I cannot say enough in favor of the petition by various groups to finally junk the precinct count optical scan or PCOS machines, which Smartmatic, the Venezuelan company, had used, on behalf of the Commission on Elections, to rig the 2010 and 2013 elections, and which the Comelec would like to use again, if we are going to have elections in 2016.
This move is absolutely necessary, but not enough. We must get rid of the PCOS machines, but we must first and above all get rid of our diseased political system and the Comelec itself. It’s the only way to reclaim our sovereign right as a free people to choose our own leaders in clean, honest, credible and hopefully intelligent and worthwhile elections.
Without any doubt, the PCOS has been thoroughly corrupted. But it is merely a tool, and the corrupting of this tool originates from a brain. That diseased brain is the Comelec. It was the Comelec that illegally put the elections in the hands of Smartmatic in 2010 and 2013, in derogation of its exclusive constitutional mandate, and it was the Comelec that removed all the safety features and accuracy mechanisms of the PCOS machines, in violation of law, without being subjected to any legal sanctions.
But larger than the Comelec is the system in which public office is habitually trafficked, as our poor ignorant women are trafficked by slave traders. We need a systems change. But this must begin with our electoral system, especially if we cannot overhaul the entire system at once. Retiring Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. next February, and replacing him with Avelino “Nonong” Cruz or someone else will not do; we must retire the entire Comelec itself.
I cannot help but inject something personal here. In 2010, we decided to shift from manual to electronic voting. I was one of those who pointed out that many states in Europe and within the United States itself, which had tried e-voting for a while, had decided to abandon it; in 2009, the German Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional. (A few days ago, the Australian Parliament rejected the use of the system.) But at the time, we were determined to adopt it nationwide, without having piloted it even on a limited scale.
Unable to do anything about the shift to e-voting, I wrote a number of letters asking the Comelec to do what the law required it to do to ensure a credible and fair election. One of these had to do with the safety features, notably the voter verification mechanism, the digital signatures, the ultra-violet scan, the source code, and the integrity of the system being independently certified. I never heard from the Comelec and the campaign period came and went without my concerns being addressed.
Another had to do with the free air time which the radio-TV stations, through the Comelec, were supposed to provide the national candidates. I never heard from the Comelec and the campaign period came and went without this provision being implemented. Yet another had to do with the outrageous misuse of the propaganda surveys to condition the voters’ minds on the proposed election results. Again, I heard nothing from the Comelec, and the campaign period came and went without the law being implemented.
But lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago I received a letter from the Comelec asking me to appear in a so-called fact-finding investigation on propaganda surveys, pursuant to the letter I sent them on 28 April 2010. I felt genuinely outraged. In my letter, I tried to show how the public was being duped by the paid propaganda fraudsters during the campaign, and how the Comelec could stop it. The malpractice continues to this day, and even supposedly intelligent people are being duped.
This is what I wrote to the Comelec en banc:
“As a candidate for senator in the May 10 elections, I want to formally request the Commission on Elections to enforce the provisions of Republic Act No. 9006 (Fair Election Act) on Pulse Asia, Social Weather Stations and other poll survey firms with respect to their conduct and publication of election surveys during the current election campaign.
“Specifically, I call attention to the provisions of the law, which require survey firms and media organizations to fully disclose the identities of survey sponsors and to open their data and methods to the examination of candidates, political parties and the Comelec.
“The pertinent provisions of RA 9006 are as follows:
“5.2. During the election period, any person, natural as well as juridical, candidate or organization who publishes a survey must likewise publish the following information:
“(a) The name of the person, polling firm or survey organization who commissioned or paid for the survey;
“(b) The name of the person, polling firm or survey organization who conducted the survey;
“(c) The period during which the survey was conducted, the methodology used, including the number of individual respondents and the areas from which they were selected, and the specific questions asked.
“5.3. The survey, together with raw data gathered to support its conclusions, shall be available for inspection, copying and verification by the Comelec or by a registered political party or a bona fide candidate, or by any Comelec accredited citizens’ arm. A reasonable fee sufficient to cover the cost of inspection, copying and verification may be charged.
“These provisions are specifically cited in Comelec Resolution NO. 8758, which sets out the rules and regulations implementing RA 9006 and was promulgated on February 4, 2010. The resolution explicitly states that any violation of these provisions shall constitute an election offense.
“Since the start of the campaign in February, the survey firms have each published several surveys on the candidates running for national office without fully disclosing the identities of sponsors and other survey information.
“Pulse Asia has declared that their contracts with their candidate-clients are confidential and cannot be disclosed.
“SWS and the other survey firms have ignored our repeated requests for copies of their survey reports and for the opportunity to examine their raw data and processes in conducting surveys.
“We submit that such claims to confidentiality are violative of the election law and should not be condoned. They allow candidates to hide from the Comelec an important election expense that should be reported as part of their authorized expenses. They also enable the survey firm, if it so desires, not to report its income from this activity for tax purposes.
“Finally, such unjustified secrecy lends credence to suspicions that the surveys do not measure public opinion but are in fact being used to manufacture and manipulate public opinion in order to create synthetic support for certain candidates at the expense of other candidates whose real strength is deliberately downgraded, if not downright ignored, by the survey.
“The disclosure requirement with regard surveys applies not only to polling firms but also to media organizations which routinely pass on the results to the public as though they were revelations from Heaven, instead of something that should be treated as mere propaganda, entertainment, or pseudo science like the Horoscope.
“The power granted to candidates, political parties, certified citizens’ arms, and the Comelec to inspect, copy and verify the data and methodologies of poll survey firms is explicit in the law and the Comelec resolution.
“The need for decisive Comelec action on this matter has become more urgent and necessary in view of the increasing brazenness with which the survey firms have been releasing surveys and the ease with which the mainstream media have been using them to support their own advocacies. We cite, in particular, the claim of SWS that it has actually conducted three nationwide surveys in the period from March 19 to April 7.
“This is an unbelievable feat in Philippine opinion polling, considering the archipelagic and multilingual nature of our country and the fact that in normal times even conducting one survey a month is already a daunting task.
“All these questions surrounding election surveys can only be answered through prompt and decisive enforcement by the Comelec of the law.
“I submit that candidates who have not earned favor from the survey firms are at their mercy and have been treated unfairly and unjustly in the conduct of their polls. Recent reports from the field indicate that some survey interviewers have been asking respondents to choose their presidential candidate from only two candidates, out of the ten candidates campaigning for the office.
“This is patent manipulation of public opinion, completely unfair and inimical to those who are excluded during the interviews but are shown to have fared badly in the results. It amounts to gross falsification of the data, which should render the survey invalid, except that even such junk surveys are being presented by the survey firms and received and propagated by the media as gospel truth.
“It is in this light that I appeal to the Honorable Commission to act immediately to sanction Pulse Asia, SWS and the other survey firms as well as the appropriate media organizations for their past offenses and to require them henceforth to comply with the provisions of the Fair Election Act.”
Four years have passed since I wrote that letter. But the situation has grown worse. The letter reads as though it were written today to refer to the current propaganda surveys being used by the usual fraudsters to condition the minds of the ignorant and the gullible with respect to 2016. It is a continuing fraud, which the Comelec could stop right now, if they really wanted to. But do they really want to? This is no longer just a question. It is an indictment.