Elections: Instrument of political control

Strategic Perspective
René B. Azurin

Posted on May 30, 2013

CONTROL OF a society -- its resources, its wealth, its people -- is effected by control of its government. In modern times, control of government is generally effected by control of the electoral process, the process for choosing and installing a society’s leaders. Those who would rule a society, therefore, must make sure that this electoral process remains within their ability to manipulate and that it can be readily rigged to favor the minions they select. That way, the agenda of government can always be crafted to promote -- and never endanger -- the interests of the governing elite.

So it is in this country. The electoral process has always been under the control of a small political elite and elections have always been merely periodic contests to determine which of them -- or which of their factotums -- would exercise the ruling roles for a particular election cycle.

In the past, such control was achieved through what has been dubbed the three Gs (gold, goons, and guns) for buying or intimidating voters and by manual alteration of the election’s Certificates of Canvass (called dagdag-bawas, or add-subtract) by complicit officials. This dagdag-bawas method worked because it was coupled with a laborious and time-consuming legal process for opening the ballot boxes and verifying a count. Still, it was messy and detectable and required large numbers of operators.

It had to be expected that someone would eventually recognize that such a primitive dagdag-bawas method could be improved by technology. And thus, now, we have an automated election system with computers to register and count our votes. With computers, the electronic alteration of election returns requires only a single malicious programmer given access to the system by a handful of strategically placed officials. It is far simpler than manual alteration. "Progress" has made rigging the count as easy and as quick as programming a few lines of code into a computer. And "progress" has made the entire rigging process virtually undetectable.

So now, we voters are completely in the dark as to how our votes are counted. Naturally, only the people chosen to oversee this new computerized electoral process -- minions and hacks of the country’s ruling class -- have any access to the vote count. The electoral process is now completely untransparent and the fabrications emanating from Comelec Chairman Brillantes and his collaborators are designed to make the Filipino voter accept this opaqueness as a function of the automated technology.

If one imagines that our Commission on Elections is not fully captive of the powers that be and acting for their interests, not ours, then one might be described as hopelessly naive. If one thinks that Brillantes’ Commission on Elections is "independent" or "objective" -- even after watching its members make anomalous decisions in blatant violation of both existing law and the public interest -- then one can only be labelled as totally blind.

I have warned of the dangers inherent in computerized elections -- in an extensive series of articles beginning in 2009 and in a recent book Hacking Our Democracy: The Conspiracy To Electronically Control Philippine Elections (available at Solidaridad and National book stores) -- and have strongly insisted that a transparent process and proper IT security protocols be strictly followed if we Filipino voters are to maintain any semblance of belief that we actually elect our leaders through our votes.

Disappointingly -- though not wholly unexpectedly, given the limited reach of my voice and the co-optation of mainstream media by the governing elite -- the Filipino people, except for a knowledgeable and observant few, have failed to pay attention. As a result, we have had the utter disaster of the May 2013 polls wherein thousands of voting machines malfunctioned, strange interruptions in the count and in the transmissions cannot be explained, one out of every four election returns are missing, and large numbers of CF memory cards have been damaged or lost. Also, there have been no reports as yet (almost three weeks after the elections) on the results of what was supposed to be a "random manual audit" of the PCOS voting machines after polls closed on election day, clearly because Comelec officials are still trying to finesse the reportedly wide discrepancies between the automated count and the manual verification.

More fundamentally, the source codes (the programmed instructions) of the voting and counting machines were kept from both independent observers and political parties, and the transmitted election returns were not digitally signed by the mandated-by-law election officials. These violations (of the poll automation law) should make all election returns invalid and the election illegitimate.

Basically, no one -- except the cabal that controls the electoral process -- really knows what the May 2013 election outcomes actually are.

The UP-based policy studies group CenPEG noted, "As in the 2010 presidential elections, voters could not really tell who won and who lost in the recent midterm elections." Indeed, to indecently rush the proclamation of "winning" candidates, Comelec Chairman Brillantes concocted a legally non-existent instrument, the "group canvass report." Then, as CenPEG pointed out, Brillantes "was quoted by the press as saying that the proclamation of winning senatorial candidates was based on vote projection and not on the 100% completion of certificates of canvassing (COCs)." Brillantes’ words were, "We rely not on the exact number of votes but on the projected number of votes [that] we anticipate." What? This is unprecedented and unbelievable. Since when are election results based on "projections" and not on an actual count?

To those politicians who’ve asked prior to May 2013, my principal warning was: If they acquiesced to the defective automated election system and the flawed implementation process Comelec insisted on in the conduct of our automated polls, they would have no way of contesting the results of an election, should they lose. Walang remedyo [no remedy] is the term I believe I often used. That is exactly the predicament today of all the candidates who were declared losers in the May 2013 polls.

There is no remedy for these losing candidates because they cannot assemble legal proof that they were cheated, simply because the devious Comelec has deliberately dismantled all the mechanisms and security protocols that might allow the public to verify and authenticate the results of the elections. In fact, despite a petition by senatorial candidate Richard Gordon, the PCOS machines and their CF cards have already been withdrawn from their assigned polling places and can no longer be secured for forensic investigation purposes. Likewise, the various servers used. No election data can, at this point, be deemed uncorrupted or untampered.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action said in a statement yesterday, "The recent mid-term national election makes a mockery of our democracy." It continued, "We join the Civil Society watchdogs in demanding accountability from Comelec. We call the responsible agencies for a thorough investigation of election irregularities and incidents reported, and challenge all the faithful and people of goodwill, to break the culture of impunity…. We as citizens should speak now. This so-called automated election with its malpractices will be perpetuated in the coming elections if we do not loudly clamor for accountability. How can we obey and respect our leaders if we are not sure whether they are really elected by the people? The stake is the future of our democracy!"

Indeed. The big question now is whether we -- unlike our forefathers who fought for our freedoms -- have become a nation of sheep, content with watching a criminal cabal brazenly violate our basic democratic rights. Maybe, like uncomplaining lambs, the crumbs we get from the governing elite will be enough to silence us.