• Comelec accused of spying on critics

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    POLL watchdog Automated Elections Systems (AES) Watch on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from spying on its critics using the agency’s P30 million intelligence fund.

    Members of the group claimed that the poll body has been gathering information on them, fearing that such data may be used against the commission.

    In a writ for habeas data, the group asked the High Court to order the Comelec to cease from gathering information about the complainants using the controversial spy funds.

    The petitioners also want the High Court to compel the poll body to disclose whatever information it has gathered about them and to destroy these documents.

    They said that by the pronouncements of Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. and deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte, it would appear that the poll body has been given “carte blanche authority” to sneak into the private lives of the petitioners.

    “This cannot be countenanced by our constitutional system, founded as it is on a deep respect for such a fundamental right as the right to privacy and to be secure in one’s person against any undue threats,” the group said.

    The respondents are Brillantes and poll Commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, Christian Robert Lim, Luie Tito Guia, Ma. Gracia Cielo Padaca, and Al Parreño, as well as director Eduardo Mejos, finance director of Comelec, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Valte.

    “The other incumbent Comelec commissioners are also being impleaded in this suit because, by respondent Brillantes’ admission, they are in part, also recipients of the P30-million intelligence fund intended to be used to spy on alleged election saboteurs, including the Aggrieved Parties and other members of AES Watch and their allied organizations,” said the group.

    Former Comelec commissioner and information technology (IT) expert Augusto “Gus” Lagman, Comelec whistleblower and former legal consultant Melchor Magdamo, IT system expert Engr. Nelson Celis, cybercrime resource person Lito Averia, NBN ZTE whistleblower Jun Lozada, IT certification standards head Marikor Akol, source code and programming expert Dr. Pablo Manalastas, AES Watch conveners Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Mother Superior Mary John Mananzan, OSB, human rights lawyer Greg Fabros of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in the Philippines, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) Executive Director Evita Jimenez and international law expert Harry Roque signed the petition as aggrieved parties.

    Mejos was impleaded because as finance director of the poll body, the group said “he would be in the position to know who the recipients are of the intelligence funds and how these funds were disbursed/are being disbursed and for whatever purpose.”

    “Ochoa was impleaded as a representative of the Office of the President, which is the source of the P30 million intelligence fund provided to the Comelec to spy on or otherwise place under surveillance, and gather information from, critics of the PCOS automated elections technology suite,” the petitioners said.

    Challenge
    AES Watch previously issued a challenge to Brillantes “to publicly declare that the P30-million intelligence fund was not meant to spy on critics of the PCOS [precinct count optical scan]technology.”

    But they said Brillantes chose to keep silent on the call for him to come clean on the issue.

    Brillantes and Valte are being impleaded in the suit because from their public statements, “it would appear that they are the most informed about the information-gathering and/or surveillance activities being conducted by intelligence assets tapped by the Comelec and funded through the P30-million largesse from the Office of the President against Aggrieved Parties and other members of AES Watch.”

    “They have also issued public statements assailing or at least hinting that, the Aggrieved Parties and other members of AES Watch and/or critics of the PCOS technology are among the targets of information-gathering and/or surveillance activities on suspicions of election sabotage,” the petitioners said.

    “There are serious grounds for the issuance of the writ because of violations by respondents of their right to privacy in life, liberty and or security through the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved parties.”

    The group asked the High Court to order the respondents to “refrain from any further information-gathering or surveillance activities against aggrieved parties and other members of AES Watch and its allied organizations[.]”

    They also asked the SC to stop the respondents from making any further statements that threaten them with surveillance as well as prosecution for alleged election sabotage and refrain from further disbursements of the intelligence funds for purposes of placing them under surveillance or otherwise threatening their right to privacy.

    The AES Watch cited statements made by Brillantes describing the group as “electoral saboteurs” and threatening his critics.

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