The final surge

To Take A Stand
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

Posted on April 30, 2013

THIS BEING my last column before the elections, I will comment on the major election issues of campaign themes and survey rankings, the Catholic vote, and automated electoral fraud.

Campaign themes and survey rankings. In my last column titled “It’s crunch time for senatorial candidates” (April 9), I wrote that candidates within striking distance of the last four slots of the Magic 12 have to work double time as there is not much time within which to formulate new campaign strategies or to make over images to improve their chances of being among the 12 choices of the voters come May 13. From all indications they have indeed stepped up their efforts. Their commercials are aired more frequently. And they have all veered away from their original campaign theme.

Perhaps Ramon Magsaysay and his campaign managers discerned from the results of the straw polls of the Movement for Good Governance, the wide-ranging support of netizens, and the endorsement of many political pundits, that he has the vote of the informed and thinking segment of the electorate. But that is not enough to get him elected. So, now his campaign tack seems to be directed at the common folk who make up the vast audience of soap opera. He now has as endorser Sir Chief, the main character of the suddenly popular soap opera Be careful with my heart. That is a radical departure from the staid campaign theme “integrity, hard work, and discipline” and from the earlier claim of “buster of the fertilizer scam” and “son of the beloved President Ramon Magsaysay.”

Miguel Zubiri’s “protector of the environment” campaign theme had not helped his quest for a seat in the Senate at all. He has slid from No. 10 at the beginning of the campaign season to No. 14 in the latest SWS survey. Having seen how Nancy Binay had jumped from No. 9 to No. 3 in the poll rankings in the same four-month period when all she has going for her is that she is the daughter of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, Zubiri has placed on the air a new commercial that shows him being endorsed, presumably, by the Vice-President. I say presumably because one has a hard time making out what the Vice-President is saying as he slurs his words.

I had written back in October that when people realize that the Juan Ponce Enrile running for the Senate is not the Senate president and Presiding Judge of the Impeachment Court that tried Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona but his son, Juan Ponce Enrile’s ranking in the surveys would fall. Enrile’s ranking skidded when TV commercials showed it is only a namesake of the Senate president who is a candidate for a Senate seat. The commercials do not say he is the son of the Senate president.

Enrile shares with Sen. Gregorio Honasan the 12th place in the last survey. The survey was conducted before the Wikileaks posting suggesting that American embassy officials believed that Jack Enrile was complicit in the fatal shooting of Ernest Lucas circulated furiously in the Internet. As of this writing, there has been no indication as to how Jack Enrile is going to negate the impact of that Wikileaks posting. Definitely, it is going to be a formidable job. If his campaign line is that he is a reformed man, that in fact he is a frustrated pastor, as the front page of Sunday’s Inquirer portrayed him to be, it is not going to work. The claim lacks substantiation.

Catholic vote. Reelectionist Gregorio Honasan has been in and out of the Magic 12. He is precariously in the 12th slot in the April survey. Honasan rode on his fame as the soldier who rebelled for the cause of the foot soldiers when he launched his candidacy for the Senate for the first time in 1995. But since many reforms have been instituted in the military establishment by the present administration, the foremost rebel soldier has no more cause to espouse. It looks like he is turning to the so-called Catholic vote to firm up his hold of the last place of the Magic 12.

He joined the rally against the Reproductive Health law in Bacolod. That would not help his pursuit of another term in the Senate. That assembly in Bacolod has no impact on Catholics. Surveys of both Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia say that the great majority of Filipinos, from which can be deduced majority of Catholics, are in favor of a reproductive health law.

As for the vaunted Catholic vote, that is a myth. If there were, Protestant Fidel Ramos and womanizer Joseph Estrada would not have been elected president. Family planning advocate Dr. Juan Flavier would not have been elected senator. Prominent members of Opus Dei even campaigned for Erap in 1998.

“Church flexes poll clout,” said the banner headline of Sunday’s Inquirer. Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra does not represent the Church. The more than 100 other bishops of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines are not endorsing any candidate. Even if they did, they would have no influence because their credibility had been diminished considerably by their collective silence on the massive electoral fraud in 2004 and on the “Hello Garci” tapes.

Honasan and Bishop Navarra together on the stage robbed the two men of credibility. In the coup attempt of Aug. 28, 1987, Honasan, the instigator and leader, had no qualms in ordering his men to attack government installations, never mind if the encounter could result in fatalities. Indeed dozens of men, including civilians, were killed in the fire fight. That is the man the Catholic bishop includes in his Team Buhay “forever.” In her column last Wednesday, Tess Abesamis referred to Honasan as a publicly known womanizer. That is the candidate the Church dignitary endorses for the Senate.

Honasan was named the Baron of PMA Class ’71, the highest honor the Academy bestows on a cadet for leadership. He has not lived up to the expectations of his PMA instructors as a military officer and as a senator. It may be too late now but Honasan has to get out of the shadow of his long-time patron, Senator Enrile, and present himself to the electorate as a leader, if he still can. Even as a coup leader, he is a dismal failure.

Automated Garci. But all the hard work of the candidates and their supporters can be negated by what Information Technology people call the Automated Garci -- or the automated dagdag-bawas operation. How dagdag-bawas operations can be pulled off with the automated electoral system in place is discussed by several IT experts of the volunteer group AES Watch in the newly published book Was your vote counted.

Rene Azurin says automated cheating can be accomplished wholesale by introducing subtly altered software code into the voting machine or onto its memory card before the opening polls on election day. This can be done by those who have access to the machines or to the memory cards. According to him, cheating can also be done during the data transmission and consolidation stage if the cheater has access to the private (digital) keys of selected officials.

Many of those machines and CF cards are sent by ordinary public transportation to remote polling places, some up in the mountains, others in distant islands, days before election day. Access to them during transport and at the polling places is easy. Electronic transmission facilities in those remote places are inadequate if not absent.

Gus Lagman says the Smartmatic PCOS can be hijacked. Sixty of these machines were found in the house of a Smartmatic technician right after the elections. In 2010 PCOS machines had an open port. Through an open port a techie with a laptop can connect to the unit and tamper with the software and the CF cards in the machine. CF cards can be stolen easily as proven by the discovery of CF cards in a garbage dump in Cagayan de Oro City. Transmission of precinct election results from remote places to the canvassing machine is vulnerable to tampering as shown by Glenn Chong in Biliran in 2010.

Both Azurin and Lagman say that the Smartmatic system is very vulnerable to internal tampering. For the right incentive, a Comelec official can manipulate the system as to guarantee the election of a paying candidate. That is why their colleagues in the IT circle refer to the automated electoral system as Automated Garci.

A “Hello, Brilly. Hello, Brilly, can you...” call is out of the question. Comelec Chair Brillantes is a trustworthy man. He himself said he is trusted by President Aquino and Vice-President Binay. Besides, he is no IT man. In fact, his staunch defense of Smartmatic’s system with all its flaws shows he is an ignoramus when it comes to IT.

But many of Garci’s accomplices in 2004 remain with the Comelec. There could be techies among them. Members of the Bids and Awards Committee of Comelec that approved the purchase of ballot secrecy folders for the fantastic unit price of 380 are still with the Comelec. Yes, men and women of dubious integrity populate that Constitutional body.

Well dear Readers, until May 21 then, by which time the results of the senatorial race shall have become final. Then either I say, “I told you so” or I eat my words.