By Antonio P. Contreras | The Manila Times
SIXTO Brillantes Jr. has opened a Pandora’s box with his comments posted in Facebook, that could further taint the already shady reputation of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of which he was a former chairman.
Brillantes has claimed that the minimum shading threshold that was used by the Comelec in the May 2016 elections was indeed 25 percent. Brillantes also admitted that while a 50 percent minimum threshold was used in the 2010 elections, this was reduced to only 20 percent in the 2013 mid-term elections. But the most intriguing, and perhaps the most damaging, revelation of Brillantes was when he made it appear that for the 2013 and 2016 elections, these changes were deliberately concealed from the public. The reason, according to Brillantes, is that it would have been for the Comelec to disclose to the public the actual thresholds as this would contradict its instructions to the voters to fully shade the ovals. He said that it was only after the elections that such threshold was publicly announced.
This is a disturbing argument coming from a former Comelec chair, for it reveals a practice, if true, where the transparency of the election system has been compromised by the very institution that is tasked to protect its integrity. Brillantes has painted the Comelec as being in the habit of deceiving the public, in that it failed to exercise fidelity to the electorate. It is even more appalling that an important piece of information, no less than the shading threshold that will be programmed into the vote counting machines (VCMs), would be withheld from the public, including not only the voters but more importantly, the candidates and the political parties.
But what is bizarre vis-à-vis Brillantes’ audacious claim is that in the 2010 elections, the Comelec issued Resolution 8804 which publicly disclosed the 50 percent threshold. This is contained in Rule 15, Section 6, Letter l, where it is clearly provided that “marks or shades which are less than 50 percent of the oval shall not be considered as valid votes.” And contrary to Brillantes’ claim, the resolution containing the specification of the minimum shading threshold was issued in March, which was two months before the May 2010 elections.
Granting, without admitting, that the practice was changed, and that resolutions governing the rules of procedure on disputes in an automated election system like Resolution 8804, were withheld from the public in the succeeding elections for 2013 and 2016, as Brillantes now claims, there is no record that similar resolutions where publicly disclosed after the conduct of the elections. No less than the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) has found that except for Resolution 8804, there is no other similar resolution which Comelec has issued for the 2013 and 2016 elections.
What Comelec has issued, and which is now being used by the camp of Leni Robredo as proof that the minimum shading threshold for the 2016 elections was 25 percent, is not even a numbered resolution, but the minutes of the regular en banc meeting of the Comelec held on September 6, 2016, which was four months after the May elections. The issue concerned the request of the PET for a copy of the Comelec guidelines used in the manual counting of ballots, specifically on the types of shadings read by the VCM for the tribunal’s reference in relation to the electoral protest of Bongbong Marcos against Leni Robredo.
The minutes clearly revealed that such guidelines were non-existent. Comelec Executive Director Tolentino’s memorandum, which was quoted in the minutes, admitted this when he said that “the Project Management Office for the 2016 automated election system has not provided guidelines on manual counting since its focus was on the automated counting of ballots by the VCM. Neither has the electoral contests adjudication department finalized its guidelines as of the moment.”
What was in existence was the guidelines for conducting random manual audits, and not manual recounts, which is what Commissioner Louie Guia, who is the head of the random manual audit committee, submitted in a letter to the PET also dated September 6, and which was adopted by the Comelec en banc. The PET obviously did not consider this as equivalent to a resolution that can be equivalent to Resolution 8804 considering that it is not in the form of a formal guideline passed before the elections, and more importantly, it was applied not on actual manual recounts in relation to electoral protests, but only in the conduct of random manual audits which is totally different from a manual recount.
What is insidious about this entire affair on the minimum shading threshold, which now unraveled owing to Brillantes’ admission, is that there is reason to believe that there is a deliberate attempt to game the elections by concealing crucial election-related information which was committed no less than by Comelec itself. Brillantes, in his earnest attempt to support Robredo’s position that what should be used is the 25 percent minimum shading threshold, may have inadvertently revealed a clue pointing to a commission of electoral fraud.
It behooves us to ask why the shading thresholds used for electoral protests which PET was asking in its letter to the Comelec would be a secretly held information that there is no resolution stating such was issued before the elections, if Brillantes’ version of the story should be believed, even after the elections. Why would the Executive Director of Comelec be totally unaware of such information for him to admit that there were no such guidelines as of September 2016, which was already four months after the elections.
But the most important question to ask is why is it that only Robredo votes are sensitive to changes in shading thresholds, that when the PET upheld the 50 percent threshold set by Comelec in Resolution 8804, her lead over Marcos was reduced. If it is indeed true that the minimum shading threshold of 25 percent was concealed from the public and from all candidates, as Brillantes claims, why should it happen that only Robredo voters would have benefited from such concealment that they now have to appeal to the PET not to disenfranchise them.
These are questions that Brillantes’ revelations have raised.
And while answers have yet to be offered, what has already been fairly established is the shady nature of the 2016 elections.