34 concerned citizens, voters, and taxpayers file suit before the UN Human Rights Committee
Former VP Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr. leads Complainants
On May 3, 2013, 34 concerned citizens, voters, and taxpayers filed a Petition against the Commission on Elections (Comelec) through the Philippine government for violation of citizens’ right of suffrage. Violation of Article 25 of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was cited as the basis for filing the Petition before the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Below is the Statement issued on the same day by the Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) whose individual members, together with other concerned voters from other organizations, initiated the UN Petition:
Ten days from now, 52 million registered voters will go to the precincts all over the country for the mid-term elections. As in May 2010 when the first automated elections were held, many voters will be disenfranchised and ALL will not see how their votes are counted. Is this genuine democratic election? Can voting and counting machines especially bereft of security safeguards really be trusted? To be more precise, have the people now entrusted their right to suffrage – and the country’s future - to a foreign-marketed system that has become illegal, uncertified, unverified, non-transparent, inaccurate and, worst, untrustworthy?
In defending the Smartmatic-marketed automated election system, the chairman of the Comelec himself, former election lawyer Sixto Brillantes, Jr., is now incredibly confused. For instance, he says there is no source code for both the 2010 and the coming May 13, 2013 elections. The next day, he says there is a source code and it has been reviewed. He threatens to resign and then he takes back his word. At a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearing, he threatens to walk out after two women leaders of civil society groups raised legitimate questions of non-compliance by the Comelec and technology provider. Critics are “non-lawyers” so they don’t have the right to talk about how the automation law is implemented. He gives a tongue-lashing even at accredited poll watchdogs for telling the truth and threatens to withdraw their accreditation. The chilling effect of his threats continues to deprive citizens’ groups and individual advocates of transparent elections including concerned scholars and experts of their right to know and express their views. Now they are called “election saboteurs.” Under this type of stewardship – a powerful constitutional body at that - there is no assurance that our right to suffrage as concerned citizens, voters, and taxpayers is protected.
Truth is, there was no and has never been any source code held by Smartmatic both in 2010 and today since the real owner of the election technology – Dominion Voting Systems – has refused its disclosure and review under a 2009 licensing agreement. This makes the whole system non-transparent: There is no way the voter, without an independent source code review by political parties and other interested groups, is assured of the accuracy and integrity of the election software. The program bugs and errors found in 2010 that resulted in mismatch between ballot design and CF cards, the inclusion of erroneous pre-election FTS results, unbelievable statistics showing from 150M to 250M voters, and missing election data in 22% of the 60,000 clustered precincts cannot be corrected anymore.
Furthermore, as in 2010, the security of the ballot and counting process has been compromised by the disabling of major transparency, security, and safeguard features such as voter verification and digital signature as well as the use of non-WORM CF cards, low accuracy rating (97% against the mandated 99.995%), inadequate field tests and mock elections, ballot bleeding, and expected transmission glitches.
Committed to credible elections, compliance with the election law, and correcting the mistakes of the 2010 polls, we have for the past three years brought our concerns and proposed legislations and remedies not only to the Comelec and the CAC but also to the various suffrage committees of Congress including the JCOC for AES. Such continuing engagements with the major institutions, however, have yielded no positive actions while the Comelec wasted three years for being too fixated on what has been proven to be an unreliable technology supplier. Likewise, we have exhausted administrative and court remedies even after winning a landmark decision on the source code review (CenPEG vs Comelec, SC, Sept. 21, 2010) that would later be overturned by Comelec’s intransigence.
One of the most compelling reasons for bringing our case to – and seeking international legal remedies from - the United Nations are veiled threats and irresponsible accusations by the Comelec led by its Chairman, former election lawyer Sixto Brillantes, Jr. and his spokesperson in calling us “election saboteurs,” “doomsayers,” and other derogatory labels. Election sabotage is a grievous crime punishable by years of imprisonment. This has to stop. Instead of listening to the legitimate complaints and proposals of independent anti-fraud and poll watch groups, the Comelec resorts to undue intimidation and threats. Instead of welcoming the opportunity to work with independent and reputable information technology (IT) experts and policy study scholars who continue to share their research and alarming findings about the security and accuracy of the voting system, the Comelec responds with more threats and insults.
The policy of arrogance, exclusiveness, and non-transparency is condemnable and has no place in a democracy where the right to suffrage should be protected. As a constitutional body, the Comelec should be the first to obey the law. Circumventing it constitutes abuse of power.
As concerned citizens, voters, and taxpayers we have decided to file a Complaint against the Comelec through the GPH for violation of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), particularly:
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;
(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
We are optimistic that international law – to which the Philippine government is a signatory particularly the ICCPR – will prevail.
The Petitioners in this case share a record of being in the forefront of the struggle and advocacy against dictatorship and authoritarian rule (some of them, in fact, were victims), in the promotion of human rights, transparency, democratic governance, and social justice as well as in electoral reform.
Among the Petitioners are: Former Vice President Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr., Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo (CBCP-Nassa), Fr. Rex Reyes (National Council of Churches in the Philippines), Dr. Temario C. Rivera and Dr. Pablo R. Manalastas (CenPEG), Ms. Maria Corazon Akol (TransparentElections.org.ph), Fr. Jose P. Dizon and Renato M. Reyes (Kontra Daya), Mr. Henry S. Kahn (business), Mr. Martin B. Diño (Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption), Atty. Greg Fabros (National Union of People’s Lawyers), Prof. Nelson J. Celis (Most Outstanding Electronics Engineer in IT, 2012), Ms. Mary Joan Guan (Women’s Resource Center), Mr. Ernesto del Rosario (former Comelec IT Director), Mr. Benjamin Valbuena (MPSTA-teachers), and newspaper columnist Dr. Renė B. Azurin.
The others are: Dr. Felix Muga II, Ms. Bettina Legarda, Rhodora J. Clemente, Rick Bahague, Conrado M. Dayrit III, Evita L. Jimenez (CenPEG executive director and convener of AES Watch), Atty. Melchor G. Magdamo (Comelec whistleblower), Mother Superior Mary John Mananzan, Jose A. M. Pengson, Bishop Sotero Toquero, Francisco Alquaz, Jeric Abasa, and Ernesto dela Rosa del Rosasio (former Comelec IT director).
Petition lawyers are Attys. Harry L. Roque, Jr., Gilbert T. Andres, Romel Butuyan, and Romel Bagares.