Category: 2010 elections

The Myth of a Center

Let me share with you an easy way to make people think you’re reasonable: tell them you’re a centrist. Pose two extremes and say you stand in the middle. How can somebody be wrong if he/she is taking the so-called middle ground? Politicians, being the great wordsmiths, spin masters, and cowards that they are, love “reasonable” centrist rhetoric. And many times pundits follow suit.

Take the example of the debate on reproductive health that occurred during the campaign season. So-called centrist candidates like Manny Villar and, to some extent, Noynoy Aquino, advocated a middle ground between the anti-RH position of the Church hierarchy and the pro-RH stance of most Filipinos. The middle way apparently lies in teaching both perspectives. Never mind that the Church stance is based on lies about how condoms are harmful and how IUDs are abortifacient; it’s another side. Go ahead; lie to people because it represents the “other side of the coin.”

This reminds me of the way the American corporate media frame the debate on climate change. Outfits like Fox news conceive of the debate as one between those who believe in the reality of man-made climate change and those who don’t. It doesn’t matter that climate deniers are considered nutjobs by 90% of climate scientists; they represent another side of an argument. Give them equal airtime.

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It was a statement from a faceless cab driver—as told to me by my dear friend Fides—that perhaps captures the sentiments of poor Filipinos who like Noynoy Aquino. Said the driver: Ninakaw na sa atin ang lahat, at ang tanging natira sa akin ay ang pag-asa. Di ako papayag na ang pag-asa ay maagaw pa sa amin. Si Noynoy ang simbolo ng aming pag-asa.

We now see the revival of pag-asa. And this feeling is alive among all Pinoys, not distinguishing between rich and poor. Fides straddles the class divide, and she and the cab driver share the same pag-asa. Born to the purple, Fides has always enjoyed a comfortable life. Yet her heart is for the poor and oppressed, which explains why she has remained a Left activist since her high school days at Maryknoll. In the course of her unusual life, she has made many sacrifices and endured much pain—for example, being imprisoned twice, dropping out of the University of the Philippines law school (though she topped the entrance exam) to continue her activism, and being physically separated from her husband who is wanted by the military for trumped-up charges.

And it was not easy for her to leave her comrades during the election period, for she wanted to campaign, out of her free will, for Noynoy. Worse, her friends from the Left attacked her candidate. In her text message to me, Fides wrote: “The Left misread the popular sentiment for reform, encapsulated in Noynoy.”

Reform is in the air, and we must exert greater effort to foster the hope for reforms as the public fever generated by the elections begins to subside.

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For the diehards

Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against. – W.C.

I was talking about elections with Pierre.

“A run-off election works best for countries with a multi-party system.
It solves the problem of a minority president,” he said.

“How so?” I asked.

“Candidates run in a general election and then the top two vote-getters
go mano-a-mano in a run-off election,” he explained.

“Did you vote for Sarkozy?” I asked.

“No and yes. I did not vote for Sarkozy in the general election but I
voted for him in the run-off,” he replied.

“What made you change your mind?”

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Why Prosecuting GMA is an election issue

Over the years, Filipinos have come to accept that corruption is a part
of Philippine politics. But history has shown that if the indications of
culpability are strong, people are moved to do something. This happened
in EDSA 1986 – sobra na, tama na! was the call against Marcos. This
also happened in EDSA Dos when Filipinos saw firsthand how the paper
trail of corruption led directly to Mr. Estrada.

President Arroyo’s incumbency has been hounded by highly publicized
controversies. The Senate investigations on the ZTE and the fertilizer
scam, extensively covered by media, gave the public access to testimony
and documentation of corruption.

A Note on Corruption

Corruption is neither the only nor the main reason for our economic
woes, but it does imply direct economic costs.

First, corruption results in the loss of significant resources that
could have been available for productive activities and social services.
The World Bank estimated that in the 20-year period between 1977 and
1997, the Philippines lost US$48 billion. In a speech in May 2006,
Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrrez claimed that we lost the same amount to
corruption in only five years from 2001 to 2005.

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I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’

…The plunderers will never be afraid of you, will never learn to
respect you, and the plunderers will get away with it.

-former PCGG Commissioner Ruben Carranza

While former Commissioner Carranza said this in relation to pursuing a
settlement with the Marcoses, I think this applies even more aptly to
electing the Marcoses. While a son should not be crucified for the sins
of his father, to repeatedly deny that Marcos Sr. never committed gross
human rights violations and never stole from the country is reason
enough NOT to vote for Bongbong, aka Marcos Jr.

But apart
from denying the suffering Filipinos underwent during Martial Law and
even lauding his father’s dictatorship, according to Carranza and Robles
(an investigative journalist) Bongbong has profited and continues to
profit from his family’s ill-gotten wealth. The unfortunate thing is his
and his siblings’ enjoyment of what rightfully belongs to the Filipino
nation goes on, 24 years after the Marcoses were removed from our
country. He and his sisters are named beneficiaries of the multimillion
dollar Swiss accounts of their parents and, as Robles documents (please
check out, Bongbong and siblings are still
“pressuring the government to return the money his parents stole from
the Filipino people.”

A couple of people I have talked to and
several online users extol Bongbong for his achievements in Ilocos
Norte. As written in various blogs and websites, he has “transformed
Ilocos Norte into a first-class province, a major tourism destination,
and a pioneer in harnessing wind power for energy.” As a Congressman, he
also supposedly furthered these similar initiatives (i.e. focused
development of Philippine tourism and the accelerated use of alternative
sources of energy).

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Villar and the Vista Land IPO

Here’s how a banker friend explained it:

Facts (all of which, except where indicated, are publicly available information) :

1. In July, 1997, Camella & Palmera Homes (“C&P”; Bloomberg ticker is CPHome) issued US Dollar-denominated floating rate notes (“FRN’s”) with an issue size of USD 150 million. The FRN’s were due to mature in January, 2003, at which point C&P was supposed to pay the entire principal amount of USD 150 million. In the meantime, C&P was obligated to pay interest on the notes. C&P was controlled by Manny Villar who was the ultimate beneficial owner of a controlling stake in the company.

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The Perils Ahead

Noynoy Aquino’s victory is imminent. What stands in the way of this overwhelming victory is election failure or massive cheating.

Aquino’s victory augurs well for the Philippine economy and politics. We can expect people’s trust in government to be renewed, enabling a favorable environment for reforms to grow. We can expect the economy to pick up, as animal spirits are awakened, thus stimulating investments. The economy will be energized by the legitimacy accorded the new President as well as by the expectation of honest and transparent government.

But it is a mistake especially for Noynoy’s followers to assume a triumphalist air. The electoral contest is the opening salvo, and that particular battle will be won. But more battles will be fought in the next six years.

As the new administration rebuilds the economic and political institutions and spurs growth in the immediate term, it will face tough obstacles. Success begets problems and bigger challenges.

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The Comelec 100% manual audit of ballot authenticity

On its own and without any prodding, the Comelec decided to conduct a manual audit of ballots to determine their authenticity. The Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) will do the audit by shining an ultraviolet (UV) lamp on each ballot and deciding, based on their visual appreciation of the ballot, whether it is authentic or fake. This audit is not random, but 100%. It is not automated, but manual. It will be conducted not after, but before proclaiming winners.

What made the Comelec decide to conduct this 100%, manual, pre-proclamation audit of ballots for authenticity? They discovered that the high-speed printing had caused the UV security mark on the ballots to be “misaligned by one to two millimeters”. As a result, the voting machine’s UV scanner was inaccurately reading the misaligned mark and making wrong decisions whether the ballot was authentic or fake. For instance, here’s an April 5 report from GMA News:

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday denied that poll machine provider Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) failed to supply the correct ink for the ultraviolet (UV) security markings that are being printed on the ballots for the May polls.

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Automation ‘only 25%’ chance of success (3)

Subsystem 3: Logistics, support, preparations

Claim: “36,000 voting centers surveyed [for] network signal, power.”

Given 48,000 voting centers, that’s 75 percent covered as of Mar. 8.

Claim: “904 testing … employees working two shifts.”

Even three shifts are not enough, knowing that 1,990 machines took Comelec three months to test in 2008. Smartmatic should have tested the machines in China, before shipping to RP. What we want is due diligence testing by Comelec. It is our elections; our money will pay for the machines.

Claim: “Recruitment, training of 48,000 field technicians started.”

Since the ad came out with only 60 days to Election Day, we can only gape in disbelief: “Started”?

Claim: “438 Comelec training personnel certified.”

Yet they are to train in 60 days at least 230,000 elections officials.

Claim: “Contracts with logistics providers, forwarders signed.”

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Expert rates automation: slim chance of success (2)

Subsystem 2: Software, certification, voter education

Claim: “Source code customization to meet requirements of RP elections finished.”

The source code was actually customized in a way that violates the requirement of election law for vote verification. The PCOS has a built-in feature that displays on-screen the names of candidates a voter has marked. He can then verify if the machine is accurately interpreting his voting intentions. If it doesn’t, the voter can abort and re-feed the ballot. If it does, he can then confirm and press “Cast”. This feature is absolutely necessary to assure voters that the PCOS scanned their ballots correctly.

Smartmatic disabled this feature, taking away the only chance for voters to check the PCOS scanning accuracy on Election Day. Couple this with the news blackout of pre-election PCOS testing, and the post-election audit of results only after Comelec proclaims “winners.” We have lost all three opportunities to determine scanning accuracy — not reassuring.

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Expert rates automation: slim chance of success (1)

Mar. 8, Smartmatic-TIM came out with full-page ads claiming “avote of confidence for the 2010 automated election system.” Theautomation contractor listed accomplishments in five subsystems: (1)Hardware, supplies, consumables; (2) Software, certification, votereducation; (3) Logistics, support, preparations; (4) Telecommunicationsand transmission; and (5) Ballot printing, infrastructure.

ITexpert Roberto Verzola evaluated the claims for civil society’sHalalang Marangal (HALAL). Finding serious gaps that open thesubsystems to cheating, he gives his own rating. Following is his Mar.28 updated report to HALAL leaders, ex-senator Bobby Tañada, formerelection commissioner Mehol Sadain, retired general Francisco Gudani,PRRM president Isagani Serrano, St. Scholastica’s College president Sr.Mary John Mananzan, and TOYM awardee Atty. Maria Paz Luna (1st of 3parts, edited for space):

Remember, most election frauds areinside jobs. Be less worried about hackers and other external threats.More worrisome are cheats who have inside access to the automatedelection system (AES) — to do what they’ve always done with impunityunder the manual system.
By “success” we mean: (1) absence of significant cheating and similarproblems that have chronically attended elections, and (2) canvassingthat is significantly shorter than manual method. Otherwise, we wouldconsider the AES a failure. This is different from the legalistic term“failure of election,” for which officials mean that no actual votingoccurred. By their definition, if voters are able to cast ballots, thenthere’s no election failure.

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Credibilty versus competence

Someone who calls himself “thecusponline” captured the essence of the “battle of the frames” between Aquino and Villar. His concise analysis posted in Manuel Quezon III’s blog ( is worth quoting in full:
“I think early on, the name of the game was defining a narrative for the campaign. Aquino and Villar were both playing to their strengths. Aquino had the legacy of honest government on his side and thus employed a good vervus evil narrative. While Villar had a record of leading both houses of congress and his life story to sell.
“The middle part of the campaign was all about bridging two gaps. There was the competency gap for Aquino, and the credibility gap for Villar. Taken on his own merits, Aquino seemed like a weak candidate, but given the strategy he took in selectively choosing the more reform-minded defectors rather than the transactional ones (who went to Villar), he has been able to build a balanced yet formidable team, while Villar simply tried to evade questions regarding his claims.

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