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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Can we still hold clean and honest elections?


This, rather than who should be running for President or Vice President, is the real question before us now. Is a clean and honest (and hopefully intelligent) Philippine election still possible? What can we do, and what should we do, to make it happen? Is the idea of a clean and honest election compatible with the use of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine?
Since the Supreme Court voided the Commission on Elections’ P269-million contract with Smartmatic for the repair of 82,000 PCOS machines to be used in 2016, some of us seem to believe that our battle against the PCOS machine is over, and that we are but a few steps away from holding a non-farcical election.
This feeling is understandable, but it seems entirely wishful. The Court decision ended a “midnight contract” which probably meant fat commissions for some Comelec officials or former officials; but in what way has it advanced the cause of clean and honest elections? This is what we must examine.
We cannot do away with the old PCOS units without doing away with automated voting. Without the voting machines, we would be forced to revert to manual voting, which may not be easy to do at all. It would mean repealing the automated voting law, which has developed its own constituency among our mostly transactional politicians. Should we fail to change the law, we cannot go manual even if it were the only remaining option. We will have to make do with the 23,000 new PCOS units which the Comelec is leasing from Smartmatic now.
This would mean an overload of several thousand voters per PCOS machine. The technical complications are unimaginable. They could lead to a possible failure of elections, which some Aquino supporters could exploit to argue in favor of extending his “term.”
The PCOS machine is not our only problem. But our discussion must begin here because of its critical role in any automated election. The corruption of the PCOS machine has rendered completely questionable not only the validity of the last two elections, but also the use of the PCOS in any future election.
Under Chairman Jose Melo, the Comelec removed all of the PICOS machines’ security and safety features and accuracy mechanisms, in violation of law and without regard of public opinion. In 2010, this produced the de facto presidency of B. S. Aquino 3rd. In 2013, this produced the “60-30-10” senatorial slate led by the hitherto unheralded Grace Poe. In 2016, unless corrected, it could produce another de facto president.
Deleted from legal existence were the mandatory review of the source code, which contains all the operational instructions to the PCOS machine; the ultra violet scan of every ballot paper to be used by every voter; the voter verification mechanism, which allows the voter to see that the machine is reading and recording his vote right; the digital signature on every report coming out of the machine, certifying its origin, timelines, and authenticity of its content; the certification by an independent authority of the perfect condition of the machines before they were used; and the random audit of the machines once they were operational.
The Court ruling does not discuss the legal castration of the PCOS machine. But until the Court requires the Comelec and Smartmatic to restore all the security features and accuracy mechanisms that had been taken away from the machine, we cannot begin to talk of a clean and honest automated voting. This point is important because while the Court nullified the defective repair contract between the Comelec and Smartmatic, it did not ban the infected machines from the next elections.
Nothing prevents the parties from entering into a new contract that is free from the legal defects of their nullified agreement. In fact, the Court did not say anything about the 23,000 new PCOS units the Comelec is leasing from its favored supplier.
This means that if the failed contract were properly rebidded, in accordance with the national procurement law, the 82,000 old PCOS machines could still be repaired and used in 2016, even without restoring the features that had been illegally removed in 2010 and 2013. So the PCOS machine would be back in action, while remaining the dirty word it had become in the last two elections.
It is therefore absolutely necessary that if a new repair and maintenance contract were to be drawn up between Comelec and Smartmatic, the word “repair” should be understood to mean restoring all the necessary features that had been illegally removed by the Comelec.
Together with this, our judicial system should be able to support our campaign for clean and honest elections by acting with reasonable dispatch on the various petitions and complaints that have been filed against those who have committed serious electoral offenses since 2010. These include those filed with the Ombudsman against Comelec officials responsible for disfiguring the PCOS machine, and those filed with the Supreme Court seeking the nullification of the results of the 2010 presidential elections.
The first set of complaints appears to have slept the sleep of death at the Office of the Ombudsman, while the petition before the Supreme Court against the 2010 presidential election, according to petitioners Homobono Adaza and Herman Tiu Laurel, has been “given due course,” but has not really moved at all. The entire government needs to get involved in this enterprise; but where the government is indifferent or antagonistic, the people must weigh in. For this involves the highest national interest.
The life of our democracy is a life-and-death issue for every patriot. And we must all be prepared to be patriots. As such our first duty is to stay focused, especially when others seem to be more occupied with what is superficial and meaningless than with what is truly meaningful and substantive, with ideas that could help us find a way out of the prevailing darkness. Nothing illustrates this better than what we read daily in the media about non-entities who seem to be completely preoccupied with their ambition to become president.
I cannot seem to understand why despite the sincere effort of the National Transformation Council to point out that our constitutional order is broken, and needs to be fixed first before we should start talking about people who should be running for the highest office, the most ambitious of them would not risk saying that they too would like to help fix the system before talking of their interest in any office. Even more distressing is the tendency of some people to name some senators as possible materials for the highest office.
It is simply the wrong place from which to draw any material for president or even vice-president. Why? Because it is an institution that has completely destroyed itself. In the presidential bribery that took place during the impeachment trial of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, 19 of the 20 senators who had voted to convict Corona received a bribe of P50 million to P100 million. This was so many times more than what Judas got when he sold his Master to his enemies. At least 16 of those senators remain seated in the Senate. The newcomers are not among those who had taken a bribe, but they were also part of those who were benefitted by the 2013 Hocus PCOS that gave us the 60-30-10 winning senatorial slate.
We need to see that our reigning emperors are naked.
fstatad@gmail.com

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