May 31, 2019

President Duterte’s advice to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to not renew its partnership with the Venezuelan-owned multinational company Smartmatic is a step in the right direction. The President’s remark acknowledges the problems not only with the company in particular but also with the conduct of the automated elections in general.

At his meeting with the Filipino community in Japan last May 30, Duterte said, “I would like to advise Comelec now, I won’t delay this: Dispose of that Smartmatic and look for a new one that is free of fraud.

”Since the first automated elections in 2010, concerned individuals and groups like Kontra Daya have denounced COMELEC’s choice of Smartmatic as technology provider for three main reasons: (1) Smartmatic has a questionable track record in places like Chicago, Mexico City and even in its home country in Venezuela; (2) The Philippines is not lacking in terms of local expertise in implementing an automated election system; and (3) Foreign intervention in the people’s right to suffrage is downright unacceptable.

It is not enough, however, for Smartmatic to just simply be blacklisted in the Philippines. Duterte and the COMELEC should state categorically, as a matter of national policy, that there shall be no foreign intervention in the country’s election system from now on. They should also demand a full reimbursement of the billions of pesos of taxpayers’ money paid to Smartmatic for the damage it has done in the four automated election cycles in the country from 2010 to 2019.

In addition, Duterte’s acknowledgment of the occurrence of fraud in the recently-held midterm polls should not just be limited to the COMELEC’s questionable partnership with COMELEC.

Aside from the glitches encountered in the vote-counting machines (VCMs), SD cards, voter registration verification machines (VRVMs) and transparency server, it is necessary to also consider the high incidence of vote buying and the use of government funds and resources, not to mention harassment and intimidation perpetrated by state forces, particularly Red-baiting of certain candidates and party-list groups.

That the rich and powerful continue to dominate and bastardize the election system is also a glaring evidence of fraud as money politics and even “fake news” become a “new normal” in Philippine politics.

Kontra Daya hopes that Duterte’s remark regarding Smartmatic and election fraud is not just a sound bite creatively spun or unfortunately reversed in the days or months to come. For now, the COMELEC should heed Duterte’s advice and take the necessary steps toward a foreign intervention-free and fraud-free election system.

Contact person: Danilo Arao, convenor, Kontra Daya