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Comelec resorts to bread and circuses

Here’s some unsolicited advice for the Commission on Elections: Secure the vote first, worry about election spending later. Comelec has announced new rules to control advertising in traditional and online media. But it still hasn’t acted on complaints that the coming elections may be hijacked by its continued reliance on its outsourced automated counting provider, Smartmatic. People who have been calling for stricter “anti-epal” or illegal campaigning rules rejoiced when Comelec announced that it has new rules to limit media exposure, both in broadcast and online. Chairman Sixto Brillantes, in a tweet, had earlier announced that implementing rules on campaign financing is his topmost priority in the May elections. But while Comelec’s anti-epal moves are laudable (if probably unenforceable, especially those covering online campaigning), the election agency still refuses to directly address questions about Smartmatic, whose precinct-level counting machines were purchased by government even if questions about their accuracy and susceptibility to hacking remain unresolved. What good are campaign-finance rules, after all, if Smartmatic and Comelec still refuse to reveal the source code of their system, as the law requires, or even to categorically state that the software that they will use is not a pirated version of something owned by a Canadian company called Dominion? Why do Brillantes and Smartmatic’s executives continue to stonewall on the problems that plagued the previous use of the counting machines in 2010, like the lack of digital signatures and printed receipts for voters or the long-running mystery involving the last-minute changing of the compact flash cards that the precinct count optical scan machines were supposed to have? Mere months before the polls open in May, both Comelec and Smartmatic have yet to be truly forthcoming in addressing complaints that the PCOS machines had actually been hacked three years ago and that massive digital cheating took place in the last political exercise. Even reports about the existence of a phantom server that would supposedly demonstrate how a nationwide cheating scheme was implemented in 2010 have been ignored by the poll body and its expensive service provider up to now. The anti-epal and campaign finance rules that Comelec obsesses about are nothing compared to the accuracy and legitimacy of the vote. And Brillantes’ bragging about what he’s done to make campaign finance more transparent and to rein in unregulated political advertising will be for naught if his agency and its service provider will not be able to secure the actual votes through their suspect system. Like the politicians it’s supposed to discipline, Comelec seems to think that the people will be misdirected by bread and circuses and no one will care about the things that really matter, like the actual voting. We’ll see about that. * * * And then there were three resignations of ranking officials by midweek. The last bureaucrat to quit, Trade Undersecretary Cristino Panlilio, didn’t even bother to give a believable reason for going. Panlilio resigned because he “wanted to return to private life,” the palace spokesman they call Lady Gaga said. It was only coincidental, she added, that three ranking officials resigned one after the other. “There are times when people need to move on and to change career paths,” the spokesman offered, by way of explanation. I wonder if that was what Panlilio wrote in his resignation letter to President Noynoy Aquino. No one, after all, leaves the Aquino administration for reasons other than sickness or other personal problems, or even just a desire to return to private life. Aquino only chooses the best people and they would rather not be doing anything else than work for the straight path that he has shown before them, judging from the reasons made public concerning their departure. It’s to their credit that every one of the people who quit, from Transportation Secretary Jose “Ping” de Jesus to Panlilio, never talked out of school after they left, thus keeping up the pretense that this government is the best possible one anyone could possibly hope to work for. In reality, of course, every one of them probably could no longer stomach the intrigues, the lack of direction and political will of this administration or have been forced to quit because of dubious performance or even corruption in office. Indeed, the only people who remain in Aquino’s government are those who survive and thrive in the infighting and who have never had it so good previously, working in the cushy jobs they never would have gotten had they not been so well-connected. These mediocre performers are often selected not because they did anything particularly well, after all, but because they know Aquino personally (like his many, previously unemployed classmates) and pose no threat to him because of a steadfast commitment never to contradict the President. The lack of independence and initiative on the part of the President’s men is, for the most part, to blame for the fact that, nearly three years into its term, there has been no major project implemented by this administration. You’d choose to go back to private life, too, if you went into government with such high hopes and ended up twiddling your thumbs and waiting to agree with Aquino on whatever it is that strikes his fancy.
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