"We should not have the harrowing, expensive and ultimately democracy-draining experience we had in 2016."
Calling Senate President Tito Sotto and Senator Dick Gordon. Now that you have started it, can you please wrap up the hearings on the problems encountered during the 2016 elections and be more aggressive in having all the necessary safeguards in place to ensure the conduct of clean, honest and credible elections next year? I believe the joint legislative committee on the automated electoral system has gathered enough information to craft and put in place a system which banishes forever the ghosts of elections past specially 2016.
Never again should we let Smartmatic and its co-conspirators, in and out of the Commission on Elections, make a mockery of our electoral process. Never again should we let this foreign-owned company or any foreigner for that matter decide the fate of our democracy. For that is what this company and its partners have done over the past four electoral cycles. As a consequence we have stumbled into all kinds of problems and questionable results using their so-called proprietary automated electoral system in that elections courtesy of Smartmatic and its co-conspirators.
Indeed, the conduct and the subsequent results of the 2016 elections remains a blight, a sorry reminder of the sad state which the Venezuelans and their enablers have brought our processes to.
The ongoing protest over the results of the vice presidential contest is instructive. Having been intimately involved in the campaign of then-Senator Bongbong Marcos and our own party list, we recognized the tell-tale signs of a concerted effort to ensure that the wishes of then-President Aquino and his party was foremost in the conduct of that elections. It was as if all safeguards and, yes, modicum of decency were thrown out of the window to ensure the victory of the Aquino slate.
We are not just talking here of the use or should we say abuse of government resources—from the 4Ps to directed projects to manipulated contracts and even the selection of people manning the security forces and the other agencies mandated to provide assistance to the Comelec in the conduct of the elections. These and the many other small things which formed the cogs in the manipulation machine down to the lowest levels were so obvious loads of questions and petitions were lodged at the poll body and the courts even before the actual voting took place. But to no avail.
The most sophisticated, nay brazen, operations took place at the highest levels of the Comelec under the baton no less of the infamous Chairman Andy Bautista. It was Bautista early on who organized what turned out to be the most corrupted electoral system and practice in living memory. Remember the “leak” of the voters list which the National Privacy Commission exposed? Well, it turns out that the same was the handiwork of a group of Comelec employees working in tandem with an LP-aligned election operations group. That was just the start of an entire process meant to “inform and educate” voters about the “value” of voting LP.
It was also the Bautista-led Comelec which allowed the use of what turned out to be coded signs in the ballot itself. How could Bautista and his people explain, for example, the use of “Daang Matuwid” as an appellation of the LP candidates for President (Mar Roxas) and Vice President (Leni Robredo)? Yet the same was allowed as if the duo had used these as “call names” for some time all along. Sige nga. Would any of them answer to that appellation now if and when they are called in public?
Then, the printing of ballots. Under the guidance of the Comelec and its mandated printer, the National Printing Office, all ballots should have the necessary features to ensure security and safety. Check out how many ballots were printed, which machine printed what and which ballots were printed elsewhere or outsourced. Just the logs of the printing alone you will see proof of what the critics had earlier called an overprint of some 5 million ballots. Why the over print? Where did these extra ballots go? Your guess is as good as mine.
Then, there is the matter of contract workers, mostly IT personnel, to man the thousands of precincts all over the country. In case you are not aware, these workers serve as the ‘repair-cum-monitoring’ guys called upon to ensure that the vote counting machines and the aggregating/tallying systems are working. Again, check the companies contracted for the purpose and the list of personnel deployed for election day work and you will see why the Aquino administration was so cocky about the chances of its candidates down to municipal level making it.
Then, the last-minute changes in the rules including, among others, deployment and acceptance of ballots and other election paraphernalia and instructions to field personnel on their conduct before, during and after the voting. It was only after the voting has taken place, for example, that the parties and the public found out that seven regional canvass centers were activated which was contrary to the published rules. Why, where and what these centers were supposed to do was known only to Bautista and his boys. The lame excuse was to expedite the resolution of issues concerning the VCMs. Well, the transfer of 25 or so VCMs from Camarines Sur to Santa Rosa, Laguna—the national resolution (for want of a better word) center —was contested by then-Rep. Louie Villafuerte and formed part of his petition before the HRET. Up to now, that remains unanswered. How many such cases happened all over the country in 2016? We don’t know. Yet such transfers presumably affected the results as the Villafuerte petition alleged.
Then, the case of the tweaking of the “N” in the middle of the national canvass by Venezuela Marlon Garcia which was the subject of a case we brought before the Comelec and the Manila RTC. There was no rhyme or reason for that tweak. Neither Comelec nor Smartmatic could come out with any credible justification of that intrusion which altered the results of the voting altogether. No matter how these guys justify that action as merely a lapse on the part of Garcia and that the system remained uncorrupted after that, the overwhelming public view is that the same caused Marcos’ over-a-million lead at that time to wither and die. Thus, the ongoing protest at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
So, with this litany of problems should we just let things stay as they are specially since we are now being told that it will be next to impossible to change our partner-provider, Smartmatic, and let us suffer the same fate as in the 2016 elections? We should not. Never again should we have that harrowing, expensive and ultimately democracy draining experience.