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With Due Respect

‘Huwag kang gunggong’

Compared with prior exercises, the last elections were generally peaceful and orderly. However, the exercise was still infected with numerous plagues, the most insidious being vote-buying,

automation glitches and overvoting.

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Though the guns and goons of the notorious “3Gs” of old were prevalent in areas categorized by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as “red” and “orange,” it was the gold that pervaded the whole country.

In fact, before May 13, Comelec Chair Sheriff Abas already lamented that vote-buying was “rampant.” PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde added that it became even more prevalent on Election Day, saying “Nakikita natin massive talaga ’yung vote-buying… kaliwa’t kanan.”

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I think this is because the traditional modes of cheating have been eliminated by automation and indelible ink. Flying voters can be easily identified. Multiple ballots filled by the same hand are no longer possible. Machinations during delayed canvass are minimized. Preproclamation controversies are now banned. Thus, the remaining evil is to bribe citizens into voting for certain bets, or refraining from voting at all.

Apart from corrupting voters, vote-buying gives the bribe-givers the excuse to recoup the hush money through massive graft. This is particularly true in congressional and local elections where the margins of victory are narrow.

For example, to bribe 10,000 voters with, say, P1,000 each will sum up to “only” P10 million, a “pittance” compared with the hundreds of millions that could be recovered from disguised pork barrel, licensing permits and tax perks.

The vote-counting machines (VCM), compared with the old “Hocus-PCOS,” had been improved and enhanced in 2018. Nonetheless, they still caused anxiety and hackles via their seven-hour transmission delay (caused, according to the Comelec, by “bottlenecks” in the system), alleged preshaded ballots, failure to recognize correctly-shaded ballots and other glitches.

The Department of Education said that at least 1,333 VCMs were faulty. And the Comelec itself admitted that 961 out of 85,769 VCMs and 1,665 out of 85,960 secure digital (SD) cards malfunctioned.

Whatever the correct numbers are, one glitch is enough to disenfranchise a citizen. Former VP Jojo Binay’s ballot was rejected eight times by a VCM. He had to complain personally at the Comelec office before he was able to exercise his constitutional right to vote.

What about the many others who did not have the same standing and patience as the former VP? They just waited and waited, or worse, left the polling places in sheer exasperation without casting their ballots.

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The Comelec assured the nation that these glitches did not necessarily convert to fraud or a wrong count. I will reserve my judgment on this until the congressional inquiry on the glitches is held on June 4. But whether fraudulent or not, the fact remains that many left the polling places without having been able to vote, which by itself is already insidious.

Overvoting occurs when a voter shades more than 12 ovals among the senatorial candidates, resulting in the invalidation of the ballot. This is because the machine would not know who to eliminate among those voted for.

ABS-CBN estimated that the overvote infested 1.2 million ballots. If true, this single electoral pestilence could, just could, have shaken the last two senatorial slots given that, based on the Comelec canvass, the 11th to the 14th places are separated by about 200,000 to 400,000 votes only.

Many armchair commentators blame the Comelec for its alleged failure to educate the electorate. However, to be fair, the Comelec has many times issued warnings on the dire consequences of overvoting.

In any event, I agree that our voters must be educated and trained. To begin with, voters should be advised to write a list of their choices which they can bring to the polling places. And perhaps, the faithful could add “Huwag kang gunggong” (Thou shall not be stupid) to the commandments of “Huwag kang pumatay” (Thou shall not kill) and “Huwag kang magnakaw” (Thou shall not steal).

Otherwise, the dreaded “3Gs” of the manual system will metastasize into the new “5Gs” of automated voting: “guns, goons, gold, glitches and gunggong.”

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@ hotmail.com

See the bigger picture with the Inquirer's live in-depth coverage of the election here https://inq.ph/Election2019

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TAGS: 2019 elections, artemio v. panganiban, Comelec, vote buying, With Due Respect
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