Mon. May 23rd, 2022

Regardless of who Vicente “Tito” Sotto III is running against in his ambition to become the vice-president, I cannot vote for this man who even as Senate president has not shown any verifiable gut and sense of national priority, at the country’s most crucial hour of greatest need.

The logic is simple. In Latin, it is called a fortiori reasoning.

If he cannot show any verifiable leadership in leading the upper house of Congress, with more reason he cannot serve as vice-president, which is a breath away to the presidency.

I have two issues against the sitting senate president. The first is about saving our democracy. The second is saving our economy in its post-pandemic recovery.

On December 2020, Senator Imee Marcos endorsed for plenary approval Senate Bill 1950 or the Hybrid Election Act. It consolidates previous bills on electoral reform that she and Sotto previously filed.

The proposed system will still use appropriate technology for voting, counting, canvassing, and transmission of election results, but manual counting will be utilized at the precinct level, to ensure transparency and security of the votes.

The important aspect of this simplified reform is that it will provide at the very first step of the election process – a manual record of the votes count, the return of the “tara” system.

Before AES came, teachers take the ballots cast one by one, reads aloud the votes while an assistant drew sticks across names of candidates written on an election form mounted on the blackboard or the wall.

First, behind the teachers are poll-watchers authorized by their respective parties or candidates to make sure the reading is correct, the tally by “sticks” is posted in the full view of the public, and the records are duly certified as “true and correct” through the signatures of the Board of Election Inspectors.

The most important aspect of this basic step is that it provides a paper trail when the count is still at the level of “small numbers”, and renders the resulting document as “official” record.

In the present automated version, the voter directly inputs his ballot into a counting machine called PCOS or VCM, and while it does now provide for a receipt confirming how the “Optical Character Recognition” of the machine scanned and read the ballot, and while the software can be used to convert a physical paper document, or an image into an accessible electronic version with text, there is no certainty that the information gathered by the machine is the same information it passes forward from the precinct to municipal, provincial and national levels.

Marcos and Sotto are in agreement that the fully automated election system (AES) which has been used in 2010 has been marred by alleged vote counting irregularities such as early transmission of votes, foreign access in election servers, installation of an additional device known as a “queuing server” in the middle of the transmission process, script change in the middle of the live transmission of results, and incomplete transmissions of results.

With the “tara” as the first step, the PCOS or VCM machines can still be used but only to confirm the manual count, just as an ordinary teller in bank, verifies his manual count of monies transacted through a currency counting machine.

The officlal tally is the output of the “tara” because, again, it will be certified true and correct by three elections inspectors.

What can be more transparent than the “tara” system, the votes manually counted and marked at the tally board as demonstrated above?
In contrast using the Automated Election System, after you insert your ballot into the machine, there is no way for you to ascertain how your vote was counted, tallied with other votes and transmitted forward to the servers.

In the AES system, no such certification is made because the inspectors are not given “digital” signatures to affix to the transactions. The provision of the AES law providing for digital signatures as a safeguard, has been unilaterally collapsed by the Comelec.

Since the presidential elections of 2010, therefore, all winning candidates have been proclaimed on the basis of “unofficial” documents, a basic and gross violation of government documentation requirements.

Try doing business anywhere in government presenting xeroxed or uncertified papers, and see if you will be entertained.

Nowhere, except in the Comelec, are unofficial papers honored to determine as to who will govern our democracy.  This is why as early as 2010, we have had no officially elected president in this country all the way down to the councilors.

They were not elected but “Comelected”.

Also, under the Marcos-Sotto bill, the printing of ballots will no longer be outsourced but will be confined to the National Printing Office. A bar code, which can be scanned to project a ballot’s digital image and authenticate it, will be a new feature on official ballots. There will also be an automatic recount if a discrepancy of at least 2% occurs between vote tallies done manually and transmitted electronically.

Best yet, any authority, provided or simply usurped, by the Comelec disregarding requirements and safeguards provided under Section 12 of the Automated Election Law, was already removed in the bicameral version of the bill.

So, can Sotto explain to his constituencies why the hybrid election bill has not yet passed?

He cannot, so why will I vote for him?

Pray tell me, I hope he is not expecting Smartmatic to “comelect” him to the vice-presidency, just as it is widely alleged it installed Leni Robredo in 2016?

Senate in tatters

Truth to tell, the Philippine Senate is in a disarray under Sotto.

Over the weekend, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon urged members of both houses of Congress to work quickly to pass vital measures in the few remaining legislative days left before the long pre-election recess.

The Manila Times editorial said “This was certainly a good call on Drilon’s part, but among the measures he listed on lawmakers’ critical to-do list, he omitted the most important one: Senate ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which went into effect on January 1.”

The Philippines has signed the broad trade and economic cooperation pact, but without Senate ratification, it is not yet formally a part of RCEP and will not be until the latter half of the year at the earliest. Without participation in the RCEP, several of the other measures highlighted by Drilon will have far less positive impact on the country’s economic recovery.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement (FTA) between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), and the Asean’s six major FTA partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

The main purpose of the RCEP is to harmonize the number of existing bilateral FTAs among the signatory nations; when fully in force, the RCEP will cover 2.3 billion people or about 30 percent of the world’s population, contribute $25.8 trillion to global gross domestic product (GDP), and account for over a quarter of global trade in goods and services and 31 percent of global foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, according to data from the World Bank.

In terms of its impact on the Philippines, the RCEP could increase national GDP by as much as 2 percent.

The Senate, however, evidently has mixed-up priorities.

Who is minding the store? Definitely not Sotto

Among the measures cited by Senator Drilon were the proposed amendments to the Public Services Act, which would clarify the definition of public utilities and permit more foreign investment in these sectors, and the Retail Trade Act (a bill he authored), which would lower the required paid-up capital for retail enterprises from the current P25 million to P2.5 million.

Without the RCEP, however, the Public Services Act and Retail Trade Act lose much of their relevance, as they are primarily intended to attract foreign investment.

Investors will be more likely to look elsewhere among the countries that have already ratified the trade pact given the advantages the RCEP provides. It is definitely foolhardy for the Philippines not to be a part of the RCEP at the time when our national interest demands utmost priority for post-pandemic economic recovery.

Worse, an idiot inserted into the Public Services Act, a provision prohibiting investments by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) or state corporation, obviously an attempt by pro-American senators limiting the participation of China in the Philippines post pandemic recovery. Grace Poe feigns “national security” as her nebulous justification.

So where else is the Senate’s attention these days?

Among other matters being prioritized include bills for E-sabong,  SIM Card Registration, and regulating Vaporized Nicotine Products (Vape).

As we speak, there are only seven session days left before Congress adjourns until July.

That limited amount of time should be used for measures that have the broadest positive impact on the country to save our democracy and to accelerate our economic recovery from the pandemic.

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