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Poll watchdog accuses Comelec of spying, seeks SC help

(Updated 4 p.m.) An agency with a multi-million budget to spy on critics.

This was how members of a poll watchdog see the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which they accused of spying on them using its P30-million intelligence fund given by Malacañang.

In a petition for writ of habeas data filed with the Supreme Court, members of the Automated Election System (AES) Watch, joined by Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada, a whistleblower in one of the graft scandals that rocked the Arroyo administration, also asked that Malacañang "permanently cease and desist" from giving intelligence funds to the Comelec.

Habeas data aims to protect the image, privacy, and freedom of information of a person, and can be used by any citizen to find out what information is being held about him or her.

Brillantes: They just want publicity

Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. denied the allegation and accused AES Watch of seeking publicity.

"Wala naman kaming intensyong mag-prosecute," he told GMA News Online by phone. "We will not waste time, money or effort to go after them."
Brillantes also said of AES Watch: "They just want publicity. Bakit pa kami mag-aaksaya ng oras sa kanila? Tapos na ang eleksyon. We are now preparing for the barangay elections [in October]."

The poll chief earlier said the intelligence funds were approved by President Benigno Aquino III as part of the Comelec's budget.


The petitioners wanted the SC to order the respondents to disclose to the courts any information they have on them, and "permanently suppress, destroy or permanently seal” these information.

They also wanted the Comelec to stop from "using these illegally-gathered information to prosecute critics of the PCOS automated elections technology suite for election sabotage and other applicable offenses or crimes."

In the meantime, the petitioners asked the high court to bar the respondents from further collecting information or conducting surveillance on the petitioners, as well issuing statements that "threaten" them with surveillance or prosecution for alleged election sabotage.

Named respondents were Brillantes; Comelec commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, Christian Robert Lim, Luie Tito Guia, Grace Padaca and Al Parreño; Comelec finance director Dulay Mejos; Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.; and deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

The petitioners included Lozada, AES Watch members Augusto "Gus" Lagman, Harry Roque Jr., Nelson Celis, Dr. Pablo Manalastas Jr., Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Fr. Jose Dizon, and Sister Mary John Manazan, among others.

Media statements

In their plea, the petitioners cited a statement made by Brillantes that supposedly hints that AES Watch members were being held under surveillance.

"Bakit sila matatakot kung wala silang ginawang masama? Talaga namang ginagamit ang intel fund sa mga nagsasabotahe ng election," Brillantes was quoted as saying in the petition.

Valte also reportedly issued a similar statement, according to the petitioners, who quoted her as saying: “The justification is supposed to be utilized for intelligence, counter intelligence activities and gathering of information relative to the activities of certain groups, individuals and technology experts suspected of conducting overt and covert operations to sabotage the results of the elections."

AES Watch vs. PCOS technology

The petitioners noted that they publicly asked Brillantes to declare that the P30-million intelligence fund was not meant to spy on critics of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) technology, but the poll chief allegedly "chose to keep silent."

It was the AES Watch that had also asked the SC last April 10 to reject the P1.8-billion contract signed by the Comelec to use PCOS machines for the May 13 midterm elections, which, like the 2010 elections, were automated.

The contract, signed last March 30, is between the Comelec and Smartmatic International and its Filipino partner Total Information Management Corp (Smartmatic-TIM).
Aside from the purchase of 82,000 machines, the contract also included the consolidation and canvassing system of Smartmatic-TIM at no cost to the Comelec.
AES said the contract should be cancelled because the Comelec "committed grave abuse of discretion in opting to buy the PCOS machines and allied paraphernalia of SMARTMATIC for use in the approaching 2013 election, despite incontrovertible findings of the glitches, malfunctions, bugs, and defects of the same."

Two months later, in June, the high court junked AES' plea, as well as that of three other petitioners, and ruled that the poll contract was legal.

The court said the contract was still valid and existing because the performance security bond posted by Smartmatic-TIM was not yet returned.
The bond was in the form of a letter of credit worth P360 million or 5 percent of the original P7.2-billion poll automation contract for the May 2010 polls. It was meant to fund penalties for non-performance or should Smartmatic-TIM fail to deliver the equipment based on contract schedules. — with Marc Jayson Cayabyab/KBK, GMA News