The Manila Times - A conspiracy of tolerance

29 January 2019

By Antonio P. Contreras | The Manila Times

THE vigor by which Robert Mueller goes after people who may have tainted the US 2016 presidential election, notwithstanding the fact that these are people very close to US President Donald Trump, can easily mesmerize any political observer. The boldness acquires impressive levels when it appears that the process doesn’t spare even Trump himself. To date, some like Michael Cohen have even been convicted and sentenced to serve jail terms. And the fact that the issues surrounding the controversy are not even on matters directly involved in the conduct of the elections, but instead are anomalies related to the Trump campaign and the role that Russia allegedly played in it, should further impress us.

And you contrast that with what has happened in our country in relation to the conduct of our own 2016 elections, and you won’t have any choice but to gnash your teeth and weep. We have a congress that initially wanted to acquit former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andy Bautista from being impeached on counts of unexplained wealth, some of which bore evidence of somewhat being election-related. It has been revealed that there are documents suggesting that Bautista had links to Smartmatic, the chosen service provider for the automated election, and which may have even involved some monetary consideration. This was revealed while an election protest filed by former senator Bongbong Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo is being heard, where allegations have been made about massive fraud ranging from the conventional methods of pre-shading ballots and tampering with election paraphernalia to the more sophisticated possible tampering with scripts and algorithms.

Eventually, Andy Bautista was impeached by the House of Representatives in a dramatic reversal of the recommendations of its justice committee, even as some Smartmatic personnel were also indicted, leading to a live ongoing case against them stemming from the tampering of scripts done by Venezuelan national Marlon Garcia on election night.

But then Bautista and Garcia are nowhere to be found, having apparently left the country even if their possible knowledge and/or involvement in fraud remains unresolved. Congress and the courts appear to be clueless and helpless, unable to take hold of these two men to provide relevant information that can shed light on the allegations of fraud that marred the 2016 elections.

Worse, the Comelec has retained Smartmatic as the service provider for the 2019 midterms, without any objections from any sitting member of Congress, or even from the President himself.

And the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) composed of senators and representatives tasked to review the conduct of the automated elections, and to ensure that the law is followed and that elections are clean, honest and credible, despite being presented with compelling evidence and testimonies not only from losing politicians but from election watchdogs and experts, appears toothless.

Worse, it was even obvious on several occasions that there was an attempt, though unsuccessful, to stifle the testimony of anti-election fraud crusader Glenn Chong. There was also an attempt to hold executive sessions on matters that are supposed to be transparent, the conduct of which was fortunately outed by an eager commissioner who tweeted and posted a picture while the meeting was being held. It behooves us to ask how anything remotely related to the conduct of elections, the cornerstone of our democratic processes, could be held away from the public view. How can an oversight committee allow this to happen?

But apparently, it is no longer surprising. The Comelec has changed the minimum threshold for shading ballot ovals not only once but twice without informing the public and the parties concerned. And this was even countenanced by no less than the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) on the protest of Marcos against Robredo.

Had the killing of Chong’s personal assistant Richard Santillan happened in the US, the FBI would have been mobilized by now to look into a possible link to election fraud. But not in our country.

And yet we call ourselves a democracy.

A democracy is what is happening in the US, where at least institutions work. There, the political opposition, the Democrats, perform their jobs as a necessary check and balance to the powers of the Republicans in the White House and in Congress. The legal process does not rely only on ballot recounts to overturn election results, but goes after people who may have tainted the electoral process. The system works there, where special counsels are not intimidated to investigate the conduct even of people close to the White House.

It would be nice if the vigor the political opposition shows in calling out President Duterte every step of the way can be matched by their own vigor in castigating him for allowing Andy Bautista to simply fly away, or to call out Comelec for sitting on the job, or denounce their own colleagues in the JCOC for not doing enough, or to demand that Smartmatic be fired.

But how can the Liberal Party, and their allies in the political opposition, even dare raise these issues when the possible beneficiary of the biggest election fraud in our country’s political history is one of them. How can they even object to Smartmatic when it is a child of their own time in government, and from where many of them probably benefited?

If there is one person from which we should demand action to take the lead in cleaning up our elections, it would be the President himself.

President Duterte rode on the image of change, and he promised to sweep our political landscape of corruption. Electoral fraud is definitely the worst corruption of all, since it undermines the very foundation of our democracy. It is understandable if we do not hear anything from the political opposition on the issue of electoral fraud. But one has to keep asking and wondering why the President has not come out swinging, with his usual air of bravado, cursing and all, against election cheats, with the same level of colorful language that he uses against the bishops and the Catholic Church. It behooves us to ask why, given the opportunity, he did not appoint reformists in the Comelec.

The President has focused his ire on criminality and drugs with so much precision and vigor on the argument that they eat away the moral fiber of the Republic. But it must be argued that election fraud is a worse crime against the Republic, for it does not devour its victims selectively, but inflicts itself on all of us. The President turned juvenile delinquency into a crisis even if data shows otherwise. Much rancor has been created and our political capital has been eroded by focusing only on the 2 percent of the totality of offenses attributed to children. This, even as his stance towards election-related controversies remains tepid at best.

We see people who keep on condemning election anomalies while they accuse Robredo of electoral fraud, but won’t call out the President to pressure him to be a leader in cleaning up the mess. That is how much they worship him. We have a President with phenomenal trust and approval ratings, who can take on anyone, even God Himself. If only he can spare some of his cursing, and aim it towards the election cheats and fraudsters.