[Published May 17, 2016]
Zeal in excess?
In my desire to be constructive, I may have bent too much to give the May 9 elections the benefit of the doubt. In this column, I will have to take back certain mistaken impressions I may have conveyed to the public, in relation to that process. I must now say that outside of the apparent landslide victory of presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, and consistent with the declared position of the National Transformation Council (NTC), we have to question the validity of the entire process.
The Commission on Elections’ statement that there has been no cheating in the vice-presidential race, and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting’s dictum that it has “passed the anomaly test” must be totally rejected. Both the Comelec and the PPCRV are not the arbiters or judges in this case; they are the ones who are under scrutiny and must first pass the “anomaly test.” Have they not in fact failed their mandate?
I am not and have never been a partisan in this contest. Throughout the campaign, I conducted myself as an independent commentator, uninfluenced by any political or professional alliance, personal animosity or friendship. I am committed to the NTC’s call for system change.
This is what we did before May 9. On May 7, at a Quezon City news conference, I read a statement on behalf of the NTC, urgently appealing to the Filipino people “to reject the illegal and farcical presidential elections.”
Present at that conference were some co-founding members of the Council, namely Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines; Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Lipa; Protestant Pastor Arthur Corpus of Manila; former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales; NTC friend and supporter Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz, archbishop emeritus of Lingayen-Dagupan and former CBCP president; and Antonio (Butch) Valdes, convenor of Save The Nation Movement.
In our statement, we expressed regret that “even before the voting has begun, the elections have already turned out to be a defective, fraudulent, illegal and illegitimate exercise, which poses an incalculable threat to the security of the State and the well-being of the nation.
“All available evidence,” we said, “shows that the principal cause and instigator of the ongoing electoral manipulation is President B. S. Aquino 3rd himself, in his overriding desire to dictate the results of the presidential and vice-presidential contest.”
We cited efforts of the various parties, beginning with the Comelec and its Venezuelan partner Smartmatic, to rig the elections, and their failure to comply with the basic provisions of Republic Act 9369, otherwise known as the Automated Election (AES) Law, specifically with respect to the dependability and accuracy of the hardware and software to be used in the elections. We denounced the elections as illegal and farcical.
We then called on the people to work for “a just, responsive and sustainable alternative” to the flawed process. We specifically called on the country’s Catholic, Protestant and Islamic leaders to enter into immediate consultations with the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), as the constitutionally-mandated protector of the people and the State, to determine what concrete steps to take to bring about such alternative.
“We do not propose a military takeover of government,” we said. “We are firmly and vehemently opposed to it.” But we believed the Constitution and the rule of law have been totally subverted, and there was a threat to subvert them further still through a plot to install into power Aquino’s lackeys or worse, the ideological enemies of the State…We did not believe the military should be used to support any program or activity against the national interest.
Only Duterte was not cheated
Consistent with this position, none of us voted for any candidate for president, vice president or senator on May 9. But as soon as the voting ended, we began to see that the only thing that seemed to matter to most of our voters was Duterte posting an irreversible early lead in the unofficial count, and Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares, followed by Mar Roxas, quickly conceding their defeat. Duterte’s landslide shielded from public scrutiny the illegal operations in the vice presidential and senatorial race.
This was particularly true in the urban areas. In Muslim Mindanao, massive vote-buying, vote tampering, violence, terrorism, and other forms of cheating marked the fight for local positions, but the warlords were free to manipulate the results of the vice presidential and senatorial races. In the most notorious places, a handful of political operatives did the work of the entire voting population of entire precincts. For instance, in President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat, the mayor’s men took over two barangays and sent the voters home, according to witnesses.
In the beginning, the overriding concern was how to prevent the Vote Counting Machine from being used in the same way the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine was used to rig the 2010 and 2013 elections. This remained a real concern, but the cheating turned out to be much more elaborate and diversified. It was not purely electronic but a hybrid, consisting of manual and traditional cheating, and electronic and digital fraud.
It started with the manual padding of the voters’ list, as exposed by the hacking of the Comelec website on March 27. This enabled the Comelec and the PPCRV to claim a phenomenal 81 percent turnout and to credit Leni Robredo with more votes than her presidential team mate Mar Roxas even in his own bailiwicks, and more votes than Marcos in openly pro-Marcos Muslim provinces, known for their traditional disdain of women seeking political office.
In Sultan Kudarat, election lawyer Manuelito Luna reported discovering two files—-one correct, the other malicious—-at the precinct level. He said he spotted the malicious file, and was able to prevent its transmittal to the Municipal Board of Canvassers. But how many precincts had such files? And how many have been transmitted containing false results? Nobody knows. Luna believes the mere existence of such malicious file may have invalidated the entire electoral process.
In Arteche, Eastern Samar, which has some 11,000 voters, Vice Mayor Linda Mejica, who was running for mayor, complained that when they opened the laptop and tried to connect it to the transmitter, they saw that all the data had been “totally transmitted” as of April 5, 2016—-more than one whole month before the election. It is not known how extensive this operation was.
Former mayor and congressional candidate Annaliz Gonzales of Guiuan complained that more VCMs were continuously breaking down in places where she had more votes than her administration opponent. The National Technical Support Center, which Smartmatic finally won despite a much lower bidder winning it earlier, tried to fix the breakdown as soon as it was reported, but once this was done, the machine tended to produce data favorable to the administration, so goes the complaint.
What happened to the intermediary server?
The largest unresolved puzzle has to do with the “intermediary server” which deeply worried transparency analysts like Glenn Chong before the election. The purpose of the server was to “clean up” the votes from the precincts before they land at their final destination. It was clearly an illegal operation meant to favor the administration.
It could have been used to rob Duterte of his apparent victory, but the cost would have been unthinkable. So they did not dare. But was it used to cheat Bongbong Marcos, and to ensure the LP’s hold on the new set of senators and congressmen? That’s as fair as any question one could ask, but we do not know the answer. Highly authoritative sources have identified two retired police generals involved in this operation, but nothing specific has surfaced in the public domain.
The “ñ” issue
The main controversy is now focused on the unauthorized action by Smartmatic’s Venezuelan representative Marlon Garcia in inserting a command in the PPCRV transparency server, purportedly to change a question mark into an “ñ”. Yen Makabenta’s excellent column yesterday asks the right question: If Smartmatic can instruct the electronic system to change a question mark into an “ñ,” can it not instruct the system to change Bongbong’s votes into Robredo’s votes?
The answer is obvious. But Smartmatic’s explanation, which the Comelec and PPCRV are eager to accept, seems to take us for a nation of idiots or fools. The computer, as every expert will tell us, reads numbers rather than words; it cannot care and does not care one bit if Señeres or Osmeña is spelled with the Hispanic “ñ” or the simple “n”. It will probably ask a question if either name appears in a place that does not correspond to its predesignated place on the ballot.
So why was the unauthorized command inserted? Was it not meant to make sure that at a particular point, Bongbong Marcos’ votes would migrate to Robredo, and her votes would cross-migrate to Marcos?
Remember that from the beginning of the unofficial count, after the close of voting hours on May 9, Marcos led Robredo by as much as a million votes, until the wee hours of May 10, when Robredo overtook him and consistently led the way in a statistically unsustainable straight line. She now wants to be proclaimed vice president-elect on the basis of the questionable PPCRV unofficial count.
One for the birds
The most inane explanation offered by the Robredo camp is that she has much stronger support in 10 regions, whereas Marcos can only count on eight. This is of course based on the questioned votes. Even if true, the claim is non-sequitur: in 2004, Fernando Poe Jr. took virtually all the provinces, leaving Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with only Pangasinan/Pampanga, Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod/Bohol. Nevertheless FPJ lost to GMA.
Now, if the Robredo camp’s claim is true, analysts are asking, why did her supposed strength manifest itself only in the last 25 percent or so of the votes?
Robredo not a victim after all
In my previous piece, I said Robredo might herself be a victim, like Marcos. Aquino and his minions were the only ones manipulating everything to ensure her election, so she could succeed Duterte after the LP impeaches and removes him as soon as he assumes office. All without her own involvement, I suggested.
Reaer Marianne Bicolana (obviously an assumed name) has chastised me for making that statement. She points out that Robredo went to Gov. Toto Mangundadato of Maguindanao on the eve of the election to “procure” votes from the Muslim warlord. Manny Luna confirms hearing about this meeting while he was in Sultan Kudarat. This was just one of many incidents, she said.
“Leni may not know or want to know how or why the administration killed her husband in that mysterious plane crash, but she is in the thick of the plot to grab the vice-presidency from Marcos and the presidency from Duterte afterward. That’s not the act of an innocent and helpless widow,” said this angry reader.
I plead guilty and have to take back my earlier statement.
Revolutionary govt reconsidered
I have also said that Duterte, having obviously won the presidency, is expected to run a constitutional government; he cannot possibly declare a revolutionary government. I meant that in earnest. But with the illegal and illegitimate elections that have taken place at the level of the vice presidency and below, and the LP’s undenied plan to remove him from office as quickly as possible, he may have to reconsider establishing a revolutionary government.