Philippine election: vote counting ‘glitch’ as Rodrigo Duterte clinches Senate race

15-May-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The battle for the last four of 12 Senate seats contested in the Philippine midterm elections has come down to the wire, with just 6 per cent of votes about 2.5 million nationwide still to be counted.

Unofficial counts on Tuesday suggested allies of President Rodrigo Duterte were clear winners in seven of the first eight seats, while in the remaining four, Senator Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV appeared to be the only candidate from the main opposition Liberal Party in with a chance of victory.

The nation voted on Monday to fill about 18,000 positions primarily local positions but also half the seats in the 24-member Senate and nearly 300 seats in the lower House of Representatives.

The vote has been cast as a referendum on Duterte’s leadership, three years since he took office, and a strong showing by his preferred candidates is likely to embolden the president and cement his influence on the Senate, which has traditionally kept executive power in check. Duterte’s allies are also expected to dominate in the lower house.

 (South China Morning Post)

(South China Morning Post)

Critics have hit out at Duterte’s brutal crackdown on drugs, extrajudicial killings and his courting of Beijing.

His supporters, however, say he has made the country safer and reduced crime. A recent poll recorded an 81 per cent approval rating.

“This election just gave Duterte carte blanche to push his brand of governance to its logical conclusion: complete transformation of the nation’s political system,” analyst Richard Heydarian said.

However, Duterte’s ambitions to scrap the present presidential system and create a federal form of government, are still far from assured. Even if Duterte allies take 11 of the 12 seats, the president will still have to convince his daughter, the Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, his finance secretary Carlos Dominguez and his economic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia to go along with the plan.

Mayor Sara categorically stated in April this year that she was “not for federalism” because it would give more power to local political warlords. She said, “I do not think it is right to give bigger powers when you have such a set-up.”

Meanwhile economic planning secretary Pernia warned last year that the version of federalism proposed by Duterte’s appointed Consultative Committee would cut into the budget for Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure programme because it would cost at least 120 billion pesos (US$2.2 billion) to set up and run.

Pernia even estimated that the required financing could raise the country’s fiscal deficit to 6 per cent of GDP, “wreak havoc” on our “fiscal situation” and cause a downgrade in the country’s ratings. Finance chief Domingo also cautioned against rushing into federalism, saying there was “potential for it to become a nightmare” if the tax-sharing schemes were not well ironed out.

Leading the pack in terms of Senate votes is billionaire Cynthia Villar, the co-leader of the Nacionalista Party (NP) allied with Duterte. Villar is eyeing a presidential run in 2022, a Senate source told the South China Morning Post. She got 24.39 million votes. Senator Grace Poe, who ran as an independent but is expected to be friendly towards the Duterte administration, got 21.32 million votes while the president’s former special assistant, Christopher “Bong” Go, has 19.76 million votes. Pia Cayetano, the sister of Duterte’s former foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, is fourth with 19 million votes, while former Philippine National Police chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, another Duterte loyalist, with 18.16 million votes. He has been the chief implementer of Duterte’s “war on drugs” and campaigned for the restoration of the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Those in the sixth to twelfth slots include veteran actor and former Senator Lito Lapid with 16.39 million votes, former president Ferdinand Marco’s daughter Imee with 15.3 million votes, and ex-action star Bong Revilla, who was recently acquitted from a multibillion-dollar pork barrel scam.

Bam Aquino, 42, is currently in 14th place with 13.70 million votes.

A sitting senator and younger cousin of former President Benigno Aquino III, he has put an emphasis on educational and business reforms.

If he wins, he will join five incumbent members of the opposition Liberal Party: Senators Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, Joel Villanueva and the detained Senator Leila de Lima.

With only six Liberal Party members, a constitutional shift to federalism now becomes possible provided that Senator Grace Poe backs the shift.

Still, this means that proposed laws needing a simple majority vote are likely to pass, such as the restoration of the death penalty.

The opposition has warned constitutional change could lead to the single-term limit for the presidency being lifted, allowing Duterte to prolong his rule despite his repeated statements that he would stand down at the end of his mandate.

The polls saw isolated outbursts of violence, which is not unusual in the Philippines’ frequently bloody competition for elected seats.

At least 20 people were killed and 24 wounded in election-related violence in the run-up to the vote, according to an official count.

The military said nine people were shot and wounded on Monday during a confrontation at a polling station on the southern island of Jolo, which is home to insurgents and powerful local clans.

But turnout, while slow at the start, grew throughout the day as voters including celebrities showed photos of their purple ink-stained fingers on social media, urging others to vote.

A serious glitch in the Commission on Elections “transparency server” however resulted in delays to updates on the vote count by eight hours. The transparency server receives all digital copies of election returns and media outlets use it to provide readers with unofficial quick counts.

Asked to address concerns that the delay was due to efforts to rig the vote count, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said a surge of data to the server had led to delays.

“It’s like the system was shocked because of the rush when the data packets all came in simultaneously,” she said. “All the [Comelec] directors needed to monitor the transparency server were present. And you will see there was no cheating. We had a central server and the central server was working perfectly.”

But malfunctions of vote counting machines were reported across the country, with reports of them turning off by themselves, valid ballots being rejected and failing to produce voting receipts. Guanzon said the Comelec would hold a briefing on Tuesday afternoon to explain what happened.

Vice-president Leni Robredo, of the opposition Liberal Party, cautioned supporters that “we still have to fight. The counting is not yet over and we still need to watch it closely”.

Duterte’s family members are expected to do well in the polls. The president’s daughter Sara, considered by some as his potential successor in the 2022 vote, looks set to remain as mayor in the family’s southern stronghold of Davao city.

Her younger brother Sebastian ran unopposed for the city’s vice-mayoral seat, while Duterte’s eldest son Paolo was on track for a seat in the House of Representatives, according to PPCRV, a Philippine elections INGO.


Category: Philippines

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