Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
I take the floor on a matter of personal and collective privilege, and on a particular matter concerning not only this representation, but the entire Filipino electorate as well.
This is no ordinary resumption of regular session by Congress. First, we have resumed our regular session on the heels of the automated national and local elections fourteen (14) days ago, an election which was much anticipated after our characteristically wild and frenetic campaign season. Second, the recently concluded election saw no less than thirteen (13) of our colleagues in the Senate -- including this representation -- vying as candidates for various positions.
I congratulate the newly elected and “presumptive” President of the Republic Rodrigo Duterte, as well as the twelve (12) newly proclaimed Senators of the land, who will soon grace this hallowed hall and lend their talent and brand of public service to the Filipino people. I congratulate and hail my Presidential candidate, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for braving the rigors and stresses of this whirlwind campaign, despite her health issues.
We have come a long way since we as a people made the resolve to automate our elections. Indeed, automation is the way to go. But in doing so, we must not lose sight of the State’s policy for doing this. Our automated election system should be one that “will ensure the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot and all election, consolidation and transmission documents in order that the process shall be transparent and credible and that the results shall be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people.” (Sec. 1, RA 9369)
COMELEC Chair Andres Bautista was quoted as saying that, “we want to show (the world) how elections are being conducted in the Philippines. He even said that while before we were just learning from other countries, now “we are teaching them international best practices.”
In this age of digital media -- the very technology that allowed us the automated option in the first place -- the COMELEC Chairman has been given and extended advice and assistance, solicited or not, by netizens all over the country via various social media and other networks.
Netizens were able to capture footage and other evidence of cheating and other abhorrent election offenses from different parts of the archipelago. Our countrymen now are not only aware of, but also knowledgeable in, computers and other digital devices.
As captured by netizens through photos and videos, we see the same sad story in the Philippines. Vote-buying has become ever more rampant, as have been the acts of terrorism, threats and intimidation.
We have received reports of information and communications technology (ICT) companies that were engaged by candidates to boost their chances in winning the automated elections. Parts of the package included access to official voters database and vaunted “magic laptops” which they claimed could tap into the COMELEC’s main server.
I brushed aside all these alleged offers as mere being hearsay until I saw it happening before my -- and the country’s -- very eyes on the day of elections.
On or about 7:30 in the evening on May 9, Smartmatic’s Marlon Garcia, a Venezuelan national, admitted entering a new “script” or computer command in the PPCRV transparency server. Note that this change was done not before the elections, not when they were doing the pre-testing, but DURING transmission of results from our canvassing boards nationwide.
It was after this particular act of computer programming wizardry that votes for this representation started to slow down and the votes for another candidate started to accelerate -- at an unprecedented and linear rate of 45,000 votes for every additional 1 percent of votes counted.
This is the very same Marlon Garcia who was charged with electoral sabotage for doing the very same thing during the 2013 elections.
What are the chances that this computer programming change can be linked to the odd pattern that emerged during the PPCRV quick-count?
How sure are we that that the computer change did not open windows of opportunity for “trap doors”, “trojan horses”, “worms”, or “time-bombs” to enter the system?
COMELEC Chair Andres Bautista claims that the programming change in the transparency server was nothing more than a “cosmetic change,” and that the same did not alter the results of the elections. What proof do we have of this? We have not seen any.
Last week, I formally wrote to COMELEC and personally asked them to allow my IT experts to examine their servers. I made sure each and every Commissioner was given a copy of my request. Not one of them has replied to my request. Unlike FPJ, it has not even been “noted”.
I have to ask myself : why is COMELEC turning a blind eye to the quantum of proof that is before them? Every day netizens post new photos and videos of election fraud. Police found thousands of pre-shaded ballots in an abandoned warehouse in Alaminos, Pangasinan. Unused SD cards were found in a trash can in Kabangkalan, Negros Occidental. There is video of election fraud in Datu Ampatuan, Maguindanao. And yet, Comelec has done nothing. They would rather concentrate on immediate proclamation in the hope that the uproar will die down soon after.
All these reports give us a clear sense of how the terrain of our electoral process has evolved since automation. Now, it is clear that we are waging the battle on two fronts: on the ground level; and in the field of computer science and programming.
I recall the words of Dr. Rubin, an American computer expert, speaking on automated elections when it was first implemented in the United States :
“My biggest fear is that someone would program a machine to give a wrong answer. If that were to happen, the machine would still work fine. We just wouldn’t know (that it had given a wrong answer).”
Another added: “Any time a program is changed, it can change things you don’t see.” (Bev Harris, “Black Box Voting” )
You can tell a computer to behave badly in thousands of different ways. Unless we have strict, transparent and unblemished auditing procedure, “anyone with access to the central count machine can hack an election.”
In this highly contentious, hard-fought vice-presidential race, COMELEC must accomplish its constitutional mandates of 1) enforcing and administering all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of elections, 2) deciding all questions affecting elections; and 3) ensuring “free, orderly, HONEST, peaceful, CREDIBLE and informed elections.”
We should not accept on mere blind faith the representations of the contractor and reflected data on their machines. The burden of proof should be upon them, and COMELEC as well, that the integrity of the system was not compromised.
COMELEC should not allow that “the secrecy of the ballot be turned into the secrecy of the vote count.”
Congress shall shortly convene into a National Board of Canvassers for the election results of the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency.
As all other Presidential candidates have conceded and no questions surround the votes he has received, I propose the immediate proclamation of our presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte, being the clear and uncontested winner in the presidential elections. Again, I offer him my sincere congratulations and my hand in partnership for the future. Mr. President, the Philippines now looks to you for your leadership and vision!
However, I humbly but firmly reiterate, my strong reservations in the canvassing of the results of the Vice-Presidential elections, on the basis of electoral irregularities on the two fronts that I mentioned.
I raise all these for the millions of Filipinos who voted for me and all the other voters whose votes were “lost” and remain uncounted. Your votes genuinely and properly reflect your will and your trust in me. I will be forever grateful. I vow to fight for the disenfranchised, whose votes were either prevented, diverted or declared invalid and thrown away, that their true choice be counted and included.
My fellow Filipinos, today, I speak not about myself or about my candidacy. I speak about our nation and our country’s future.
What is at stake today is the sanctity of suffrage, which great leaders teach us must be guarded at every turn. Many attribute the phrase: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” to Thomas Jefferson.
This is so very true: “Eternal vigilance IS the price of liberty.”
Today, amidst controversy, cross-accusation, and confusion, our nation needs more eternal vigilance. We need leaders who are less interested in promoting their own interest, and their own party, and more interested in leaving behind the enduring example of free and fair elections.
In this chamber, I stand second to no one in understanding we here in the Philippines have not always achieved this. But I remind even my most ardent critics: Ours is a nation and a history that proves able to learn, to adjust, to self-correct, to move forward.
But moving forward demands that we each pay the sacred price of eternal vigilance. And as we review these threats to free and fair elections, no amount of politics, or carelessness, or outright deceit, will ultimately ever be excused by the people.
This odious legacy of this government and the allegations surrounding it cannot be left uninvestigated. Evidence cannot be left un-reviewed. And truth cannot be left unspoken …. Because truth is the life-blood of eternal vigilance.
Fellow senators, we cannot hold false confidence that we had free and fair elections if we did not.
Our colleague, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago warns us now of a “garrison state where the authoritarian government feels free to manufacture numbers as they are needed.”
No less an authority than Abraham Lincoln reminds us: “Elections belong to the people.”
We should listen to these words. No one, no president, no party, no backroom, no machine, no operative, has the right to thwart the will of the Filipino people. Elections belong to the people.
No one has the right to use political advantage to influence or manipulate an election. And we never—ever—can let that happen…. because what’s at stake is our future.
In this chamber, our job is to fight those who want to keep taking us backwards.
Two days before the May 9th election, I said this:
“We must—all of us—guard against coming intimidation, manipulation, and even fraud by forces of the political status quo.”
This is truer today than it was two weeks ago. In fact, if anything, we now need more eternal vigilance today than we did last May 9th.
Again, this is not about one candidate against another, or one family versus another, or one party versus another. This is not about a foreign technology vendor scandal.
This is about eternal vigilance.
Even if you are satisfied with the results of the May 9th election, it remains our job to rise above politics—and protect the sanctity of each and every single vote.
In closing, we might all ask ourselves a question that will endure beyond each of our time here: “What can we learn from this?”
In fact, we are too good a people, and too great a nation, with too great an ability to adjust and to take our democratic process forward, to NOT learn from this.
We are simply too great a nation to not learn once more the awesome power and the sacred responsibility of eternal vigilance.
Today, as tomorrow, this will require real change. This will require real courage…. And, again and again, this will require eternal vigilance.
Fellow Filipinos, join me in calling for more eternal vigilance.
At stake is our country’s future.
Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!