LOST in the noise about the highly questionable eligibility of one leading presidential candidate and the “shoot first, and don’t bother to ask any questions about it” leadership style of another is the worrisome fact that the election system we are expected to use to select the next president – as well as more than 40,000 officials across the nation – remains in complete disarray, and may very well be incapable of delivering a credible election result. We are now beginning to wonder if this is intentional.
The tip-off may have been the comments last week of the chief architect of the technical side of the current mess, former Comelec head Sixto Brillantes, when he suggested that not enough time remained to resolve the eligibility issue of Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares before the printing of the ballots for next May’s election must commence. According to Brillantes, Poe-Llamanzares’ name should be included on the ballot, even though the Comelec en banc has yet to review the decision of its 2nd division which cancelled her Certificate of Candidacy, and even though the en banc decision, whatever it is, will be challenged at the Supreme Court, because ballot printing must begin by December 15.
We know a little something about completing big printing jobs, and while we understand that printing upwards of 50 million ballots is a lot of work, it would be less work if it were not for the inefficient system put in place by Brillantes himself while he headed the Comelec, and in any case, should not in any way be considered the operative priority over making certain that the names that appear on the ballot have an unquestioned right to be there. It is not just Poe-Llamanzares whose eligibility is questionable; the late entry of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte into the presidential race is likely to be challenged as well, as will the entry of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, if he follows through on his recent hint that he may again toss his hat into the ring.
All of this raises a frightening scenario: An election, carried out by means of the PCOS system that has been demonstrated time and again as being highly vulnerable to breakdown and manipulation, which features one or more leading candidates who are legally ineligible to run for president. If the Supreme Court rules as expected and finds that Grace Poe-Llamanzares is in fact not eligible, the timing of that decision could determine what happens to the May 2016 election. If the decision comes after the printing of ballots is well underway but before the election, the election could be postponed. If the final decision comes after the election, then the whole thing could be declared a failure, with the remedy being a new election, or the votes for the suddenly-ineligible candidate or candidates simply invalidated, handing the election to the runner-up. To make sure the benefactor of this outcome is the one who the powers behind the plot prefer, the easily-controlled PCOS system could be made to deliver the necessary number of “votes” to give the result the veneer of credibility.
This might all be idle speculation, and no doubt the ones who would benefit most from it – the Liberal Party and their apparently unwinnable candidate Mar Roxas – will strongly argue that it is. But what tends to increase suspicion is that, despite a multitude of unanswered questions about the reliability of the voting machines, despite unanswered questions about how electoral challenges are apparently being rushed, none of the leading candidates have uttered a word of concern about any of it. The candidates are proceeding in a manner that suggests they are either wholly unaware of possible problems – which seems very unlikely – or do not really expect that the election will actually take place as planned.
We cannot help but conclude that our democracy is being threatened. While we would be very pleased to eventually be proven wrong about that, it would be unwise for anyone to lower their vigilance now.