First off, an appreciation for automated elections. A day after the elections, we already knew the winners, or at least the winning senators. That’s one sea change. Though it’s a testament to our capacity to factor things, good or bad, bane or boon, that we didn’t even seem to notice the difference.
When not so long ago, we’d know the winners only after weeks. Or as the joke went, only the day before the elections. A joke about cheating that is all of a piece with that other joke about the response time of police to crime: In the United States it’s five minutes, in the United Kingdom it’s four minutes, in Japan it’s three minutes, here it’s 0 minutes. Our cops are at the scene of the crime as soon as it happens.
But it was truly dazzling that we knew the results of the elections in record time. Until three years ago, we lived in the Dark Ages. We’d settle down for the long haul while expecting a barrage of protests, which would not be resolved for years, if at all. In Koko Pimentel’s case, it took four. Well, he’s found vindication, all the sweeter not just for winning but for seeing his tormentor lose. The speed of today’s counting has produced one huge thing, which is to make elections credible. The public at least has bought the results for the most part.
Not a little ironically for Dick Gordon. He was one of those ardently pushing for computerized elections when he was still senator. I recall praising him for it, having seen its wonders in other countries, agreeing with him that it stood to dramatically curb cheating in the long run, if not immediately. Gordon at least had the fortune to see his dream realized in 2010. Alas, he also had the misfortune to be one of its casualties in 2013—quite cruelly too, just falling shy of 12th.
That brings me to ask: So, was there cheating or not, as several IT people allege?
The accusation came the day after the elections, which drew strength from the fact that the source code was never made public. Then last week, an Ateneo Math professor said he noticed in his statistical analysis a 60-30-10 pattern for senators across the country. His observation was echoed by several IT experts and bloggers.
Sixto Brillantes did not improve matters by reacting impulsively and accusing his critics of hatching a conspiracy against him. Including in it Gus Lagman whom he accused variously of being useless while he was in the Commission on Elections, contributing nothing as the Comelec’s in-house IT expert, and quite possibly having a vested interest in manual counting.
Which Lagman has answered point by point: His performance as Comelec commissioner is on record, which Brillantes knows very well, having commended him at one point for it. His IT colleagues inside Comelec lobbied for him to be reappointed against Juan Ponce Enrile’s wishes. Manual counting (+ computerized canvassing) would have cost only P2 billion against Smartmatic’s P11 billion in 2010 and P8 billion in 2013, which the Comelec approved. Who really stood to profit—and probably did—from that choice?
While I commend Brillantes for what is generally seen as credible elections, and while I did praise him for the way he weeded out grain from chaff in the party-list system, I must add that he really should stop being prissy. He’s been threatening to resign unless he gets what he wants, such as when the Supreme Court ruled against several of his decisions. Detraction is part of the territory. You want to resign, well, take the Nike advice.
While at this, the IT critics do have one very valid point. You do have to have transparency, you do have to reveal the source code. We may not take it on faith that the Comelec head is now an honest man so that we no longer need it. Democracy cannot survive that.
Having said this, I must also say I do think the elections, particularly at the senatorial level, are credible.
At the very least, neither the public nor the defeated senatorial candidates have raised a hue and cry over it. Only a few IT experts have. Indeed, other IT experts have gone on to debunk the 60-30-10 theory, noting variations in the voting patterns. Although noting as well, as UP statistics teacher Peter Julian Cayton does, that the “law of large numbers” will tell you that as more and more votes get around, they will tend to establish such patterns.
At the very most, well, the 9-3 vote was largely expected, having taken shape well before the elections. The only thing really that the surveys got wrong was the ranking of the senators, with Grace Poe flying too low in the radar for them to spot. Far more importantly, the results can only look lopsided or a seemingly unbelievable rout of the opposition by the Liberals only if you regard the victors as Liberals. In fact, all the results do is emphasize yet again that we do not really have parties, only individuals temporarily seeking shelter in parties like commuters huddling in waiting sheds in the rain. Parties do not win in our elections, personalities do.
That is especially clear here: The only reason you have 9-3 is that three “common candidates” stopped being common at one point. Otherwise you’d have had either 6-6 or 6-3-3. And even the six in the Liberals aren’t all Liberals. Alan Peter Cayetano is not, Cynthia Villar is not, Antonio Trillanes is not, Koko Pimentel is not. They’re mere temporary allies of a party that’s not a real party. They won not as Liberals, and certainly not because they were Liberals. They won as themselves, and certainly because they were themselves.
There’s nothing surprising about 9-3. The winners had about as much reason to cheat as someone does to poison a relative on his deathbed to hasten the inheritance.
The only thing that’s been hastened here is the counting. And it has done wonders for credibility.