidential elections are very negative. But the old dog maintained a bold front, suggesting that “the discrepancies may have been due to the shading of the ballots.” Apparently Comelec had reduced the acceptable % of a shaded oval (the spot where the voter shades with a pencil indicating a vote) to 20% from 50% in 2010. This in itself is a questionable policy! And like so many other policies of Comelec, suspected of facilitating vote fraud. (See the list of alleged failings in Jarius Bondoc, “Manila stinks with crime, poverty, garbage really” at:
It appears that where there were no more than 10 discrepancies the PCOS machines were not sent to Comelec for examination, along with the ballot boxes into which the machines dump the voters’ ballots. No report has been made yet by Commissioner C.R.Lim who is in charge of the RMA, but former Ambassador to the Vatican and chair of the Comelec oversight committee for the RMA, Henrietta de Villa, alleged that there were “Many” of the precincts showing variances. Imagine if, as in 2010, 1170 precincts which should have been audited were now being investigated!
Again according to a report in the PDI of May 29: “Comelec failed to review source code, says poll watchdog”, it is clear that the many critics of this Comelec orchestrated election farce were correct. The entire election was carried out illegally. According to Nelson Celis, spokesperson for AES Watch, Comelec violated the Automated Election System Law (Republic Act No. 9369). The Act requires an official certification of the source code to be used in the election. Why is this so important? Because the source code “is a software or program which instructs the PCOS (automatic voting-GB) machine how to read, tally and transmit votes after scanning and storing the images of ballots fed into it.”
In his usual arrogant manner, Brillantes rode rough shod over critics who had pointed out this violation for the past 3 weeks. Comelec simply “illegally relied on an official confirmation (in February 2013!-GB) of the source code for the computer machines used in the 2010 polling and the aborted 2011 balloting in Mindanao”.
The Inquirer report notes that “Critics of the PCOS machines have pointed out that the lack of review of the source code could be used in electronic rigging of votes through hacking the software”. And some critics in reviewing the results have indeed found a mysterious pattern across the country: 60 % of the votes for Team Pinoy; 30% for the opposition (UNA of Binay, Enrile and Estrada) and 10% for others, independents. While this pattern is being denied by Brillantes, serious and respected IT experts are convinced that it exists. Others regard it as implausible statistically if true.
The above flaws and many more, some just emerging, together with the massive vote-buying widely accepted as a fact, indicates that these elections will lack credibility. However, there is no doubt they will not be overturned. The Aquino administration is happy with the outcome, in particular the results which will give it control of the Senate and important committees, thereby ensuring it can press ahead with its neoliberal and anti-human rights program, as well as giving it some platforms by which to beguile-or bewitch-the electorate for a run at the Presidency in 2016 (problem being they have no outstanding candidate as of now. Mar Roxas? Boring!).
Long serving Sen. Frank Drilon (chair of the Aquino Liberal Party campaign committee) will be the new Senate President. In the forthcoming election, he will have 16-18 votes out of the 24 solons, as hugely wealthy and outgoing Senator Manny Villar (to be replaced by newly elected spouse Cynthia) has indicated that his bloc of 5 National Party Senators will align with the administration committed Senators to give their bloc vote to Drilon, leaving the UNA bloc- current President Juan Ponce Enrile, Nancy Binay, Gregorio Honasan, J V Ejercito Estrada, Jinggoy Estrada, Vicente Soto-will form the minority opposition.
The success of Nancy Binay-a very lacklustre candidate new to elected office- in grabbing the 5th highest total in the Senate race, has underlined the power of the machine which is gearing up for the 2016 elections. Her father, the Vice President J J Binay, elected in 2010 with a strong vote against the Liberals’ Mar Roxas, has already announced his intention to seek the presidency. Astute commentators say that he is nearly unbeatable, especially if he has Jinggoy Estrada running for Vice President. With the support of the Enriles and Erap Estrada’s demonstrable vote-getting appeal-having taken Manila’s mayoralty office from Aquino ally, reelectionist Alfredo Lim- the fight is going to be tough as it always is, but the Liberals are facing defeat. The embarrassment of a failed 2013 election this time would not be helpful to say the least!
Partylists and dynasties
As with the rest of the election, there was nothing simple and straightforward about the election of party-list representatives to the new Congress. Today, May 29, more than two weeks after the elections, we still do not know the final vote tallies for the top party-lists, nor do we know the final list of winning groups. After calling a halt to the counting of party-list votes soon after election day (it was suggested this was done so that the Senate votes could be tallied more quickly) counting was resumed about 10 days after the election. But Comelec still has not decided what to do about the votes cast for 12 groups which it had disqualified but which due to legal and other machinations, had remained on the ballots. This includes Senior Citizens which came 10th and therefore can probably claim two seats. The Supreme Court probably will decide their fate.
So far as we can tell the 14 winners at this stage are, in order of the informal count by the National Board of Canvassers (Comelec in fact):
A TEACHER (1,073,873)
BAYAN MUNA (945,639)
I CARE (931,303)
OFW FAMILY (735,854)
[SENIOR CITIZEN- 671,916;disqualified?]
AN WARAY (540,210)
On May 29 the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported the listing of 24 more winning party-lists (no vote tallies), bringing the total to 38, and the number of seats distributed to 53. The new winners were:
Abamin; Act Teachers; Butil; Amin; ACT-CIS; Kalinga; LPGMA; TUCP; Yacap; Agri; Angkla; ABS; Diwa; Kabataan; Anakpawis; Alay Buhay; Aambis-Owa; 1-Sagip; Ave; Arong Koop;1-Bap;Abakada; Ama; Ang Nars.
Of the first 14 to be proclaimed, BUHAY came top and will be given 3 seats; the next 13 were given two seats each; and the last 24 gained 1 seat each.
The total votes are still unknown as there are about 36,000 votes uncounted, mainly from special elections in Lanao del Norte, Mindanao. It is also the case that some 1,809,653 votes for the 12 disqualified party-lists will be considered “stray” and ignored. There are still 5 seats to be assigned once all the remaining ballots are counted, and possible Supreme Court action allowing one or more of the disqualified groups back in the running. Such is the mess which Comelec and the courts managed to make of the party-list election.
The party-list system has been heavily criticized for years, and again this year in the run-up to the elections. After all, a Constitutional provision allows 58 seats in Congress to be distributed to representatives of “marginalized” sectors. This is resented by the elite, and especially the “trapos”, the traditional politicians. Not surprisingly it has become a contentious area with a great deal of litigation about just what the Constitutional provision means. The Supreme Court recently changed course on this, essentially making the Constitutional provision meaningless. The bureaucrats also dislike the system as it is cumbersome and troublesome; Comelec has been plagued by legal issues especially in the last two elections and, after disqualifying 52 groups, some of these were able to remain on the ballot because of legal manoeuvres. Of course the elite would like to see these seats taken away so that marginalized groups such as those represented by Bayan Muna, Gabriela and others, would not have a voice in the legislature. (Migrante has made strong protests about vote manipulation which seems to have deprived it of expected votes and a seat in Congress.)
There has also been an indirect attack on the purpose of the party-list system, especially after the Aquino-friendly Supreme Court’s intervention. There is a strong trend now for non-marginalized to use the system to increase their representation. It is now also recognized that the dynasties are becoming entrenched in the party-lists. One glaring example of these trends is BUHAY’s success. Largely a Catholic front-organized and dominated by El Shaddai’s Mike Velarde- it hardly represents voters who are marginalized and unrepresented! Further, two of its nominees soon to take their seat in Congress are ex-Mayor of Manila, Lito Atienza, and the son of the “boss” of El Shaddai, Michael Velarde. There are a number of other examples of these very un-democratic and seemingly unconstitutional developments, but it is hard to keep any part of the election process on “the straight path” so beloved of the president.
In Part 1 of my report I said that we had witnessed a typical Philippine election, and this is the essence of the invaluable critique by KARAPATAN- more of the same.
“The recent electoral exercise only produced more of the same well-entrenched political clans, rights violators, and peddlers of the country’s resources to foreign big business,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, characterizing the results of the 2013 elections.
I have now had almost two weeks to observe the electoral process and the reaction to it of people with great experience and understanding of elections in this country. A general consensus has emerged: this was the most, or at least one of the most, corrupt and fraudulent elections ever held in the Philippines. There are a number of individuals and groups now calling for a “truth commission” to investigate the widespread concern about the legitimacy of these elections:
“Catholic bishops are backing calls for a truth commission to look into the glitches in the last election.
Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtico said ‘ it would be good to have one truth commission to investigate the issue to maintain the credibility and integrity of the electoral process.’
Malolos Buacan Bishop Jose Oliveros said an independent body, different from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), would have more credibility. ‘I am only wondering about the uniform transmission in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine (of) 70-30 in favour of the administration’ he said. ‘Here in Bulacan, the results were almost similar to the national report, it seems like a statistical improbability.’
Archbishop of Iloilo Angel Lagdameo, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said he favoured a truth commission to investigate reports of irregularities.
Evangelist Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas party has asked president Aquino to form a truth commission to look into the glitches.”
Of course the supporters of the Aquino government and Team Pnoy, the Comelec, the business community and much of the media wish to give the impression that while there were some “glitches”, the automated election system worked well, minimized cheating, and that the nation should move ahead after these elections which are said to have given legitimacy to the Aquino “reform program”.
But why did Comelec proclaim the winners of 6 Senate positions when about 9 million votes were uncounted, mostly not yet transmitted for counting? Indeed, why did they make a series of proclamations rather than wait for all the votes to be counted so all 12 positions could be proclaimed at once? What was the rush when they had to proclaim by alphabetical order because they did not have final vote tallies? These actions suggest that Comelec, and Chair Brillantes in particular, wanted to make early proclamations to demonstrate how fast the system was in determining winners (thus taking heat off them because of the failure of the automated system to work properly-as in 2010); and also wanted to put a heavy burden on any losing candidate who wished to challenge the results. It may be presumed that they also wanted to make it difficult for the widespread cheating to be detected as, after the proclamations, machines could be placed in storage and cleansed of any potentially incriminating evidence. Senator Richard Gordon, who at 13th, came just outside the dozen elected to the Senate, has gone to the Supreme Court for a TRO to stop such action by Comelec. (It now appears that what Gordon tried to stop is already happening.)
In acting in this way Comelec has, according to respected commentators, including a former Chief Justice, acted unconstitutionally and in violation of law, including the Automatic Electoral System Act.
Why did Comelec blame the telecommunication companies for much of the failure of PCOS machines (about 20%) to transmit results-about 20%- when there was no failure in the dedicated lines for transmission? All major telecommunication firms have responded convincingly that the lines were not over-loaded and did not fail the voting process, a view supported by independent observers.
It appears that the cheaters, some of whom have long been connected with Comelec officials, have learned how to manipulate votes despite-perhaps even because of-the new automated system. Of course with failures of the machines, both at the vote casting stage and at the transmission stage, the system continues to rely to a great extent on manual voting, manual counting and manual transmissions. No doubt there remains plenty of space for dagdag-bawas, padding and shaving the votes, a long-established Filipino electoral tradition.
For an early, persuasive discussion of the cheating, PCOS’s continuing failures- machines leased in 2010 and then purchased, at a total cost of about P10 billion!-and the murky role of Comelec (once again!), see for example the following:
See also more subjective accounts by two respected but despairing columnists who also reject the legitimacy of the elections:
Professor Gill H. Boehringer is a lawyer and a retired professor of Law and History at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.