Can President Benigno Aquino 3rd engineer failure of election and rule beyond June 30?
That scenario was among his endgame options discussed in this column’s Feb. 23 article, “What next for Aquino?”
<http://www.manilatimes.net/what-next-for-aquino/246390/>, along with fleeing to the United States, if Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas and Sen. Grace Poe, said to be the LP’s Plan B candidate, lose the May 9 polls.
With Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte surging in voter surveys and unlikely to protect LP leaders from the tsunami of graft cases after June, the flight-or-fight options now loom more ominously. Can the Aquino camp mess up the elections and rule on?
The election failure scenario comes to mind amid recent disturbing developments. One is the massive hacking of voter data on the Commission on Elections servers. Comelec and Palace officials assure that the unprecedented leak of personal and biometric information for more than 50 million voters — the world’s worst data breach ever, according to electronic security experts — can’t be used for poll fraud.
But banks already warn of scams using voter data. If the financial system, which has far more stringent security than the Comelec, fears misuse of the stolen information, then voting can be compromised too.
The other unsettling news are problems in last week’s overseas absentee voting. In Singapore OAV, two overseas Filipino workers said their votes for Duterte were recorded for Roxas in the voting receipts they got.
Senatorial candidates Reps. Martin Romualdez and Neri Colmenares asked the Comelec to look into a similar incident, where a vote for the former was reportedly recorded for the latter. There may be more problems with local absentee voting, started yesterday for soldiers, police, media, and other groups unable to vote on May 9 due to their work.
If such problems become frequent and widespread, they could undermine voting credibility to the point that those claiming election failure become believable.
Who wins in failed polls
The motives for wanting elections to fail go beyond just the administration’s fear of investigation and prosecution if they lose power. For sure, Aquino and top allies like Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, architect of the illegal P157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program, have reason to fear an opposition administration. DAP alone could land the two in prison for decades, due to the hundreds of disbursements they reportedly authorized without budget authorization.
Add to LP fears the tripled pork barrel of more than P20 billion a year under Aquino, and the anomalies in commuter trains, vehicle license plates, combat helicopters, Tarlac roadworks, and the thousands of cargo containers smuggled out of ports since 2011.
The United States, for its part, worries that a Duterte or Binay administration would negotiate with China and possibly nix the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement boosting the US military presence and access to bases in the Philippines. EDCA positions American forces in the heart of East Asia, much closer to potential flashpoints than their current bases in Honolulu and Guam.
Getting away with botched elections
So how might an election failure scenario play out?
The key to making it work is not a wholesale sabotage of voting and canvassing all over the country. Such a massive operation risks being exposed, with so many operatives involved. Rather, the schemers need to give most of the key candidates a strong, self-serving reason to support the declaration of poll failure and the holding of new voting.
That won’t happen if presidentiables linked to Aquino gain from the alleged fraud. If it looks like Duterte is being cheated to make Poe or Roxas win, the Davao mayor may well lead a Mindanao uprising. That happened in Batangas in 1949 after then-House Speaker Jose Laurel was allegedly robbed of election victory by then-President-elect Elpidio Quirino.
However, if computerized miscounting favors Binay, especially if it erodes Duterte’s 60-plus-percent dominance in Mindanao, then four of the five presidentiables may well support the Comelec in declaring election failure and holding new polls, instead of continuing the canvassing amid apparent wholesale fraud.
If new elections are called, the Aquino camp stands to gain immensely, maybe even hang on to power. Under this scenario, Aquino may have to rule extra-constitutionally beyond June, perhaps with army backing and Congress’s assent, till a new president is elected and installed.
In the new polls, Roxas could very well have ample campaign savings, while his rivals would have used up their funds, not expecting renewed campaigning. Voting results would also show where more efforts are needed to swing votes to the LP. And if there is unrest over failed polls, that justifies further delaying elections and imposing restrictions on restive groups and media.
In sum, with new elections, the Aquino regime improves its chances of retaining power. And those benefiting from its rule would not object.
If PCOS fouls up, go manual
So what should democratic forces and opposition presidentiables do if automated polls seem gravely compromised?
First and foremost, don’t void the elections. Only computerized counting is compromised if results seem to unduly favor certain candidates or parties. The actual votes as marked on ballots still express the electorate’s democratic choices.
Hence, the right solution is to manually count votes as shaded by voters. This would certainly take many days, instead of just hours with the Precinct Count Optical Scan process. But days of manual counting and canvassing would still be much shorter than the months and billions needed for new polls.
Presidential candidates, major political parties, civil society, and religious congregations ideally should agree before May 9 that if PCOS fails to reflect votes as cast, ballots should be counted manually, rather than declaring election failure.
Can this scenario happen? Palace and Comelec officials would, of course, dismiss it as baseless speculation. And this writer certainly hopes it never happens. But if it does, we know what to do.