By Gel Santos Relos
Sa kawalan ng tiwala ng taumbayan sa unang automated election sa bansa, patuloy bang magbibingi-bingihan ang Comelec at ang Malacanang sa panawagan ng mga Pilipino para mapangalagaan ang ating boto?
With less than a couple of weeks before the May 10 national elections in the Philippines, tension and doubts on the credibility of the first-ever automated polls resonate among many Filipinos worldwide.
Six presidential candidates have called for a parallel manual count--- Former President Joseph Estrada, Sen. Benigno Aquino III, Sen. Jamby Madrigal, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, Olongapo City Councilor JC de los Reyes and Nick Perlas. Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. and former defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. did not join the call.
Filipino businesses, traders, even the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and several groups of public school teachers have joined the growing clamor for a parallel manual count of the May 2010.
A clean and honest election is always the goal of The National Citizen's Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), a poll watchdog which has been in existence for many years. Namfrel official Evelyn Singson told Balitang America, “We will count the ballots that are in the voting machine and then compare the results of the ballot count manual with the election results. If these tally, then we have no problem.”
Here in the United States, Fil-Am community leader Loida Nicolas Lewis has been advocating for the approval of a parallel manual counting of votes alongside the automated count. Lewis urged Comelec to recognize the validity of ballot audits to ensure that the people’s votes do not go to waste.
Malacanang opposes such petition saying the proposal to automate the nationwide election underwent meticulous study by various committees under the Commission on Election, Senate and Congress. He said the petition for a manual audit was only done after Comelec had finished printing all 50.9 million poll automation ballots. Deputy Presidential Spokesman Roger Peyuan said the timing of the petition is suspect, just two weeks before the country's first ever nationwide automated poll.
The fear of massive high- tech cheating through automated polls has been discussed by Pinoys in their homes, in sari-sari stores, even in the workplace. It has been a topic of discussion in traditional media, social networking sites and the blogosphere. Political gatherings of different parties, likewise, have been presenting all possible scenarios to their supporters. Hi-tech version of dagdag bawas--the alleged rigging of election results on the computer software/program that has been said to already been programmed to hide the commands to do such a rigging--malinis! And then they point to the hocus-pocus in the transmission of the data itself. How do you check and control its accuracy of the data being transmitted?
In the recent Juana Change comedy concert in the bay area,organized by Noy-Mar supporters in the US, Fil-Am leader Atty. Ted Laguatan disclosed his investigation which supports the need for a parallel manual canvassing of votes.
According to Laguatan, "the public was made to believe that Comelec entered into a contract with the foreign Venezuelan connected Dutch registered Smartmatic in partnership with local TIM corporation. They were not. The Smartmatic in partnership or joint venture was SMARTMATIC SAHI, a local corporation owned by Filipinos, particularly Cezar Quiambao, a golfing buddy of the First Gentleman." This tactic allegedly misdirected the public from suspicions that the bidding was rigged in favor of individuals most likely acting as fronts for the Arroyos.
Atty. Ted Laguatan challenged the public to Google the words "Cezar Quiambao," "Juan Villa Jr.," "Smartmatic Sahi," "Smartmatic Sahi TIM," "Patrick Mangubat Smartmatic TIM." He said that we “will also be shocked to learn that "Smartmatic Sahi" was involved in the Maguindanao elections in 2008 even before it was incorporated.
This writer is not in a position to confirm the absolute accuracy of Atty. Laguatan’s investigative report or any other “conspiracy theories” floating around, nor can any of us ascertain if any of the feared programmed hocus-pocus are definitely in place. However, the point here is—these emphasize the fact that Comelec and the Arroyo administration do not command trust and confidence among many Filipinos, especially critical during this very important chapter in our nation’s history, when people demand for change.
There are many ways to bring about change in a society---revolution, coup' de etat, rebellion, and in a functioning democracy -- an election. The word democracy came from the Greek words “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power) or “demokratia” meaning rule of the people. Through fair and honest elections, the will of the people is represented, expressed and followed.
The Philippines is a democratic republic, and through elections, we choose our leaders, our head of state. We elect the candidate whom we trust and believe will be the best person to represent the interest and the will of the people.
Community leaders say it will only take three hours extra to do the manual audit. But even it will take more than that---would that be too much, if the intention is to be totally transparent about the whole process? To make people know and feel that all efforts are done by this administration to guarantee that each and every vote is counted, respected and reflected in the final results of this election?
If the computerized canvassing is within the acceptable margin of error, even if it does not show a 100% match with the results of manual count, then that is good enough. But what if the discrepancy is big? What would then be the way to check the canvassing done by the computer?
"Why are we spending for automation if we will just go back to manual? What do we really want?", the Arroyo administration asked.
The Filipino people want their voices heard. The Filipinos think an election that truly reflects the will of the people is more important than a quick reporting of the results of an election that is marred by doubts and suspicion.
A democracy is a system of the people, for the people, by the people. How can we ensure that the collective voice of the Filipino people will be heard in this election, given that there is so much skepticism and distrust with the current administration? The legitimacy of an election in a democracy is only as good as the people’s faith in the process to make their voices heard as to the direction we want this country to be headed to.
Must we resort to another people power, military junta or any other acts of desperation in order to bring about change?