Manila Standard Today – Justice for our democracy

By Orlando Oxales | Manila Standard Today 

Just more than a year after conducting what many perceived as the most efficient and credible elections in the country’s history, the Commission on Elections had been embroiled in a slew of controversy, the latest of which was a plea by a former congressman to investigate a Comelec commissioner for graft.

Former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong last week formally asked the Office of the Ombudsman to probe Christian Robert Lim for his alleged “partiality” toward election technology provider Smartmatic-TIM. Chong, a known critic of the automated polls, said Lim had manipulated his colleagues and persistently called on embattled Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista to resign.

Bautista is himself fighting off allegations of corruption and amassing ill-gotten wealth lodged by his estranged wife Patricia, who also accused Bautista of receiving referral fees and commissions from Smartmatic-TIM. A separate complaint meanwhile alleged that Bautista betrayed public trust for failing to adopt safeguards under the Data Privacy Act, or Republic Act 10173, which could have prevented the massive data breach of voter information and the hacking of the Comelec web site.

The ongoing electoral protest of former senator and defeated vice-presidential hopeful Bongbong Marcos has likewise set its sights on destroying the credibility of the automated elections that gave a narrow victory to Vice President Leni Robredo.

All these have resuscitated the efforts of the usual critics of the automated polls, and there seems to be an escalating and orchestrated smear campaign against the Comelec ahead of the 2019 midterm elections.

Of course, the attacks intentionally ignore the positive assessments of many independent watchdogs that have affirmed the historic success and integrity of the past three automated elections. In particular, a special study commissioned by independent think tank Stratbase ADR Institute concluded that the 2016 automated polls was by far the best managed among all the previous elections.

The critics also ignore the sweeping approval ratings and overwhelming confidence on the automated polls from all parts of the country and across socio-economic classes. For instance, a Pulse Asia survey found that a huge majority—89 percent—of the respondents agreed that results of the election were believable. This was in addition to other positive observations, such as on the speed of the release of the results and the orderliness of the conduct of the polls.

Thus, it appears that a nefarious political agenda is behind the coordinated attempt to discredit the polls and in the process bring the country back to the nightmare of manual counting, a slow and tedious process that had historically been prone to widespread manipulation.

Providentially, the Supreme Court last week conclusively affirmed the authenticity and integrity of the 2016 polls, which is yet another authoritative affirmation of the very democracy that automation has always intended to strengthen. Sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal, the high court effectively “upheld … the integrity and credibility of the automated election system.”

The ruling arose from the court’s dismissal of the first cause of action in Marcos’s electoral protest, which sought to declare as unauthentic all the certificates of canvas used by both chambers of Congress when they declared Robredo the winner of the hotly contested race. “Meaningless and pointless” is how the Supreme Court described the petition to nullify the integrity of the entire 2016 elections.

The debate surrounding the automated elections should easily resolved by simply invoking the horrible memories of the manual system. The tedious and unbelievable delays in the vote canvassing of the old procedure allowed too many opportunities for election operators to cheat and manipulate the election results. The cheating modes are well-known, from dagdag-bawas, or vote padding and shaving, to ballot snatching, widespread voter disenfranchisement and violent tactics from private army goons.

Thus, to an ordinary Filipino, the swift and efficient conduct of the elections validated their participation in the political exercise. And for a country with a fragile democracy and a history so intertwined with the successful conduct of its elections, the Philippines needs to safeguard this newfound source of stability. In this way, every politically motivated attempt to discredit the automated elections should be exposed for what it really is, a regressive attack on our democratic electoral process.

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