The ideal of a peaceful constitutional transition in national leadership is under threat. Powerful forces are at work in the Supreme Court and the Commission on Elections to undermine the rule of law and the sovereign will of the people. Consider how three indispensable conditions for peaceful, constitutional and democratic transfer of power face grave challenges.
Condition No. 1: All presidential candidates must be duly qualified.
The disqualification petitions against Senator Grace Poe and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte must be adjudicated according to law, not political machinations and corrupt considerations, which predictably are happening.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd and fellow administration stalwarts see Poe as their best chance to avoid accountability for unlawful acts, including his P157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the biggest malversation in Philippine history, and huge anomalies in pork barrel, transport, defense, and Tarlac road contracts. Many aren’t surprised that Aquino-appointed Supreme Court justices side with Poe.
Moreover, there are reports of High Court lobbying by a top tycoon. Billionaire Eduardo Cojuangco and his Nationalist People’s Coalition back Poe and her running mate, former NPC leader Senator Francisco Escudero.
Hence, for the first condition to happen, most magistrates must decide disqualification cases purely on legal grounds. They must resist pressures and inducements, and uphold the sovereign will of the people as expressed in the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has shown judicial independence against Aquino. It ordered his Cojuangco family’s Hacienda Luisita distributed despite impeachment moves against then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Most of the present justices unanimously voted to void Aquino’s DAP and the pork-barrel Priority Development Assistance Fund, despite intense Palace and Congress lobbying, including not-so-subtle impeachment threats.
Will the justices again stand up to political pressure and lure of lucre? This time the lobbying is far greater, with powerful interests fighting not only for national power and control over trillions of pesos in state revenues and spending, but also to escape investigation, prosecution and imprisonment.
Hence, those who know or are listened to by the justices should impress upon them that their votes on presidential election cases shall decide not just who gets to contest the highest post in the land, but also what happens to Philippine democracy and rule of law.
Condition No. 2: Election results must reflect the sovereign will of the people.
If upholding the Constitution’s presidential qualifications faces mammoth obstacles from the powers that be, even more does the goal of honest, lawful and democratic elections.
Despite grave anomalies amid disabled safeguards in the Precinct Count Optical Scan system in 2010 and 2013, the Commission on Elections continues to use and spend billions on PCOS.
In those two automated elections, there was no time to properly review of source codes controlling how votes were counted, and digital signatures to check that results received came from authorized computers, were not used.
Random manual audit was supposed to spot-check individual precincts by manually counting their votes to check discrepancies with automated results. In 2013, Comelec stupidly announced the precincts to be audited three days before the polls, alerting PCOS fraudsters.
Sure enough, anomalies abounded. In 2010 there were 60 unauthorized machines in Antipolo and a mountain of results received by Comelec canvassing servers exceeding four times the number of voters nationwide.
Three years later came the emergence of a single senatorial canvassing pattern: 60 percent of results for the administration, 30 percent for the opposition, and 10 percent for independents. This pattern upended even historical and regional voting trends.
Now we have the possible delay in polls for selected areas due to late printing of ballots and the need to address compatibility problems preventing PCOS reading votes cast.
One manipulation scenario: Comelec schemers deliver ballots first to areas where their favored presidentiable is strong, and delay them where his or her rivals dominate. The resulting initial canvassing favoring the candidate condition voters wanting opponents either not to vote, thinking it would not help their chosen leaders; or to actually choose the candidate winning in the initial count.
As in past PCOS polls, Comelec officials again dismiss fraud and manipulation plots, arguing that no cheating has ever been proven in election protests adjudicated by — whom else? — themselves. And the nation will again have to grin, gripe and bear with whatever results we get, because it is hugely difficult and even destabilizing to change PCOS now or declare election failure when nationwide computerized fraud happens.
Back in 2009, after one automated poll, Germany’s highest court declared the system unconstitutional for not enabling ordinary citizens to check if votes were counted properly. That one of the most technologically advanced and stringently disciplined nations demands vote count verification by non-experts should tell us something.
Sadly, Comelec isn’t listening. Chairman Andres Bautista nixed a simple proposal to have PCOS machines print results of each voter’s choices, to check if they were properly recorded and counted. He claims printouts could be shown to vote buyers; in fact, voters can be required to leave them in sealed boxes after reading them and without photographing them.
So will elections reflect the sovereign will of the people? Only if our true choice has enough Comelec insider clout to counter “hocus PCOS” against him.
Condition No. 3: The military will respect the election results.
There have been two past elections when the Armed Forces of the Philippines feared fraud, and one in which the AFP actually deposed the proclaimed winner. Three decades ago from next week, the military sided with crowds protesting poll fraud in snap presidential elections, and deposed Ferdinand Marcos after two decades in power.
Then in 2010, little known to nearly everyone, top generals privately expressed alarm over PCOS fraud schemes discovered by military intelligence. But public euphoria over the speed and presumed accuracy of vote tabulation dissuaded the AFP from taking action to address the election manipulation.
Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court and dishonorable insiders of the Comelec, please desist from selling out the nation and tempting the military to again decide who should rule our country.