By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
Election watchdog Kontra Daya held a general assembly Thursday, November 25, deciding on sending a letter to the Commission on Elections to demand steps that would ensure a clean and honest elections despite the pandemic.
In a letter addressed to COMELEC chairperson Sheriff Abas, Kontra Daya said, “We need not wait, however, for election day to witness the occurrence of fraud. The efforts to steal the elections are underway through the use of massive government and private resources, widespread disinformation, state terror, and foreign intervention.”
These things, according to Kontra Daya, have not been called out by the COMELEC because for them the concept of premature campaign exists in a vacuum.
In the legal context, the Supreme Court has ruled out that those who filed their Certificate of Candidacy (COC) will only become candidates at the start of the campaign period, says Commissioner Antonio Kho, Jr.
Despite this, the nation has seen pre-campaign period activities such as caravans, paraphernalia distribution, and other strategies that aim to endorse a possible political candidate. Some of them are people, whose power, records, and influence, have already ensured that their candidacy will be approved.
Demands for a clean election
Among the demands that Kontra Daya urged to the COMELEC is to revoke the contract of F2 Logistics Philippines to avoid any conflict of interest in the delivery, warehousing, and storage of election paraphernalia.
F2 Logistics Philippines is a company owned by Dennis Uy, a close friend of President Rodrigo Duterte who donated P30 million to President Duterte’s 2016 presidential bid. And with Duterte as president, Uy’s Dito Telecommunity Corporation was able to get a franchise as the third Telco provider in the country.
Kontra Daya urged the COMELEC to publicly call out candidates and political parties who clearly engage in premature campaigning and vote-buying in the guise of “economic aid (ayuda)” and “consultations.”
Political strategist Arman Dean Nocum said during the media forum “Balitaan sa Tinapayan”, ayuda can be exploited as a vote-buying scheme, especially with the coming Christmas season.
Some of these economic aids and joint campaign programs came from the government and taxpayers’ money, said Nocum. This further elevates the third demand of Kontra Daya to the COMELEC to investigate candidates using government resources in the conduct of their campaigns. This includes “the hijacking of government activities for political ends, use of official vehicles for election-related activities, and excessive airtime on government media.”
Kontra Daya also demands the condemnation of state agencies, particularly the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police (PNP), who have maliciously red-tagged people, party-list groups, and even watchdogs.
“Remind the PNP-AFP that red-tagging and other forms of negative campaigning compromise their non-partisan role in the elections,” Kontra Daya points out in their letter.
In the process of selecting the COMELEC commissioners, Kontra Daya aims to ensure a public vetting of individuals to carefully assess their credibility.
Lastly, they demand for President Duterte, who is running for a Senate seat, to exercise prudence in selecting the next COMELEC commissioners who will replace those whose terms would expire in February 2022.
These demands are born out of the need for an honest election, said Rev. Marie Sol Sioco-Villalon, Kontra Daya convenor.
“The sacred votes of the people must be counted with integrity. Widespread fraud must be met with widespread resistance and opposition. We need to be vigilant because the welfare and rights of the people are gravely at stake,” she added.
Prof. Temario “Temy” C. Rivera, Chairperson of Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), enumerates the key issues at stake in the upcoming national elections: Economic recovery, health-pandemic responses, drug war, the International Criminal Court investigations, corruption, peace process, and foreign policy.
According to him, the candidates and the administration must examine the current economic response to the pandemic. He called on candidates to prioritize social infrastructure over physical infrastructure.
“It does not mean that we are going to neglect our physical infrastructure. But in light of our experiences, we have seen how important the social infrastructures are,” said Prof. Rivera.
According to economic think-tank IBON Foundation, the Duterte administration’s plans for economic recovery revolve around the continuing infrastructure projects as the main source of economic stimulus. This has been condemned by IBON because it does not work as a stimulus program, nor does it suit the needs of the people in the context of a global pandemic.
As recognition of the COVID-19 pandemic, health-pandemic responses are also needed to be assessed, said Prof. Rivera.
“The pandemic has emphasized that public resources, government resources, must now be primarily oriented towards strengthening public services, such as the strategies to strengthen public health institutions, hospitals, primary healthcare starting from the local government units,” he said.
He stressed that the pandemic is not just a short-term temporary phenomenon.
“Whether we like it or not, we will still face related pandemic problems in the future because as we all know, viruses mutate. We have to prepare for the worst,” Prof. Rivera said.
In his political analysis, none of the presidential bets have come out with a very clear stand on this, dubbing their plans as short-term and further needs to be developed at the micro- to macro-community level.
One of the key issues he highlighted is the administration’s war on drugs.
“Whether it is the 8,000 killings officially admitted by the PNP or the more than 20,000, close to 30,000 victims reported by independent human rights bodies, I think the lesson there is very clear, that the problem of drugs cannot be seen as mainly a police security problem,” Prof. Rivery said.
He added that this perspective has put the drug war into a rabbit hole, resulting in thousands of killings and human rights abuses. This is the major ground of the ICC’s investigation on President Rodrigo Duterte, which, as Prof. Rivera described, is an “existential threat” for the President.
“When he is no longer the President, his immunity to legal suits, whether domestic or international, will stop. It’s almost certain that he will be facing all kinds of legal suits,” he said.
On the corruption part, Prof. Rivera presented different scenarios such as the findings of the Commission On Audit on almost all government agencies being flagged for billions of public funds that were either unaccounted for or delayed in its implementation, among others. The government agencies he highlighted are the Department of Health (DOH), PhilHealth, Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the intel agency NTF-ELCAC.
“Why would a military-oriented agency like NTF-ELCAC be given an enormous budget when it should be given to civilian agencies that are subject to efficient auditing accountability processes?” he asks.
This agency has been known for its macro-aggressive attacks against dissenters, human rights, and peace advocates. This connects to another key issue discussed by Prof. Rivera — the peace process.
“Hindi lang natigil ang peace talks (The peace talks was not only stopped) but the administration has embarked on a very bloody campaign against legitimate dissenters, targeting not only human rights organizations but, as I said, many legal organizations in the media for instance, “ he said.
Prof. Rivera pointed out that the peace talks should be resumed by the next administration.
“The armed conflict can only be resolved through a politically-negotiated, mutually-negotiated peace settlement,” he said.
Lastly, the candidates should also exhibit clear plans on foreign policy. Prof. Rivera recalled that the Duterte administration has initiated a major shift in pivot to China.
“Foreign policy is essential. Although for average Filipino people, the issue might not be as mainstream as shown in the public opinion poll surveys, unless impacts are demonstrated in the everyday lives of the Filipinos, just like how fisherfolks were not able to sail freely in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
These are only a few things that the next leaders should look at. These are the facets of the country that are gravely at stake, which prompts the necessity of election watchdogs beyond the elections, according to Kim Cantillas, also a convenor of Kontra Daya.
The unrelenting task
Kontra Daya sought to seek more people who are willing to be part of their organization.
Danilo Arao, Kontra Daya convenor, said: “We know that these challenges are significant. However, in our collective action, we can ensure that our rights are safeguarded and the interest of the few elites to hijack our electoral system will be exposed.”
Members of the organization will mobilize various forces opposed to electoral fraud, conduct voter’s education, fact-check claims to prevent the rapid propagation of disinformation, among others. They also seek to research more on the nuances of the Automated Electoral System (AES) and the general characteristics of the national elections.
“Our public engagement continues. These are not simple gut issues, we must look into the issues surrounding democracy and freedom. Because from there, we will witness the futility of the system and see how limited our opportunities are in this election,” said Arao.
However, despite these limited opportunities, Kontra Daya sought to be active in its political participation to ensure that seats will be reserved for those who genuinely advocate for the people’s welfare, by ensuring clean and honest elections.
Established in 2007, Kontra Daya is an organization made up of faith-based groups, artists, activists, youth and students, lawyers, IT experts, teachers, government employees, and ordinary Filipinos committed to fight electoral fraud and failure of elections. (RTS)
(DISCLOSURE: Danilo A. Arao, a convenor of Kontra Daya, is also the associate editor of Bulatlat.)