COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. thinks there’s a conspiracy afoot to discredit the Philippine electoral system. He’s identified the supposed conspirators as “those behind” the Automated Election System (AES) Watch, a coalition that has about 40 organizations and individuals as members, among them academics, non-government organizations and information technology (IT) experts.

In one more demonstration of the truth that you can’t be too good in doing your job in this country without being damned for it, Brillantes was in effect blaming AES Watch for being too systematic and too focused in its criticism of Comelec and the system over which it presides. He’s particularly piqued by the AES Watch claim that the Comelec’s conduct of the 2013 mid-term elections was even worse than its problem-plagued management of the 2010 Presidential elections. So annoyed was Brillantes that at one point he even threatened to sue Comelec critics, among them, probably especially, AES Watch.

Brillantes is perfectly entitled to his opinions — even if he thinks others are not entitled to theirs. The most ridiculous, the most absurd, the most ignorant, the most self-serving, and the vilest opinions are after all covered by the same Constitutional protection that intelligent, well thought-out, objective, fact-based opinions are, even if Brillantes, a lawyer, seems to have forgotten it.

But he’s way off-track in alleging the existence of a conspiracy to discredit the electoral system, because what would be the point of it? The Comelec is already doing a perfectly good job of discrediting the system, and needs no assistance from imagined, under-the-bed conspiracies. One doesn’t even have to go into the intricacies of the technology of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines — although both God and the Comelec know that there’s more than enough issues to raise as far as that’s concerned, among them the interminable delay in the transmission of the source code and its suddenly materializing practically on the eve of the election when its integrity could no longer be verified, the possibility that the computer flash (CF)  cards could be prefilled, etc., etc., — to see how well the Comelec is doing in compromising the credibility of the system.

Didn’t the Comelec promise months ago there would only be problems so minor come election day no one need lose any sleep over how orderly, rational and credible the whole system would be? Wasn’t it the Comelec’s machines that failed on election day, with some 300 to 400 of them refusing to accept the ballots being fed into them, or else refusing to turn on altogether, in some cases requiring the use of whisk brooms to get them going?

Wasn’t it the Comelec — in fact the chair himself — that declared that the machines that failed comprised “only” less than one percent of the 78,000 machines it had deployed nationwide, and that their failure, and therefore the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters as a result, did not matter?

Wasn’t it the Comelec chair himself who declared that the votes that had yet to be counted when its PCOS machines stopped transmitting the alleged results from some 20 percent of the precincts would not make a difference in the results of the elections for the Senate, thus once again announcing to the entire planet that one’s vote doesn’t count in this country because it’s “only” among a few, and won’t make a difference? And isn’t it the Comelec itself that’s been saying that the failure of more than 18,000 machines to transmit the results was no failure at all — since “failure” is apparently differently defined in the Comelec dictionary?

It didn’t help its credibility either that the Comelec had early on dismissed criticism of its purchase of PCOS machines from a company that no longer had the license for their software.

If the Comelec isn’t part of a conspiracy to discredit the very system whose integrity it’s supposed to insure, it might as well be, so well has it succeeded in planting the seeds of doubt in the minds of the electorate about the credibility of the results.

The suspicious could even argue that it’s the Comelec that’s part of a conspiracy against the voters and citizens of this Republic by foisting on them election results that can’t be verified, some of which, say some mathematicians, are statistically impossible because they follow a consistent pattern across thousands of precincts in the form of how many percent of the votes went to administration candidates, how many to UNA’s, how many to the party- list groups, etc.

The result of this conspiracy, the suspicious might argue, is to make administration control of both houses of Congress even stronger than it was in the last three years since 2010. Although there was never any real opposition in either house except from the handful of progressive party list groups and their allies in the lower chamber, the results of the May 13 elections — which everyone now says gave Mr. Aquino a seal of approval, and which Mr. Aquino himself claims — should assure the smooth passage of whatever laws that will open the country even more to foreign exploitation and other bills the administration wants to pass to complete the country’s doormat role in the region and the world. So elated are the think tanks in the pay of foreign corporations by the supposed results they’re already predicting windfalls for foreign investors this early.

Because only the very daring in Congress would cross Mr. Aquino now, the May 13 results would also assure the opposite — making sure that such bills as the Freedom of Information bill the Aquino administration detests doesn’t pass, and that the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 won’t be amended and would remain as repressive as its sponsors in Malacanang and Congress wanted it.

Whatever conspiracy there was among the election watch groups, if conspiracy it can be called, was simply meant to make sure the official results would accurately reflect how the electorate really voted. It’s called protecting the vote and democratic choice. It’s neither rocket science nor brain surgery. But the wonder of it is that the Comelec’s having such a difficult time understanding it.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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