The real problem is not that the May 9, 2016 elections may be postponed to an impossible date or that we may be compelled to shift from electronic to manual voting if the Supreme Court compels the Commission on Elections to install the “voter’s receipt,” or the “voter verification paper audit trail” (VVPAT) into the Vote Counting Machine (VCM). Rather, it is that the voters may finally reject the elections as a total irrelevancy because of unresolved constitutional issues and because total chaos would have intervened.
Let’s take these issues, one at a time.
Postponing the polls
First, the voter’s receipt. Malacañang has told Comelec Chair Andres Bautista to stop talking of postponing the elections or shifting to manual voting, if the Comelec is compelled by the Supreme Court to follow the law. It is a formula for instability, and a confession of total incompetence. It is totally unworthy of Bautista to suggest that the only way to hold the elections as scheduled is to allow the Comelec’s gross violation of the Automated Election Law to continue, and the VCM — the new name for the discredited precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine — to be used without the safety and security features and accuracy mechanisms, which were illegally removed during the 2010 and 2013 elections.
Since last year, several petitioners have been asking the Comelec and its foreign partner Smartmatic to restore four to 13 such security features. Finally, the High Court ordered the restoration of the VVPAT, to provide the individual voter with a receipt showing how he voted, and which he drops inside an assigned box before he exits the voting precinct. The Comelec said there’s no more time left to make the necessary technical adjustments; and in a motion for reconsideration on behalf of the Comelec, Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said the use of the VVPAT would intolerably add another two hours plus to the voting.
Beyond the VVPAT
Petitioner Richard Gordon, the former senator who authored the Automated Election Law in the Senate, and is running again for senator, was in Court yesterday to argue the merits of his petition against the Solicitor General’s motion. There is so much public support behind his position, and our prayers and best wishes are with him. But, truth to tell, even if the VVPAT were put in place, and every voter is able to verify to his utmost satisfaction that his voter has been read right by the VCM, there is still no guarantee that the votes in every precinct will be accurately counted by the same machine and accurately transmitted through the transmission system to the final tabulating center.
I shall elaborate in a little while.
For the longest time, techies from the National Computer Society, Automated Election Systems (AES) Watch, Tanggulang Demokrasya (Tandem), Center for People Empowerment and Governance (Cenpeg) and the National Transformation Council’s resident expert Glenn Chong, among others, have been trying to explain this to everyone. They wanted to get rid of Smartmatic, and replace it with an indigenous provider, one that is completely transparent, dependable and inexpensive.
But Smartmatic has proved formidable, especially after it brought in a new international chairman in the person of Lord Mark Malloch Brown, an old partner of George Soros who has figured in changing several “unwanted regimes.” Malloch Brown worked for the late former President Corazon Aquino in 1986, and had a private meeting with President B. S. Aquino 3rd in Malacañang last June while the Comelec was deliberating on his firm’s latest proposals.
Despite a warning from one of the world’s leading auditing firms, that Smartmatic (Philippines) is a wholly owned foreign subsidiary with no legal personality to engage in business in the country, the Venezuelan firm has been allowed to corner every contract related to the conduct of the 2016 elections. This includes the operations and control of the National Technical Support Center, which played a pivotal but undiscussed role in the 2010 and 2013 elections. No one is talking about the NTSC, precisely because its exact role is unknown. It is supposed to provide the appropriate intervention whenever a voting machine develops any kind of trouble. It is not clear to whom it is accountable, and whether a record of its activities is subject to monitoring.
According to highly informed sources, Smartmatic originally lost the bid for the NTSC to a much lower bidder, but moved heaven and earth to dislodge the winner. It has reportedly spent more money just to wrest control of the contract, than it was expected to make by operating the center according to its terms of reference. It is a mystery why anyone would spend more than what they propose to make from any contract.
One source reports that in the last elections, the Center was housed in a multi-story building, but there was one floor where certain hardware was stored and the manager of the Center, who was supposed to be responsible for its entire operations, was not allowed to enter. He did not have the slightest clue on what was happening there.
A parallel system?
The plot thickens. Highly qualified technical sources have revealed that at least one presidential camp has procured from the United States a large quantity of ViaSat terminals, sufficient to operate a transmission system parallel to the official system that would be operating during the elections. Full details of this purchase have not yet been disclosed, but information about it first surfaced early last month when the contracts manager of ViaSat Inc., a firm based in Carlsbad, California, wrote the Comelec chair on February 3, 2016 to formally inquire “who are eligible to purchase ViaSat products.”
“With this letter, we hope to address any… concerns from the Commission on Elections,” wrote Timothy E. Harrington to Bautista. “Please kindly be advised that as the manufacturer of FT 2225N-000 Fixed Terminal (‘Terminal’), ViaSat, Inc. is entitled to sell its Terminal to an entity regardless of whether that entity has entered into a Value Added Reseller Agreement with ViaSat or is a government agency; provided such a sale complies with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, and is made pursuant to appropriate government approvals. A fully compliant purchase order would need to be issued in accordance with the enclosed ViaSat Firm Fixed Price International Terms and Conditions, including mutually agreeable payment terms. ViaSat is able to ship a quantity of 5,000 Terminals within sixty (60) days after receipt of the compliant purchase order.”
Our sources confirm that Bautista received the letter, but it is not known whether he has replied, and if so, what was his response. The mere fact that the US firm wrote this letter shows some concern that the Terminal might be misused for election-related purposes. Since the Comelec is not the one buying, the only possible conclusion is that another party, most likely private, is buying. Has Comelec exerted any effort to find out who this is?
The real problem
But this is just one more shade of dark added to the prospects of the elections. Aside from the technical mumbo-jumbo which all the parties are trying to contribute to the coming farce, the decision of some Supreme Court justices to inflict a non-qualified presidential candidate upon the election makes the whole process execrable and irrelevant. We cannot get away from it.
The manifestly erroneous ponencia by Justice Jose Perez declaring that Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares is “qualified” to run for President, despite the lack of a Court majority supporting her claim that she is a natural-born Filipino citizen and a resident of the country for 11 months in excess of the 10-year period required of presidential candidates, is like a Chinese missile hitting our defenseless territory.
We know it’s wrong. And we know the Justices know it’s wrong. But because we’re such law-abiding and peace-loving citizens, they probably expect us to just fold our arms and accept their execrable act as something normal. But every action has consequence/s. And evil acts have evil consequences.
What happens if and when any number of our people decide that the point has been reached when, as Camus puts it, even the slave must rebel? Would more people be eager to go to the polls to vote for a former American citizen who has become a “natural-born Filipino” by judicial fiat and disputable presumption? What will the Church do, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines?
The Church has to provide the moral guidelines for people’s action. But the military has to seriously consider its duties and obligations. As an institution, the military has no role to play in an election except to vote. But what are they to do when the elections have become a threat to national security and the people’s well-being?
The silent armed forces
From 2010 onward, they have watched as a deranged President trampled upon the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances, and mocked the tripartite system of government. They watched in silence as he corrupted Congress to impeach and remove the Supreme Court Chief Justice and make the other Justices bow to his imperial whimsies and caprices. They watched speechless as he usurped the Congress’ power of the purse, and misused billions for his ego trips, including his failed pursuit of the Nobel Prize. They watched powerless as he nixed the Senate’s authority to participate in the ratification of a treaty concerning the defense and security of the Republic.
Will they still watch in silence as some muddled Justices, without the authority to amend the Constitution, proclaim a former American citizen of unknown parentage as a natural-born Filipino, qualified to be elected President of the Philippines, in violation of the clearest provisions of the Constitution? Indeed, the people should rise against this unprovoked assault on the Constitution, but what happens if the military, as the constitutional protector of the people and the State, anticipate the action of the people?
We shall have elections only after we shall have restructured our political system.