Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies
The legal setback of former senator Bongbong Marcos’ election protest, which selectively questioned the results of the vice-presidential race in the May 2016 elections, is a win for two embattled institutions of our democracy.
The allegation not only challenges the integrity of the automated election system (AES) but also undermines the credibility of the whole democratic process. But the Philippine electoral process has been marred by irregularities and controversies involving transparency, security, slow transmission of results, cheating, voter turnout, and the like. These issues directly impinge upon the credibility of the process itself and the integrity of concerned institutions. It is in this respect where technology can be used to address the issues and make the electoral process a more trustworthy exercise. Two credible studies on the AES are sufficiently informative to provide the electorate a broader perspective.
In its Ulat ng Bayan (Aug. 8, 2016), Pulse Asia Research upheld the integrity of the May 2016 elections. According to its survey using face-to-face interviews, “most Filipinos expressed a positive opinion as regards the conduct of the recent national elections in their place.” Among the respondents, an overwhelming majority claimed that the democratic exercise was fast (92 percent), orderly (93 percent), peaceful (95 percent), clean (no vote buying, 66 percent, and no cheating, 83 percent) and believable (89 percent). In general, the survey also indicated that the May 2016 elections demonstrated further improvements compared to those in 2013 and 2010.
As vote buying persists, the survey revealed further that less than a quarter of Filipinos (22 percent) admitted that they had been offered money for their votes, and 74 percent of them accepted the money. The accepted money was primarily used to buy food and pay the bills and tuition. Interestingly, 49 percent of those who accepted the money voted for some, but not all, of the candidates who offered the money, and 51 percent of those who did not accept the money did not vote for all the candidates who made a similar offer to them.
Authored by Magno and Panelo (2017), the study titled “Technology, Democracy and Elections in the Philippines” similarly revealed that the AES made the electoral process a convenient and trustworthy exercise, rather than a stressing and tedious process.
With the advent of the AES, the electoral process has been made more credible and transparent. But much more needs to be done to engage and encourage the participation of the youth, the indigenous peoples, and persons with disability to make the process more inclusive. Massive information and education campaigns need to be carried out to reorient old practices and bring forth an improved system.
In sum, the study asserted that the net results of automating the electoral process were rapid transmission of results, less human intervention and transparency. With these results, the longstanding issues confronting the Philippine electoral process have been addressed. The 2016 elections have been claimed to be more credible, fast and orderly. There were also fewer incidences of cheating and a higher voter turnout. In short, automation has resulted in the significant decrease of election-related incidences.
And in the turn of events, the Supreme Court junked Marcos’ motion or first cause of action for the electoral protest. Through this decision, the high court defended as well the integrity of the automated May 2016 elections. Hence, in the three instances mentioned, it is not only the AES that has been upheld but also the integrity and credibility of the present democratic process.
In a broader perspective, Marcos’ motion explains a political irony. For the first time, he finds himself at the losing end of the equation and tries to find refuge in the political and legal strategies that his family used for decades to defraud and subdue the Filipino electorate. Indeed, “what goes around comes around.”