Philippine Election Fraud: The Fix Is In

Philippine Election Fraud: The Fix Is In

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CALIFORNIA -- “It’s not the people who vote that counts. It's the people who count the votes that counts.”

A variation of this quote is widely attributed to Joseph Stalin but it could just as easily have come from former Philipine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. It is as much proverb as it is prophecy.

Garcillano was the COMELEC commissioner appointed by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo just three months before the May 2004 presidential elections. In 16 wiretapped conversations between Garcillano and Arroyo covering the period from May 17, 2004, a week after elections, through June 18, 2004, Garcillano was heard on tape receiving instructions from President Arroyo (“Hello Garci”) ordering him to ensure that her margin of victory over her chief rival, movie king Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ), be more than one million votes.

Arroyo needed Mindanao as it was widely believed that Luzon would go to FPJ and the Visayas would go to Arroyo. And Garci delivered. With many precincts in Mindanao recording 0 votes for FPJ, Arroyo’s margin of victory was exactly what she ordered, over one million votes.

Even though President Arroyo acknowledged on national television that it was her voice on the Garci tapes (“I’m sorry”) and the majority of people in various opinion polls called for her resignation, she did not resign and Garcillano was never prosecuted for his role in manipulating the election results in Mindanao.

Mindful of the public perception of the wholesale fraud that attended the 2004 presidential elections, the COMELEC put the blame of fraud on the system of manual voting. The COMELEC's solution was to advocate for the computerization of the electoral voting system by the 2010 presidential elections.

After the COMELEC made this announcement, my high school classmate, Robert Verzola, told the press on June 9, 2006 that "the real problem does not lie with having an antiquated electoral system but with the fact that cheats don't get punished at all...Since they get away with their crime, they just keep on doing it. They even get promoted and occupy the highest positions in the country."

"Computerization gives a false sense of security that everything will be tamper-proof," Verzola warned, "but computerizing the system will not stop them from committing fraud. Once they learn how to, cheats will make use of computers to cheat."

Despite Verzola’s warning, the COMELEC went ahead with its computerization program for the 2010 elections marking the first time in world history that elections would transition from a pure manual to a fully automated elections system in just one electoral exercise. It then awarded the P7.2-billion poll automation project to the consortium of Venezuela-based Smartmatic Corp. and Total Information Management (TIM), its local partner.

The Philippine law that called for a computerized system for the 2010 elections required that the contract for the poll automation project be awarded to a 60 percent local equity firm. TIM, the local partner of Smartmatic, was supposed to fill that role but wanted to back out because Smartmatic had relegated its role to being just a front. The COMELEC, however, pressured TIM to remain in the partnership even in a token status, in violation of the clear mandate of the law.

Smartmatic was also required to provide COMELEC with “authentic and original” copies of previous contracts to show its competence to handle automated elections of similar scope and magnitude as the Philippines but it failed to do so.

The Automated Election System Law of 2009 (RA 9369) required the COMELEC to conduct systems verification of the poll automation project prior to the May 10 presidential elections. No such independent review of the physical component has been conducted and there are just 40 days left before the elections.

In the 2004 and 2007 elections, there were 240,000 polling precincts in the Philippines. For the 2010 elections, this will all be compressed down to 76,000 polling precincts, which will create major problems for the enhanced voting lists and long lines for voters who may not be able to complete filling out the ballots by the time the polls closed. Each of these precincts will be equipped with precinct counting optical scan (PCOS) machines that would electronically count the votes and transmit the election results to COMELEC servers in Metro Manila, allowing election results to be known in a day or two.

Even though each party is awarded a poll watcher for each precinct, there will be no poll for them to watch because the results of the counting in local precincts will only be known in the central COMELEC headquarters in Manila. This will leave no opportunity to determine the actual voting in each precinct, raising legitimate fears of electronically manipulated cheating.

This fear is heightened by the COMELEC's refusal to allow for any manual or electronic audit of all cast ballots and by the COMELEC’s rejection of the certification of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) to monitor the elections.

By removing a paper trail, the COMELEC has eliminated any contingency or back-up plans in case of a systems breakdown which is exactly where, by design or not, the electoral system is frightfully headed. Critics fear this will allow President Arroyo to remain as holdover president or as acting president if she is elected House Speaker.

The American expression, “the fix is in,” refers to professional gambling situations where the outcome of a sporting event has already been established in advance, with the active connivance of insiders who intentionally adjust the flow of the game in one direction. With Garci commissioners firmly entrenched in the COMELEC, the fix is surely in.

Photo credit: Filipinas Magazine/ www.filipinas.inquirer.net/?p=2691