Our continuing political muddle
The Manila Times
AS the nation prepares for its October 30 barangay elections, we continue to be besieged by issues related to the last presidential elections. We do not see these in the mainstream media, but they are all over social media and what we might call the “underground press.” A large group of retired military officers, from major general down, has weighed in on these issues by signing an online “manifesto for truth and justice.” And the Senate hearing on the Comelec budget has started looking into these as well. Last week, I was invited to a press conference in Metro Club, Makati, and had the opportunity to listen to some of the exposés. In that conference, the main presenters discussed some unresolved issues related to the May 9, 2022 presidential elections. In that election, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. obtained an unprecedented majority of 31.6 million votes, at least twice the number of votes obtained by Vice President Leni Robredo, his closest rival. This prompted all his other opponents to concede their own defeats. But not long afterward, a nonpartisan group made up of Brig. Gen. Eliseo Rio, an electronic engineer and former undersecretary of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT); former National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) chairman Augusto “Gus” Lagman; and former Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex) president Franklin Ysaac asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to show how its vote counting machines (VCMs) were able to transmit 20 million votes to its transparency server during the first hour after voting had officially closed on May 9, 2022, when all available timeand-motion studies showed they could not have transmitted more than half of that number. Invoking the need for transparency, the Rio group asked the Comelec to provide them and the public with the VCM “transmission logs” so they could verify the real time the votes were transmitted. It took the Comelec some time to respond to the request, but when it finally did, it provided not the requested “transmission logs” but some “reception logs” instead. One is not the same as the other: a transmission log records the real time when a VCM transmits some votes to the server; a reception log, on the other hand, records the time the server receives the information from the VCM. The Rio group found the Comelec non-compliant with their request. One additional concern, Rio said, was that the Comelec employed a single private IP (internet protocol) address to transmit the votes from 20,300 precincts in the National Capital region, including Cavite, Laguna and Rizal. This information was separately validated in the Senate hearing during a question-and-answer exchange between Sen. Imee Marcos and Comelec Chairman George Erwin Garcia. Rio also revealed that the transparency server received the information before the VCMs transmitted the same. This has further complicated what was originally a purely statistical problem. Former congressman Glenn Chong, a lawyer-accountant and information technology professional who used to represent the province of Biliran in Congress and who became an advisor to Bongbong Marcos when the latter first ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 2016, spiced up the conference with his revelation that from April 19 to 23, 2022, and then from May 3 to May 18, 2022, the Venezuelan president and co-founder of Smartmatic, Roger Alejandro Piñate Martinez, was in the Philippines and had met with a key figure in the Marcos campaign, in violation of a provision in Smartmatic’s contract with the Comelec prohibiting such a meeting. Chong narrated that he had been promised the chairmanship of the Comelec should Marcos Jr. win in 2022. This promise unceremoniously fell through, and when it did, he was instead promised the chairmanship of the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC), which regulates the telecommunication system. But this also fell through. In another conversation prior to the news conference, Chong expressed the view that Smartmatic was responsible for shooting down the promised appointment. In light of General Rio’s statistical issues, and Chong’s brief against Smartmatic, I asked the presenters whether they were prepared to question the legitimacy of the Marcos government. This question was met with a resounding silence. None of them seemed prepared to cast doubt on President Marcos’ unprecedented mandate; they were more interested in making sure the next national elections in 2025, 2028, etc. were held away from the shadow of Smartmatic. Chong said the continued use of Smartmatic violates the sanctity of the ballot and is a threat to Philippine democracy. For his part, Gus Lagman batted for a voting system that is completely transparent to the voters, something similar to the one used in Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, etc., where the precinct counting of the votes is done manually and the canvassing is automated. Quite simple and uncomplicated. From the very beginning, I have always insisted that, as a sovereign nation, one of the very first things we should be able to do is elect our own leaders without any foreign intervention. There is absolutely no room for Smartmatic in our elections. This becomes criminally unacceptable when the foreign election provider becomes the primary instrument for corrupting not just a particular election but the entire electoral system.