Several days ago, President B. S. Aquino 3rd said the primary task of the newly appointed Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri would be to ensure “clean, honest, peaceful and orderly elections” in 2016. It was the first time Aquino ever spoke of the need to keep the elections clean and honest. But he left us no illusion that he meant what he said. For what he has done until now is to ensure that the elections remain under Malacañang’s control, which is the opposite of being free, clean and honest.
Under the Constitution, the Commission on Elections shall deputize, with the concurrence of the President, the law enforcement agencies, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, for the “exclusive purpose of ensuring free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections.” It is the Comelec (repeat, the Comelec), not the President, which shall deputize the AFP at the proper time. The President shall merely concur; he shall not bark his order to the Chief of Staff ten months before the elections.
Moreover, in an automated paperless system, the military and the police can help ensure peaceful and orderly voting only, but they will be in no position to ensure clean, honest and credible elections. There is a clear distinction between the two sets of words. After an election, whenever my friend, the late bishop of Masbate, was asked, how was the election in his place, he would answer, “peaceful and orderly cheating.” That was the good news, for in that place killings were quite “normal.”
Unlike in the old voting system, where goons invaded the voting precincts and carted away the ballot boxes, the rigging and manipulation of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine or its new variant, the Optical Mark Reader (OMR), as happened in 2010 and 2013, may be detected only after the election, and only by experts. Of course the vote-buying is carried out in the open, often close to the voting centers, but that is supposed to show the vibrancy of commerce.
Iriberri would be the last person to ask to ensure the sanctity of the polls. For although the elections are scheduled to be held in May 2016, Iriberri is scheduled to retire, according to law, in April, one month before the elections. How then could he possibly ensure the peaceful, orderly and honest conduct of the elections? Unless, of course, Aquino has already decided, this early, to extend Iriberri’s term upon his retirement. But has he? He does not have to answer this question.
But the crux of the matter lies not here, but in Malacañang’s efforts through Smartmatic and the Comelec to control the elections. If Aquino and his crew are determined to keep the elections dirty, it matters little if the entire armed forces and national police were ordered to keep them clean. Aquino and his cohorts would prevail.
In 2010 and 2013, Smartmatic conducted the elections on behalf of the Comelec, using the PCOS machine, after it had been divested of all its security features and safety mechanisms, in violation of law. These included the ultra violet scan, the voter verification system, the digital signatures, among others. This rendered the elections illegitimate and invalid, and the results at best spurious, if not fraudulent. We are about to repeat the same thing.
For 2016, Congress attempted to restore some of the security features in the 2015 Comelec budget. But instead of restoring them to the 81,000 old PCOS machines, which it had bought from Smartmatic at the cost of P9 billion, the Comelec decided to acquire 93,977 OMRs, without any authority from Congress, and in excess of its P11 billion budget for electoral preparations. The purchase will come under two contracts, one for 23,000 units, another for 70,977. Total cost will be P12.641 billion but the total Comelec requirements will shoot up to P14 billion.
To raise this amount, the Comelec realigned the appropriations for the various security features to support the purchase of the OMRs. This is illegal, similar to the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) fund transfers, which the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional and ordered the prosecution of those involved in its misuse and manipulation. So eight bishops and archbishops, two Protestant pastors, former Biliran congressman Glenn Chong and myself petitioned the High Court to strike down as void and unconstitutional the massive juggling of public funds.
To this scandal Aquino has added the needless odium of meeting in private with Smartmatic’s new international chairman Baron Mark Malloch-Brown while the Comelec was deliberating on Smarmatic’s bid to supply the OMRs. Malloch-Brown is an international political operator who used to work behind the scenes for Cory Aquino during her 1986 snap presidential campaign. He was once deputy secretary general of the UN, administrator of the UNDP, World Bank development specialist, UK state minister for Asia, Africa and the UN in the Foreign Office. More interestingly, he has worked with the billionaire speculator George Soros to support the 2003 Rose revolution in Georgia and other “color revolutions” in other parts of the world.
Given the size of Smartmatic’s business in the Philippines, and the risk of losing it altogether because of the bogus results of the last two elections, it is not unlikely that Malloch-Brown was recruited purposely to save the sizeable Philippine operations. Malloch-Brown knew Aquino not only as a president who dictates on the Comelec and the entire government, but also as the Liberal Party titular head who is eager to arrange the “victory” of his candidates even before the voting begins. This happened in 2013, when his senatorial candidates led by the constitutionally unqualified Grace Poe swept the polls in a “60-30-10” across the board operation. So Malloch-Brown came to Malacañang not to relive memories about Cory delivering the speech he had written for her before the US Congress, but to clinch a $300 million-deal.
Precisely because of this, there was a conflict of interest that should have prevented that meeting. It should never have happened. So what else is new? He is in power, and we are not.
What the nation did not know is that, contrary to its misrepresentations, Smartmatic TIM Corp. is not a 60/40 Filipino corporation, as required by the Constitution, but a 100 percent foreign-owned subsidiary, as admitted by Smartmatic Ltd. themselves. This priceless information is contained in a 2015 Audit Report submitted to the British House of Commons by Smartmatic Group in London. On page 27 of that Report, the Group says Smartmatic Philippines, like all its other subsidiaries in various parts of the world, is 100-percent foreign-owned.
As such, Smartmatic has no legal personality to do business in the Philippines.
Its presence in the Philippines and its contracts with the Comelec are all in violation of the Constitution, the Corporation Code, the Government Procurement Law, and the anti-Dummy law. Assuming for the sake of argument, and only for the sake of argument, that SmarmaticTIM is a 60/40 Philippine corporation, its primary purpose is to engage in “projects” until 2012 only.
It has no license to do business in the Philippines in 2013. And yet it was involved in the 2013 elections. That involvement therefore was void ab initio, and the monies it earned from the Philippine government should be returned.
Last Saturday, the unconfirmed Comelec chairman Andres Bautista appeared before the biannual plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in Manila to talk about preparations for the 2016 elections. He left no doubt that despite the efforts of various Philippine groups to provide an inexpensive but transparent and credible alternative voting system, the Comelec is determined to keep Smartmatic in charge, as in the last two elections. Obviously, Bautista got his marching orders from Malacañang, too, after an initial show of “prudence.”
But with the audit report to the House of Commons showing Smartmatic’s ineligibility to do business in the Philippines, and all the Supreme Court petitions that have been filed by various parties against it, there is no chance anyone could legalize its illegal presence in the Philippines and steamroll its contract with the Comelec. This, in fact, voids the P1.7 billion contract for the 23,000 OMRs, which Comelec awarded the firm on Monday. It would be quite foolhardy for Comelec to continue to award the 70,977 MORs contract to the unlicensed firm.
In the end, the Comelec may be compelled to invite bids for the refurbishment of the 81,000 old PCOS, if it wants to stay with the PCOS. This would be at the cost of P2.1 billion or so. If it wants a little credibility, it will have to reinstate all the safety features and accuracy mechanisms which the Comelec had illegally removed from the machine to facilitate the rigging of the 2010 and 2013 elections. This could mean a couple billion more or so.
Or Comelec could opt to lease or acquire the newly developed Filipino voting technology. This is either Gus Lagman’s hybrid voting system, which the Comelec syndicate has been trying to bad-mouth by saying it would cost billions, which is absolutely false. Or TAPAT (Lotto Boto) by Nelson Celis and his group, which guarantees utmost transparency at the least possible cost. This could, in fact, be the final choice, if there is no time to refurbish and restore to its original design the old PCOS.
The real challenge to us though is that while many of my generation, for instance, would like to see at least one truly clean, honest, transparent and credible election before they pass on, PNoy, his business cronies and foreign advisers on the other hand are simply interested in owning us and our country, by strangling our democracy. This is pure and simple despotism, and we have to fight it with everything we’ve got for God, family and country.