Amid “outright lies” and “psywar,” can Marcos do the impossible in the Philippines?

Photo: Bongbong Marcos/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

By Holly Reeves

“We will not stop until the true will of the people prevails in this election,” insists the spokesperson of Philippine vice-presidential candidate, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., in the latest set of claims and counterclaims in this hotly-contested race.

According to Jose Amorado from the Marcos camp, data from 100 of the 108 official certificates of canvass, shows that their candidate received 13,506,005 votes. These are mostly from the north and the overseas electorate.

The opposition, lawyer and social activist Leni Robredo received 13,346,009 as of 3:15 p.m. Tuesday (17 May). That’s a winning margin of 117,939. Or so they say.

Claims

Marcos is the clear winner despite significant irregularities in the vote, Amorado claims. These include “unusually high percentages of undervotes [where no candidate was selected by the voter] for the vice-presidential race in all parts of the country.”

“Overall there were more than 3,326,630 undervotes,” adding this was very odd considering the high turnout. “We have in our possession other evidence of irregularities which we are collating and verifying,” he continued. This, together with their tabulation of votes is why they are “still optimistic that we will win this election.”

If their calculations are correct, a win for the son of former Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos Sr. would signal the biggest political victory for the family since his return from exile in 1991.

The vice-president role would also be a springboard into the presidency contest in 2022.

Counterclaims

But it is nowhere near over yet.

Citing data from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Boyet Dy, Robredo’s head of policy, said Robredo actually had a lead over 257,567 votes over Marcos. Listen to their arguments, and even with the 168,988 votes from the remaining areas still to come in it would be impossible for Marcos to overtake Robredo.

Her announcement on Saturday exclaimed, “You can sleep soundly now,” reassuring her supporters, “Our win is irreversible.”

Where’s the truth?

In this face of this confusion Amorado says, “It is either the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) count is wrong or the count of the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) is wrong. So I am just relieved that last night Chairman De Villia already announced that they will ask Comelec that they should start canvassing or counting.”

In fact, PPCRV national chairperson Henrietta de Villa said much more than that. She branded the early victory pronouncements of both sides as “psywar,” or psychological warfare.

“That is their strategy or their psywar. But if I am the one, I caution both parties from claiming victory until it is pronounced. Let us wait [for the official announcement of the NBOC], after all it would not be long,” said De Villa.

Robredo has since backed up from her rhetoric saying, “The announcement we made Saturday was not a claim of victory but to appease supporters that these are the numbers”. She stuck to her position however, adding, “And with the numbers that have yet to come in, it is not possible for our rival to catch up.”

An unholy alliance?

Henrietta de Villa also dismissed as an “outright lie” the allegations from the Marcos camp that the PPCRV and Smartmatic, who provided the electronic voting machines, had an “unholy alliance” that allowed the alteration of the script on the Transparency Server of the Commission on Elections.

The Catholic church-based watchdog is connected to the system which instantly receives transmissions from the polling precincts from all over the country. The PPCRV then shares the information it receives with the media and political parties. It is this unofficial data on which Robredo claims her win.

In what may yet prove to be sour grapes, Marcos’ representatives have suggested foul play in the recent chances made to the server’s back-end functions. He will now send representatives to the hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System to press for an investigation.

Meanwhile, former Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. reminded commentators, “Whether there are mistakes, errors or changes therein is no big deal. The official count which will render the transparency results insignificant shall be undertaken by the constitutionally mandated canvassing body – the Congress of the Philippines.”

Congress will now meet in late May, no date has yet been set, to issue an official result and declare the winners.

The presidential factor

Under the Philippine system the vice president and president are elected separately, often from opposing political parties. And usually, a vice president has little actual power.

But this is no usual election. President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has said he would step down if he is unable to fulfill his promise of solving crime in six months. And at age 71, he thinks he might not be able to finish his term.

His preference for an understudy is Robredo, saying he would welcome her as an assistant president. As the polar opposite of Duterte’s tough-guy image, she should could provide some much-needed balance to the executive in the years to come.

With foreign policy issues piling up, tough talk on domestic issues, the tightest vice-presidential race in decades and an uncertain future, it is possible a vote has never counted more, in the history of the Philippines.