Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
Rising authoritarianism and corruption have been compromising the democratic framework in a number of countries amid the disruptions of the pandemic. Our country has not been immune from this tendency to resort to “emergency powers,” which when well executed may be expedient in response to crisis, but may also be used to destroy our democratic institutions.
Recently, the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), unanimously dismissed the electoral protest filed by former senator Bongbong Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo in the May 2016 national elections.
The right to electoral protests are legally guaranteed by the Constitution and electoral mechanisms of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Supreme Court as PET. Resolving the outcome of electoral protests at the national level are unavoidably and heavily steeped in political implications that impinge on the legitimacy of our whole electoral system.
The judicious work demonstrated by the Comelec and the Supreme Court deserves the highest accolade, considering the powerful political pressures and dynamics that attended this protest. The PET’s judgment upholds the integrity of the May 2016 national elections and the accuracy of the automated election system (AES) used in the polls. That is a strong message that affirms the integrity of our electoral process and the commitment of institutions to uphold the vote of the Filipino people.
It should be noted that the dismissal echoes the Filipino public’s sentiments on the election results. According to the Ulat ng Bayan survey released by Pulse Asia in July 2016, the public satisfaction rating on the performance of the automated polling system was a majority high of 81 percent. Moreover, 89 percent of the respondents agreed that the automated voting system should continue to be used, and 74 percent expressed “big” trust in the results of the automated elections.
Pulse Asia conducted another survey after the 2019 midterm elections and found similarly affirmative results. In fact, the survey noted further improvements in terms of election trust rating and the preference for the continued use of automated voting. The “big” trust in the poll results increased to 84 percent, while consensus for the continuation of the AES climbed to 91 percent.
A Stratbase ADR Institute special study titled “2019 Mid-Term Elections in Review: An Assessment of the ‘Credibility’ of the 2019 Mid-Term Elections,” authored by Dr. Ador R. Torneo and Prof. Topin S. Ruiz, likewise found the 2019 Philippine midterm elections “well-run” based on the performance-based evaluation system’s metric. Noted the study: “The 2019 midterm elections also scored high in all seven indicators of the Comelec scorecard. In comparison to the 2016, 2013 and 2010 elections, the 2019 elections did better in almost all indicators.”
Evident in the surveys as well as assessments by civil society and research groups is the importance of upholding our democratic processes, institutions, and values. The evidence-based dismissal of Marcos’ electoral protest should debunk definitively the well-funded campaign to revert to the manual mode of elections, which, despite being rampantly prone to cheating, is now being pushed by some quarters as a hybrid mode for the 2022 polls. That reversion will only open up the polls to traditional manipulation by political operators.
If anything, what should be pushed is not a return to antiquated systems, but greater citizen participation and government transparency in furthering reforms in the electoral process. And any attempt to undermine the country’s democratic institutions, values, and processes, such as the propagation of misinformation and fake news about being cheated in an orderly and clean election, should be rejected.
The dismissal of Marcos’ protracted protest reaffirms the credibility of the past three election cycles and demonstrates how Philippine electoral contests have evolved into a legal system now guaranteed by digital technologies compliant with the law.
Democracy Watch Philippines convener Paco A. Pangalangan reminds us of the great task ahead as the historic 2022 elections loom: “As our democracy moves into an uncertain future, we call on all Filipinos and democratic institutions to remain vigilant in upholding democratic principles and sound electoral practices. In the face of election challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot afford to allow democracy to be stalled or subverted. Democracy must go on.”
This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.