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Idiotizing our people, hijacking our democracy

As the current campaign heads toward the homestretch,  and President B. S. Aquino III scales up his talk of a 12-0 sweep for the administration’s senatorial slate,  his political agenda begins to unnerve. The agenda has three parts, each one as sinister and as ruinous as the others. First, idiotize the people. Second, hijack the electoral process. Third, get well-known external parties to call it a huge democratic success. Idiotization entails exploiting the ignorance of the ignorant and the gullibility of the gullible, using bespoke propaganda surveys with spurious results, and delivered with amazing zeal and speed, which the conscript and complicit media  compulsively propagate, for the ignorant and the gullible to ingest mechanically as gospel truth. In an archipelago like the Philippines, it should take at least a couple of months to do a quick, but honest-to-goodness nationwide survey, some experts say. The wonder of it, though, is that the most notorious propaganda pollsters are able to deliver a survey, measured to specifications, on demand,  once a week, if not more frequently. Opinion polling is a market research activity used to read consumer response to certain issues.   A company intending to launch a new product or service may run a survey just to test the market.  Having no intention of deceiving itself, the company will want to conduct an honest survey with verifiable results, along scientific lines. This is not what Malacañang needs, or wants.   Its “surveys,” whether actual or simulated, are run by partisan and power-driven operatives who use polling to direct public opinion, if not to manufacture it altogether, for partisan purposes. They are either real or bogus. “Real,” when there is an actual survey or some semblance of it, although rigged to come up with the “results” needed by those paying for it. Or “bogus,” when false from beginning to end, and the public has no way of knowing it. The polled opinion of the 1,200 to 2000 “samples”, whether actually or only theoretically interviewed, is presented not simply as the opinion of 1,200 to 2,000 individuals, but rather as the opinion of the entire nation of over 95 million Filipinos. Thus, if 51 percent of the 1,200 to 2,000 individuals say they believe “black is white and white is black,” then the pollsters will say 51 percent of more than 95 million Filipinos believe “black is white and white is black.”   Then the complicit media gloriously parrot it, and the helpless consumer naively swallows it hook, line and sinker. In many countries, polling firms are required to disclose all the relevant data about every survey. The media for their part try to  satisfy themselves that the survey is real and its findings credible, before running the reported results. Before any “results” are disseminated, the polling firm must first disclose the following: Who commissioned and paid for the survey?  Why was it done?  Who actually did it?  What questions were asked? In what sequence were they asked? Were any questions asked that should not have been asked, or vice versa? How many individuals (“samples”) were interviewed?  How were they chosen? How were the interviews conducted----by telephone or face-to-face.?   What was the margin of error allowed? In the United States, UK, Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Japan, Australia, where polling has acquired a reputation to uphold, full and prompt disclosure is no problem. This is not the case in the Philippines.  Here the basic facts about propaganda  surveys appear to be closely guarded secrets. Understandably so, since the surveys are not only instruments of idiotization but also instruments of corruption.  Will a polling firm be prepared to disclose—to the nation and to the Bureau of Internal Revenue—how many candidates, both national and local, have bought into a survey, just to become part of the “rating” game?  Will it be prepared to disclose the questions it asked in a particular survey, and risk exposing its crude way of making sure it gets the responses its sponsors have paid for? In 2007, a reelectionist lawmaker was told that he had a very poor chance of getting reelected because of his poor “ratings.” A polling firm was commissioned for a fat fee to “improve his ratings.” He did not have to improve his performance (it seemed beyond improving) in order to improve his “ratings;” he simply had to pay the pollster to improve his ratings. In the course of this campaign, how often has this happened? A candidate with all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications has no chance of “rating” in the propaganda surveys if he does not pay, or if he has offended the pollsters and their masters. On the other hand, a candidate who has all the disqualifications and none of the qualifications has all the chances of “rating” in the propaganda surveys if he pays; and a good chance of getting elected because of his rating. He is sure to get  elected, according to his advertised rating, if the propaganda rating has become part and parcel of the “daya machine” or the cheating mechanism. Thus when Aquino announces—and Sen. Franklin Drilon echoes it—that his senatorial slate will shut out the competition 12 to 0, this is not because there are voters ready and willing to make sure this happens. This is simply because the gentlemen are confident they have gained full control of the PCOS machines. The attempt to portray B. S. III as a still popular and trusted president, and  Filipino Catholics as losing interest in their church duties is but a part of the political portrait Malacañang wants to paint in preparation for its grand design for May 13.  But the two initiatives are clearly misbegotten. Consider Aquino’s so-called “popularity.”   Malacañang is prudent enough not to claim B.S. III is as popular and trusted as his hard-working Vice President, but---- At a time when Filipinos are outraged by the absence of any acceptable presidential response to the slaughter of Filipino Muslims in Sabah by Malaysian authorities; at a time when they are pissed off with presidential impotence in the face of China’s renewed adventurism in the Spratlys; at a time when they are enraged by his lack of concern about the  power outage that has cast Mindanao in darkness; at a time when they are scandalized by the open and unchecked corruption and smuggling in our piers; at a time when they are dismayed over the return of illegal gambling in Luzon on a massive scale with obvious official consent; at a time when they feel forsaken and helpless in the face of rising unemployment and the continued lack of protection for the marginal,  especially contractual, workers; at a time when they could not even speak out against the casual violations of the ban on presidential appointments during the campaign period; at a time when they feel personally trampled upon each time they see the President using official time and government funds in order to campaign for his chosen candidates—at a time when all these things are happening, there is no absolutely basis for B.S. III getting anything other than a failing grade. And yet the nation is told that its non-performing and hardly working president is rating high in the surveys! Now, at the time when Catholic churches everywhere are bursting at the seams, when new parishes are coming up in various dioceses, when the lines to the confessional and at communion are getting longer and longer, when not enough priests seem to be available to celebrate more masses, and when the laity have mobilized to junk Aquino’s  anti-life, anti-family and pro-population control and Reproductive Health candidates, comes this latest bogus survey claim about Catholics dropping out of the Mass in great numbers. The facts do not support it, and it just doesn’t make sense.  But B. S. III is determined to idiotize the nation, and hijack the May electoral process. At the Ateneo Rockwell last Wednesday, the Automated Election System (AES) Watch launched two books—“Hacking Our Democracy,” by Rene Azurin, on the “Conspiracy to Electronically Control Philippine Elections,” and “Was Your Voted Counted?” co-authored by 15 university-based IT experts on the myths about Philippine automated elections. At the launch, the authors expressed fear that what happened in 2010—which has never been adequately discussed in the social or mainstream media or anywhere else—could happen all over again. Transparency of the voting and verifiability of the results remain of paramount concern. Even if the voting and counting of votes were error-free or fraud-free, the public should be able to verify the integrity and accuracy of the results. This is possible only if the necessary features were built into the system. These should include an audit trail which the voter can verify, an open source code, transparent testing and certification procedures, open audit processes, voter verification paper audit trail, randomly selected public recounts of audit trails, mock elections to test the voting machines, and full documentation of the system. In 2010, the Comelec illegally removed essential safety features of the precinct count optical scan machines. Its impact upon the results of the election remains within the realm of speculation. But the fact that those safety features have not been restored remains a major problem. The IT community is eager to help, but the Comelec is not inclined to let them. There are larger constitutional questions.  The fact that Smartmatic, a foreign private firm, conducted the 2010 elections on behalf of the Comelec,  and that it will do so again in May, raises a serious constitutional question that impinges on the fundamental dignity and sovereignty of the nation. It cannot be ignored forever. No one raised this issue in 2010, despite a variety of questions about the integrity of that election.  The fear of throwing the whole country into chaos if the entire process were questioned and the stability of the presidency seriously threatened aborted any effort to launch a constitutional challenge. But nothing may be able to prevent such constitutional challenge should Smartmatic once again run the election on behalf of the Comelec on May 13, without reinstating the safety features on the PCOS machines to ensure the integrity and transparency of the elections. Still, it is not a dead end.  Disaster can still be prevented by turning back just as  Netherlands, Germany and Paraguay have turned back after a short experience with e-voting.  Even Australia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Norway and the United Kingdom have decided not to continue after piloting e-voting, for a short while. Only Brazil, India, and Venezuela use e-voting throughout the country. Argentina, Belgium, France, Japan, Mexico, Peru and the United States use e-voting only in certain parts of the country. In the US, more states appear to be moving away from the system. Our 2010 e-voting experience was a leap in the dark, rather an outstanding achievement, as some propagandists would like us to believe. The problems were legion and none of them were sufficiently addressed. And before we could see what the PCOS machine has done to us and the nation, before Congress could finish opening all the electoral returns and proclaim the president-elect, the newly arrived U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas came calling on B. S. III at his Quezon City residence  to give Washington’s seal of recognition to the latter’s election.  Other diplomats followed. Most, if not all, of the IT experts who monitored the elections thought the election had just been hijacked, and that what we had just gone through was pure Hocus PCOS.  But we were assured on the highest imperial authority that we had just conducted a most successful democratic election. Now we are about to repeat the same terrible experience. When shall we ever learn?
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