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.


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.


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.


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.”  


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!


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.


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. 


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. 

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