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Editorial

Dangerous moves

/ 05:30 AM December 18, 2020

Is there a grand design being put in place this early to undermine the 2022 elections?

It’s a question that bears asking, given recent moves to try to change the current electoral system, and the stealthy insertion in the 2021 national budget of a provision that would have done away with safeguards in the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) procurement of election materials.

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“Someone at the Senate is now attempting to insert a provision in the GAA (General Appropriations Act) giving Comelec carte blanche authority to waive/disregard all the requirements and safeguards in Section 12 of the automated election law,” election lawyer Emil Marañon III tweeted on Nov. 29. “THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS.”

Under the inserted provision, “requirements under Section 12 of RA 8436… may be waived to secure the timely procurement of (Comelec) equipment and materials.” Warned Marañon: “With this (provision), Comelec can now adopt an untested new system or it can waive all safeguards, mandatory tests, certifications, review by political parties and election watchdogs, among others… [should] this happen, the upcoming election can no longer be trusted.”

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When the disturbing matter came to light, Senate President Tito Sotto ordered Sen. Sonny Angara to delete the provision, and Sen. Imee Marcos, chair of the Senate electoral reforms committee, condemned it as a “very, very dangerous precedent” in a CNN TV interview a day after Marañon’s tweet. In a separate text message to ABS-CBN, Marcos said: “I just saw the reported amendment but am completely opposed to waiving procurement safeguards.” And no, she added, she has “no clue who the author (of the insertion) might be.”

A lie, it turned out. As reported exclusively in this paper, it was Marcos herself who was behind the clandestine provision, according to one of three separate Inquirer sources who were privy to congressional consultations with poll watchdogs. The senator had introduced the provision as part of her bill for a “hybrid election system” in the 2022 elections.

Marcos has been pushing for hybrid polls—a mix of manual and electronic counting and transmission of votes—citing what she described as a “lack of transparency” in the current voting system. A manual count of votes at the precinct level would “ensure that all vote-counting is held in full public view, and is open to video recording and livestreaming for future fact-checking,” she said. “Since 2010, we have given too much importance to speed and convenience at the expense of transparency.”

Yet Marcos herself appears to be rushing this change that Comelec chair Sheriff Abas has protested may be too late to implement for the 2022 elections, unless the bill proposing it was passed next month. Why the push for the drastic changes only now, when the Comelec’s preparations for the polls just 17 months away are well underway and throwing out the technology and processes already in place for the old discredited system (or a “hybrid” of it) could end up undermining the elections?

“A transparent and credible electoral process is at the heart of every democratic society,” stressed the group Democracy Watch, which cited the routine fraud and violence that marked generations of manual elections: “Pre-filled ballots placed in the hands of coerced, bribed or illiterate voters, goons terror(izing) precincts on election day, manual counting that lasted days, giving ample time for compromised election officials to destroy, misplace or simply ‘misread’ ballots, not to mention the wholesale alteration of returns or ‘dagdag-bawas.’”

“While the current Philippine election system is by no way perfect, the relatively peaceful and widely accepted results of the automated elections that saw President Aquino rise to power in 2010, and President Duterte in 2016, are testaments to how far Philippine elections have come because of automation,” it said.

Thus, “the proposed hybrid system for all practical and operational purposes is still a manual system that will bring back opportunities for fraud and wholesale cheating. Although results are transmitted, the old coercion and fraud tactics can again be mobilized to transmit tampered results. It represents a step backward for the Philippine electoral system.”

Yes, it does. Marcos’ eagerness to change the election system at this late hour, the provision she sneaked in to do away with election safeguards (fortunately foiled by right-thinking senators), even the lack of delicadeza in heading an electoral reform committee when her own brother, defeated vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, has a pending electoral protest, not to mention a history of election fraud under her father’s martial law regime—the overlapping red flags simply cannot be ignored by a vigilant public. Any insidious plans by anyone to derail the most basic expression of democracy must be unforgivingly nipped in the bud.

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TAGS: 2022, Automated polls, election, election safeguards, hybrid system, imee marcos, politics, Polls, vote
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