Vigilance against election fraud
It was bad enough that the first day of overseas absentee voting on April 10 had been described as chaotic and disorganized, as ballots were delayed and other logistical preparations fell short. But pre-shaded ballots?
In a social media post, a voter recounted her experience at the Philippine embassy in Singapore: “Katatapos lang bumoto sa embahada. The ballot I received came pre-shaded. Nang binalik ko para palitan, ito raw ay spoiled ballot from yesterday. It could be an honest mistake pero hindi dapat inaallow na mangyari ang mga ganitong pagkakamali. Be vigilant and report to the watchers and marshals if it also happens to you.’’
The OFW from Singapore said in media interviews that the ballot she received had the names of Sara Duterte and some senatorial candidates already shaded.
A commissioner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) immediately brushed it off as fake news. He changed his tune when the Philippine embassy in Singapore later confirmed that a “spoiled” ballot was inadvertently given to a voter.
A similar case was reported in Dubai although the consulate there denied this. In any case, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia gave assurances that the incidents would be investigated.
But why should the matter of pre-shaded ballots be investigated by the recently formed Comelec task force on election-related fake news? Was Comelec more interested in going after voters who report such alarming incidents than in exacting accountability on members of the board of election inspectors? That the Comelec’s immediate response to the Singapore incident was to dismiss it as fake news indicates a lack of diligence, transparency, and accountability demanded of it in this most crucial of elections. Shouldn’t the Comelec be the first to encourage voters to be vigilant, as this particular voter in Singapore did, instead of dangling the threat that voters who do so might be accused of spreading fake news?
It’s not enough for the Philippine embassy in Singapore to dismiss this as an “isolated incident.” The public deserves to know how a “spoiled ballot from yesterday’s voting’’ was “inadvertently and unintentionally given to a voter,” as the embassy had reasoned out. Why are spoiled ballots lying around mixed with the supposedly secure ballots? Weren’t they supposed to be properly disposed of in front of election personnel, and a report made on how the ballot was spoiled? Why were the protocols for such scenarios not followed?
Reports of pre-shaded ballots are the stuff of election nightmares, as they give credence to suspicions that some kind of large-scale cheating would be afoot in these highly divisive elections.
Alas, Comelec is not exactly above suspicion of electoral fraud, with the “Hello Garci” scandal during the Arroyo administration still fresh in our collective memory. Incidents like those in Singapore or Dubai could only reinforce doubts.
It does not help that the Comelec itself appears distracted by internal turf wars after Commissioner Socorro Inting resigned last week as head of the poll body’s committee on the ban on firearms and security concerns (CBFSC). Inting had protested the decision of the Comelec en banc to grant Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan the power to issue gun ban exemptions and declare areas of concern on his own, saying that this “rendered futile or pointless” the existence of the CBFSC.
The Comelec’s independence was previously put in question when retiring Commissioner Rowena Guanzon protested the delay in the release of the ponente’s decision on Marcos Jr.’s disqualification case. The delay led to the exclusion of Guanzon’s vote favoring disqualification.
With just a few weeks from the May 9 elections, the poll body has yet to hand out its decision on several pending disqualification cases and appeals, which could be seen as a refusal to get in the way of the candidacy of the survey frontrunner, whose running mate is President Duterte’s daughter.
Then, there’s the lingering issue about the security and integrity of the automated election system, following reports in January that the Comelec servers have been hacked and voters’ information compromised. Earlier this month, authorities raided the house of a Smartmatic employee suspected of involvement in a security breach of its system, but they have yet to find and arrest him.
All these issues do not exactly inspire confidence in the Comelec’s preparations to meet the challenges posed by elections held amid an ongoing pandemic. With three of its seven commissioners appointed only in February, the Comelec has no time to lose in internal feuds but must shape up and prove itself equal to the task of ensuring credible and orderly elections. With nothing less than the stability and economic future of the country at stake, the poll body must make sure that the mandate received by officials elected in May is unsullied and untainted by fraud.
Your daily dose of fearless views
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.