The search is on for a new chair for the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Let us hope enough passion is invested in this search. The next chair will have to be compelling enough to revive trust in our electoral system.
The present composition of the Comelec has, to be blunt, been less than inspiring. The poll body seems to lack passion and energy, a crusading spirit and relentlessness in addressing the issues that continue to plague our electoral process. It does not seem to have the conviction to see right triumph over wrong, for all grievances to be satisfied and all doubts relieved.
We know, despite the sheen of new technologies applied recently, the management of our electoral process suffers many flaws. Corruption is deep-seated. Syndicates proliferate. What else could be the reason so many Comelec officials were murdered, apparently by paid assassins?
To its credit, the present composition of the Comelec did accomplish the automation of our elections, working hard against the clock. But that very process of automation raised a new set of issues that the Comelec seems reluctant to address.
Immediately after the close of last May’s polls, scores of losing candidates went public, claiming there was fraud in the automated system. Some candidates reported being approached by syndicates offering to rig the results for a hefty fee. In a good number of the reported cases, the electoral upsets were indeed quite spectacular.
The first post-proclamation protest was filed by Manila mayoral candidate Lito Atienza. The protest was filed on the basis of documentary evidence showing strange dates imprinted on the returns and strange markings on many ballots. The documents supporting the claim of electronic fraud were disclosed in the Congressional hearings weeks after the close of polls.
This first protest is a litmus test for the integrity or vulnerability of the electronic system adopted in the last election. Scores of other protests charging that the system is vulnerable have since been filed.
To be sure, the Comelec has an interest in convincing the public that the electronic system used to automate the last polls is sufficiently secure and absolutely reliable. But that interest is better served by urgently addressing all the complaints filed rather than by resorting to deadly delay in processing the cases filed.
The case filed by Atienza is strengthened by the findings of the random manual audit conducted by the PPCRV. While that manual audit found the results of the national elections to be generally fair, it also took note of the “double-digit discrepancies” in the results for the City of Manila, specifically for the post of mayor.
Attending to Atienza’s protest has been made even more urgent by an apparent attempt to destroy the ballots used in the last elections in the city. The ballots were soaked in storage, accelerating the process of decomposition. If they are not recounted soon, the vital pieces of evidence will be lost.
It is difficult to believe the soaking of the securely stored ballots happened accidentally. If anyone is out to destroy these ballots, a second attempt could happen.
Yet, 8 months after the Atienza protest was filed, the manual recount the protestant seeks has not yet happened. It seems there is reluctance on the part of the Comelec to do this recount. A reversal of the outcome will obviously discredit the much-vaunted secure technology used in the last polls — and possibly reused in the next.
It could also be that there are powerful — and moneyed — forces slowing down the process and averting what could be damning outcomes.
Strange things are happening in this case.
To begin with, the protestant was required to put in a P10 million deposit on short notice to cover the costs of the protest. Although appalled by the deposit requirement, Atienza nevertheless scraped together the cash of deposited it with the Comelec. This protest was, for him, something more than just finding out who really won in the contest for Mayor of Manila. It was about probing the integrity of the system used for automating our polls.
Several motions before the Comelec en banc by the protestant over the past few months have gone unheeded. The most pressing of these motions is to commence with the recount of the soaked ballots in storage before they degrade into uselessness. Comelec Resolution 9104, issued shortly after the protest was filed could not be deemed in effect because the poll body has not caused its publication as required by law.
When some sign of life was finally exhibited by the Comelec regarding this case, it came in the form of an order “implementing” the unpublished Resolution 9104. This order, issued December 1, 2010, covers the “configuration of new CF cards or recount CF cards” as well as the creation of “ballot image CF cards” for purposes of the protest. The costs for doing so will be borne by the protestant.
The recently issued order runs against the grain of Resolution 9104, which clears the way for a manual recount of the ballots in all the 1,441 contested precincts.
Atienza is, to put it lightly, baffled by this latest order. It is precisely the PCOS count that he is questioning. Now the Comelec wants a PCOS count.
The protestant is not questioning the validity of the ballots. He is questioning the integrity of the electronic count. He is, in fact, asking the Comelec to proceed with haste on the manual recount because the ballots are quickly deteriorating. In our jurisprudence, the ballot is the final reference for the voters’ actual voice.
The Comelec, it seems, does not get it. Worse, someone might be trying very hard not to get it.