COMELEC spokesman James Jimenez hasn’t denied my report Wednesday that it was he who pushed the body’s scandalous agreement with Rappler, a website financed by the US government and other Amercian entities. Jimenez would be a terribly incompetent spokesman if he hasn’t heard of the principle — in law and in newsrooms — that silence means acquiescence to allegations.
Rappler since 2016 has been inarguably an unfair partisan news site — even more than the Philippine Daily Inquirer — that has been the propaganda venue of the Yellows (now Pinks) against President Duterte. It’s a no-brainer that Rappler can’t be allowed to participate in any work of the Comelec, unless the latter deliberately wants to put its integrity under a cloud of doubt, which I think is the Jimenez-Rappler plan for the May elections.
Jimenez, whom insiders claim acts as if he is a commissioner despite his Director IV rank, as he feels he knows the Comelec more than any higher official since he has been its spokesman since 2004, took advantage of the fact that its acting chairman Socorro Inting was just easing into that post when its chairman Sheriff Abas retired last February 2.
Duterte has not appointed Abas’ replacement and of the other two commissioners who also stepped down on the same day. The four sitting commissioners therefore were swamped with work especially since the national elections, the biggest task of the Comelec, was just two months away.
Jimenez, sources said, took advantage of this situation by telling Inting, that the agreement with Rappler was merely a routinary matter, and simply recruited Rappler to help the office he heads, the education and information department. Inting, buried in other urgent tasks, trusted Jimenez and signed the agreement, without consulting the other three commissioners. One of the three, Rey Bulay, was asked by Jimenez at the last minute to be a “witness” to the ceremony.
The Comelec-Rappler agreement would give Rappler a monopoly on data on the voting process and gives it broad authority to access even its classified data (such as untransmitted returns) and to have its agents on the ground practically deputized as staff of Comelec’s Voter Care Center that deals with voters’ problems and complaints on election day. No other media organization has such an agreement with Comelec. In fact, Jimenez has sat down on the proposals of other media entities for such agreements, much less requiring the Comelec to give electoral data.
The Rappler-Comelec agreement endangers Filipinos’ trust in the elections, which legitimate pollsters say candidate Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and running mate Sara Carpio-Duterte would win by a mile. Rappler is undoubtedly campaigning for Leni Robredo and her running mate. If the Marcos-Duterte candidates win, they will raise a howl claiming “massive fraud,” alleging that its staff actually were on the ground to witness the cheatings.
Sounds familiar? Definitely, that is straight from the Yellows’ playbook in the “snap elections” of Feb. 7, 1986, which led to EDSA 1.
The Comelec tally February 9 said Marcos won by 1.5 million. The Cory camp claimed fraud, on the basis of the Namfrel tally that in 69 percent of precincts, Aquino was winning by 650,000 votes. Most analysts claim that Marcos definitely won, even by just a small margin: the strongman still had the Solid North, and Imelda had Central Visayas and the reported “millions of Cory’s” supporters were almost all in the National Capital Region.
How did the Cory camp gain traction? On the evening of Feb. 9, 1986, as the Comelec was nearing completion of its “quick count” (which showed Marcos leading), 35 of its encoders walked off their jobs, protesting what they said was the falsification of results from the election contest. That became the headlines of most of the US newspapers: Sen. John Kerry witnessed it himself, together with 20 other US observers, commenting: “These are the most damning comments I’ve heard and the most dramatic incident I witnessed since I came.”
Analysts would claim that that incident finally convinced US President Ronald Reagan — who had been supportive of Marcos — to give the go-signal for the State Department-CIA’s ongoing project to remove Marcos. It definitely was one of the sparks that led to the EDSA revolt, with many observers claiming that rather than hatred for Marcos, it was the idea of tampering with election results — which disregarded their vote — that enraged Filipinos. However, there hadn’t been any report of what miscounting the encoders were claiming precisely, or whether these would have been enough to overturn the Comelec count.
The spontaneity of that dramatic event though would a year later be put in some doubt, after the RAM leaders emerged in public, among them, Lt. Col. Eduardo “Red” Kapunan whose wife, Linda, was the organizer of the walkout of the 35 encoders. It was also Kapunan himself who fetched the “Comelec 35” from Baclaran Church (where they gave their statements to a surprised press) and brought them to safehouses in Camp Aguinaldo, guarded by heavily armed Marines.
The theory therefore was that RAM planned and undertook that walkout in order to portray the elections as marred by massive cheating by Marcos, so their coup scheduled two weeks later would be justified and supported by the US. Marcos however discovered the coup earlier, ordered RAM’s leaders — which included Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile — arrested, and the rest, as the cliché goes, was history. (Kapunan, now our ambassador to Myanmar, should shed light on this crucial moment of our history.)
Who really won the elections became moot when Cory a month after Marcos was removed by the Americans, declared herself president under her Proclamation 3, series of 1986, not because of the February elections but “through a direct exercise of the power of the Filipino people assisted by units of the New Armed Forces of the Philippines.” (Rationally though, which count would you believe, the complete count of the Comelec, or the Namfrel’s based on 69 percent of precincts?)
That playbook, irrelevant whether or not RAM had planned it, the Yellows/Pinks naively think they can mimic in May, and the “encoders’ this till time will be the Rappler people (through their alleged volunteer group MovPh) protesting fraud, maybe even staging a dramatic walkout.
House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta — whom I have been convinced since the 2020 hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise could be one of the best senators ever, his oratory and intelligence at par with our great pre-martial law senators — on Wednesday issued a statement protesting the Rappler-Comelec agreement, portions of which I think were very lucid to be reported verbatim:
“It is indeed disconcerting that the Comelec still pushed through with the agreement even in the face of the rulings of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Court of Appeals that found Rappler Inc. and its alter ego, Rappler Holdings Corp., to have violated the foreign equity restriction under Section 11(1), Article XVI of the 1987 Constitution. Said provision states that ‘the ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by such citizens.’ Consequently, the SEC revoked the certificate of incorporation of Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corp. for employing a deceptive scheme to circumvent the Constitution and relevant statutes by giving control of its affairs to a foreign entity.
“The statement of the Comelec, through its spokesman, Dir. James Jimenez, that there is no final determination yet on the issue of Rappler’s foreign ownership, totally missed the point. The Comelec must not lose sight of the fact that the SEC is an administrative agency of special competence. It is an agency that has primary jurisdiction to determine technical and intricate matters of fact involving violations of laws such as the Corporation Code, the Securities Regulation Code, and other related statutes. Thus, the ruling of the SEC in the Rappler case cannot simply be brushed aside and should all the more be given great weight in light of the appellate court’s ruling affirming the same.
“As stated in the SEC decision in the Rappler case, the term ‘[m]ass media refers to any medium of communication designed to reach the masses and that tends to set the standards, ideals and aims of the masses, the distinctive feature of which is the dissemination of information and ideas to the public, or a portion thereof. The citizenship requirement is intended to prevent the use of such facilities by aliens to influence public opinion to the detriment of the best interests of the nation.’
“Should the Comelec still wait for a final determination on Rappler’s foreign ownership before taking action? No. The interest of the 67.5 million registered voters are far more important to protect. So too is the sanctity of the electoral process. The Comelec-Rappler should not have been done in the first place.”
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