Manila Bulletin – A crime committed in broad daylight, and with no witnesses

By Rj Nieto | Manila Bulletin

THINKING PINOY

The overwhelming popularity of then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte is hardly disputable, so his win was never seriously questioned. The same cannot be said, however, on that of Vice President Leni Robredo and many other candidates.

The automated election system in 2016, which will likely be the same automated election system in 2022, allows crimes to be committed in broad daylight, and with no witnesses.

You go to an election precinct, fill out your ballot, and insert it into the machine. You get a receipt, but you can’t keep it, you can’t photograph it, and you will never see it again. Everything’s automated from that point forward. There’s no way for you to ensure that votes are counted right, and you’re left with no other choice but to have blind faith in the system.

Should election results be tampered with at the barangay, municipal, provincial, regional, or even national level, your only recourse is an electoral protest that will likely be left unresolved.

Yes, we still do have an unofficial parallel count from election watchdogs that should theoretically ensure there’s no hocus pocus going on. But the data they use comes straight from Comelec’s servers, data that has been processed through on multiple levels Comelec itself.

This automated election system makes election fraud easier by making it cheaper to commit. Back in the day, corrupt politicians had to bribe voters, design elaborate schemes to switch ballots, threaten election inspectors, the whole nine yards. Now, all they have to do is bribe someone who controls the vote-counting system and voila! Mission accomplished.

It would’ve been great if then election chief Andres Bautista or maybe one of the Smartmatic executives were able to fully explain the controversies that hound the Automated Election System.

But in case you forgot, all of them fled the country before any of them could even be put on trial.

How do we fix this?

The country’s best shot at the moment, I believe, is Senator Sotto’s proposed measure: the Hybrid Election Bill.

The proposed Hybrid Election System retains most of the features of the old Automated Election System, except the counting at the precinct level is done manually and in full view of the public. Afterward, the precinct-level tally is transmitted electronically all the way up to Comelec Central.

If this becomes law, each precinct will have multitudes of people who can (a) help boost confidence in the country’s electoral system as they see the greater transparency in the election process and, (b) serve as witnesses if the national tally incorrectly reflects the precinct’s votes, making election protests cheaper, faster, and more transparent.

And because transmission after the manual count is automated, we can still take advantage of the speed that information technology can offer.

Sotto’s Hybrid Election Bill is so simple and straightforward that it should’ve been approved years ago, so I cannot help but wonder why it hasn’t.

Are some of those in power today planning to do the same thing their predecessors did?

I hope not, but hope is not a strategy. For as long as we have a vote-counting system with no real checks and balances, we can expect massive election fraud to happen each time we vote.

If cheating can be done, it shall be done, but let’s not make cheating too easy by letting Smartmatic run the show for yet another time, using the same system that made Leni Robredo win.

President Duterte, in his 2016 campaign sorties, repeatedly used the slogan “Change is coming,” and I hope that changing Comelec’s corrupt vote-counting system is among those he had in mind.

The longer Smartmatic’s old vote-counting system remains, the less confidence Filipinos will have on this democracy.

It’s one thing for the constitution to say that power ultimately resides in the Filipino People, but it’s a totally different thing to make them genuinely feel it.

Mister President, please certify this bill as urgent. We need this system now.

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