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Illiberal democracy needs a strong and experienced leader, Part 6

“Honesty, is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue.” – Billy Joel

Former president Cory Aquino was credited with having restored democracy in the Philippines. For nearly 36 years since Aquino’s revolutionary government, the Philippines has produced two presidents by extra-judicial means or by mere plurality of the votes. From Fidel Ramos to Rodrigo Duterte, they won with less than 40% of the votes cast. This is a far cry from when Ferdinand E. Marcos first won the presidency in 1969 with over 62%!

Since these candidates did not win outright at 50% or more, accusations of vote rigging and cheating always follow. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was even recorded talking to an election official about cheating then presidential candidate Fernando Poe, Jr in what became the “Hello, Garci!” scandal. Just about every election since Marcos was deposed is always attended by rampant vote buying and voter tampering.

Free elections are supposed to be the hallmark of representative democracy. Garnering less than 50% of the vote does not really represent the will of the people. Thanks to the multi-party system, the country is drifting further to the abyss. Which brings up the question of legitimacy. Until the two-party system is brought back, Philippine elections will always be marred with fraud.

One of the important milestones of Philippine elections was automating it in 2010 using Smartmatic’s Automated Election System (AES). Benigno Aquino III was elected president but was marred with allegations of vote shaving (dagdag-bawas) by manipulating the automated system. It was alleged that the younger Aquino’s votes were padded by 13 million votes taken from the other presidential candidates (Gilberto Teodoro, Joseph Estrada, Eddie Villanueva, and Manny Villar).

The 2013 midterm election saw nine (of twelve slots) of Team Pinoy senatorial candidates elected. The election was once again tainted by allegations of automated fraud with the system’s use of Precinct Counting Optical Scan (PCOS). The PCOS machine was suspected of rigging the vote by “hocus-pcos” where admin bets garnered 60 percent of the votes the United Opposition (UNA) got 30% share with 10% divvied up among independents.

Vote rigging allegations again surfaced in the 2016 presidential election involving the vice-presidential race. A whistleblower alleged that votes were rigged in 40 select precincts in Cebu City that surfaced during the revision of votes for the city’s mayoral election. In Cebu and Cebu City, Robredo bested Marcos by over 500,000 votes. These votes, however, were not scrutinized since it was not part of the pilot provinces that Marcos picked for his electoral protest. Robredo’s win was affirmed by the Supreme Court as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) when it dismissed Marcos’ electoral protest.

The man who could have shed light to the allegations of fraud regarding the 2016 vice presidential race where Robredo won by over 263,000 votes over Marcos was impeached by the House of Representatives in 2017 on allegations of ill-gotten wealth. Aquino appointed COMELEC chairman Andres Bautista, fled the coop before he could be summoned by the Philippine Senate. Bautista’s name also surfaced in the Pandora Papers having off-shore accounts.

In the 2019 midterm election, losing senatorial candidates called it the dirtiest of all Philippine elections post-EDSA. Team Leni Robredo’s senatorial team was wiped out by admin bets. Despite the lopsided outcome, Team Leni did not pursue any investigation to find out if her team was indeed cheated.

Since the first automation of Philippine elections, Smartmatic has been a common denominator. Defective voting machines, defective SD cards, and the transparency server conking out were some of the factors cited as contributing to election fraud. Smartmatic was picked by the electoral body in every election since 2010 despite its history of glitches with computerized counting machines. So, what gives?

Despite consistent allegations of automated vote rigging, the 2019 losing opposition candidates meekly accepted the results. Were they afraid that pursuing an investigation will nullify previous other elections including the one that elected Leni Robredo? Until such allegations of electoral fraud are settled amicably, whoever is in power (if indeed there is connivance between Smartmatic and the COMELEC) decides who wins elections.

The 2022 presidential election could be a turning point if the winner ditches Smartmatic. A case can be made for the country to go back to manual voting, but why would the next president do away with it if it is a winning formula? As in previous administrations, the tyranny of numbers favors the incumbent president and automated elections ensure their maintaining the supermajority.

In the United States, voter fraud is a myth backed by extensive studies pointing to such occurrences. There will always be election fraud but none of it rises to the level of changing outcomes. Integrity of elections is a cornerstone of American democracy, however, former president Donald Trump’s incessant albeit debunked claims of a “stolen election” threatens to undermine free and fair access to the ballot under the guise of preventing fraud.

Voter fraud in the Philippines, however, is very real and takes many forms; from vote-buying to voter intimidation and election violence. But automated cheating takes the cake because it is a wholesale cancellation of the voters’ will. For a country that prides itself as Asia’s first democracy, the Philippines continues to falter as a democratic state. As long as the oligarchs, organized religion and political elites continue to shape Philippine elections and the consequences of such attempts of democracy, the country cannot be an effective democratic state.

These forces subvert elections by insidiously using their instrumentalities. Political elites use their positions in government to affect outcomes through vote buying, voter intimidation, and outright cheating. Oligarchs use their newspapers, television, and online publications to shape voters’ minds in favor of their chosen candidates. They do this through editorials and editorialized news slanted to make the beneficiary of such attacks look bad, mean, dishonest, immoral or untrustworthy. Their reach is global and is aided by Western national interests (i.e. South China Sea, human rights, or corruption).

Organized religions use their pulpits to condition minds or sway with their followers to a particular direction or endorsement. Often, their sermons are couched in parables although they will not name politicians; their target’s identity is easily discerned. They also work in tandem with the oligarchs through their mass media and telecommunications reach. Some men of the cloth unabashedly show their colors by identifying with a particular candidate.

Selfish interests or motives of these actors are often hidden under the guise of democratic concepts such as human rights, due process, morality, free speech or expression, or arousing nationalism. Western powers use their influence by covertly undermining their targets while clothed with legal cover.

Restoring confidence in the integrity of Philippine elections is a must but a tall order because of the attendant forces subverting it. More importantly, elections do have consequences in foreign policy, the economy, and the quality of life of Filipinos. (To be continued)


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