Daily Tribune - TESDAMAN phenomenon

15 July 2020

By TEB | Daily Tribune

Among the constants in the conduct of elections using the Smartmatic automated election system were suspicions of widespread fraud that benefits highest bidders, who also have strong connections with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Right after the 2016 national elections that won the presidency for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, losing senatorial bet Serge Osmeña claimed massive vote selling at a minimum of P50 million for a victory.

Osmeña was a member of the Liberal Party (LP), but had a fallout with then President Noynoy Aquino close to the polls and was bumped off the administration “Koalisyong Daang Matuwid.”

The allegations of Osmeña that the fraud syndicates operate within the Comelec have never been looked into.

The allegations would be hard to prove according to Osmeña, who is much sought on poll strategies, but based on his claim, Comelec insiders approaching him offered “protection” at P10 per vote.

The senator pointed to the old Garci network for his defeat at the polls. In the pre-poll surveys, Osmeña was consistently ranked in either sixth or seventh place in the senatorial race, and many were surprised that he ended up 14th.

Among the surprises, which the pre-poll surveys failed to capture in the Senate race, was the phenomenal rise to second place of former Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) chief Joel Villanueva in the final tally.

Villanueva, during the campaign period, complained about the high cost of TV advertisements, and said he would instead hold face-to-face campaigns with voters, carrying the moniker Joel “TESDAMAN” Villanueva.

His supposed strategy must be a success, since it landed him second place in the senatorial race, and it was his first try at becoming a senator.

Villanueva, with his 18.6 million votes, was second only to candidate Franklin Drilon.

Combing the country, nonetheless, did not prove to be a formula for victory for several other aspirants for the Senate.

Osmeña said the fraud syndicate was the same group which approaches candidates in the past that is associated with former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano of the notorious “Hello Garci” scandal.

The senator also expressed belief that the syndicate operates within the poll body, saying that “no one can do this except Comelec.”

He also surmised that Smartmatic was also an integral part of the ruse as only poll officials and the provider of the vote counting machines (VCM) have access to the automated system.

“I was always in the survey, and then all of a sudden, some senators added or were able to add two million to four million votes to their totals,” Osmeña wondered.

However, he said then he would not file a protest since the scheme was well known among candidates.

He added the automated cheating operations were more difficult to pursue, unlike in the conventional fraud operations, which were concentrated per area.

The allegations of Osmeña curiously tied in with the same suspicions raised in the Plan B allegations of then vice-presidential bet Sen. Bongbong Marcos. This was supposedly behind the Leni Robredo surge that is now the subject of a tedious protest process.

Plan B was the supposed option after the manipulators realized the landslide victory of Mr. Duterte was hard to overturn, although several discrepancies in the count pointed to a similar fraud operation dealt on the Davao City mayor.

The allegations remained unacted on, and calls for the government to withhold payment to VCM operator Smartmatic for violating election laws became the clamor.

A probe initiated by Comelec is not expected to produce results since the allegations also involve the poll body.

Osmeña’s vote-for-sale allegation, however, merely proved the bankrupt poll system in the country wherein money — not votes — mostly decides who serves in government.