Move on? Move forward instead for clean elections, watchdogs say

IT expert Lito Averia discusses the many ways automated election results could be compromised.

On top of coercive activities of the police and military forcing the people not to vote for the opposition and the progressives, on top of humongous campaign ads of administration bets, the automated election system itself can and may have been used to spew vote “results” in favor of the administration bets, particularly at the national level.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – “Gigil na gigil na ko!”

Glory Alcuaz, 73, was livid at a gathering of election watchdogs and concerned groups that observed the 2019 midterm elections. She had marched with nuns a few days before to protest the election irregularities. (Gigil is a Filipino word that has no single-word translation. As used by ‘Citizen Glory,’ it means something is teeth-gritting objectionable.)

Two weeks after the elections, the Commission on Elections (Comelec), President Duterte himself and other officials of the administration claimed “success” of the 2019 midterm elections. Duterte, while on a four-day visit to Japan, even bragged about the electoral victory of his candidates as “a vote of confidence.”

By now the election season is drawing to a close: 12 senators and party-list groups from where the 18th Congress’ 61 representatives will come from are already proclaimed, majority of local posts are already filled, and more than half of 715 randomly selected sample precincts have been subjected to the Random Manual Audit (RMA).

Newly elected and reelected lawmakers are now preoccupied with who gets to be members or chairs of committees, who will be elected House Speaker and possibly even Senate President.

But it is not yet the time to “move on,” to forgive or forget the dirtiest, most untransparent and questionable election ever, according to statements of various groups, some of whom held protests in front of the Comelec in Manila last May 29.

“As the Comelec holds an en banc meeting (May 29), it is hoped that the people who felt cheated by the machinations of the powers-that-be and triggered by the political arrogance of the few, be united in the call to oppose all forms of election fraud and demand transparency and accountability from a supposedly independent agency,” said election watchdog Kontra Daya.

All the concerns raised over irregularities on the conduct and results of the midterm elections have remained unresolved to this day.

“We should ask more questions and demand accountability from the government, especially from the Comelec. The public must continue on probing the credibility of the results of the elections,” said Mary Joan Guan, convener of Babae, Bantayan ang Eleksyon (BaBaE!) Network, an alliance of women leaders and organizations that monitor fraud and violence during elections.

Vote of confidence or mark of subverted people’s will?

Bayan Muna Partylist is one of only two party-list groups to win three seats in the election, a feat that’s “impressive in this kind of climate,” as observed by news anchor Lynda Jumilla in her TV show “Beyond Politics” in ABS-CBN. From her experience, she told the incoming Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Ferdie Gaite on her show this Wednesday, “this is the worst and most intense red-tagging received by the progressive groups.”

Despite these attacks the progressive party-list groups prevailed. It calls for celebration, indeed, but Gaite says “Duterte will not desist from subverting the people’s will.”

At a gathering organized by election watchdog Kontra Daya last May 18, opposition senatorial candidate Erin Tañada recounted how Duterte himself lashed at each member of their slate. “In no other campaign before will you see the President hitting the individual candidates of the opposition.”

His group Otso Diretso observed also that from January and February this year, “little by little the administration candidates were no longer taking part in public debates or meet and greet.”

“We thought maybe they don’t want to be made to account for the past three years,” Tañada said. “Or maybe the candidates just didn’t want to engage with the constituents.” He also shared, “Sara Duterte, campaigner of Hugpong ng Pagbabago, committed a mistake while trying to protect Imee Marcos. She said ‘honesty is not a requirement’.” Marcos at the time had stirred a hornet’s nest of jokes about her fictitious academic achievement.

Tañada said among themselves in the Otso Diretso slate, they think the administration had data about the growing public support to the opposition and that’s what prodded them to intensify attacks against the opposition. “This is our experience at LP (Liberal Party), the experiences of Makabayan were a lot worse.”

‘Hanep na badyet, hanep na atake’ (Humongous budget, extreme attacks)

“The dice is loaded. Grabe na pondo. Grabe na campaign at bira,” (They have a humongous budget, they campaigned and attacked massively) said Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna president and senatorial bet of Makabayan forces, referring to the Duterte administration.

From massive pre-election campaigning to end of campaign period violations of administration bets, their candidates obviously have a huge campaign funds. “There should be a bill filed against election overspending,” Colmenares said. TV and radio ads of administration bets all but ruled the airwaves, many showing President Duterte himself campaigning for his candidates.

These, amid blatant coercion and suppression of the opposition as the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police treated like enemy of the state every group voicing criticism or dissent.

For the Makabayan forces, the pre-election massive campaign of administration bets came with pre-election massive suppression and intimidation of the opposition, civil society and urban and rural poor communities. There is the bloody drug war in the cities, Martial Law in Mindanao and “undeclared” Martial Law in other areas, notably in Negros and Samar.

One matrix after another, Red October and other supposed plots of destabilization were “unearthed” by Malacañang as they threatened those allegedly behind it. In Negros, Colmenares’ bailiwick, two massacres of peasants organizing for land reform happened. Peasants were rounded up tokhang-style, according to the reports of a fact-finding mission.

“While the president is allowed to campaign and is using the presidential platform, we are not supposed to campaign,” Colmenares said. “Of course the military and the police have been attacking us relentlessly […] Up to election day, they distributed their newspaper maligning the progressive candidates and groups.”

In addition, there were also cases of vote-buying, voter disenfranchisement, unexplained “glitches” of VCMs and transmission, malfunctioning equipment of automated elections, and many other irregularities that raise doubts on the election results, according to IT experts, Kontra Daya and other watchdogs.

Hackable, untransparent automated elections

There have been reports about the vulnerabilities of the Philippine automated election system, compounded by its utter lack of transparency.

(Read: Own Up to ‘worst elections ever,’ poll body urged  ‘Fraud, use of gov’t resources, fear are key factors in elections’ ; Analyst: Comelec violated the election law )

At the Kontra Daya post-election assessment, former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo mentioned AFP Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade’s gloating about the success in reducing the millions of votes supposedly for the Makabayan bloc. Colmenares said that this is an admission of electioneering but the Comelec has not done anything about it.

On top of coercive activities of the police and military forcing the people not to vote for the opposition and the progressives, on top of humongous campaign ads of administration bets, the automated election system itself can and may have been used to spew vote “results” in favor of the administration bets, particularly at the national level.

According to Lito Averia, an information technology expert from the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), the automated election system in the Philippines is hackable by the Comelec or its approved personnel and only Comelec can see whether it happened or not. Even IT experts will have difficulties finding the smoking gun for cheating which the Comelec requires to entertain complaints.

In the Philippines’ automated elections,  Averia said “may mga di nakikita taumbayan” (the people can’t see through some things.

After after 2010 and 2013 elections, there are voter receipts, but you still did not see how your vote was counted.” After votes are entered into the VCM (vote counting machines), they are transmitted from precincts to the city or muncipal level, and then to provincial and national levels. At each level, Averia said there is the what is called as “meet me rooms.” Every transmitted vote passes through the “meet me room” which are conveniently undisclosed. The back-up is undisclosed too. The central server’s location is also a secret. Averia said it is the Comelec responsibility to disclose parts of the system.

In a case study of vote results in Cainta, Averia pointed to unlikely behavior of Filipino votes. “The trend in votes count of winning candidates mimics the trend of votes cast and the number of registered votes.” Usually there are fluctuations, he said. Such a mimic can only happen with pre-programming.

Averia said there might be more cases like Cainta if data will be available.

He believes the attack happened on the machine. The manual audit will likely match, he said, because the attack happened on the vote-counting machines. The source code reviews allowed (or not) in parts of the automated election system has been either limited or none, Averia also said. If his estimate was true, it could explain the complaints everywhere of discrepancy in votes cast and read.

In fact, some of the proclaimed senatorial winners defied expectations. “No amount of historical revisionism, macho posturing and sycophant simpering would have elected the likes of Imee Marcos, Bato dela Rosa and Bong Go to the Senate,” said the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in a statement emailed to the media.

Traditionally the “losing” candidates are heckled to silence by the admonition of supposed sourgraping. But doubts continue to cloud the results of the election, Kontra Daya and various watchdogs urge for electoral reforms and accountability given that three years from now, the presidential election will happen.

“Protesting the election results and conduct is a fight that is not hinged on electoral victory or losses,” Colmenares said. Bayan Muna and other progressive party-list groups won seats, he said, yet they are protesting the sullied elections.

“These are not glitches but anomalies” in the election, Averia said. And all these require accountability and change. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

DISCLOSURE: Bulatlat Associate Editor Danilo Arao is a convenor of Kontra Daya.

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