THE Supreme Court decision nullifying the contract between the Commission on Elections and Smartmatic for the repair and maintenance of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the 2016 elections has thrown the headless Comelec into the middle of an unannounced storm. It appears that the constitutional body, which has been under attack for its role in the destruction of our electoral system, was totally unprepared for the Court ruling.
This has provoked instant speculations about a possible return to manual voting, or a possible postponement of the 2016 elections. The situation challenges the creativity and patriotism of our political players; at the same time, it enlarges the incentives and space for political opportunism. I propose to examine this at its well-deserved depth and length in my next column. For now, I would like to consider a beastly thing that has happened in the Comelec, which seeks to threaten our freedom of expression.
Trying to silence the critics
In an apparent effort to silence its critics, the Comelec has accused several individuals who want President B. S. Aquino 3rd to step down, and the Comelec to shape up, of a shabbily manufactured electoral offense. The Comelec used the patently false, malicious, and vexatious testimony of a perjured witness, whom police authorities have identified as a “con man.”
Apparently smarting from criticisms of how it has destroyed the electoral system, and wanting to curry political favor with PNoy, who is hurting from calls for his “resignation,” the Comelec has formally charged 14 or so responsible citizens with “utilizing without authorization, tampering with, and stealing official ballots,” (under Section 35 (a) of Republic Act No. 8436 as amended by Section 28 of Republic Act No. 9369), without the benefit of a verified official complaint.
Included in the complaint are former Tarlac governor and President Aquino’s aunt-in-law Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, whose husband Jose (“Peping,” Cory Aquino’s brother) was the first presidential kin to publicly call for PNoy’s “resignation before the Jan. 25, 2015 Mamasapano massacre;” former Congressman and Mayor Bernardo Vergara of Baguio City; Baguio City Treasurer Alicia Onoza; former Congressman Glenn Chong of Biliran, Leyte; former Comelec commissioner Augusto “Gus” Lagman; former Comelec consultant and now The Manila Times columnist Lito Averia; Roman Catholic Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of the Archdiocese of Lipa; former National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales and myself, a former Cabinet minister and senator.
A preposterous allegation
We are accused by the Comelec Law Department of having committed the preposterous offense of stealing official ballots in Baguio City after the May 2013 elections, on the basis of an unverified affidavit executed by one “Worthy Acosta,” who claims to be a former executive assistant to Cojuangco. No prior inquiry was held to see whether there was any factual basis to the claim of the witness who seems to be so unworthily named, and who has since been shown to have been involved in a number of criminal offenses.
The Law Department simply filed the charges and issued the subpoenas to the parties, in violation of their right to due process as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, the Rules of Court and the Comelec’s own legal procedure. Through Lawyer Manuelito R. Luna, some of the accused have petitioned the Supreme Court for Certiorari and Prohibition with preliminary injunction or Temporary Restraining Order to stop the farcical proceedings.
A subpoena without a complaint
Except for former Secretary Gonzales, all 14 or so accused have been subpoenaed and instructed to appear at the Comelec with counter-affidavits on a fixed date. Why Bert Gonzales has not been served his papers until now remains a mystery. In my case, I received a two-page subpoena in my residence last Monday evening. According to my kitchen help, it was delivered by two motorcycle-riding men. Issued by Atty. Charlie Lim Yap, acting Chief, Investigation and Prosecution Division, it instructed me to “appear and submit your counter-affidavit and other supporting documents or affidavits of your witness/es, if any, during the hearing set on 18 May at 10 in the morning.”
But the subpoena carried no attachment of any kind. Not the written complaint nor the video that was supposed to accompany it, as stated in the subpoena itself. So I have no official record of the specific crime I am being accused of. I am commanded to appear before the Comelec to answer charges I know nothing about. It is a clear violation of my right “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against me,” as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. It could happen only to a character in a grotesque Franz Kafka novel. Has this government lost all sense of morality and fair play?
What was my real offense?
Anxious to know what lies were being said against me, I tried to access the documents the others have received. There I learned that the “respondents” were supposed to have conspired together to “steal official ballots in Baguio City after the May 2013 elections, to tamper with the stolen ballots, and then to use them without authorization.” When exactly were the ballots stolen? Who did the stealing, and how did they do it?
None of this is very clear. Not having gone to Baguio in years, I could not imagine how I could be implicated in any conspiracy that happened there. It would have taken the devil himself to accuse me of coming to Baguio to steal official ballots used in an election where I had absolutely no interest in. But the complaint signed by Maria NorinaTangaro-Casingal, acting Director IV of the Law Department, says she had reason to believe that “Acosta, Chong, Cojuangco, Lagman, Magdamo, Averia, Tatad, Gonzales, Unda, Arguelles, and John Doe, as appearing in the video ‘Editors’ Cut v.4”, in connivance and conspiracy with one another, knowingly and deliberately committed the offense of unauthorized utilization of official ballots.”
I have not handled any official ballot at any time in my life, except when voting inside the polling precinct. But an obscure paragraph in the complaint explained the whole thing to me. This referred to Archbishop Arguelles, Bert Gonzales and myself delivering public speeches where we referred to the fraudulent elections of 2010 and 2013. The paragraph said we used “the stolen and tampered ballots” as evidence of fraud in the 2013 elections.
My position on the 2010 and 2013 elections has never been secret
This was absolute nonsense. I have spoken in various forums around the country about the fraudulent and invalid 2010 and 2013 elections. I have also written about them repeatedly in this space. I have not had to refer to any ballots from Baguio, Biliran, or anywhere else. Former Congressman Chong of Biliran does a great job of presenting all the statistics to demonstrate how we were all duped in 2010 and 2013.
For me, it has been sufficient to point out that although the Comelec is the only institution mandated by the Constitution to conduct our elections, Smartmatic, the Venezuelan marketing firm, was the one that conducted the elections for the Comelec in 2010 and 2013, without any constitutional authority.
For me this renders the elections null and void ab initio. Now, if the process was invalid, the results could only have been invalid as well, ab initio. I have said that repeatedly, but neither Malacañang nor the Comelec has disagreed. After the Melo Comelec removed all the security features and accuracy mechanisms of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, in violation of law, we no longer had the duty to accept the electoral results as legitimate or valid. I have repeatedly pointed this out too, and neither Malacañang nor the Comelec has disagreed.
New findings on PCOS
Chong’s latest finding is that in 2010 and 2013, the PCOS machine did not count and report the voter’s original ballot, but only the image thereof. This nullifies everything—from the Statement of Votes to the Certificates of Canvass to the proclamation of winners, from Aquino to Grace Poe. Conversely, this incalculably strengthens the position of the National Transformation Council, which regards PNoy as merely de facto, and for that reason has been calling on Aquino to step down, long before Mamasapano.
It’s the NTC, stupid
This is obviously why Arguelles, Gonzales and myself are being implicated in this perverse Comelec complaint. Our real offense, based on Acosta’s perjured testimony, has nothing to do with official ballots. It has more to do with our call on Aquino to step down. Only a small portion of the population seems still opposed to Aquino’s stepping down before 2016. And the NTC has a lot to do with this.
Thus, the unworthy Acosta had to invent lies about a conspiracy among individuals who do not even know enough of each other, and who have not been meeting in any one place, contrary to the fabricated claim. The affidavit claims, and the complaint echoes it, that after the May 2013 elections, some people, myself included, started meeting regularly at the Cojuangco residence on Acacia Street, Dasmarinas Village, Makati, and that these people later called themselves the NTC. This is absolute nonsense. I have never gone to the Cojuangco residence for any meeting whatsoever, and I can say for a fact that neither Peping nor Tingting Cojuangco is a member of the NTC, although both of them support its position on many issues.
The NTC was born in Cebu four years ago rather than in Manila in 2013. On Aug. 27, 2014, it convened its first public assembly in Lipa City. It issued the Lipa Declaration, which called for regime and system change, and called on Aquino to step down because of his numerous crimes against the Constitution. I have been asked to preside over the various assemblies from Lipa through Cebu, Butuan, Angeles, Davao, General Santos and back to Lipa, while both Archbishop Arguelles and Secretary Gonzales have spoken in all but one or two of these assemblies.
At no instance have we ever deviated from our call for nonviolent radical and revolutionary change. The Comelec attempt to stifle a patriotic and noble initiative is a cheap and totally sordid one. It is unworthy of our people and our times. It will fail.