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Posts Tagged ‘Comelec’

[This article came out in the Yahoo! Philippines, where I have my regular blog. I will try to post here relevant blog entries as they are printed there.]

The automation of 2013 national and local elections still runs against heavy headwinds.The latest, of course, was the latest pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). It called for “[the] COMELEC to adequately address the issues and respond, place corrective measures if necessary, to the studies of technical experts to the alleged deficiencies of the present system and technology of automated elections. There can be no transparency in elections if the COMELEC itself is not transparent.”

Except for persistent doubts coming from groups such as those in the Kontra-Daya Coalition and election losers, the 2010 automated election results were overwhelmingly accepted by the people. The most important election contest was the presidential election wherein President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III won on a landslide of almost 45% of the votes in a 10-candidate field. Some of his opponents immediately conceded the very next day on the basis of swift results from the automated system.

Most international and domestic election observers agreed to the credibility of the 2010 election results and many lauded the key role played by the automated election system to achieve this result. The Comelec Advisory Council, in its post-election report concluded as follows:

“The automation of the May 2010 elections was definitely not perfect. Smartmatic/TIM and COMELEC made mistakes throughout the entire process that gave people a reason to distrust the AES. However, the problems that arose were not severe enough to allow interested parties to manipulate the election results. Despite all its shortcomings, the AES was still able to eradicate the most damaging form of electoral fraud—the dagdag-bawas (add-subtract). While the lessons to be learned from this exercise are many, the COMELEC Advisory Council believes that the Philippines is much better off with automated elections and that manual elections are now officially a thing of the past.”

The present brouhaha about the PCOS machine and the automated election system in the 2013 national and local elections should be viewed from this baseline perspective. The Supreme Court, in its second decision regarding the court case brought before it, again allowed the use of the automated election system in the current elections. The Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS) machine and the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) technology it implements are the same as in 2010, with Comelec-authorized enhancements and correction measures added.

The attitude to take, I think, is to let the Comelec do its work without undue interference and delaying, pre-judging tactics that feed on doubts and frustrations of election losers and haters of democratic elections. We should monitor the implementation of the automated election system, yes, but not solely on the basis of opinions of one set of “experts” who have their own agenda. We risk a “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” situation here.

The CBCP pastoral statement, I think, narrowly escaped this perspective.

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The word war between the Anakbayan party-list group and Akbayan regarding the latter’s qualification to run under the party-list system would have been an ordinary event in the never-ending tirade of the Reaffirmists against other Left groups since the split of the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1991. This time, however, the Reaffirmist-led youth groups Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students (LFS), National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) plus its worker coalition Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) took it a step further. They wrote a formal letter to the Commission on Elections “to investigate AKBAYAN party-list and their nominees and if it is determined by the Commission that they are not qualified as party-list groups and nominees, remove and/or cancel the registration of AKBAYAN and deny due course the certificate of nomination filed by the party-list group.

In so doing, these groups have crossed a political line, presumably with the blessing of the CPP leadership. They presume now that they should have the monopoly of Left parliamentary politics. This is in addition to their false assertions that their group has the monopoly of Left mass politics and that armed struggle is the only way to power. It is a step up from the previous threats of physical elimination of specific Akbayan personalities and leaders.

It is to be recalled that in the 1998 national and local elections, the CPP and its organizations in the legal mass movement boycotted the newly-implemented party-list system, calling it a “reformist” institution. However, an outcry among the leaders and ranks of its legal mass movement to participate forced the party to revise its policy and led to the formation and participation of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Anak ng Bayan, Gabriela Women’s Party, Migrante, and Suara Bangsa Moro in the 2001 party-list elections.

When the party decided to participate in the party-list system, it did so on a grand scale. The strategy of separate sectoral formations was resorted to make use of its wasted votes above the six percent required of the three-seat maximum set by law. Bayan Muna was maintained as both a national political party and a multi-sectoral party-list group, with the objective to make it as the center for their parliamentary work. In the current 2013 party-list elections, more than 10 party-list groups coming from this same political root have applied for party-list accreditation. It does not include Makabayan, which had been reportedly accredited by Comelec as a national political party apart from Bayan Muna.

The current CPP-led attacks against Akbayan are evidently aimed at monopolizing Left parliamentary politics and curtailing its political influence, especially after the latter entered the popular Aquino-led ruling coalition. In the 2013 elections, they ride on the popular call for cleansing of the party-list system of bogus groups, and called for the disqualification of Akbayan. There is a real fear that Akbayan will successfully attain the status of an independent national political party after the elections.

This fear comes from the realization that the CPP-led armed struggle is getting nowhere, without a strong cadre backbone, a broad-based mass base, and effective international support. This is especially acute at this time when there is a real possibility of permanent peace in the Moro rebellion with the signing of a “framework agreement” between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The CPP is faced with the strategic dilemma of continuing a politically dead-end course of a protracted armed struggle or pursue the possibilities of the parliamentary arena. The attacks on Akbayan are evidently aimed at preparing the ground for the latter. The applicable Marxist tactical term here is “directing the main blow against the secondary target.”

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Akbayan, it is now classified in the same league as the Lavaites in the late 1960s–the principal obstacle to be removed so that there is only one Left group standing. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for those in the CPP who opt for the parliamentary struggle, the current state of Philippine democracy allows their meaningful participation.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) Akbayan had already blazed the trail towards meaningful Left participation in the parliamentary struggle. Anak ng Akbayan.

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The filing of candidacy for the 18,053 seats–from senators to municipal councilors–has ended yesterday. As expected, the majority of key positions will be contested by members, loyalists or affiliates of dominant political clans. The Senate race is heavily affected with the dynastic disease, with almost all candidates of the Liberal Party coalition and the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) tracing their antecedents (and credentials) to political families.

We have the following 18 candidates who are from prominent political families in the two Senate slates: Sen. Francis Escudero, Sen. Loren Legarda, presidential cousin Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, former senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Rep. Maria Milagros Magsaysay, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, vice-presidential daughter Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito, Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile Jr., former senator Ernesto Maceda, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, former senator Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, former senator Richard Gordon, ex-senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, former Tarlac governor Margarita Cojuangco, Rep. Cynthia Villar, and Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara.

The three others–former MTRCB Chairperson Grace Poe-Llamanzares, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, and former AKBAYAN representative Ana Theresia Hontiveros–are not known to belong to traditional dynastic clans. Three candidates–Escudero, Legarda, and Poe-Llamanzares–are common candidates of the LP coalition and UNA.

At the local level, political clans and dynasties are all over the political landscape–from the Marcoses in Ilocos Norte to the Dutertes of Davao City. Only a sprinkling of candidates are non-dynasty or non-traditional politician, the most notable of whom are the two Catholic priests on leave who are running for governorship–former Pampanga governor Fr. Eduardo “Among Ed” Panlilio (Pampanga) and Bicol Regional Development Council Co-Chair Fr. Leo Casas (Masbate).

The uncontrolled proliferation of political dynasties betrays the severe weaknesses of the political party system in the country. There simply are no checks and balances in place to curb or even guide the self-serving political agenda–and by extension the carpetbagging economic agenda–of dominant political clans. At worst, these clans turn into warlords with control over territorial fiefs and their power protected by political violence, electoral fraud, and vote-buying.

The weaknesses are starkly manifested in the dearth of original Liberals in the Liberal Party senatorial slate. The three Liberal Party members in the 12-person list are either newly-sworn party members (Madrigal and Aquino) or a turncoat from another party (Magsaysay). In addition, Sen. Pimentel, who is the president of UNA’s member-party, the PDP-Laban, runs under the LP coalition.

In the UNA slate, the situation is much the same with the three leaders (Vice-President Jejomar Binay, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and former president Joseph Estrada) reserving seats for their own children (Nancy Binay, Jackie Enrile, and JV Ejercito). Rep. Mitos Magsaysay is from Lakas-Kampi, the erstwhile main opposition party.

The phenomenon of common candidates (Escudero, Legarda, and Poe) can only happen in a situation of  an absence of real opposition. Both the LP coalition and UNA parties are in the ruling coalition headed by President Aquino. The opposition that is the Lakas-CMD-Kampi is a pitiful, dying shadow of its former overpoweringly dominant stature–it cannot even field a single senatorial candidate and its head, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is able only to run for a congressional seat in Pampanga.

All roads now lead to Malacañang and Aquino. Of course, the political configuration will change in the run-up to the 2016 elections. Meanwhile the real–but covert–fight in the 2013 elections are between the would-be presidential aspirants in the 2016 presidential elections. As such, what we are witnessing is a proxy war.

Meanwhile, political dynasts sit comfortably and go with the tide of the president’s electoral wishes even as they profess support to all sides of the presidential contest. They are survival specialists, after all.

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Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir is an autobiography of one of the most controversial figures in our contemporary political history, the defense minister and implementor of the Marcos dictatorship, a failed coup d’etat plotter against both the Marcos and Aquino governments, a political lord of the far-north province of Cagayan, a habitue of Congress, both as a congressman and as a senator, and the presiding officer of the impeachment court that convicted and removed from office Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Now almost 89 years old, he can claim a certain place in our nation’s history, having served in high places throughout his political career–on both sides of the political fence. He is a political survivor, missing only the post of presidency in the 1998 elections.

The interesting thing about Juan Ponce Enrile is how he can glibly change his story to fit the political necessity of the moment. Two of the most memorable stories came from him during the 1986 failed coup against Marcos. Holding a hasty press conference in beleaguered Camp Aguinaldo–and desperately calling for help–he admitted to his participation in the conduct of electoral fraud in the 1986 snap elections and in the staging of a fake ambush on his own convoy in Wack Wack Golf and Country Club on September 22, 1972, the night before martial law was publicly proclaimed the next day.

In the book, he made nary a mention of the 1986 snap election fraud and completely changed his story about the fake ambush, asserting the opposite that it was really a genuine ambush by unidentified persons. And to think that this was the last act in the series of staged terror attacks in the three months preceding the declaration of martial law and cited as basis for Proclamation 1081!

My own recollection of the period is that the fake Enrile ambush and its citing as the signal for martial law declaration already circulated among some newsmen at least a month before the event. This is the reason why many student leaders and activists of the period were able to elude the massive dragnet by the military and police forces under Enrile’s administration and supervision in the first hours and days of martial rule.

Of course, it is Enrile’s decision on what to write and say on the history of his times. However, it is also our decision to believe him or not. In many accounts in the book, he provided new glimpses, maybe even truths, on the historical events he participated in. However, in the most important of them, he ended up rewriting and reinforcing old Marcos myths.

The question, therefore, hangs. What for? The nuanced presentation seemingly points to pandering for a Marcos revival while maintaining enough traction as a people power hero. Another myth, but its another story…

Shakespeare here is maybe relevant when he said in The Tempest: “What’s past is prologue.”

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The announcement by Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, Jr. of a coalition into the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) between the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) led by Vice-President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay and the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) led by former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada is a major indication that the 2013 midterm national and local election season has already arrived. Most political events, including the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, will thus be affected, one way or the other, by these elections or by the requirements of these elections.

Before this, the ruling Liberal Party (LP), under its president Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, has started its own moves vis-a-vis the 2013 elections. It has undertaken a series of high-profile party raiding, primarily from the ranks of a weakening Lakas-Kabalikat ng Mamamayang Pilipino Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-Kampi CMD). One of the recent examples is the switch to the LP of the Ebdane father and son team (Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane and newly-elected 2nd District representative Omar Ebdane) in Zambales.

The LP move and the PDP-Laban coalition building will define the 2013 electoral contest. By no means, however, are these two the only players. There is still the formidable Nacionalista Party led by Senator Manuel “Manny” Villar who reportedly handed the reins to Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. This party keeps its cards close to its chest but quietly organizes on a nationwide scale.

A new party, the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP), led by Lito Lorenzana, has also organized and is challenging the Lakas-Kampi CMD on its political ideology. Before it, the National Unity Party, led by Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia, split from the the Lakas-Kampi CMD. The latter, considerably weakened due to turncoatism of most of its members to the ruling coalition, is still considered the leadership of the political opposition and is still led by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

A Left party, the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party (Akbayan) is a significant member of the ruling coalition and an LP ally. Another Left formation, consisting of Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Anakbayan, and the like, today plays the independent game, although they aligned with Villar’s and Marcos’ NP during the last elections.

At any rate, the irony of the 2013 elections is the fact that opposite wings of the ruling coalition, LP and PDP-Laban, will lead separate senatorial slates. There is also a distinct possibility of a third NP-led slate.

The principal reason for these developments and scenario is the early pole positioning for the 2016 presidential elections. The president has announced his decision to forego any political move to prolong himself in power and will definitely step down in 2016. It thereby precipitated the early scramble of presidential aspirants to maneuver in the 2013 elections and even before to capture strategic resources such as financing, local alliances, and campaign infrastructures and capabilities.

The 2013 elections is a hunting ground for 2016 elections. No presidential aspirant can ignore its importance. Nor can politicians, whether national or local, ignore the implications of the 2013 elections for 2016 elections and on their own political fortunes. The political hunting season is open.

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“[T]he power of the Supreme Court, the President, and Congress all emanate from their single Boss: the people. Therefore, we should only favor and fight for the people’s interests. I swore to preserve and defend the Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. I have no intention of violating my sworn oath; I have no intention of failing the Filipino people.” Going back to his oath of office, President Aquino delivered a speech of challenge to the Supreme Court and its Chief Justice.

The occasion was apt enough: the 1st National Criminal Justice Summit held at the Centennial Hall of the Manila Hotel. Before him were many justices, judges, and other officers of the court, including Chief Justice Renato Corona.

President Aquino alluded to various instances where the Supreme Court has acted allegedly to violate the very Constitution they are only supposed to interpret. In so doing, he has thrown down the gauntlet to the present members of the Supreme Court who are perceived as protective–if not subserviently loyal–to their appointing power, the former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

To be sure, there is much controversy around the actuation of at least 8 of the justices who have a generally unified favorable opinion when matters concerning GMA is brought before the Supreme Court. The latest, of course, was their action of imposing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on Department of Justice Circular No. 41. The latter was invoked by DOJ Secretary de Lima to include the former president in the Watch-List Order, effectively preventing her from leaving the country.

Later, when it was found out that the Arroyo couple did not fulfill one of the three conditions of the TRO, these majority members of the SC still insisted on the TRO. Now there is a petition questioning the joint Commission on Election-DOJ investigating panel that recommended to the Comelec en banc the filing of the case of electoral sabotage against the former president. If acted upon by the SC and found unconstitutional, the panel’s recommendation can be set aside and former president Arroyo may be freed from her present detention.

The president’s speech, in this context, is a challenge to the Supreme Court to faithfully do its duty in accordance with the higher interests of the people in mind. Implicit is the warning of his readiness to fulfill his own presidential mandate if he is convinced that the SC (or the majority thereof) does not anymore serve the people’s interests.

The most logical (and extreme) route is the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona and those justices perceived as compromising the Supreme Court’s impartiality and credibility in dispensing justice in the name of the people. Of course, this course is fraught with grave peril, both political and legal. In the end, it is a process whose ultimate dispenser of justice will be the people.

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Events are moving fast in the national political front even as trends firm up for the rest of the term of the Aquino government. The center of the tempest, of course, is the current attempt of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the rest of  the Arroyo faction to evade the inevitable criminal cases being prepared against them and their impending arrest. Though the fight is being fought in medical opinions, in legal petitions before the Supreme Court, and in media blasts, the real arena is political.

On the one hand, there is the Aquino government drive, with a clear political will behind it, to address the unfinished issues of the Arroyo administration, including the issues of massive corruption and electoral shenanigans in the 2004 and 2007 national and local elections. In the majority of these issues, the key figures are none other than former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the erstwhile First Gentleman, Atty. Miguel Arroyo.

On the other hand, there is the Arroyo clique that has ruled the country for almost a decade, weakened and almost brought down the post-Marcos democratic regime, suspected to have systematically amassed illegal wealth in billions of dollars, and is now exerting efforts to defend itself and its gains.

Despite the various attempts to derail the 2010 elections and–when this failed–to prevent an Aquino victory, the people threw out the former Arroyo administration. Despite the  midnight appointments, laws, executive orders, and other maneuvers, the Arroyo clique failed to stop the consolidation of power by the Aquino administration.

Erstwhile allies of the Arroyos changed sides in droves even as its own hardcore supporters tried desperately to challenge, even futile trying out out possible destabilization campaigns. The Arroyo clique tried to maintain their dominance in Lakas and in the House of Representatives but even this ended in futility.

The lone apparent Arroyo-influenced institution is the Supreme Court. The current Arroyo petitions for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and a favorable ruling on the constitutionality of the Department of Justice Order No. 41 is certain to be seen as a test of the political position of the  Arroyo appointees in the court. This is unfortunate but the high court is still under a cloud of doubt in the public mind because of its previous pro-Arroyo rulings.

Whatever the SC decision is, the political battle develops to the advantage of the Aquino government. There is a great amount of public support for the closure of the issues against the Arroyos.

The basic options open to the Arroyos, if they chose not to admit their guilt, are only two: flight or fight. The latter–the path taken by former president Estrada–would mean political humiliation and a long stay in a detention resthouse while the case is being tried, and, if convicted, a probable long stay in the penintentiary.

Flight means going on an asylum in a friendly country with no extradition treaty with the Philippines and waiting out an unfriendly Philippine government such as the Aquino administration. Then, negotiate when conditions are favorable. This was the Marcos strategy.

At the end of the day, the politics of it will determine the option.

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