SC to Comelec: Bare use of intel fund

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THE Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Malacañang to submit documents that would show how the poll body used its intelligence fund.

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In issuing a writ of habeas data, the High Court gave credence to the case filed by the Automated Election Systems (AES) Watch against Comelec officials. The group claimed that the poll body is using part of its P30 million intelligence funds to spy on poll watch groups.

The High Court also ordered the Comelec to file its answer to the petition filed by AES Watch.

However, the SC referred the case to the Court of Appeals (CA) to conduct the hearing and reception of evidence.

A writ of habeas data is a remedy issued by the court to compel agencies to disclose information for the sake of public interest and transparency.

The petition against Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes and Commissioners Elias Yusoph, Christian Robert Lim, Luie Tito Guia, Grace Padaca, and Al Parreño and Finance Director Eduardo Dulay Mejos was filed by former Comelec commissioner and IT expert Augusto “Gus” Lagman, whistleblower and former Comelec legal consultant Melchor Magdamo, IT system expert Engr. Nelson Celis, cybercrime resource person Lito Averia, Jun Lozada, IT certification standards head Marikor Akol, source code and programming expert Dr. Pablo Manalastas, Watch conveners Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Mother Superior Mary John Mananzan, OSB, human rights lawyer Greg Fabros, CenPEG Executive Director Evita Jimenez and International law expert Harry Roque.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Deputy Presidential Spokesman Abigail Valte were also impleaded in the case.

Mejos was also included because as finance director of the poll body, the group said “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 was impleaded as a representative of 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.

The petition stated that AES Watch issued a public statement asking Brillantes “to publicly declare that the P30-million intelligence fund was not meant to spy on critics of the PCOS technology.”

But the petitioners said Brillantes chose to keep silent.

They claimed that Brillantes and Valte are being impleaded 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 and funded through the P30-million largesse from the Office of the President against Aggrieved Parties and other members of AES Watch.”

“There are serious grounds for the issuance of the writ in this case because of violations by respondents of their right to privacy in life, liberty and or security through the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved parties,” they added.

They also asked the high tribunal to order the respondents to refrain from making any statements that threaten them with surveillance as well as prosecution for alleged election sabotage.

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