DESPITE earlier fears that the intense divisiveness and hostility of the last campaign might prevent a president-elect from being proclaimed, forcing the vice-president-elect to temporarily run the new government, the vice-presidential election has become so much more controversial than the presidential, for the first time in the nation’s history.
This happened after Liberal Party’s presidential candidate Mar Roxas conceded the election to the frontrunner PDP-Laban candidate Rodrigo Duterte, and reportedly “diverted” a “float of votes” to his teammate, Rep. Leni Robredo, to ensure her election as Vice President and eventual assumption of the presidency after President B.S. Aquino 3rd’s remaining allies in Congress, if any, impeach Duterte.
Following the unbroken tradition of amoral political opportunism in the country, at least 80 of the 116 elected LP members of the House of Representatives have already hopped on the bandwagon of the presumptive President-elect Duterte. The new Coalition for Change has agreed to support Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez as the next Speaker of the House after Quezon City’s Sonny Belmonte.
This mass defection leaves the LP with less than the one-third of the 292 House members needed to impeach a President or any other impeachable official. But it is not yet clear whether there has been any change of plans since Aquino’s group, fearing criminal prosecution for their crimes during the last six years, decided to work for the immediate removal of the new president.
The Marcos proposal
On Monday, Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos, Jr. proposed in a privilege speech that since all of Duterte’s rivals had already conceded defeat, and his proclamation appears to be but a mere formality, the Davao strongman should be immediately proclaimed President-elect by the national canvassing board whose work begins today. Many agree.
But he urged utmost care and vigilance in canvassing the votes for the Vice President, which is now tightly contested between Robredo and himself, out of the five original candidates. Marcos had been leading in the unofficial count by as much as nearly a million votes, until he was unexpectedly overtaken at an astonishingly regular rate for every 45,000 votes, in an undeviating straight-line or linear pattern, which defied explanation by experts.
This developed after one Marlon Garcia, a Venezuelan employee of Smartmatic-TIM, (the Venezuelan partner of the Commission on Elections in an otherwise all-Filipino electoral exercise), illegally inserted a script or “command” into the transparency server at the “Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting” (PPCRV) center, purportedly to correct an error, without any authorization from the Comelec.
This was the same Marlon Garcia who did something similar to the PPCRV transparency server in the 2013 senatorial elections, without getting even a slap on the wrist. That incident did not elicit the kind of reaction the present one has, but the results of that election also defied rational analysis.
Ateneo mathematics professor Alex Muga and other academics concluded that the process was so manipulated as to ensure that President B.S. Aquino 3rd’s senatorial candidates would get 60 percent of all the votes even in places where they were not known, the nominal opposition 30 percent, and the Independents, 10. This became known as the “60-30-10 process.”
In that election, 59,666 precincts were reported to have had identical results, and the hitherto unheralded Grace Poe Llamanzares garnered 20 million votes a few hours after the voting ended, when only a small portion of the votes had been transmitted. This number had to be trimmed down to 16 million after a few days, and then restored to 20 million-plus at the end of the process. This unchallenged “victory” emboldened her to run for President last May 9, despite her lack of natural-born citizenship and 10-year residency in the Philippines.
In his speech, Marcos lamented the fact that although he had formally asked the Comelec to have the unauthorized script or computer command thoroughly examined so as to determine its effects, if any, on the votes of the vice-presidential candidates, this appeal had fallen on deaf ears. He said that while Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista says Garcia’s unauthorized intervention resulted only in “cosmetic change” without altering the data in the server, he has failed to show any proof that this was indeed the case.
The official narrative says the script or computer command was tweaked by the Venezuelan operative to allow the Hispanic letter “ñ” to be inserted into the name of the defunct presidential candidate Roy Señerez and senatorial candidate Sergio “Osmeña” III. Some experts instantly dismiss this claim as nonsense.
They point out that if this was in fact the case, it should have manifested itself early enough when the server was first being tested, not during the election itself. In reality, they say no such problem could have occurred at any time because apart from the fact that the machine reads numbers rather than words, no voter was writing any names on the ballot; the voters were shading ovals corresponding to the names of the candidates, whether they had an “ñ” or not.
Bam Aquino intervenes
Sen. Bam Aquino, who is known to have managed Robredo’s campaign, tried to dismiss Garcia’s unauthorized insertion of the script or computer command as simply “unfortunate.” But Marcos was quick to supply him with the more precise word: “Unfortunate? No, illegal is the word.”
Aquino tried to point out that since Marcos needed the Comelec to show whether Garcia’s unauthorized action has affected the accuracy of the votes, he could not, therefore, be sure that fraud had been committed. Sophistry upon sophistry even in the Senate.
Marcos said the anatomy of fraud had many layers—vote-buying, terrorism, disenfranchisement, pre-shading of ballots, and various types of digital interventions that constitute wholesale manipulation and fraud. He declined to detail the various pieces of evidence his camp has unearthed, but he promised to present them during the canvass. These would include sworn affidavits, witnesses and even whistle-blowers who were a party to the execution of the fraud.
He said he would press the canvassing board to act on the evidence his camp would prevent, instead of allowing them to simply take “note” of it. In one previous election, the board merely “noted” all the evidence against a certain presidential candidate. This gave one senator the name of “Mr. Noted,” but the alleged fraud was never addressed and the candidate concerned got away with it. Thanks to the voters’ short memory, too, “Mr. Noted” will again be in the Senate.
Under the rules drawn up by the two Houses, none of those who ran for President or Vice President or their next of kin will be participating in the canvass. These include Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Grace Poe Llamanzares, who both ran for President; Nancy Binay, whose father Vice President Jejomar C. Binay was also a presidential candidate; Alan Peter Cayetano and his sister Pia Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes IV, Gregorio Honasan, Francis Escudero and Marcos. From the House of Representatives, Robredo would also be excluded.
However, Senate President Frank Drilon, who is a ranking LP official and who ran for reelection in this election, will be presiding over the canvassing process. His role is constitutionally ordained, and he is required to be objective and impartial, regardless of his political affiliation.
A class act
Despite the enormous gravity of the subject, and the cost this contest has inflicted upon the lives of the protagonists and their respective families, Marcos managed to present his case without a single accusatory statement against his closest opponent. It was a class act—an admirable demonstration of good manners, good breeding and statesmanship. Not once did he refer to her by name in his speech nor did he link her to any alleged irregularity at the polls. It was Aquino who mentioned her by name in his interpellation of Marcos.
Nor did Marcos find it necessary to remind Aquino that in the plenary hall of Congress or Parliament, Members are required to address each other in the third person (“the distinguished Gentleman”) rather than in the familiar second person (“you”). The presiding officer normally reminds the speakers on the Floor of this rule whenever it is breached.
Despite this breach of parliamentary manners, it was a delight to listen to Marcos state his case without rancor or recrimination. If the end proves him victorious, it should be not only because he had all the necessary votes in his favor, but above all because he deserved to have those votes as a well-bred gentleman of probity, honor, justice and peace. Should fortune, on the other hand, withhold her favor from him, honest and decent men and women would at least pray that those in high office would have his keenness of mind and nobility of character. That is more than the equivalent of any elected position.
Marcos’s proposal to have Duterte immediately proclaimed as president-elect will have to be taken up by the board, according to its rules. Since the senator will not be present at the canvassing, somebody else will have to restate his proposal. But it is a positive move to stabilize the existing situation, and not only Duterte but the nation above all should benefit from it as we await the June 30 transfer of political power. The nation needs immediate stability and healing before it can confront the vast political, economic and social challenges that await the next administration.
Regrettably, certain new developments seem to portend a more difficult beginning for the Duterte government. Duterte seems to think very little of the effects of putting his foot inside his mouth, or shooting himself in the foot. These are self-inflicted problems. His latest blast at the Catholic Church is completely unnecessary and unprovoked. It saddens many Catholics who earnestly desire to help him succeed despite his faults. This is one unnecessary conflict he could avoid and should avoid, if he wants to heal and unite rather than divide the nation.
Can he handle the Church and the US at the same time?
Another source of immediate conflict has to do with the CPP/NPA/NDF’s call for the revocation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States. Signed in 2014, EDCA allows the US to station forces, facilities, and armaments in pre-designated areas occupied by Armed Forces of the Philippines, for a period of 10 years automatically renewable at the end of that period for an indefinite term until revoked by either of the two parties.
Aquino entered into this “executive agreement” without involving the Senate despite the clear constitutional provision requiring the entry of foreign military bases, troops or facilities to be covered by a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate. Many constitutional specialists regard this agreement as patently unconstitutional, despite the Supreme Court ruling upholding its “constitutionality.” But the same people will defend the need for strong security ties with the US under a constitutionally sound agreement.
The communist demand puts Duterte in a tight spot. The communist Left is an upcoming coalition partner, to whom Duterte has promised four Cabinet posts; if he ignores or spurns their demand, he may not know how to deal with its immediate and long-term consequences. If, on the other hand, he bows to their demand, he may also not know how to deal with the adverse, if not punitive, reaction from the US government. He may have put himself between a rock and a hard place.
A recent study by the Heritage Foundation says that the US, with all its military might, is hardly in a position now to fight a major war on two simultaneous fronts. Will Duterte, even before he could consolidate his power, be able to wage an unnecessary conflict with the Catholic Church and the US or the communists at the same time? This is a serious issue which I hope to examine in my next columns.