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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vice President-elect Leni Robredo, woman of destiny and “the Cinderella of Philippine Politics,” as Press Secretary Sal Panelo terms her, comes into office with cloud of electoral fraud hounding her. Defeated rival Bongbong Marcos plans protest before SC converted into Presidential Electoral Tribunal---a long expensive process. 3.3 million under-vote phenomenon emerges, which some IT experts believe could only be ascribed to administration in power.









Far from being clean honest and credible, the recent elections are heavily suspected of being fraud-ridden, as far as majority of our people and our IT experts are concerned.  That more people believe the elections have been studded with cheating may be gleaned from a poll survey conducted soon after precincts closed by Net 25, the Iglesia ni Cristo radio-TV station. It found out that a full 97.7% of the public believed there was widespread cheating, while only 2.3% believed it was honest and credible.

In the aftermath of the May 9 elections, reports flooded media about voting machines in various places that were pre-loaded with shaded ballots even before voting. The provinces of Eastern Samar, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan are mentioned, among others. There was the banner story of Standard by ace reporter Christine F. Herrera about how some 30 consolidated counting servers (CCS) were airlifted to the Comelec National Technical Support Center in Sta. Rosa, Laguna under a thick veil of secrecy, shortly after 5 pm. of election day, ostensibly because these municipal and provincial canvassing machines failed to boot.


XXX

Christine Herrera’s report said that a group of IT experts hired by the Comelec, speaking on condition of anonymity, had alleged that these CCSs were out to rig results of the elections specially in four contested vote-rich provinces . It was noted that soon afterwards the votes of vice-presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos began to shrink while those of rival LP candidate Leni Robredo began to climb up mysteriously. 

Commenting on the controversy involving the CCS units in Sta. Rosa, a number of independent Filipino IT experts, sufficiently alarmed, argued that the only way to settle the allegation of the Comelec-hired IT group about these machines was to subject them to an independent forensic examination before the national canvassing in Congress began last Wednesday. The IT experts' proposal, however, was ignored by the leadership of both chambers of Congress which finished the canvassing in record time and proclaimed winners Rodrigo Duterte and Leni Robredo.

XXX

Many other factors contributed to the lack of credibility of the recent polls. For one, Comelec Chief Andres Bautista chose to defer action on the clamor of IT experts to open the electoral results to a systems audit, arguing that there is already a lawsuit vs. Smartmatic. so that this latter plea could wait. But what really proved CENTRAL TO THE ALLEGATIONS OF MASSIVE CHEATING was the unfortunate episode involving the Venezuelan  operations chief of Smartmatic, Marlon Garcia, who changed the command script of the Comelec’s transparency server on his own, without authorization from the poll body’s commissioners en banc, as RA 9369, the AES law, provides. 

Garcia argued that all he wanted to do was to rectify the absence of the correct alphabet letter “enye” in the list of candidates names. But that singular act of Garcia proved to all and sundry that our electoral system was entirely vulnerable to hacking from outside.  But other than the Comelec chief's attempt to minimize Garcia's alteration as merely “cosmetic,” the poll body ignored the Filipino IT experts' clamor for a full-blown investigation of this interference.

XXX

IT expert Prof. Edmundo "Toti" Casino argues that “If this issue is not heeded still, it will be the 4th election wherein foreigner contractor Smartmatic would have its technicians intervene directly in the Philippine election system during official counting."  Casino listed all four instances of Smartmatic’s intervention:

1)    in 2008 in Wao in changing results in the transmission as reported by AVANTE,  2) in 2010 on the changing of the 256 million registered voters in the Joint National Board of Canvassers, and  3)  in 2013 when the same Smartmatic technician, Marlon Garcia, appeared at the PPCRV premises in Pope Pius XII Center in Manila and made direct instruction to alter totals in their transparency server and match it with Comelec's central server and  now, 4) in 2016 where Garcia directly inserted a new script in the transparency server during an official transmission of election results.”  

XXX


This atmosphere of questionable poll results in the recent elections did not affect President-elect Rodrigo Duterte as he obtained a HUGE LANDSLIDE VOTE---a plurality of some 16.6 million votes, the biggest obtained by any Philippine president.  Duterte’s lead over his closest rival, LP’s Mar Roxas, amounted to 6.6 million votes.

But this was not the same case for Vice-President elect  Leni Robredo, because her vote margin over closest rival, Bongbong Marcos, was a hairline---only 263, 473 votes--- and over the weeks leading to the elections, Marcos had led in the surveys.  But as May 09 approached, the LP, convinced that Mar Roxas’ candidacy was not going to prosper vs. Duterte, apparently decided to throw everything it had to propel Leni Robredo---to ensure at least a foot in the door, so to speak. As news reports put it, the biggest advertising budget in tri-media, suspected to have been sourced from the Bottom-Up-Budgeting---was utilized for her candidacy---and it worked!

XXX

This is not to say, however, that Leni, who took her time to say yes to P-Noy's coaxing to run as VP, has no merit on her own.  In a conversation this blogger had with former Speaker Jose de Venecia a few weeks before the elections, JDV spoke of how the hitherto unknown Leni came in at first with little support from various crowds in Pangasinan where he and his wife, outgoing Rep. Gina de Venecia, had campaigned for the LP slate;  but as more and more people came to meet and talk to Leni, and heard her deliver her speeches, said Joe, they were won over.

One of the valid criticisms leveled at Leni Robredo was her inexperience in executive governance, considering that she would be one heartbeat away from the presidency (this reality is fearful but not hard to imagine, as President-elect Duterte is 71 years old and readily acknowledges that he's not in the peak of health;  reports say he has Buerger’s disease, which involves inflammation of the arteries). But as the voters got more exposed to Robredo, the simplicity, humility and intelligence of this lady lawyer grew on them.

 XXX

It was argued by political pundits that soon to be ex-President Noynoy Aquino at some point realized that much as he depended on his friend Mar Roxas to look after him politically, his candidacy did not progress as Noynoy wanted it. Thus, as Roxas got left behind, the widow of the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo grew in stature and she emerged as the child of destiny. In the words of Duterte’s Press Secretary, Leni is the “Cinderella of Philippine politics.”  

But the lack of credibility of the recent elections would continue to hound VP Leni Robredo, and Bongbong Marcos, eager to return the family to Malacanang, can be expected to capitalize on this uncertain atmosphere---in view of Leni's razor-thin electoral margin over him. Marcos has expressed determination to pursue his protest vs. his rival, perhaps if only to keep his name alive for a Palace run in the future. 

XXX

One issue Marcos will probably exploit is the phenomenon of the "under-vote issue"---that there are at least 3.3 million people in the recent elections who voted for a presidential candidate but not for the vice-presidential candidate; and much of this vote deficit comes from the Visayas and Mindanao where a lot of magic had taken place. How does one explain the "under-vote" phenomenon? Could it be that that many voters voted for their presidential candidate but refrained from voting for a vice-presidential candidate because they did not like anyone of the candidates?  Or could it be, as some IT experts now muse, that a lot of votes may have been shaved from Bongbong Marcos but were not filled up with the name of his major rival---as it's far easier to keep the vote blank than to write something in it. It's further reasoned that such hocus-focus can only be done by the administration in power as it controls the vote-counting machines. 

IT expert Maricor Mendoza-Akol, in fact, points out that from 6 pm.-6:10 pm. on Election Day, there was no transmission whatsoever throughout the country. What went on? There are questions and more questions being raised about the recent elections.

With the two top winners already proclaimed by Congress, Marcos will have to lodge his protest before the Supreme Court that will transform itself into the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, as provided by the Constitution. It is a fact, however, that electoral protests in this country are expensive and takes years to determine with finality.  Nevertheless, this fight between Robredo and Marcos on the new plane of the PET bears watching. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Nervousness about Rodrigo Duterte palpable even as his inaugural is just a month away, due to his recent attack on bishops/Church and statements that seem off-the-cuff rather than well-thought out. New Press Secretary/spokesperson Sal Panelo seeks to allay public apprehension by stressing that these statements could be “pang kampanya lang.” Duterte contemplates simple inaugural at Malacanang with only pika-pika fare. Even as House reps rally to battle-cry, "Change is coming," faint whispers in half-jest also admonish that "Abolition is coming."


Monday, May 23, 2016

Newly-appointed Presidential Spokesperson and Press Secretary Salvador Panelo poses with media women (left to right: Mandy Navasero, yours truly, Domini Torrevillas and Deedee Siytanco, with Saeed Daof.



Recently I was having a blow-dry at my favorite beauty parlor when a lady friend wailed into my cellphone, “Bel, ano ba ito? Why is the new President frightening all of us?” She then rattled off the “offer” made public by presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte of four mass-based Cabinet posts to the Left. 

Amid the whirring of the hair-dryer I could barely hear my friend as she cited headlines about Duterte’s intention to bring back the death penalty, abolished since 2007, and she was plainly hysterical as she noted how he advocated death by hanging, describing vividly how the head would snap from the body!  She also noted that Duterte said he'd give law-enforcers permission to shoot-to-kill lawless elements, prompting human rights advocates here and around the world to discombobulate. 

XXX

“Ano ba ito? Dios ko!  my lady friend wailed. I agreed with her and we spoke about how even the usually mild-mannered come-backing Cebu Mayor Tommy Osmena seems to afflicted with the same sickness as the President-elect. Osmena raised eyebrows when he was recently quoted as offering to pay his police force a bounty of P50,000 for every criminal they kill, and P5,000 for every criminal they wound.

The Cebu mayor was quoted as saying that he would not suppress vigilantes, but my wailing lady friend and I agreed that vigilante-style executions are not the answer to criminality.  Instead it lies in strengthening the justice system where palakasan is reduced through the appointment of dedicated public servants in the judiciary, and properly equipping and motivating the police and security forces.
  
I sought to comfort my hysterical friend, opining that the President-elect should  have signified mere intention to submit these moves to exhaustive study and consultation first, rather than sounding so definitive about imposing them. There’s a whole world of difference between rushing headlong to implement a move and first subjecting it to study and deliberation---the way there is a difference between being a demagogue and being a statesman.  

XXX

I realize that those initial pronouncements were made to shock and awe, in true Duterte fashion, and that they caught on with the broad masses during the campaign--- garnering him the biggest plurality of 17 million votes, over 6 million more than his closest rival, LP’s Mar Roxas. Duterte must be reminded, however, that he is now the President-in-waiting and in a little more than a month he will be sworn in to rule over our country, God-permitting, for the next six years. Unfortunately Rody Duterte has not let up on the shock and awe tactic.

Today’s headlines screamed about how he hit the Catholic Church as “the most hypocritical institution” in the vilest language. He also brushed aside complaints from his long-time friend and patron, 64-year old Pastor Apollo Quiboloy---one of his biggest financiers, who lent him use of his private jet and other assets in his campaign---about his being shut out from negotiations regarding Duterte’s appointments. In this connection, however, perhaps it's timely to remind the good sect-leader that his kingdom-building ought to be geared toward the spiritual world.

Adding to the general unease is the oft-repeated threat of the incoming President that if he encounters an obstinate Congress, he would abolish it.

XXX

The nervousness of much of the population is evident, even as a sizable part of them is applauding loudly his seeming decisiveness and forcefulness, in stark contrast to the frightfully limp image of outgoing President Aquino. I had occasion last Saturday afternoon to air this sentiment on behalf of all those nervous about Digong to his new Press Secretary and Spokesperson, UP-trained lawyer Salvador Panelo, whom Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I were able to hijack for a 20-minute interview for her Sunday 6 pm. program, “Radyo Balintataw,” over dzRH.

The occasion was the victory celebration at the old Sampaguita Pictures compound of two first-cousins recently elected to the HouseL Christopher Vera Perez de Venecia, son of outgoing Rep. Gina de Venecia of Pangasinan’s 4th  district and former Speaker Joe de Venecia, and Edward Vera Perez Maceda, son of former Sen. Ernesto Maceda and Marichu Vera Perez Maceda.

XXX

Witty and quite approachable, and dressed in what he said would be de riguer attire in the Duterte administration (T-shirt and denim pants with cuts that expose the fabric's threads), Sal Panelo sought to calm public apprehension about his incoming boss’ remarks on vigilante justice---even as I noted that US President Barack, in his five-minute congratulatory call to the President-elect, sought to remind him about human rights. Panelo, whose wife is a famous endocrinologist, stressed that after all, Duterte is a lawyer and knows the limits of the law; he opined that doubtless those remarks were “pang-kampanya lang” and that Obama’s admonition “should be taken in context.”

Panelo also revealed that the incoming President is leaning toward a very simple inaugural at Malacanang Palace, not at the Luneta, with just pika-pika instead of a full-course banquet. This is laudable.

The incoming Press Secretary---who will have his own battle with the Commission on Appointments over his involvement as lawyer of the Ampatuan family during the investigation into the infamous massacre that ended in many media people slain--- narrated that he had been egging the Davao mayor to run for president as early as seven years ago. Panelo cited his incoming boss' opinion that only he can truly articulate Duterte's mind. If this is so, I expressed the hope that he as presidential spokesperson could help rein in his boss' often outlandish statements and subject them to intensive study and deliberation first---in other words, that Duterte can act more like a statesman than a campaigning politico.

XXX

Inside the House of Representatives, politicians from the 40-year old NUP, the NP and the NPC are now busy positioning themselves vis-à-vis the new administration and a new leader in the chamber---in the hope of getting juicy committee chairmanships.  Duterte’s anointed candidate for Speaker is Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez and as expected, there'll be a lot of shifting of party loyalty to support him. First to jump ship are some 80 out of the 116 LPs elected, who have opted to join Alvarez's “Coalition for Change” with the empirical blessing of outgoing Speaker Sonny Belmonte, soon to become the Minority Leader. Leading the pack of turncoats is the Visayan bloc led by Rep. Albee Benitez which originally went for Grace Poe. The Panay bloc originally supported VP Jejomar Binay but is now also supporting Alvarez.  

The NPC, which earlier backed up Grace Poe, has now allied with PDP-Laban, whose chair is Duterte himself.

And so the House politicians once again demonstrate that politics is essentially the survival of the fittest. But even as there is jockeying for posts amid the battle-cry, “Change is coming,” there are also faint whispers in the corridors of power that say in half-jest, “Abolition is coming!” 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

2016 elections appeared uneventful at first, only for controversial glitches to surface in next few days. Change of transparency server's script by Smartmatic operations chief Marlon Garcia sans permission of Comelec en banc. Though Chief Andres Bautista terms Garcia breach "minor," it erodes 2016 elections' credibility, affecting Marcos-Robredo battle. IT experts demand placing all Smartmatic officials on hold-departure. Their battle-cry: Game over for Smartmatic. Right on.




The recent national elections are generally thought to have turned out well, compared to the two previous elections, but common failings have surfaced, among them: 

1) mismatched results; 
2) candidates’ names missing or the other side of the coin, voters’ lists unexpurgated; 
3) vote counting machines (VCMs) in undisclosed areas, with about 2,500 of them failing to function altogether, disenfranchising some 1.5 million voters; 
4) discrepancies between voters’ intent and the VVPAT receipts; 
5) aggregate sums of select candidates go down as counting went on, when at worst these should remain steady; 
6) questionable transmissions due to the physical handling of all Secured Digital (SD) cards from the VCMs to the canvassing centers; 
6) signals non-existent or weak in some places, etc.

But to my mind, the most serious failing of the 2016 elections is the tampering of the script or command for the transparency servers--without the permission of the Comelec en banc, as provided in R.A. 9369, the Automated Election System (AES) Law. This is the most worrisome of all the recent elections' shortcomings, as it directly challenges their integrity. It means that the system can be hacked from within seemingly without effort or detection.

XXX

As a background, feisty Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon gave a stiff dressing down to the chief of Smartmatic’s technical support team, the Venezuelan Marlon Garcia, for making changes in the script or command of the transparency server---without first consulting and informing the Commissioners en banc, as the law provides. The transparency server dishes out election results to the PPCRV, the citizen arm charged with election quick-count and cited as primary source by media outfits. But as a result of the unauthorized change of script or command, now the PPCRV’s data are held suspect in some quarters as favoring one party over another. This is particularly true in the tight vice-presidential race. 

Marlon Garcia, when questioned, gave the lame excuse that he wanted merely to correct the lack of proper use of the “enye” sign in the names of certain candidates, which had appeared only as ?. Was that all that Garcia did with the Transparency server? Peks man?

Commissioner Guanzon, however, was rightly cynical and termed Garcia's act a breach of protocol. She stressed that he should be made liable to Comelec and the people of the Philippines, as he took too much liberty with our election laws.

An alert FB reader notes that it's strange for the Venezuelan officials of Smartmatic, who designed the electoral system, to overlook the proper “enye” sign, considering that it's very much in the Spanish language.  Comelec Chair Andres Bautista quickly termed this breach controversy a “minor” one that would not affect the outcome of the elections, but to Guanzon, Garcia should answer to the en banc for this outright violation of the law.

XXX

Even before Guanzon denounced Garcia's tampering, Filipino IT experts already raised the alarm last Wednesday, May 11, at a press conference at their command center at the Pamantasan ng Lunsod ng Maynila. They deplored that the software that counted our votes was designed and operated not by us Filipinos, but by the foreign company which should already have been held accountable for many glitches in THREE PRIOR ELECTIONS,  namely, the 2008 ARMM elections, and the 2010 and 2013 elections.  The IT experts now challenged the incoming Duterte administration “to BEGIN real reforms of the election system, holding accountable those who perennially make poll automation an exercise in speed and convenience, over transparency, accountability, security and accuracy.” 

But just as important, the Filipino IT experts demanded that all the Smartmatic officials be placed under a departure hold-order, and that the country be done with this foreign firm for good. I cannot agree more. 

XXX

The question in many minds is, in changing the script or command order, was Marlon Garcia behaving innocently or was he in cahoots with syndicates known to be operating from within? This same Smartmatic official has been involved in other controversies in past Philippine elections, e.g., in 2013, when an intermediary server suddenly sprouted between the PPCRV and the transparency server that dished out data directly from Comelec. No one seems to have known about this mysterious server until an alert bunch of IT folks discovered it and traced it to Garcia. Yet he went unscathed, only to figure in a new controversy this time.  

Sadly these recent happenings within the Comelec only serve to further erode the credibility of the elections. 

I reproduce here the opinions of a couple of IT experts, in the hope that they would help enlighten you readers on this new controversy stirred up by the Smartmatic official.

XXX

Manila Times Columnist Rene Azurin puts the problem about Garcia’s move succinctly thus: 

“The main point about this script change is being totally missed. The point here is that A SMARTMATIC PERSON HAS ACCESS TO THE SERVER PROGRAM WHILE CANVASSING IS GOING ON. This is a security flaw and should not have been the case!” (emphasis BOC's).  Azurin stresses that “If this Smartmatic person can change that one character, he can change other things as well.”

On the other hand, IT expert Leo Querubin puts the move of Smartmatic’s Garcia in the context of Sec. 35 of R.A. 9369. amending Sec. 29. R.A. 8436, as follows: 

“Sec. 35. Prohibited Acts and Penalties. - The following shall be penalized as provided in this Act, WHETHER OR NOT SAID ACTS AFFECT THE ELECTORAL PROCESS OR RESULTS:

(c) GAINING or causing access to using, ALTERING, destroying or disclosing any computer data, program, system software, network, or any computer-related devices, facilities, hardware or equipment, whether classified or declassified…” A further provision of RA 9369 provides that “Any person convicted for violation of this Act, except those convicted of the crime of electoral sabotage, shall be penalized with imprisonment of eight years and one day to twelve (12) without possibility of parole, and perpetual disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage. Moreover, the offender shall be perpetually disqualified to hold any non-elective public office."

XXX

IT professor and practitioner Edmundo “Toti” Casino, on the other hand, cites SEC. 42. Section 27 (b) of Republic Act No. 6646 as hereby amended, to read as follows :

"The act or offense committed shall fall under the category of electoral sabotage in any of the following instances;

"(1) When the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes perpetrated or the refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes, is/are committed in the election of a national elective office which is voted upon nationwide and the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes, refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes, shall adversely affect the results of the election to the said national office to the extent that losing candidate/s is /are made to appear the winner/s;

"(2)  Regardless of the elective office involved, when the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes committed or the refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes perpetrated, is accomplished in a single election document or in the transposition of the figure/results from one election document to another and involved in the said tampering increase and/or decrease or refusal to credit correct votes or deduct tampered votes exceed five thousand (5,000) votes, and that the same adversely affects the true results of the election ;

"(3) Any and all other forms or tampering increase/s and/or decrease/s of votes perpetuated or in cases of refusal to credit the correct votes or deduct the tampered votes, where the total votes involved exceed ten thousand (10,000) votes; ..Provided finally; That any and all either persons or individuals determined to be in conspiracy or in connivance with the members of the BEIs or BOCs involved, shall be meted the same penalty of life imprisonment."

XXX

Former Comelec IT Chief Ernie del Rosario also weighed in on this fraudulent practice of Smartmatic's Marlon Garcia:

"The specific PM component missing here is that of Change Control which serves as a strict control of ALL changes to be effected in the system, no matter how minor, inconsequential or as the Chairman says, "cosmetic" the change is. This controversial change that was applied MUST be effected ONLY if there is a duly signed Change Request document duly-approved and signed by a Change Control Board.

"Simply, a Change Request document is a formal request that defines a change or addition to the agreed to and signed off requirements of the solution. This can be in the form of an interface, a bolt-on application, a report, a data conversion, or a modification to a system such as an addition of even a one-word or one-letter (such an "n" to an "enye") or one number or one special character script to a program. All change requests are submitted to the Change Control Board, which evaluates all requests. 

"To resolve this issue what PPCRV or Comelec or Smartmatic should produce is the specific approved Change Request document that allowed the script addition change. Where is it ? This is a multi-billion peso project and as mentioned above a mission-critical system and there seems to be no such project management system in place ? OMG !!!

"A similar thing happened in 2013 where a Smartmatic personnel also did something in the Conspiracy (Oops ! Transparency pala) Server.  This was documented in several media videos. We lodged a formal complaint  on this to the Supreme Court which must be resurrected and high-lighted again this time that we indeed delegated the conduct of our elections to foreigners.  As usual the SC has not acted on the complaint until now."

XXX

Among the numerous deficiencies in the conduct of the two prior automated elections, these very similar incidents are worth bearing in mind:

(1) In 2010, a Smartmatic technician cavalierly accessed the canvassing program to change the number of voters after the tally showed an erroneous 256 million as the total number of registered voters; and

(2) In 2013, a Smartmatic technician accessed the canvassing server to correct a script that produced an astonishing 12-million vote surge barely two hours into the canvassing. (Uncorrected, that surge would have produced an aggregate vote far exceeding the total number of registered voters.) 
These incidents indicate major flaws in the Smartmatic system that our Commission on Elections has been so bent on foisting on the Filipino people.
This now puts the entire canvassing process in serious doubt. The integrity of the automated results can now be reasonably questioned.

- RENÉ AZURIN, Author, Hacking Our Democracy, and Convener, AES Watch

Saturday, May 14, 2016

2016 elections appeared uneventful at first, only for controversial glitches to surface within days. Change of transparency server's script by Smartmatic operations chief Marlon Garcia sans permission of Comelec en banc. Chief Andres Bautista terms this protocol breach "minor," but it erodes elections' credibility, especially Marcos-Robredo battle. IT experts demand placing all Smartmatic officials on departure hold-order. Their battle-cry: Game Over, Smartmatic!



The recent national elections are generally thought to have turned out well, compared to the two previous elections, but common failings have surfaced, among them:

1) mismatched results;
2) candidates’ names missing or the other side of the coin, voters’ lists unexpurgated;
3) vote counting machines (VCMs) in undisclosed areas, with about 2,500 of them failing to function altogether, disenfranchising some 1.5 million voters;
4) discrepancies between voters’ intent and the VVPAT receipts;
5) aggregate sums of select candidates go down as counting went on, when at worst these should remain steady;
6) questionable transmissions due to the physical handling of all 92,509 SD cards from the VCMs to the canvassing centers;
6) signals non-existent or weak in some places, etc.

But to my mind, the most serious failing of the 2016 elections is the tampering of the script or command for the transparency servers--without the permission of the Comelec en banc, as provided in R.A. 9369, the Automated Election System (AES) Law. This is the most worrisome of all the recent elections' shortcomings, as it directly challenges their integrity. It means that the system can be hacked from within seemingly without effort or detection.

XXX

As a background, feisty Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon gave a stiff dressing down to the chief of Smartmatic’s technical support team, the Venezuelan Marlon Garcia, for making changes in the script or command of the transparency server---without first consulting and informing the Commissioners en banc, as the law provides. The transparency server dishes out election results to the PPCRV, the citizen arm charged with election quick-count and cited as primary source by media outfits. But as a result of the unauthorized change of script or command, now the PPCRV’s data are held suspect in some quarters as favoring one party over another. This is particularly true in the tight vice-presidential race.

Marlon Garcia, when questioned, gave the lame excuse that he wanted merely to correct the lack of proper use of the “enye” sign in the names of certain candidates, which had appeared only as ?. Was that all that Garcia did with the Transparency server? Peks man?

Commissioner Guanzon, however, was rightly cynical and termed Garcia's act a breach of protocol. She stressed that he should be made liable to Comelec and the people of the Philippines, as he took too much liberty with our election laws.

An alert FB reader notes that it's strange for the Venezuelan officials of Smartmatic, who designed the electoral system, to overlook the proper “enye” sign, considering that it's very much in the Spanish language.  Comelec Chair Andres Bautista quickly termed this breach controversy a “minor” one that would not affect the outcome of the elections, but to Guanzon, Garcia should answer to the en banc for this outright violation of the law.

XXX

Even before Guanzon denounced Garcia's tampering, Filipino IT experts already raised the alarm last Wednesday, May 11, at a press conference at their command center at the Pamantasan ng Lunsod ng Maynila. They deplored that the software that counted our votes was designed and operated not by us Filipinos, but by the foreign company which should already have been held accountable for many glitches in THREE PRIOR ELECTIONS,  namely, the 2008 ARMM elections, and the 2010 and 2013 elections.  The IT experts now challenged the incoming Duterte administration “to BEGIN real reforms of the election system, holding accountable those who perennially make poll automation an exercise in speed and convenience, over transparency, accountability, security and accuracy.”

But just as important, the Filipino IT experts demanded that all the Smartmatic officials be placed under a departure hold-order, and that the country be done with this foreign firm for good. I cannot agree more.

XXX

The question in many minds is, in changing the script or command order, was Marlon Garcia behaving innocently or was he in cahoots with syndicates known to be operating from within? This same Smartmatic official has been involved in other controversies in past Philippine elections, e.g., in 2013, when an intermediary server suddenly sprouted between the PPCRV and the transparency server that dished out data directly from Comelec. No one seems to have known about this mysterious server until an alert bunch of IT folks discovered it and traced it to Garcia. Yet he went unscathed, only to figure in a new controversy this time.

Sadly these recent happenings within the Comelec only serve to further erode the credibility of the elections.

I reproduce here the opinions of a couple of IT experts, in the hope that they would help enlighten you readers on this new controversy stirred up by the Smartmatic official.

XXX

Manila Times Columnist Rene Azurin puts the problem about Garcia’s move succinctly thus:

“The main point about this script change is being totally missed. The point here is that A SMARTMATIC PERSON HAS ACCESS TO THE SERVER PROGRAM WHILE CANVASSING IS GOING ON. This is a security flaw and should not have been the case!” (emphasis BOC's).  Azurin stresses that “If this Smartmatic person can change that one character, he can change other things as well.”

On the other hand, IT expert Leo Querubin puts the move of Smartmatic’s Garcia in the context of Sec. 35 of R.A. 9369. amending Sec. 29. R.A. 8436, as follows:

“Sec. 35. Prohibited Acts and Penalties. - The following shall be penalized as provided in this Act, WHETHER OR NOT SAID ACTS AFFECT THE ELECTORAL PROCESS OR RESULTS:

(c) GAINING or causing access to using, ALTERING, destroying or disclosing any computer data, program, system software, network, or any computer-related devices, facilities, hardware or equipment, whether classified or declassified…” A further provision of RA 9369 provides that “Any person convicted for violation of this Act, except those convicted of the crime of electoral sabotage, shall be penalized with imprisonment of eight years and one day to twelve (12) without possibility of parole, and perpetual disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage. Moreover, the offender shall be perpetually disqualified to hold any non-elective public office."

XXX

IT professor and practitioner Edmundo “Toti” Casino, on the other hand, cites SEC. 42. Section 27 (b) of Republic Act No. 6646 as hereby amended, to read as follows :

"The act or offense committed shall fall under the category of electoral sabotage in any of the following instances;

"(1) When the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes perpetrated or the refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes, is/are committed in the election of a national elective office which is voted upon nationwide and the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes, refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes, shall adversely affect the results of the election to the said national office to the extent that losing candidate/s is /are made to appear the winner/s;

"(2)  Regardless of the elective office involved, when the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes committed or the refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes perpetrated, is accomplished in a single election document or in the transposition of the figure/results from one election document to another and involved in the said tampering increase and/or decrease or refusal to credit correct votes or deduct tampered votes exceed five thousand (5,000) votes, and that the same adversely affects the true results of the election ;

"(3) Any and all other forms or tampering increase/s and/or decrease/s of votes perpetuated or in cases of refusal to credit the correct votes or deduct the tampered votes, where the total votes involved exceed ten thousand (10,000) votes; ..Provided finally; That any and all either persons or individuals determined to be in conspiracy or in connivance with the members of the BEIs or BOCs involved, shall be meted the same penalty of life imprisonment."

XXX

Former Comelec IT Chief Ernie del Rosario also weighed in on this fraudulent practice of Smartmatic's Marlon Garcia:

"The specific PM component missing here is that of Change Control which serves as a strict control of ALL changes to be effected in the system, no matter how minor, inconsequential or as the Chairman says, "cosmetic" the change is. This controversial change that was applied MUST be effected ONLY if there is a duly signed Change Request document duly-approved and signed by a Change Control Board.

"Simply, a Change Request document is a formal request that defines a change or addition to the agreed to and signed off requirements of the solution. This can be in the form of an interface, a bolt-on application, a report, a data conversion, or a modification to a system such as an addition of even a one-word or one-letter (such an "n" to an "enye") or one number or one special character script to a program. All change requests are submitted to the Change Control Board, which evaluates all requests.

"To resolve this issue what PPCRV or Comelec or Smartmatic should produce is the specific approved Change Request document that allowed the script addition change. Where is it ? This is a multi-billion peso project and as mentioned above a mission-critical system and there seems to be no such project management system in place ? OMG !!!

"A similar thing happened in 2013 where a Smartmatic personnel also did something in the Conspiracy (Oops ! Transparency pala) Server.  This was documented in several media videos. We lodged a formal complaint  on this to the Supreme Court which must be resurrected and high-lighted again this time that we indeed delegated the conduct of our elections to foreigners.  As usual the SC has not acted on the complaint until now."

XXX

Among the numerous deficiencies in the conduct of the two prior automated elections, these very similar incidents are worth bearing in mind:

(1) In 2010, a Smartmatic technician cavalierly accessed the canvassing program to change the number of voters after the tally showed an erroneous 256 million as the total number of registered voters; and

(2) In 2013, a Smartmatic technician accessed the canvassing server to correct a script that produced an astonishing 12-million vote surge barely two hours into the canvassing. (Uncorrected, that surge would have produced an aggregate vote far exceeding the total number of registered voters.)
These incidents indicate major flaws in the Smartmatic system that our Commission on Elections has been so bent on foisting on the Filipino people.
This now puts the entire canvassing process in serious doubt. The integrity of the automated results can now be reasonably questioned.

- RENÉ AZURIN, Author, Hacking Our Democracy, and Convener, AES Watch

2016 Elections appeared uneventful at first, only for controversial glitches to surface in next few days. Change of transparency server's script by Smartmatic operations chief Marlon Garcia sans permission of Comelec en banc. Though Chair Andres Bautista terms Garcia's breach "minor," it erodes elections' credibility, affecting Marcos-Robredo battle. IT experts demand placing all Smartmatic officials on hold-departure. Their battle-cry: Game over for Smartmatic!




May 14, 2016
The recent national elections are generally thought to have turned out well, compared to the two previous elections, but common failings have surfaced, among them:

1) mismatched results;
2) candidates’ names missing or the other side of the coin, voters’ lists unexpurgated;
3) vote counting machines (VCMs) in undisclosed areas, with about 2,500 of them failing to function altogether, disenfranchising some 1.5 million voters;
4) discrepancies between voters’ intent and the VVPAT receipts;
5) aggregate sums of select candidates go down as counting went on, when at worst these should remain steady;
6) questionable transmissions due to the physical handling of all 92,509 SD cards from the VCMs to the canvassing centers;
6) signals non-existent or weak in some places, etc.

But to my mind, the most serious failing of the 2016 elections is the tampering of the script or command for the transparency servers--without the permission of the Comelec en banc, as provided in R.A. 9369, the Automated Election System (AES) Law. This is the most worrisome of all the recent elections' shortcomings, as it directly challenges their integrity. It means that the system can be hacked from within seemingly without effort or detection.

XXX

As a background, feisty Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon gave a stiff dressing down to the chief of Smartmatic’s technical support team, the Venezuelan Marlon Garcia, for making changes in the script or command of the transparency server---without first consulting and informing the Commissioners en banc, as the law provides. The transparency server dishes out election results to the PPCRV, the citizen arm charged with election quick-count and cited as primary source by media outfits. But as a result of the unauthorized change of script or command, now the PPCRV’s data are held suspect in some quarters as favoring one party over another. This is particularly true in the tight vice-presidential race.

Marlon Garcia, when questioned, gave the lame excuse that he wanted merely to correct the lack of proper use of the “enye” sign in the names of certain candidates, which had appeared only as ?. Was that all that Garcia did with the Transparency server? Peks man?

Commissioner Guanzon, however, was rightly cynical and termed Garcia's act a breach of protocol. She stressed that he should be made liable to Comelec and the people of the Philippines, as he took too much liberty with our election laws.

An alert FB reader notes that it's strange for the Venezuelan officials of Smartmatic, who designed the electoral system, to overlook the proper “enye” sign, considering that it's very much in the Spanish language.  Comelec Chair Andres Bautista quickly termed this breach controversy a “minor” one that would not affect the outcome of the elections, but to Guanzon, Garcia should answer to the en banc for this outright violation of the law.

XXX

Even before Guanzon denounced Garcia's tampering, Filipino IT experts already raised the alarm last Wednesday, May 11, at a press conference at their command center at the Pamantasan ng Lunsod ng Maynila. They deplored that the software that counted our votes was designed and operated not by us Filipinos, but by the foreign company which should already have been held accountable for many glitches in THREE PRIOR ELECTIONS,  namely, the 2008 ARMM elections, and the 2010 and 2013 elections.  The IT experts now challenged the incoming Duterte administration “to BEGIN real reforms of the election system, holding accountable those who perennially make poll automation an exercise in speed and convenience, over transparency, accountability, security and accuracy.”

But just as important, the Filipino IT experts demanded that all the Smartmatic officials be placed under a departure hold-order, and that the country be done with this foreign firm for good. I cannot agree more.

XXX

The question in many minds is, in changing the script or command order, was Marlon Garcia behaving innocently or was he in cahoots with syndicates known to be operating from within? This same Smartmatic official has been involved in other controversies in past Philippine elections, As IT expert, co-convenor of election watchdog AES WATCH and Manila Times columnist Rene Azurin, author of "Hacking Our Democracy," put it:

" l).In 2010, a Smartmatic technician cavalierly accessed the canvassing program to change the number of voters, after the tally showed an erroneous 256 million as the total number of registered voters; and 2). In 2013, a Smartmatic technician accessed the canvassing server to correct a script that produced an astonishing 12 million vote surge barely two hours into the canvassing (Uncorrected, that surge would have produced an aggregate vote far exceeding the total of registered voters)."

Sadly these recent happenings within the Comelec only serve to further erode the credibility of the elections.

XXX

I reproduce here the opinions of a couple of IT experts, in the hope that they would help enlighten you readers on this new controversy stirred up by the Smartmatic official:

From Rene Azurin on Marlon Garcia’s recent caper to arbitrarily change the script of the transparency server:

“The main point about this script change is being totally missed. The point here is that A SMARTMATIC PERSON HAS ACCESS TO THE SERVER PROGRAM WHILE CANVASSING IS GOING ON. This is a security flaw and should not have been the case!” (emphasis BOC's).  Azurin stresses that “If this Smartmatic person can change that one character, he can change other things as well.”

XXX

IT expert Leo Querubin puts the move of Smartmatic’s Garcia in the context of Sec. 35 of R.A. 9369. amending Sec. 29. R.A. 8436, as follows:

“Sec. 35. Prohibited Acts and Penalties. - The following shall be penalized as provided in this Act, WHETHER OR NOT SAID ACTS AFFECT THE ELECTORAL PROCESS OR RESULTS:

(c) GAINING or causing access to using, ALTERING, destroying or disclosing any computer data, program, system software, network, or any computer-related devices, facilities, hardware or equipment, whether classified or declassified…” A further provision of RA 9369 provides that “Any person convicted for violation of this Act, except those convicted of the crime of electoral sabotage, shall be penalized with imprisonment of eight years and one day to twelve (12) without possibility of parole, and perpetual disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage. Moreover, the offender shall be perpetually disqualified to hold any non-elective public office."

XXX

IT professor and practitioner Edmundo “Toti” Casino, on the other hand, cites SEC. 42. Section 27 (b) of Republic Act No. 6646 as hereby amended, to read as follows :

"The act or offense committed shall fall under the category of electoral sabotage in any of the following instances;

"(1) When the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes perpetrated or the refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes, is/are committed in the election of a national elective office which is voted upon nationwide and the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes, refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes, shall adversely affect the results of the election to the said national office to the extent that losing candidate/s is /are made to appear the winner/s;

"(2)  Regardless of the elective office involved, when the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes committed or the refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes perpetrated, is accomplished in a single election document or in the transposition of the figure/results from one election document to another and involved in the said tampering increase and/or decrease or refusal to credit correct votes or deduct tampered votes exceed five thousand (5,000) votes, and that the same adversely affects the true results of the election ;

"(3) Any and all other forms or tampering increase/s and/or decrease/s of votes perpetuated or in cases of refusal to credit the correct votes or deduct the tampered votes, where the total votes involved exceed ten thousand (10,000) votes; ..Provided finally; That any and all either persons or individuals determined to be in conspiracy or in connivance with the members of the BEIs or BOCs involved, shall be meted the same penalty of life imprisonment."

XXX

Former Comelec IT Chief Ernie del Rosario also weighed in on this fraudulent practice of Smartmatic's Marlon Garcia:

"The specific PM component missing here is that of Change Control which serves as a strict control of ALL changes to be effected in the system, no matter how minor, inconsequential or as the Chairman says, "cosmetic" the change is. This controversial change that was applied MUST be effected ONLY if there is a duly signed Change Request document duly-approved and signed by a Change Control Board.

"Simply, a Change Request document is a formal request that defines a change or addition to the agreed to and signed off requirements of the solution. This can be in the form of an interface, a bolt-on application, a report, a data conversion, or a modification to a system such as an addition of even a one-word or one-letter (such an "n" to an "enye") or one number or one special character script to a program. All change requests are submitted to the Change Control Board, which evaluates all requests.

"To resolve this issue what PPCRV or Comelec or Smartmatic should produce is the specific approved Change Request document that allowed the script addition change. Where is it ? This is a multi-billion peso project and as mentioned above a mission-critical system and there seems to be no such project management system in place ? OMG !!!

"A similar thing happened in 2013 where a Smartmatic personnel also did something in the Conspiracy (Oops ! Transparency pala) Server.  This was documented in several media videos. We lodged a formal complaint  on this to the Supreme Court which must be resurrected and high-lighted again this time that we indeed delegated the conduct of our elections to foreigners.  As usual the SC has not acted on the complaint until now."

XXX

IT expert Leo Querubin, who notes that the 2016 elections comprise the fourth elections involving Smartmatic (namely, the 2010, 2013 and 2016 national and local elections, and the 2008 ARMM elections), points out that "It's very difficult to prove that (Smarttmatic officials) had malicious intentions. But the mere fact that they admitted accessing the (transparency) server makes them in violation of Sec. 28 of RA 9184.

As Querubin puts it, paraphrasing an old adage, "Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us the third time, then we deserve it already."

Indeed, TAMA NA, SOBRA NA, OUT NA ANG SMARTMATIC!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Just what kind of CHANGE can President Duterte effect for us Filipinos desperate about our plight? A lot of anxiety and nervousness over his election would be allayed if his advisers surface and political veterans like Manny Villar would join his Cabinet. There's talk that Gilbert Teodoro would come in as Foreign Secretary. FVR seen clenched-fist at Amado Valdez' May 07 birthday party, while Mike Arroyo sported Duterte ballers at Corona wake. Would VP candidate Leni Robredo or Bongbong Marcos be able to work with new President?




Monday, May 09, 2016

As I dash off this blog late Monday evening, election day, it’s easy to see that Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is headed for a landslide victory.  In all the regions of the country, he appears to be leading except in Region VI, the Western Visayas, where LP candidate Mar Roxas overwhelmed him. There will be endless analyzing of what  the phenomenon of Digong Duterte is all about.

I’d like to quote former Sen. Manny Villar at the musical soiree featuring young violin virtuoso Joaquin Maria “Chino” Gutierrez at the Makati home of the widow of Sen. Joker Arroyo, Fely Aquino-Arroyo. Villar termed the Duterte phenomenon as simply a “fanaticism” after he and his wife, Sen. Cynthia Villar, saw how in a recent visit to their bailiwick, Las Pinas City, it took Duterte five hours to navigate the less than 1.5 km. main avenue!  Manny recalled that the people just kept pouring into the street to see Digong, and he stressed that the last time he saw this phenomenon was when Cory Aquino was campaigning against Ferdinand Marcos in 1983. 

Other people were reminded of the "brown shirts" of Hitler in another era. Said an analyst: Duterte is a political "Yolanda" ---more than just a tidal wave!

I agree wholeheartedly on the "fanaticism." I have been covering presidential elections since Cory ran and it’s only now that this seemingly insane fanaticism has re-appeared in the person of Duterte. I understand that Ramon Magsaysay was hugely popular after the corrupt Quirino regime, but it was not quite the same.  Digong's campaign has far more fanatic fervor. 

XXX

I think the Duterte phenomenon is a combination of many factors.  First, there’s the coarseness about the man---his thick Visayan accent, his rugged looks and get-up (how would he look in a black-tie dinner at Malacanang or in the White House, hosted by President Hillary Clinton? This I have to see.), his cursing and his self-deprecating humor.  Senatorial candidate Greco Belgica, who fought the DAP and the PDAF anomalies in the Supreme Court, told me at the recent wake for Chief Justice Renato Corona, “Tita Bel, the more Duterte would curse in the campaign, the more the crowds lapped it up.” 

We all thought he would self-destruct with that deplorable jest-in-rape remark but he did not. The Tribune published the terrible contents of a psychiatric report on him after his separation from his first wife, which would have permanently damaged another candidate, but Duterte survived it. 

XXX

But more than anything, it’s the contrast the 22-year Davao City mayor presents to the limp, colorless and inept image of President Aquino and the establishment he represents. Note that Duterte made the tycoons of the Makati Business Club crawl up the wall when he appeared before them, irreverent and spewing colored jokes. MBC stalwart Ramon del Rosario Jr., plainly mortified, sought to rally people vs. the iconoclastic Mindanao leader but that didn’t dent the latter one bit. In fact the common tao must have relished the rather disrespectful treatment the MBC demi-gods got.

Note too, that all the accusations about questionable bank accounts that Sen. Antonio Trillanes threw across Duterte’s path didn’t seem to make the public blink. It was the senator who was damaged.

At the eleventh hour the Church sought to divert him from the course through a pastoral letter issued by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the CBCP. The National Transformation Council (NTC), represented by two former CBCP Presidents (Davao Emeritus Archbishop Fernando Capalla and Lingayen Emeritus Archbishop Oscar Cruz) and one active archbishop (the outspoken Ramon Arguelles of Lipa), also weighed in, calling for a principled boycott of the elections last Saturday morning. Both to no avail.  

XXX

It has been pointed out often enough by various media analysts that Duterte represents a rebellion, a protest vote, outrage vs. the P-Noy administration. In fact a post going around refers to how P-Noy "created" this phenomenon through his ineptitude.  

Consider this editorial of the Manila Standard today, titled “Season of Fear,”: “...Had the President not squandered his first years in office, billions of pesos in public funds, and his considerable political capital to persecute and jail his opponents, and focused instead on implementing projects that would benefit more middle-income and poor Filipinos, a demagogue  running only on a vague promise of change would most likely not be the election front-runner today...”

XXX

A year ago, Vice President Jejomar Binay was conceded to be the front-runner in the presidential derby. Then six months ago Sen. Grace Poe emerged and slowly dislodged Binay. Three months ago, however, Rodrigo Duterte suddenly appeared in the political scene and there was no stopping him---Poe had to play second fiddle. Duterte came to personify the masa---the Pinoy Everyman--- but the wonder is that in his rallies, as media noted, expensive cars were also parked.  He was cutting into all the social classes that are bound by a common disgust for the dying administration's inaction and insensitivity to everyday problems---the traffic, drugs, trains that don't work or are leaking, Mamasapano, Kidapawan, tanim-bala, etc.

Duterte's magic consists of the promise of CHANGE that Filipinos now desperately long for, but what kind of change would that be? Can he really achieve it? 

XXX

Even before the final tally comes in, there’s already a lot of understandable nervousness and anxiety about President-elect Digong Duterte---about where he wants to lead this country wracked by bitter partisan strife, about how he proposes to sustain economic growth and rescue the broad masses of the poor, how he would balance his declared campaign vs. criminality and drugs with human rights and the courts, etc., etc. 

As the Makati demi-gods noted in that famous MBC encounter, the Davao Mayor offered no road-map to anything much, only wise-cracks and risque jokes. 

If there's a brain-trust behind Duterte, it's not known. It would help very much to allay the people's anxieties about him if his advisers came forward, aside from Star columnist Chit Pedrosa and former exile Joe Alejandrino. FVR. queried at the Tower Club reception celebrating Dean Amado Valdez' 70th birthday, smiled away involvement with Duterte, but in the end he raised the clenched fist.  Former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo sported Duterte ballers at the wake of Chief Justice Renato Corona. 

XXX

How Duterte's Cabinet would shape up would matter much. given such an impromptu ad-hoc personality as Chief Executive. For instance, political veteran and former presidential candidate Manny Villar would make an excellent Secretary of Local Government. There's report that former Defense Chief Gilbert Teodoro, himself also once a presidential candidate, would come in as Secretary of Foreign Affairs or back to his old defense job.  

It would also be interesting how VP-apparent Bongbong Marcos would interact with Duterte. Would they be able to work together? What post would he offer to the youthful new VP?

So many big question marks about this new phenomenon indeed. But first let's wait for the final tally.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Utopians, led by former SC Justice Roberto Abad, pay mass tribute to their fallen colleague, CJ Renato Corona. Recall here the late Sen. Joker Arroyo’s defense of Corona in the Senate impeachment trial, where he sought to serve a stern warning on the dangers to constitutional government of a hitherto unknown animal: the ‘bill of attainder.’





Last night, May 1, I dropped in at the wake of former Chief Justice Renato Corona at the Heritage Memorial Park to condole with his family and hear my Sunday mass there too. There was a huge crowd that overflowed into the corridors of the memorial park hall, for aside from the many people from all walks of life who wanted to demonstrate their love and respect for the former SC Chief, it was also the night reserved for his fraternity brothers in the “Utopia,” one of the two major frats of the Ateneo College of Law.

Utopians from various generations of lawyers and law students came in several hundreds, all wearing white shirts with a black band in one arm, and they rendered songs and speeches hailing their fallen brother-in-arms.

It was a memorable night for CJ’s family. Saddened they were by his all-too-quick passing---as his daughter Carla Corona Castillo put it, “in a snap of the finger Dad was gone”---but they knew that in CJ’s fall from power  four years ago, he landed into the arms of the people. The outpouring of tribute to him at Heritage and in social media has been just awesome.
Someone noted that CJ Corona seems to have timed his passing on the eve of perhaps the most hotly-fought elections in our history. The buzz in his wake was: was this his way of campaigning for the opponents of the administration?

XXX

I listened to the speech of former Supreme Court Associated Justice Roberto Abad, who had served with Corona and retired just a few years ago. Praising his fellow Utopian generously, Abad, who was among the most respected of justices in the SC and at one time was a strong contender for CJ too, stressed that Corona was not tainted with corruption at all.

Justice Abad’s assertion was contrary to the point that the impeachment court of the Senate sought to establish---and succeeding in doing in May 2012, with the help of generous funds from a budget mechanism  introduced by Malacanang for the first time during Corona’s trial: the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP), straight  from the desk of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

XXX

The Senate booted out the CJ, who was earlier impeached by the House of Representatives on the issue of corruption. Those who knew Corona, such as his former colleague, Roberto Abad, knew about the decency of the man and how God-fearing he was. Corona’s major problem in his incumbency at the SC, as everyone knows, was that he ran afoul of the desire of the tenant in Malacanang to preserve Hacienda Luisita as his family’s fiefdom forever.

When the SC led by its Chief Justice rendered a stunning14-0 vote that ordered the re-distribution of the over 5,000 hectares of this Central Luzon hacienda to its tenants, Malacanang laid the blame squarely on the SC’s leader---Corona had to go by hook or by crook. It threw the entire power of the Palace vs. the Chief Justice in a manner hitherto unseen in the annals of this country, in a six-month proceeding billed as the “Trial of the Century.”

XXX

Below is a reprint of a blog I wrote on October 8, 2015, as a tribute to the late Sen. Joker Arroyo upon his passing. The quoted portion below showed the forthrightness and outspokenness of Joker Arroyo in defending what he perceived to be right: rallying to a man unjustly being persecuted for the collegial decision of an entire body. Joker, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. were the only three senators out of 23 who were not razzle-dazzled by fat bribes.  

Allow me to quote portions of my blog here:

“In the corruption that enveloped the Senate during the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, where the votes of various senators were bought and paid for by taxpayers’ money without their consent, Sen. Joker Arroyo’s defense of the CJ stood out like an isolated beacon of light in the vast darkness. In his 20-miniuter speech he introduced a defense concept of Corona that was new to non-lawyers like myself---the “BILL OF ATTAINDER.” It made sense to us non-lawyers as he explained it, but by then it was too late. Money had gotten to many of the senators who went for the kill.

“As Joker Arroyo explained it, a “ ‘bill of attainder’ is a law passed by one (chamber of Congress) and approved by the other, CREATING AN OFFENSE WHERE THERE WAS NONE, INVENTING A CRIME OUT OF ACTIONS, WILLFUL OR NOT, THAT WERE INNOCENT WHEN THEY WERE PERFORMED. It is a legislative act of convicting an accused of acts that were not offenses in the very measure by which he is condemned--- through a vote instead of a trial on the basis of accusations taken as proof.” (emphasis BOC’s).

“Arroyo warned that the Senate “could be moving toward a bill of attainder” that would mock the Constitution---making a crime of something that was not such at the time of the supposed offense.

XXX

“Joker then stressed that “I cannot imagine removing a chief justice on account of a SALN.” The issue then under hot consideration for half a year in the Senate---it couldn’t have been a “debate” as there seemed almost only one side, which was, to condemn Corona for reasons other than his SALN--- was whether the Chief Magistrate paid the correct SALN. It was an issue that would have hounded the senators were they on trial themselves, for as anyone can guess, doubtless none of them paid the correct SALN. In fact, perhaps nobody ever did in this country---until that point when Corona was convicted ostensibly because of improperly-filed SALN.  From then on, officialdom began to fear this heretofore harmless animal.

“Ironically, conviction came despite the fact that the official who should have had the last say on the SALN issue, then Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque, had issued a statement that appeared to back up Joker Arroyo’s near-solitary stand (only two other senators, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., voted to acquit Corona).  Duque stated without equivocation THAT A FAULTY SALN COULD BE REMEDIED AND CORRECTED WITHIN A GIVEN PERIOD OF TIME. In other words, Duque argued indirectly---and it took a lot of guts for him to do so, even if he was protected by a seven-year constitutional tenure as CSC Chair---that Corona should not be convicted at all.

XXX

“But by then Chair Duque’s reminder was ignored, for the minds of most of the senators were already made up the week before; and we daily trial-goers could sense it. As Sen. Jinggoy Estrada later revealed, what sealed conviction of Corona were the many millions of pesos released to the senators through a memorandum of availability by then Appropriations Committee Chair Franklin Drilon, about another new animal--- the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).Thus, the velvet crimson robes the senators wore as impeachment judges didn't help many of them act nobly. 

“Recently the Supreme Court, acting on the petition of Philconsa, former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez, former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, former Sen.Franciscot Tatad and three Archbishops, ordered DBM Secretary Florencio Abad, said to be the brains behind the DAP, and President Aquino to explain their role in the lump sum appropriations under this new animal. 

XXX

“Joker Arroyo must have been aware of this recent happy development at the SC before he passed away, and he must have felt vindicated about his stand in that Senate Trial of the Century. In fact, as he condemned in his acquittal speech the “naked power” being used to convict the sitting Chief Justice on a non-existent crime when the so-called offense was committed, Arroyo noted its brazen similarity to 1972.  He warned that “IT IS DANGEROUS NOT TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT WHEN SOON WE SHALL STAND BEFORE THE LORD.” (emphasis BOC’s).

“Well, Joker is standing before the Lord now, and interestingly his words uttered in the hallowed halls of the Senate three years ago seem like a grim reminder to present-day politicos who seek to foist brazen acts of legal impunity. Never in the Supreme Court's history have so many acts of the Executive Branch been challenged as now. ..”

XXX

Ironically, this issue of the questionable or faulty SALN resurrects in the current electoral campaign, as netizens question why CJ Corona was convicted because of failure to declare his SALN properly, whereas  leading presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte apparently violated the same mechanism blatantly and appears ready to get away with it.

Another one of those ironies of history.