By Martin Sadongdong
“What happened to the midterm elections, Comelec [Commission on Elections]?”
This was the question repeatedly asked by about 200 members of cause-oriented coalition group Tindig Pilipinas on Friday as they staged a protest in front of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City where the national canvass of the results of the May 13 midterm elections is being held.
Jozy Acosta-Nisperos of The Silent Majority, one of the several civil society organizations that mobilized for the #AnyareComelec protest, demanded Comelec officials to explain to the public all the issues that cast doubts on the credibility of the midterm polls.
“Even prior to the official campaign period, politicians blatantly disregarded the laws on electioneering. And during the elections, violations were more blatant,” Nisperos said.
The opposition group sought to question the Comelec in its alleged “inaction and mishandling” of supposed irregularities they have observed including the “blatant commission” of pre-campaign and campaign violations of some candidates, the designation of Nacionalista Party (NP) as the minority party, the malfunctioning of 961 vote-counting machines (VCMs) and 1,665 secure digital (SD) cards, the seven-hour delay in the transmission of votes to the transparency server caused by a “Java error,” and the disenfranchisement of voters.
“During the pre-campaign period, the Comelec failed to discipline the candidates and turned a blind eye to massive illegal billboards, campaign materials inside police precincts and government offices, and the use of government resources to put them up,” Nisperos said.
“There was unprecedented vote-buying, this time taking the additional form of millions of pesos of “donations” in shoes, notebooks, cellphones and “services”,” she added.
Even before the elections, several candidates had been accused of vote-buying, among them was former Presidential aide Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go.
Go, who currently sits comfortably at the third rank of the senatorial race, reportedly gave P2,000 cash assistance to each of the families of fire victims in Makati City sometime in March of this year.
However, Go had denied handing out monetary assistance. He claimed he only went to the area to visit and comfort the low-spirited fire victims.
Meanwhile, Senator Sonny Angara’s reported violation of election rules did not escape the eyes of social media users when a certain Carlo Ople posted on Twitter the campaign ad on an electronic billboard of the senatorial candidate.
Angara, who is consistently at sixth place of the senatorial race, immediately told his campaign staff to remove the billboard ad.
Tindig Pilipinas also questioned the decision of the Comelec to name Nacionalista Party, a part of the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) coalition, as the minority party. The majority party is Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
“How could the camp of Imee Marcos, Sen. [Cynthia] Villar and former Cong. Pia Cayetano – all Nacionalista Party members and also part of the administration’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago slate – be expected to raise objections over discrepancies that favour fellow HNP bets Go, [Ronald] dela Rosa, [Senator Koko] Pimentel or [Francis] Tolentino, all from dominant majority party PDP-Laban?” Nisperos asked?
Senatorial candidate Erin Tanada, who was seen at the rally, said the Comelec resolution deciding on the dominant majority and minorty parties was released a few days before the elections, making it hard for the opposition Liberal Party (LP) to file a petition.
“Bakit ang itinalagang minority party ay Nacionalista Party eh hindi naman sila opposition, kasama sila sa majority party? Ang hindi namin maintindihan bakit inilabas ang decision a few days before the election kaya hindi na nakapagfile ng petition ang Liberal Party? Ito ‘yong nakakapagtaka,” Tanada told the Manila Bulletin in an interview.
Earlier, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the determination of the majority and minority parties is not based on political alliances.
“Alliances are not a criterion. It’s not about who you are allied with,” Jimenez said in an interview last week.
Comelec Resolution No. 10538 states that the Dominant Majority and Dominant Minority Parties were determined after PDP-Laban (55.74 points) and NP (35.87 points) got the highest weight average points based on the computation done using the criteria earlier provided by the poll body.
According to the resolution, the dominant majority party, the dominant minority party, as well as the major national parties and major local parties shall be determined on the basis of the following criteria: the established record of the said parties, coalition of groups that now composed them, taking into account among other things, their showing in past elections; the number of incumbent elective officials belonging to them on the last day of the filing of the certificate of candidacy; their identifiable political organizations and strengths as evidenced by their organized chapters; the ability to field a slate of candidates from the municipal level to the senatorial positions; the number of women candidates fielded by political parties from the municipal level to the position of senator; and other analogous circumstances that may determine their relative organizations and strengths.
Defective VCMs, SD cards
Tindig Pilipinas also slammed the Comelec due to an “alarming” increase in the number of VCMs and SD cards that bugged down on the day of the elections last Monday.
Jimenez earlier revealed that 961 vote-counting machines (VCMs) and 1,665 secure digital (SD) cards had malfunctioned on the day of the elections. This was higher compared to the reported 80 VCMs and 120 SD cards that bogged down in the 2016 polls.
“Assuming [there are] 1,000 voters per clustered precinct, that translates to almost a million voters being affected. Voters had no choice but to leave their ballots with precinct representatives, risking the security of their ballot, or to come back later and risk not being able to vote at all,” Nisperos said.
The Comelec had also been placed in hot water when it suffered a seven-hour delay in the transmission of votes to its transparency servers being monitored by poll watchdogs and media Monday night.
Lawyer Aleta Tolentino, facilitator of Pwersa ng Pamayanan Para sa Voluntarismo at Reporma (PPRV), demanded an explanation from the Comelec to explain the seven-hour glitch which, she emphasized, happened when the people were sleeping.
“James [Jimenez], pakisagot po kung anong nangyari sa pitong oras na log time na blackout na walang natatransmit sa transparency servers,” asked Tolentino, who claimed that Comelec spokesperson Jimenez was his student at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Law School.
Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, head of the steering committee for the May 13 polls, had explained last Tuesday that the glitch was caused by a “Java error” when the system got overwhelmed by the bulk of data transmitted to the transparency servers.
“We suspect it’s because of the low quality SD cards,” Casquejo said in a previous interview.
However, the Tindig Pilipinas maintained that all these poll irregularities now “raise questions on the integrity of the elections and cast doubt on the results.”
“We demand that a thorough investigation of all these anomalies be conducted. We insist that we be given irrefutable proof that our votes were properly counted,” Nisperos said.
After an hour and a half, the group peacefully dispersed around 11:30 a.m.
Police Chief Master Sergeant Dominador Caluza, team leader of the Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) contingent station at the PICC, said the street protest went smoothly.
“Wala namang gulo dahil maayos naman ang koordinasyon. Pinagbigyan namin sila sa gusto nila,” Caluza told tge Manila Bulletin.
Around 50 policemen conducted perimeter security while the members of Tindig Pilipinas held their rally.