At least 29 out of 53 party list reps proclaimed by Comelec are from political clans, former government officials, multi-millionaires

bogus party list groupsMore than two weeks after the May 2013 polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has finally proclaimed, albeit still incomplete, the winning party list groups. Looking at the composition of the party list representatives who will sit in the 16th Congress, it appears that at least 29 out of the 53 representatives initially proclaimed by Comelec (from 38 party list groups) either come from political dynasties, related to current or former government officials, are former public officials themselves, and/or are multi-millionaires. The remaining five seats (to complete the mandated 58 seats) will likely be bagged by representatives coming from the political and economic elite as well. Thus, when the much delayed proclamation has already been completed, political clans, former public officials and/or multi-millionaires will occupy more than half of the seats intended for the poor and marginalized (at least 34 out of 58 party list seats).

After gaining some ground to rid the party list system of questionable and bogus groups, the people’s campaign was ultimately derailed by the Comelec itself when it allowed some of the dubious parties to run, and further by the Supreme Court (SC) when it decided that the party list system is not exclusive to under-represented and marginalized sectors. (Download the SC decision here.) Because of their power, influence and wealth, many of these questionable and bogus party list groups were able to clinch seats in the incoming 16th Congress while those that genuinely represent the under-represented and marginalized were, well, marginalized.

Political dynasties (at least four reps)

Winning party list groups include those associated with established political dynasties such ABONO (Rep. Conrado Estrella III from the Estrella clan of Pangasinan and Rep. Francisco Ortega III from the Ortega clan of La Union); AAMBIS-OWA (Rep. Sharon Garin from the Garin clan of Iloilo) and; AVE (Rep. Eulogio Magsaysay from the Magsaysay clan of Zambales). Expectedly, the bailiwicks of these political clans delivered votes for their party list groups. Pangasinan and La Union, the bailiwicks of the Ortegas and Estrellas, for instance, accounted for more than 78% of the votes of ABONO, based on partial and unofficial results posted on the Comelec website. Votes from Iloilo, the bailiwick of the Garins, comprised more than 55% of the votes garnered by AAMBIS-OWA.

Related to politicians, public officials (at least five reps)

Other winning party list groups will have representatives related to sitting government officials like Rep. Maximo Rodriguez Jr. of ABAMIN, brother of reelected Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez; and Rep. Raymond Mendoza of TUCP, husband of reelected North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza. Note that more than 19% of the votes cornered by TUCP came from North Cotabato. Others are relatives of high ranking officials of the judiciary such as Rep. Catalina Leonen-Pizarro of ABS, wife of Court of Appeals (CA) Justice Normandie Pizarro and AMA Rep. Lorna Velasco, wife of SC Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco. Meanwhile, DIWA Rep. Emmeline Aglipay is the daughter of former Philippine National Police (PNP) Edgardo Aglipay.

Former government officials (at least seven reps)

Former government officials are also making a political comeback as party list representatives. They include former Manila Mayor and Environment Secretary (Arroyo administration) Lito Atienza of BUHAY; former Undersecretary for Political Affairs (current Aquino administration) Ibarra Gutierrez III of AKBAYAN; former Labor Attache of the Philippine Embassy in the UAE (Cory Aquino administration), former Ambassador in Washington DC (Ramos administration), and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Commission or NLRC (Estrada administration) Roy Señeres of OFW Family; former National Anti-Poverty Commission or NAPC member (Arroyo administration) and former Department of Agrarian Reform or DAR assistant secretary Rep. Cresente Paez and former National Cooperative Development Council or NCDC officer Anthony Bravo of COOP-NATCCO; former Road Board member (Aquino administration) Jesulito Manalo of Angkla; and former Department of Justice or DOJ Secretary (Ramos administration) Silvestre Bello III of 1-BAP.

Multi-millionaires (at least 13 reps)

Finally, multi-millionaires (i.e. those with a net worth of almost or over P10 million as declared in their 2012 SALN and/or are associated with business interests) will again also sit as supposed representatives of the poor and marginalized including BUHAY Reps. Mariano Velarde, son of El Shaddai founder Bro. Mike Velarde, and William Tieng, whose family controls Solar Sports; A Teacher Reps. Mariano Piamonte, board member of a private Bulacan university and former executive director of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), and Julieta Cortuna; 1-CARE Rep. Michael Angelo Rivera; AKO BICOL Reps. Christopher Co (of Albay’s rich Co family that owns  transnational group Sunwest Group of Companies, Tektone Global Technologies Foundation, commercial hub Embarcadero de Legaspi, and other construction firms, malls, and resorts) and Rodel Batocabe; AGAP Rep. Nicanor Briones; AN WARAY Rep. Neil Montejo, whose family owns hotels in Tacloban City;  YACAP Rep. Carol Lopez; BUTIL Rep. Agapito Guanlao; LPGMA Rep. Arnel Ty, an incorporator of various LPG distributors in the country; and ALAY BUHAY Rep. Weslie Gatchalian, whose family owns Waterfront Phils., the largest Filipino-owned hotel chain in the country;

But note also that those who come from political clans or are related to current and former government officials are also multi-millionaires and have interests in various businesses as well. The table below lists the 16 party list representatives who were members of the 15th Congress with a declared net worth of almost or more than P10 million and will sit again in the 16th Congress as party list legislators.

pls saln 2012

Remaining five seats

Other party-list representatives who will likely bag the remaining five seats are also former government officials, related to public officials and/or multi-millionaires including former Cagayan congressman Patricio Antonio of AGBIAG!, the richest party-list representative in the 15th Congress with a net worth of P67.87 million, based on his 2012 SALN. Others are ALIF Rep. Abdul Tomawis, whose uncle Jerry Tomawis is currently the administrator of the Southern Philippine Development Authority (SPDA); former Toll Regulatory Board or TRB member (Aquino administration) Pablo Nava III of Append Inc.; PBA Rep. Mark Sambar, who has a net worth of P12.09 million (2012 SALN); and former Angadangan, Isabela Mayor Jose Panganiban of ANAC-IP.

Listed below are some of these questionable groups, based on an earlier research done by poll watchdog Kontra Daya with some additional/updated information:

BUHAY

Buhay Hayaan Yumabong (BUHAY) is associated with the religious group El Shaddai with its top nominee, incumbent Rep. Mariano Velarde, being the son of influential El Shaddai founder and leader Bro. Mike Velarde (who also used to be a nominee of BUHAY). Rep. Velarde is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P52.75 million (2012 SALN). The group’s second nominee is Jose Atienza, a former Manila mayor and secretary of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR). Its third nominee, incumbent Rep. William Tieng, is another multi-millionaire with a net worth of P14.77 million (2012 SALN) and belongs to the family that controls Solar Sports. All three nominees – Velarde, Atienza and Tieng – will sit in the 16th Congress for BUHAY.

A TEACHER

The Advocacy for Teacher Empowerment through Action, Cooperation, and Harmony (A TEACHER) claims to represent teachers. But its top nominee, incumbent Rep. Mariano Piamonte Jr., is the former executive director of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and board member of the University of Regina Carmeli in Malolos, Bulacan. Piamonte has a declared net worth of P5.44 million (2012 SALN). Its second nominee, incumbent Rep. Julieta Cortuna is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P16.20 million. Other nominees are associated as well with private school administrators such as its fifth nominee, lawyer Joseph Noel Estrada, the vice president for administration of the Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) and executive director of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (Cocopea). Piamonte and Cortuna will sit in the 16th Congress to represent A TEACHER.

1-CARE

The First Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy Inc. (1-CARE) claims to represent not only the rural-based consumers of electricity but consumers of other utility services as well including water, transportation and telephone. The group was earlier disqualified by the Comelec on the grounds that electricity consumers are not necessarily a marginalized sector because they could also include well-off consumers. It second nominee, incumbent Rep. Michael Angelo Rivera is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P9.63 million (2012 SALN). Rivera and first nominee Edgardo Masongsong will sit in the 16th Congress for 1-CARE.

AKBAYAN

The AKBAYAN Citizen’s Action Party is a close ally of the Aquino administration and many of its top officials have clinched key presidential appointments. They include second nominee Ibarra Gutierrez III (undersecretary for political affairs) & third nominee  Angelina Ludovice-Katoh (member of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor); former AKBAYAN representatives Etta Rosales (Commission on Human Rights), Mario Agujo (member of the GSIS Board of Trustees) & Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel (spokesperson of the National Anti-Poverty Commission; also a losing senatorial bet under the Team PNoy); former AKBAYAN presidents Ronald Llamas (presidential adviser on political affairs) & Joel Rocamora (head of the National Anti-Poverty Commission); and former AKBAYAN chairperson Percival Cendaña (commissioner-at-large of the National Youth Commission). AKBAYAN also received P18 million in campaign funds from presidential relatives including P10 million from Kris Aquino during the 2010 polls. AKBAYAN’s incumbent representative, Walden Bello, has a declared net worth of P6.84 million (2012 SALN). Joining Bello to represent AKBAYAN in the 16th Congress is Gutierrez.

AKO BICOL

The AKO BICOL Political Party claims to advocate progress and development of the Bicol Region. It had three representatives in the previous Congress. First is Christopher Co of the Co clan of businessmen in Bicol. Also members of the current Congress are lawyers Rodel Batocabe and Alfredo Garbin, both multi-millionaires with a net worth of P29.18 million and P13.30 million, respectively (2012 SALN). For the 16th Congress, Co and Batocabe will sit as AKO BICOL representatives.

ABONO

The ABONO Party List claims to represent the agricultural sector. However, both incumbent representatives, Conrado Estrella III and Franciso Emmanuel Ortega III, come from the Estrella and Ortega political clans in Pangasinan & La Union.  Both representatives are multi-millionaires with Ortega III’s net worth pegged at P17.2 million. Conrado III’s brother, Raymund Estrella, is an incumbent representative of ABONO with a net worth of P11.03 million (2012 SALN) while Francisco’s brother, Victor Ortega, also an incumbent ABONO representative, has a net worth of P25.67 million (2012 SALN). In the 2013 elections, other members of the Ortega clan that won a seat in La Union include Victor Ortega (Lakas), first district representative; Manoling Ortega (NPC), provincial governor; and Francisco Ortega Jr. (NPC), member Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Estrella III and Ortega III will represent ABONO in the 16th Congress.

OFW Family

The OFW Family Club Inc. seems to be more of a family club than about the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Its top nominee, Roy Señeres Sr., occupied various positions in past administrations – Labor Attache of the Philippine Embassy in the UAE under Cory Aquino; Ambassador in Washington DC under Ramos; and chairman of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) under Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo. His son, Roy Jr., is the third nominee while daughter Hannah Señeres Francisco is the fourth nominee. Meanwhile, the second nominee, Juan “Johnny” Revilla, is the project manager of Placewell Manpower, one of the three recruitment agencies hired by the Comelec to provide IT technicians to help operate the PCOS machines during the 2010 presidential elections, according to Migrante International. The group also alleged that Placewell is among the most notorious recruitment agencies involved in various cases of illegal recruitment and other violations against OFWs. Señeres and Revilla will sit as representatives of the OFW Family in the 16th Congress.

COOP-NATCCO

The Cooperative NATCCO (National Confederation of Cooperatives) Network Party or COOP-NATCCO has as its top nominee incumbent Rep. Cresente Paez, a former appointee of Gloria Arroyo to the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). He was also an undersecretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) during the Cory Aquino administration and a former member of the United Coconut Planters’ Bank (UCPB) Board of Directors. Paez has a declared net worth of P1.19 million (2012 SALN). Its second nominee, Anthony Bravo, is an official of the National Cooperative Development Council. Paez and Bravo will represent the group in the 16th Congress.

AGAP

The Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines (AGAP) claims to represent the agricultural sector including the poor farmers but its top nominee, incumbent Rep. Nicanor Briones, is chairman of big security firm Audacious Services and is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P46.37 million (2012 SALN). Briones and second nominee Rico Geron will sit in the 16th Congress as AGAP representatives.

AN WARAY

The group’s top nominee, incumbent Rep. Neil Montejo, is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P17.79 million (2012 SALN). His family owns the Montejo Newspaper and Hotel Alejandro, a prominent and luxurious hotel in Tacloban City. Another current Rep. Florencio Noel, husband of Malabon Congresswoman Jane Lacson-Noel (who was reelected), is also a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P15 million. Its third nominee, Victoria Isabel Noel, is a relative of Reps. Florencio and Jane Noel while fifth nominee Patrick Aguilos was a losing Liberal Party (LP) candidate for Tacloban City councilor in the 2010 polls. For the 16th Congress, Montejo and second nominee, Jude Acidre, will represent AN WARAY.

ABAMIN

Abante Mindanao Inc.’s (ABAMIN) first nominee, incumbent Rep. Maximo Rodriguez Jr., is the brother of Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P9.68 million (2012 SALN). Second nominee Virginia Sering is the sister-in-law of Maximo and is a full-time realtor being a member of the Muntinlupa Realtors Board as well as president of the Soroptimist International of Alabang. Third nominee Irenetta Montinola is also a distant relative of Maximo and was the executive director of the National Historical Institute (NHI) in 2007. Maximo Rodriguez will again represent ABAMIN in the 16th Congress.

BUTIL

The BUTIL Farmers Party was earlier disqualified by the Comelec because the group failed to prove that its nominees belong to the agriculture & cooperative sector. For the 16th Congress, BUTIL will be again be represented by Agapito Guanlao, a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P14.79 million.

ACT-CIS

 The Anti-Crime and Terrorism Community Involvement and Support, Inc. (ACT-CIS) is closely associated with the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) whose head, Chief Police Director Samuel Pagdilao Jr. is the husband of second nominee Ma. Rosella P. Pagdilao. For the 16th Congress, the group will be represented by top nominee Jerome Oliveros.

LPGMA

The LPG Marketers’ Association (LPGMA) claims to represent independent and small LPG retailers. Its top nominee, incumbent Rep. Arnel Ty, is a multi-millionaire with a declared net worth of P15.13 million (2012 SALN) and is an incorporator of various LPG firms including Omni Gas Corp., Republic Gas Corp., Pinnacle Gas, Multi Gas Corp., Extraordinaire Gas Corp. and Suncrest Gas Corp. Ty will once again represent LPGMA in the 16th Congress.

KALINGA

The Kalinga-Advocacy for Social Empowerment and Nation Building Through Easing Poverty Inc. (KALINGA) claims to work for the youth, senior citizens and poor families. The group is associated with the religious group Pentecostal Missionary Church of Christ (4th Watch) with top nominee, incumbent Rep. Abigail Ferriol being the daughter of PMCC Bishop Arturo Ferriol. Its fourth nominee, Osinando Quillao, is a PMCC pastor. Ferriol will again represent KALINGA in the 16th Congress.

TUCP

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) claims to represent the ordinary workers. Its top nominee, incumbent Rep. Raymond Mendoza, is a lawyer and husband of North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza. Mendoza is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P3.87 million (2012 SALN). His brother Michael is the group’s fourth nominee while their father Democrito is TUCP President and Chairman of OPASCOR, a cargo handling company for foreign cargoes at the Cebu International Airport.  Second nominee Anthony Sasin is Management Consultant & Board of Director of ANFLOCOR, which manages firms engaged in exporting bananas & pineapples, real estate, etc. The third nominee is Miguel Niez, an Assistant Vice President & Manager for Materials Management of banana exporter TADECO. Mendoza will again represent TUCP in the 16th Congress.

YACAP

The You Against Corruption and Poverty’s (YACAP) top nominee, incumbent Rep. Carol Lopez, is a multi-millionaire businesswoman with a net worth of P16.95 million (2012 SALN). The group used to be Youth Against Corruption and Poverty but “Youth” was later dropped and replaced by “You” as Lopez could no longer represent the youth sector because of age. For the 16th Congress, Lopez will again represent YACAP.

AGRI

The Agri-Agra na Reporm para sa Magsasaka ng Pilipinas (AGRI) claims to represent farmers but has no track record of promoting its advocacy. It was disqualified by the Comelec because the group stopped existing after the 2010 elections, when it ran but lost, and was only revived in February 2012. Michael Ryan Enriquez will represent AGRI in the 16th Congress.

ANGKLA

Ang Partido ng mga Marinong Pilipino Inc. (ANGKLA) claims to represent OFWs/seafarers. Its top nominee, Jesulito Manalo, is a presidential appointee to the Road Board as private sector representative. He is also the corporate secretary of the Philippine Racing Club Inc. and the Heritage Park Management Corp. as well as president of the Summit Rural Bank of Lipa. Jesulito’s relative, Jose Miguel, a lawyer, is Angkla’s nominee. Other nominees include Alfredo Haboc, the Dean of the Mapua-PTC College of Maritime Education and Training. Manalon will represent ANGKLA in the 16th Congress.

ABS

The Arts and Business Science Professionals (ABS) has as its first nominee, incumbent Rep. Catalina Leonen-Pizarro who is the wife of Court of Appeals (CA) Justice Normandie Pizarro and is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P39.09 million (2012 SALN). Pizarro will again represent ABS in the 16th Congress.

DIWA

The Democratic Independent Workers Association (DIWA) claims to represent the labor sector. Its top nominee is incumbent Rep. Emmeline Aglipay, who is a former student council president at the De La Salle University (DLSU) and whose family owns one of the country’s largest security agencies. Aglipay is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P9.64 million (2012 SALN). The group’s second nominee Ramon Bergado is the chairperson and national president of PADPAO (Philippine Association of Detective and Protective Agencies Operators Inc.) while fourth nominee Leopoldo Blanco is PADPAO Region VII president and national director, president of NICO Security Agency, former OIC Vice Governor of Bohol and former president of the Bohol Chamber of Commerce and Industry. For the 16th Congress, Aglipay will again represent DIWA.

ALAY BUHAY

The ALAY BUHAY Community Development Foundation Inc.’s (ALAY BUHAY) first nominee, incumbent Rep. Weslie Gatchalian (proclaimed by the Comelec just last October 2012), is the son of tycoon and so-called “Plastics King” (and alleged crony of ousted President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada) William Gatchalian. He holds key positions in the family’s businesses including as Assistant to the President of Waterfront Philippines (the largest Filipino-owned hotel chain in the country) and Vice President for Investments & International Affairs of the Wellex Group. His brothers Sherwin and Rex are incumbent Mayor & first district Congressman, respectively, of Valenzuela City. Gatchalian will represent ALAY BUHAY in the 16th Congress.

AAMBIS-OWA

The Asosasyon Sang Mangunguma nga Bisaya-Owa Mangunguma (AAMBIS-OWA) claims to represent “small landowners in far-flung areas”. Its first nominee, incumbent Rep. Sharon Garin, is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P26.66 million (2012 SALN) and comes from a powerful political family in Iloilo that includes her father Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) administrator Oscar Garin while her mother is San Joaquin mayor Nimfa Garin. Other family members in government include brother Iloilo vice governor Richard Garin, sister Guimbal mayor Christine Garin and sister-in-law Cong. Janette Garin, one of the richest congressmen with a net worth of P100.89 million (2012 SALN). Another member of the clan, Jimmy Garin, is the group’s third nominee. Sharon Garin is the group’s representative in the 16th Congress.

1-SAGIP

The Social Amelioration and Genuine Intervention on Poverty (1-SAGIP) claims to represent the poor. It second nominee, Edgardo Madamba is the assistant head of the Quezon City Urban Poor Affairs Office (UPAO) and is facing a graft complaint before the Ombudsman. Erlinda Santiago will represent 1-SAGIP in the 16th Congress.

AVE

The Alliance of Volunteer Educators (AVE) claims to represent the teachers. Its top nominee is incumbent Rep. Eulogio Magsaysay who comes from the known Magsaysay political clan in Zambales that includes former Zambales Governor Vic Magsaysay, former Senator and 2013 LP senatorial bet Jun Magsaysay and incumbent Zambales first district Congresswoman and 2013 PDP-Laban/United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) senatorial bet Mitos Magsaysay. Euologio is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P25.92 million (2012 SALN) and will again represent AVE in the 16th Congress.

1-BAP

The 1-BANAT & AHAPO Party-List Coalition’s (1-BAP) first nominee is Silvestre Bello III, a former official of the Aquino, Ramos and Arroyo administrations. Bello was former Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary and head of the government peace panel negotiating with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). He was also a former senatorial candidate and will now sit as representative of 1-BAP in the 16th Congress.

ABAKADA

The Abakada-Guro (ABAKADA) claims to represent teachers. Its top nominee, incumbent Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz, used to occupy administrative positions at the Ilocos Norte provincial government and counselor of Sen. Bongbong Marcos when he was still second district Congressman of Ilocos Norte. The group’s third nominee Rodolfo Tor is a retired PNP Police Director and former UN Police Commissioner while the second and fourth nominees, Alexander Lopez and Reynaldo Parungao, respectively, are both lawyers. For the 16th Congress, dela Cruz will represent ABAKADA.

AMA

Ang Mata’y Alagaan (AMA) claims to represent the blind and the vision-impaired. Its top nominee, Lorna Velasco, is the wife of Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco while the second and third nominees (Tricia Nicole Velasco-Catera and Vincent Michael Velasco, respectively) are their children. Lorna Velasco will represent the group in the 16th Congress.

ANAC-IP

The Ang National Coalition of Indigenous People’s Action Na! Inc. (ANAC-IP) claims to represent indigenous peoples. Its first nominee is Jose Panganiban Jr., former municipal Mayor of Angadanan in Isabela province. He was also the former President of the Isabela chapter of the League of Municipalities and will now sit as representative of ANAC-IP in the 16th Congress if proclaimed by the Comelec.

AGBIAG!

The AGBIAG! Timpuyog Ilocano Inc.’s (AGBIAG!) top nominee is incumbent Rep. Patricio Antonio who used to be the first district Congressman of Cagayan and is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of P67.87 million (2012 SALN). If proclaimed by the Comelec, he will make a comeback as a legislator in the 16th Congress as representative of AGBIAG!.

APPEND

The APPEND Inc. has as top nominee Pablo Nava III who was a member of the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) under the Aquino administration, sitting as private sector representative. He will now sit as representative of APPEND in the 16th Congress if proclaimed by the Comelec.

ALIF

Ang Laban ng Indiginong Filipino (ALIF) claims to represent the indigenous people. Its top two nominees, Abdul and Agakhan Tomawis, are both sons of the group’s incumbent Rep. Acmad Tomawis, a multi-millionaire with a declared net worth of P18.56 million (2012 SALN). Acmad’s brother is Jerry Tomawis, administrator of the Southern Philippine Development Authority (SPDA). Two of Jerry’s children were involved in the multi-million Rasuman pyramiding scam in Lanao del Sur. Abdul Tomawis, if proclaimed by the Comelec, will represent ALIF in the 16th Congress.

PBA

The Pwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) is associated with Saranggani Congressman and wealthy boxing icon Manny Pacquiao. In the 2010 elections, PBA was among the top spenders among party-list groups with P80 million. Its top nominee, incumbent Rep. Mark Sambar is a multi-millionaire with a delcared net worth of P12.09 million (2012 SALN). For the 16th Congress, Sambar will again represent the group if proclaimed by the Comelec. (End)

Privatized, foreign-controlled elections: the original sin

Comelec privatized our elections and allowed foreign firms to control it through their patented software and technology (Photo from  The Philippine Star)
“Comelec privatized our elections and allowed foreign firms to control it” (Representatives of US-based Dominion hand over a CD containing the PCOS source code to poll chief Sixto Brillantes; Photo from The Philippine Star)

The ever controversial source code is now finally available, so says poll chief Sixto Brillantes. The catch, however, is that the review can be finished only well after the elections on Monday (May 13). The review could last for as long as six months, meaning the results will be known by as late as November. This also means that we will indeed be forced to entrust our votes to an un-scrutinized computer program. If it had serious problems, we will know after the damage has been already done. Imagine the chaos it will create if the post-election review of the source code found loopholes a high-tech Garci can easily exploit to operate an electronic dagdag-bawas.

Beyond Brillantes and Comelec

Common opinion says that such predicament could have been avoided had the Commission on Elections (Comelec) simply followed what is required under the law. Republic Act (RA) 9369 or the amended Automated Election System (AES) Law mandates the review of the source code by political parties and interest groups. Poll officials failed to implement this. The primary author of the AES Law, senatorial bet Richard Gordon, has argued before the Supreme Court (SC) that such review is imperative. The elections could not proceed without it, he said.

Is it because of plain neglect of Brillantes and the Comelec that the pre-election review was not conducted? Maybe to a certain extent. But what really hostaged the availability of the source code is the fact that it is a private technology marketed for profits by a foreign company. And that’s the original sin, so to speak.  The Comelec privatized our elections and allowed foreign firms to control it through their patented software and technology. That’s where Comelec’s bigger accountability lies.

The basic issue of private and foreign control was not corrected when Comelec bought the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines from London (UK)-based Smarmatic International Corp. in March last year. In the first place, the decision to buy the machines was more about budget constraints. Leasing brand new units entails P6.2 billion. On the other hand, Comelec reportedly spent just P1.8 billion to purchase the 81,280 PCOS machines it leased from Smartmatic in 2010. However, the know-how and technology remained with the foreign vendors.

Indeed, the AES has made Philippine elections a multi-billion peso industry dominated by foreign companies. Aside from supplying the PCOS machines for P1.8 billion, Smartmatic also cornered five other contracts with the Comelec for the 2013 polls. One is the provision through a call center of operations and technical support services to field personnel of the Comelec who will man the PCOS machines. This contract is worth P111.6 million. The others are the P405.4-million election results (ER) transmission services; the P154.5-million transmission modems; the P46.5-million compact flash (CF) cards main; and the P46.5-million CF cards worm. All in all, these Smartmatic-Comelec deals are worth almost P2.6 billion.

Corporate dispute

But Smartmatic’s monopoly of Philippine elections (and in other countries as well) is being challenged by a fellow foreign vendor. As we discovered, Smartmatic only owns the PCOS machines but not the software to run them. The software is owned by Denver (US)-based Dominion Voting Systems which unilaterally terminated in May 2012 its license agreement with Smartmatic for the Philippine elections. It led to a legal dispute in a Delaware (US) court in September 2012. Corporate legal disputes between the two election vendors are also ongoing in Mongolia and Puerto Rico.

Thus, Brillantes and the Comelec could not release the PCOS source code owned by Dominion for public review because of possible legal issues. The situation was truly odd – the entire nation was held hostage by the conflicting private interests of multinational companies. It highlighted how under the current AES, elections as a supposed exercise of national sovereignty can be so easily undermined by foreign firms that are unaccountable to anyone except their profit-seeking investors.

Prior to the agreement between Smartmatic and Dominion to allow a public review of the PCOS source code, Brillantes has repeatedly assured AES critics that SLI Global Solutions has already certified the PCOS source code so we need not worry about its trustworthiness. SLI is the third party reviewer contracted by Comelec to scrutinize the PCOS source code. Like Dominion, SLI is also based in Denver and provides “software testing, quality assurance, and independent verification and validation”. IT firms from the same US state – and with presumably many business deals forged between them in the past (like this one) – are not exactly reassuring.

Note also that because of the dispute between Smartmatic and Dominion, the additional eight enhancements to the PCOS source code that Comelec asked have not been implemented. It is unclear what exactly these enhancements are, but we know for a fact that the PCOS machines showed insufficient accuracy in properly counting the votes, among other errors, as shown in the mock elections and in the final testing and sealing (FTS). Brillantes, however, kept telling us to just give our full trust to these unaccountable, profit-driven foreign companies. It does not help that in agreeing to give the PCOS source code for public review, Smartmatic and Dominion forged a deal riddled with confidential provisions. Brillantes was quoted as saying said that these terms are covered by a non-disclosure clause and are “personal” to the disputing companies; never mind if what is at stake is the national interest.

Canvassing source code

The PCOS software or source code is just one aspect. Seldom talked about is the source code of the Canvassing and Consolidation System (CCS), which Comelec also purchased from Smartmatic for P36.6 million. Unlike the PCOS source code, the CCS source code supposedly underwent review by the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV). However, we have not tested the reliability of the CCS because the FTS of the Comelec did not include the transmission, canvassing and consolidation of votes. Furthermore, the enhancements to the CCS source code were apparently not implemented, again due to Dominion’s termination of its agreement with Smartmatic. Note that in 2010, grave concerns were raised on the security and reliability of the CCS that could have resulted in wholesale cheating.

One well-documented case of possible electronic fraud using the transmission server is Biliran. The Philippine Computer Society (PCS) identified the following instances as probable proofs of electronic fraud in the province during the 2010 automated polls: (1) The Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) computer received transmission of two different elections results from two different internet addresses; (2) The MBOC received a successful transmission of results from a precinct where the PCOS machine was reported to have shut down without transmitting anything; and (3) The MBOC received transmission of results 29 hours after the polling place had already closed.

The PCS explained that the first instance shows that the MBOC computers could receive results for the same precinct from several PCOS machines. The second instance, meanwhile, shows that MBOC computers could receive results independent of the PCOS machine assigned to the precinct. These two instances demonstrate that a poll cheat with access to an unauthorized PCOS machine can transmit doctored results to the MBOC.  Finally, receiving results beyond what the PCS called as “common sense range of time for transmission delay” provides cheats a very wide window to alter the authentic elections results.

Comelec accountability

While privatization and foreign control are the underlying reasons for the numerous problems facing our elections, Comelec is accountable as well along with Smartmatic and Dominion. The poll body colluded with these foreign vendors of election technology in undermining our right to vote and our right to credible, democratic and transparent elections by instituting the type of flawed AES in 2010 and again this year. Because it entered into multi-billion peso contracts with foreign companies, it is hell-bent in defending the expensive AES despite the obvious and serious defects of the system.

Elections in the Philippines are structurally flawed; winners are determined by how much guns, goons and gold they have. It marginalizes the poor and powerless while legitimizing the domination of the political and economic elite and creating the illusion of democracy. Poll automation was seen as a step forward to address some of these issues. But with the type of AES we have, it appears that we have even taken a step backward. Modernizing our electoral process through the use of technology is not necessarily wrong. However, modernization should promote transparency, credibility, accountability and people empowerment, all of which are seriously being subverted by the privatized and foreign-controlled AES of the Comelec. (End)

Akbayan case is Comelec’s first true test of integrity and independence

Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, newly-appointed commissioner Grace Padaca and the rest of the poll body are confronted with the challenge of showing impartiality in their review of the qualification of party-list groups with close ties to Malacañang (Photo from The Philippine Star)

Written for The Philippine Online Chronicles

Prologue: President Benigno Aquino III himself was the special guest during the 5th Regular Congress of Akbayan. In his speech, he called Etta Rosales his “favorite”, hinted that Risa Hontiveros will soon be senator, and declared that even before he became president, “iisa na ang takbo ng utak namin ng mga myembro ng Akbayan.”  The chumminess of the country’s most powerful man with Akbayan was in full display, with Aquino jesting that Ronald Llamas is no longer a sosyalista, but has become a sosyal. But Akbayan is not laughing now as it struggles to answer its critics – can a party-list of presidential favorites and sosyals, a party-list of people who think like Malacañang – still claim to represent the under-represented and marginalized?

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is in the middle of cleansing the party-list system, a long overdue initiative. So far, it has already disqualified 16 party-list groups, including four incumbent parties which have a combined seven representatives in the current Congress. But it seems that the first true test of the poll body’s integrity and independence is the case of Akbayan.

Palace-backed party-list groups

From the usual suspects like Mikey Arroyo’s Ang Galing Pinoy (already delisted by the Comelec), Ako Bicol (among the disqualified parties) and others, public attention has now shifted to the contentious case of Akbayan, which the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and several youth groups led by Anakbayan asked Comelec to disqualify because they are already “well-entrenched in government”. Akbayan stalwarts in the Aquino administration include controversial presidential adviser Ronald Llamas, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair Etta Rosales, and National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) chief Joel Rocamora, among others.  Running under the administration senatorial slate in the 2013 midterm polls is Risa Hontiveros.

Aside from Akbayan, election watchdog Kontra-Daya also said that other groups associated with Malacanañg like the Black and White Movement of Budget chief Butch Abad, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Social Welfare Sec. Dinky Soliman, and peace adviser Ging Deles, among others should refrain from participating in the party-list system that is exclusive to the under-represented and marginalized.

Legitimate issue

Despite Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello’s attempt to divert the issue by again red-baiting, the legitimacy of the question being raised by Anakbayan and others continues to gain traction. In fact, even long-time poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) has joined calls to disqualify Akbayan and Black and White Movement. “Hindi naman sila marginalized. Marginalized ba sila eh may posisyon ang mga lider nila sa pamahalaan? Nandun na sila sa kalapit-lapit na power tapos sasabihin mong marginalized ka at unrepresented ka? Unrepresented voice of the marginalized? Kahit hindi naman marunong mag-isip, kaagad-agad ay makikita yun,” its chairperson Henrieta de Villa said.

Indeed, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes and the rest of the poll body are confronted with the challenge of showing impartiality in their review of the qualification of party-list groups that have close ties to Malacañang. A particular official who will be closely monitored is newly-appointed Grace Padaca, a former Liberal Party (LP) member. Will she inhibit from the deliberations to help make the process credible? The ball is now in Comelec’s court.

With its first two rulings, the general view is that the Comelec has been moving in the right direction in its campaign to weed out sham party-list groups. Strictly applying the condition of representing the under-represented and marginalized, it barred undeserving party-list groups from running in next year’s polls. Will the Comelec apply the same strictness on Akbayan and Black and White?

A curious case

The case of Akbayan is a curious one because not too many elections ago, it was raising the same issue it is facing now against other party-list groups. In 2007, Akbayan campaigned to disqualify party-list groups that were supported by the then Arroyo administration. Then Akbayan Rep. Rosales said that the Comelec’s accreditation of groups backed by Mrs. Gloria Arroyo made a mockery of the Party-List System Act. Citing the Supreme Court (SC), then Akbayan chair Rocamora reminded the public that groups that are an adjunct of or assisted by the government are disallowed to run in the party-list elections. Government interference undermines and weakens the party-list system, Rocamora added.

A lot has changed in five years. By virtue of their close ties with President Benigno Aquino III and his LP, Akbayan has been able to put its people in high-ranking government positions. Aside from Rosales, Rocamora and Llmas, other Akbayan officials appointed by Aquino in various executive posts are Mario Aguja (member of the board of trustees of the Government Service Insurance System or GSIS), Percival Cendaña (National Youth Commission’s commissioner-at-large), Ibarra Gutierrez (undersecretary for political affairs) and Angelina Ludovice-Katoh (member of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor or PCUP).

Singing a different tune

Now in power, Akbayan is singing a different tune.  They are claiming that their close ties with Malacañang do not automatically make Akbayan a Palace-backed party-list group. The main difference with the Arroyo administration and its party-list groups, according to Akbayan, is that they were not created by Aquino and were in fact a pioneer in the party-list system. They also supposedly do not receive funds from Malacañang.

But the issue is not whether Akbayan is created by Aquino or not. When the SC issued its landmark decision in June 2001, it clarified that a party-list group “must be independent of the government. The participation of the government or its officials in the affairs of a party-list candidate is not only illegal and unfair to other parties, but also deleterious to the objective of the law: to enable citizens belonging to marginalized and under-represented sectors and organizations to be elected to the House of Representatives.”

Powers that be

In fact, Akbayan is not only Palace-backed but is in effect an extension of Malacañang. Think of it this way – Akbayan, through its former president provides political guidance to the most powerful man in the country. The special position that Akbayan holds in the Aquino regime is underscored not only by numerous appointments but how the President has firmly stood by its officials like Llamas who got embroiled in the pirated DVD and AK47 controversies. By any stretch of imagination, Akbayan could not claim under-representation when it is a key part of the powers that be.

It is also grossly unfair to the truly marginalized parties competing in the party-list elections that Akbayan as well as Black and White have direct access to the huge resources of the executive branch. While they are not directly funded by Malacañang, they have access to billions of pesos in CCT (conditional cash transfer) funds that could be used for political patronage and electioneering.

Poll body split but Brillantes for Akbayan, Padaca as tie breaker?

Brillantes has earlier disclosed that the poll body is split on the issue of whether or not Akbayan and Black and White should be allowed to run in the party-list elections. “Nakabitin yan. May debate,”the Comelec chief said.

But it seems that if Brillantes can have his way, he will accredit Akbayan and Black and White. In a separate interview, he pointed out that a party-list group could not be faulted for having officials in the executive branch. “At least ang position ko is that overrepresented in Congress ang aking interpretation. If you are overrepresented in government, it’s not really a bar for you to participate,” Brillantes was quoted as saying.

The good news for Akbayan and Black and White is Grace Padaca the newly appointed seventh poll commissioner who is expected to break the impasse in the Comelec. While Padaca’s selection was already controversial because of her ties with the LP, her neutrality as an election official has also further become suspect with how Malacañang went all-out to ensure her appointment in the poll body.

Rejecting bogus party-list groups

And if the Comelec decides to pass the test on its integrity and independence and go against the will of the Palace, Akbayan and Black and White could still take comfort in the fact that the SC under Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno could take up the cudgels for them. Just recently, Sereno used her TRO power (temporary restraining order) to stop the Comelec from unseating an LP member as town mayor. Indeed, power has its many perks.

But only if the people will allow it. If public pressure is not enough to compel the Comelec and even the SC to uphold the integrity of the party-list system, there’s still the ballot next year to express its rejection of bogus parties claiming to represent the under-represented and marginalized. ###

Notes on the Comelec’s mock polls

Today (February 6), the Commission on Elections (Comelec) held mock elections in various parts of the country. The mock polls, which intended to simulate the first ever automated nationwide polls on May 10, covered nine polling centers with 50 pre-selected voters each.

As a volunteer for election watchdog Kontra Daya that monitored the mock polls in Quezon City, Taguig City, Baguio City, Cebu City, and Davao City, I got firsthand information and feedback from those in the field on the various glitches and anomalies that the mock polls faced, the same problems that the actual automated elections may face on May 10.

For me, one of the biggest concerns repeatedly raised in the past and that today’s mock polls confirmed is the very high probability of the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machines preferred by the Comelec for May 10 disenfranchising hundreds of thousands if not millions of voters. This will seriously undermine the credibility of the national elections and create a major political crisis.

As of this posting, I’m not yet sure if the 50 pre-selected voters per polling center was achieved by the Comelec. Let us assume it did, so we had 450 voters participating in the mock polls.

From Kontra Daya field reports, a total of 11 ballots were rejected for various reasons by the PCOS machines – 5 in Quezon City, 3 in Davao City, 2 in Taguig City, and 1 in Baguio City. The rejected ballots accounted for 2.44 percent of the total number of voters (450) in the mock polls.

This is a pretty large proportion. Assuming that the same proportion of ballots will be rejected by the PCOS machines on May 10, it will translate to about 883,524 rejected ballots (2.44 percent of the expected 36.21 million voters on May 10).

This figure, in turn, is based on the 75 percent voter turnout during the 2007 midterm elections. The historical voter turnout in the Philippines is pegged at 75-77 percent. Meanwhile, as of March 2009, the Comelec reported that there are 48.28 million registered voters.)

Now, recent surveys show that Liberal Party (LP) standard bearer Sen. Noynoy Aquino and Nacionalista Party (NP) bet Sen. Manny Villar are neck-and-neck in the presidential race. In the latest Pulse Asia survey (January 22-26), Aquino and Villar are actually already statistically tied (Aquino chosen by 37 percent of the respondents; Villar, 35 percent).

If we apply these percentages to the expected number of ballots on May 10 (36.21 million), Aquino will get 13,397,700 votes while Villar will receive 12,673,500 votes or a very slim winning margin for Aquino of only about 724,200 votes.

But this margin is easily wiped out by the expected number of rejected ballots of about 884,970 based on the 2.44 percent rejection rate in today’s mock polls.

A new president may not be declared and the whole electoral process, which is supposed to become more credible through automation, may be seriously undermined.

The Comelec, of course, may argue that the mock polls was held precisely to identify such problems so that they may be addressed for the actual conduct of the automated polls on May 10.

I hope I can say that let us just keep our fingers tightly crossed.

But not with this Comelec, and with Malacañang’s fraud machinery intact.

Our best defense is to remain vigilant.