The Volatilian™ View

Electoral integrity in the dock

The fuse has been lit to a powder keg that could embroil the Philippines 8 May elections in the biggest case of electoral fraud in the country’s history. And the very organisations charged with ensuring that the vote was fair and free are the same appointed bodies which are being cited for malfeasance.

This building row centres on the May vice-presidential election results in which, after a delay of nearly two weeks while sample testing of the ballots was carried out, Liberal Party candidate, Leni Robredo, was declared the winner. That result has been firmly challenged by her VP rival, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr who filed a 1,000-page petition with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. That court has now ruled that there is a case to answer. Marcos vs Robredo – Round 2.

Implicated in Marcos’s petition are the Commission on Elections (Comelec) whose main role is to ensure that the conduct of the election follows the appropriate laws and regulations; the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), a Roman Catholic Church affiliate which has a watchdog role to verify that the elections are free, fair and non-fraudulent, and Smartmatic-TIM whose electronic voting system collected, collated and recorded the electoral returns.

Certainly, to many observers, Robredo’s victory came as a surprise, but no less so than the votes garnered by her presidential running mate, fellow Liberal Party candidate and former Interior Minister, Mar Roxas who swept past Independent challenger and race leader, Grace Poe, confounding all earlier polls.

The fact that both these “upsets” involved Liberal Party (LP) candidates has led to the conspiracy theory that the results were rigged from the very top of the LP, the party of the outgoing administration of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. That, of course, at this stage is conjecture; but if it was ever proved it would go down as the biggest electoral-fraud scandal in the history of Philippine politics. And there have been quite a few.

Conjecture aside, what we do know so far is that the tribunal – established in 1985 by Marcos’s father, Philippine strongman, Ferdinand Marcos Snr – has clearly ruled that it has seen enough in the filings to elicit an immediate response from Robredo. Furthermore, to bring this action will have been very expensive – anywhere between US$650,000 and US$1 million. And this is just the preliminary bill to get the case to court. Add to that hefty legal costs over a likely protracted litigation, fees for technology and other testimony experts, and this bill could run into several million dollars. This suggests that the Marcos camp is fairly sure of its ground. In other words, this is far more than a punt.

We also know that not a single national poll showed Robredo leading the VP race in the 9 May run-up. Five consecutive Pulse Asia surveys, for example, showed Marcos with a comfortable 5-6% lead going into vote day. Furthermore, voting in some areas completely defied the view of the electoral map showing where candidates could bank on electoral support. That’s to say known Marcos-loyalist areas inexplicably turned Liberal – Leyte and Samar in the Visayas, Pangasinan in northwestern Luzon and areas in Region II, northeastern Luzon’s Cagayan Valley, for example seemed to switch allegiance to the Liberal camp overnight.

Similarly, in the overseas votes in the case of Robredo, the result ran contrary to all anecdotal evidence which pointed to a resounding victory for Marcos. It was from some of these precincts that the early alarm bells, that something may be amiss, were first sounded as a number of voters complained that their voter receipts did not match their vote choice.

All this amounts to circumstantial evidence at best; what the Supreme Court will want is hard evidence and the Marcos team believes they can provide it. Evidence, for example of a “secret fourth server,” the existence of which was only known to Comelec and Smartmatic. They contend that votes were channeled to this server where they were tampered with before being transmitted to the Municipal Board of Canvassers, Comelec and the transparency server. Furthermore, there was no oversight of this server.

The Marcos team has already shown that a code or script for the system was changed without authorisation; both Comelec and Smartmatic concede that this did happen but claim that it was nothing more than a “cosmetic” adjustment. However, according to Marcos’s presentation, the time of the script change coincides with the fall-off in his votes. Between 9pm and 10pm on election day, the senator lost 1,689 precincts and his lead over Robredo “started to erode in a distinctive pattern”.

How all this plays out remains to be seen. The only thing that’s certain right now is that Marcos’s supporters have not given up hope that their man will eventually be installed as the rightful 14th Vice President of the Philippines.