• Election watchdog accuses Comelec of spying on critics

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    AN ELECTION watchdog 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.

    The Automated Elections Systems (AES) Watch said the poll body has been gathering information on them, fearing that such data may be used against them by the commission.

    In a writ for habeas data, the group asked the High Court to order the Comelec to disclose whatever information it has gathered about them and to destroy these documents.

    It 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 snoop on 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 AES said.

    Named as respondents were 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.

    Signed the AES petition were 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.

    The AES included Mejos as respondent because as finance director of the poll body, “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, meanwhile. represents 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.

    AES Watch had challenged 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 named 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.”

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

    They also asked the Court 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.

    AES Watch cited statements made by Brillantes describing the group as “electoral saboteurs.”

    JOMAR CANLAS

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