The Manila Times - Tipping point

18 October 2018

By Antonio P. Contreras | The Manila Times

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) should realize that it enters the 2019 election season with a much-tarnished reputation, perhaps the worst in our history. If there is one major achievement of the election protest filed by Bongbong Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo, it is to drive the massive unraveling of evidence of election fraud in the eyes of the electorate.

What makes it particularly more damaging is that this evidence points to fraud that may have been committed with the complicity of the Comelec itself. There are too many cases where Comelec appeared to have authorized the tampering of its own system. Marlon Garcia was authorized to tweak the system when votes had already been counted. And then you have the failure to follow the procedure to review the source codes, as provided by law. Regional hubs were established without properly informing the relevant stakeholders, and then a fourth server was installed even if this was not part of the legally approved system. Comelec also changed the minimum shading threshold not only once but twice prior to the 2013 and 2016 elections without any proper en banc resolution, and without informing the election watchdogs, the voting public, the candidates and the political parties.

What is more enraging is the manner in which Comelec officials keep on acting as if these things are normal and are not significant in undermining the credibility of our elections. The electorate is forced to ask why the same Comelec officials can still have the audacity to show their faces to oversee our 2019 elections, acting as if they are credible managers of democracy, when the truth is that they have allowed for a system where vote-counting machines were already transmitting even prior to the elections. In some decent and honest societies, this simple incident would have already forced the officials either to resign in shame, or worse, to thrust a dagger into their own hearts in atonement for shaming not only their families, but democracy itself. And yet there they were, defensive and combative, acting as if their names and honor are the ones being smeared

This is what drives the anger among ordinary citizens.

And the anger is further heightened as people wonder how Smartmatic can remain as our election provider despite all the reported cases of anomalies not only here but even in elections it had managed in other countries. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason why an election provider which has been proven to have mismanaged elections in its very own native Venezuela, and with a preponderance of allegations against its system during the past three elections in our country, should be retained. If there is one ritual of democracy whose sanctity needs to be secured, it should be the elections. It is inconceivable that a country like ours should let contractual obligations, and the threat of being sued by a service provider that has lost credibility, be given more weight than the higher constitutional duty to ensure clean and honest elections.

The rage is simmering, even as the erosion of trust in political institutions are evident and is no longer confined to the Comelec, but has even spread to the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), Congress and even the President himself.

The PET has been taken to task, particularly Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, for causing the delay in the resolution of the protest of Marcos. What is even more appalling is the fact, well-established, that Caguioa’s wife openly supported Robredo, who is the respondent in the protest. Again, in a more honest and decent society, a judge who would be placed in such a situation would have inhibited not only to chair the election protest body, but even to be a member of it. It is bad enough that Caguioa remains as the justice in charge of the case. What is even worse is that the entire court appeared to have legitimized it when the en banc ignored the motion of Marcos for Caguioa to inhibit, and did not accede to the latter’s belated intent to inhibit. One needs to ask how being married to one who is partisan to a party in an election protest could not be a ground to remove a sitting justice from the case in question.

Congress is also taking a hit. This is not only because the Senate appeared to have simply allowed resigned Comelec chairman Andres Bautista to freely leave the country in the midst of an important investigation that may have some implications on the conduct of the 2016 elections. It is also because there is a perception that the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) chaired by Sen. Koko Pimentel seems to be not as interested in performing its job. Its hearings are very much delayed, and its conduct became suspect when many saw attempts to muzzle election crusader and lawyer Glenn Chong even as it allowed an off-site, executive meeting with Comelec officials.

The JCOC appears to be toothless in the face of the emerging evidence of possible fraud. Its main function is supposed to evaluate the conduct of elections so that proper legislative remedies can be made. And there are just too many problems with the automated election system that needs fixing. Congress waited too long that it is now too late and useless in the face of the fact that the filing of candidacy papers for the 2019 elections has already passed. It appears that there is no more time to respond to the call for a hybrid automation system, even as until now no single senator or House member has gallantly spoken on the floor demanding the termination of the contract with Smartmatic.

And the most palpable sign of anger towards the election system is when even the President is called out for his non-action, or even non-comment, about the allegations of irregularities. People are asking how the President has not uttered a single comment about the absence of Andres Bautista. One is tempted to even ask how the President cannot see that election fraud is as dangerous to our nation’s soul as drugs and crime. Indeed, he declared that he will fight for clean elections. He should, and the best way to start is not to rest with generalized promises. People are waiting for him to begin shaming and issuing strong words against specific people in relation to election fraud, the same way he did against people in relation to drugs. The fact that he doesn’t simply adds to the reason why people appear to enter the 2019 elections with a lot of doubt, and a lot of anger.

If we are not careful, the 2019 elections may just be a tipping point for many houses of cards to fall.