Flipping Plates


Photo Credit: Lif... via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Lif… via Compfight cc

If you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over into your lap and you won’t mind. — Irving Becker

No one seems to be testing this saying more than Davao City mayor and presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte. It seems that his critics have a field day every time he makes a blunder or the political equivalent of holding his spoon the wrong way.

But Duterte doesn’t look like he’s contented with that. He likes it loud and showy. He doesn’t just turn over the plate on your lap. He flips it over and over and spills drinks over your head to boot. And while his critics are lambasting him for it, his supporters don’t seem to mind and clamp down harder in defending him. Comparisons are now being made to cult leaders who can do no wrong in the eyes of their followers.

Much has been said and written about the recent rape joke (or non-joke depending on how you took it). A friend of mine said she was waiting for my take on it. I don’t really think I have much to add to the cacophony of opinions that it has already raised, other than to say I go with the thinking that it was an insensitive remark. It may have been done in anger at that moment in 1989 but when he repeated it in a rally in what seemed to be a joke, it was uncalled for and deserves a straight up apology like the last one released to the media (which he now reportedly denies making and instead blames it on his camp). Talk about turning the plate over and over.

Despite this and the other blunders he has done though, he still has my vote this coming May 9. My reasons are still the same as I have always maintained:

One is the results that he has achieved in Davao. I will no longer recite the litany of achievements as they have been repeated ad nauseum. No matter how others try to downplay or destroy Davao’s image, I know, as one born and bred in that city, what statistics cannot capture. There is, after all, a difference between quantitative and qualitative data.

Two, he is the only one going for systemic change from a centralized/presidential system to one that is federal/parliamentary. I am not an expert but am persuaded by what I have read so far that that the latter is far better than the former. There would be less votes based on personality and more based on platforms. In short, Duterte is the only candidate benefitting from personality-politics who is eyeing to remove that benefit by actually changing the system. Others who talk about “platform not personality” but do not favor a systemic change are merely paying lip service.

Three, he is still, in my assessment, the least evil among the candidates. When I first saw the rape joke clip, I was very bothered. I thought long and hard and reconsidered my options. My anti-Duterte friends’ arguments played in my head again and again. But I simply cannot bring myself to support any of the other candidates. Perhaps if someone with a similar track record to Duterte, minus his penchant for making disastrous remarks, were running for president, then that person would have my vote.

My more intelligent friends cite Mar Roxas as that candidate and try to justify his achievements and explain how his “blunders” were not really blunders, or his fault entirely. I might have been swayed if I did not happen to be good friends with someone who worked under him before. I know inside stories about Mar that others don’t. These were told over the past 5 years or so, way before the election period, so they are not simply a matter of politicking. They are not my stories to share, however, so I will not make them public. But they are enough to affect my own decision about Mar — that he is not a better choice than Digong.

I don’t really claim to understand or agree with everything Digong does, but some friends who have followed his political career these past two decades say that he is a master strategist. They compare him to a master chess player making moves that make people scratch their heads and it is only in the endgame when you see the effectiveness of his earlier moves.

We are near the endgame. May 9 is fast approaching and his support base seems to be growing stronger and stronger. I am writing this from Los Angeles, California. When I arrived here, I noticed a group of airport personnel speaking to each other in Filipino and I approached them to ask for directions. After the delight and initial small talk in meeting a fellow Filipino, the conversation turned to whom they were supporting for president. They said, “Duterte kami. Lahat kami dito Duterte. (All of us here are for Duterte).”

Whatever he’s doing, it seems to be working. No matter how many times he seems to self-destruct and alienate his supporters, they come back roaring stronger than ever.

I don’t claim to understand it, but it’s happening.

Let’s see what happens on election day.


Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Breaking the Machine

Photo Credit: alasdair massie via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: alasdair massie via Compfight cc


It sounds so artificial and cold, diabolical even.

Binay recently made the pronouncement that the election end-game would be between him and Mar Roxas because only they have the machinery to win the elections. I also read several people’s opinions agreeing with the statement saying that the past elections have been won by machinery rather than by what was indicated in polls and surveys.

But what is this thing called machinery?

According to several friends I have asked, some of them having actual experience in organizing campaigns, it is primarily access to funds from rich backers (whether individuals or businesses) — which is used for political advertising, for recruiting campaign organizers, for holding sorties in rural areas with limited access to media and so on.

The dark side (no pun intended) of this machinery is that funds are also used to reward backers, to buy votes whether in cash or in kind, or to cheat. Winning candidates are then obligated to protect the interests of their backers, their interests and their businesses, for the duration of their term.

Machinery makes a mockery of democracy.

Of the five presidential candidates we have, only Duterte envisions to break the vicious cycle of machinery and patronage politics. Only he has refused funding from big businesses and businessmen because he does not want to be indebted to them if he wins. Compare the life and spirit of volunteerism in his campaigns with the inherent indebtedness of machinery in others.

Just the other day, I talked to a local salesman. He told me that he had bought and sent a few hundred Duterte ballers for his friends and relatives in Manila, all from his own pocket. Another friend of mine prints shirts and gives away stickers. You see this spirit of volunteerism happening all over the city and all over the country. I do not recall an election where there this sort of thing happened for any candidate.

His rallies are jam-packed with numbers unprecedented in previous elections. Even in Hong Kong, when he was NOT present, his crowd far outnumbered that of another candidate who was physically there. A friend of mine who used to work for one of the candidates in a previous election said that they had to do some serious “engineering” (in other words, hakot) in order to gather a crowd of five thousand. Duterte easily draws crowds of twenty thousand organically, without need of enticements such as food, entertainment, giveaways or dole-outs.

And as if that were not enough, observe what happens after his rallies. Attendees pick up their own trash and leave the place spotlessly clean

One woman shared her experience after attending the Alabang rally. She was tired and was thinking of jaywalking to cross the street. However, she looked down at her Duterte shirt and thought that if she honestly wanted change, she would have to start with herself. She ended up climbing the overpass to get to the other side of the street.

Now tell me if a Binay, Mar or Poe can inspire this sort of epiphany. People are tired of machinery, of the political circus that only has us going in circles. The time is ripe for change. And yes, change starts with ourselves, but sometimes we need someone to inspire us to change. I am voting for the president who can provide that sort of inspiration.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

To Walk Or Not To Walk

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My friend, Red Tani, founder of Filipino Freethinkers (FF), recently came out with the article “The Ones Who Walk Away From Davao.” The title is a reference to an award-winning short story by Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”

The story talks about the utopian city of Omelas where everything is perfect. Everything you could ever hope to find in a city is there. The only catch is that in order for the city to maintain its peace and prosperity, there is a child in a small windowless room who is endlessly tortured — and everyone in Omelas is aware of this. In fact, they can go and see the child for themselves. Some who see the child go home angry at first but soon come to accept that this is the way things are, but there are others who see the child, and instead of going home choose to walk away from the city of Omelas.

And then of course, the reference is now made to Davao, to Duterte supporters, and their complicity in the alleged extrajudicial killings of the Davao Death Squad (DDS). When I showed the article to my other friend, Nick Solana (who is part of the staff of the late Davao City councilor Leo Avila), he pointed out a few things:

  1. Red writes, “Human Rights Watch has investigated a number of cases where the victims were unintended targets” — targets of what and by whom? Is one merely to assume that victims of gun-toting men in motorcycles are DDS victims? Is this not a case of confirmation-bias?
  2. Is there any evidence to establish that the DDS is what Red implies it to be — an LGU-sponsored death squad?
  3. The statement, “So the 16 definitely innocent victims and the 363 potentially innocent victims up to 2008 should be enough to make the Omelas analogy fair,” is not fair at all. To echo the questions in (1) — they are potentially innocent victims of what and by whom? Unless this is firmly established, Red seems to be the one being unfair, not only to a single person who also has rights, but to an entire people as well. If the evidence is so damning, why has there not been a proper case made and filed in court by all these groups or by any “concerned” individual?

As a former teacher of English literature, I appreciate the story very much for the way it makes one reflect and think. But as I learned from my own teacher, Dr. Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz, many years ago, it is possible for excellent literature to carry a multiplicity of meanings which contribute to its depth and richness.

On the one hand, it seems that the story’s main point is that those who walk away from Omelas are better or morally superior to those who don’t. But what if that is not the point at all? One disturbing question I have after reading the story is, why did these people walk away? Why did they not do something about the tortured child? Why did they not come together and organize a rescue operation? By simply walking away, are they not as guilty or as complicit as those who have accepted the reality of the situation?

For those who like to talk about justice to the victims, for example, what have you actually done about it aside from talking? Why not get organized and file a proper case? Or do you feel that because you have vented your side and complained about its injustice, that you have done your part and are now absolved from guilt? Haven’t you just walked away and ignored the poor child’s cry as much as the accepting citizens of Omelas are ignoring it?

And what is Omelas? Red uses it as a metaphor for Davao. But Omelas can mean other things as well. It can, for example, be symbolic of the status quo, with those who want to preserve it being the accepting citizens of Omelas, blind and deaf to the suffering of the rest of the nation because they are minimally affected or are enjoying its supposed benefits.

It is easy to want to paint things black and white. We either stay or walk away. That makes it easier for us to rationalize and justify our choices: e.g. Don’t vote for Duterte – he’s a killer! Don’t vote for Binay – he’s a thief! Don’t vote for Mar – he’s incompetent! Don’t vote for Grace – she’s a liar! Don’t vote for Miriam – she’s sick!

But that is so two-dimensional. In reality, our choices are affected by much more than that. There are multiple facets of reasoning involved. And it is a matter of weighing one over the other, deciding which pros to go for and which cons you can live with.

All of our present candidates have their own grave sins. Pick your poison. Should I then choose none at all? That, for me, is tantamount to walking away from the situation without really doing anything about it. Besides, I have walked away from the elections for more than a decade and have not voted since the time Erap ran and won as president.

This time though, I have decided to come back and do something about it. I have decided to go with a candidate whom I know and have experienced as having the people’s best interest at heart and proof of that is the improvements I and many others have seen and experienced in my own city. I believe in his sincerity to reform the systematic flaws in the presidential system and shift to a federal/parliamentary style of governance. I trust in him not to pocket government funds, as evidenced by the simplicity of his lifestyle and assets. Yes, he says crazy things (and many of his followers do as well), but I am for a person whose actions speak louder than words, rather than one who can spout flowery words while delivering little or no results at all (or disastrous ones).

Walking away does not solve anything nor does it absolve you of your responsibility. So no, let us not walk away from Omelas or Davao or the Philippines for that matter, despite its many flaws, ugliness and imperfections. The election is only for a day and the president is only one person. There is only so much he or she can do.

Let us stay, work together, and build a better nation.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao (although for some reason, they truncated it and left out the last few paragraphs).

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me

Is the Election Cheatable?

Photo Credit: Curtis Gregory Perry via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Curtis Gregory Perry via Compfight cc

With May 9 looming around the corner, I am quite concerned about rumors and warnings of massive cheating that some are predicting and spreading on social media. Fortunately, I happen to have a valued resource in my contact list whom I trust can shed light on what is possible or not possible in terms of cheating, even if we are already using the automated election system.

This person is Dr. Pablo Manalastas, my calculus professor way back in college at the Ateneo De Manila. Aside from mathematics, Doc Mana (as we fondly called him) is also an expert in computer science and programming. What many people do not know is that he, along with other well-meaning and conscientious programmers, spent many hours studying the source code of the software to be used in the voting and canvassing machines this coming election. They did this on a purely voluntary basis, without allowance or compensation, or even much appreciation or recognition. But what they did was a genuine service for the country and they deserve our gratitude.

A few days ago, I sent Doc Mana a message asking him what his assessment was of the possibility of cheating in the elections via hacking or some other means.

This is his reply (with edits made to explain the many acronyms used):

There are many programmers who have seen the source code of the Election Management System (EMS), Vote Counting Machines (VCM),and Consolidation and Canvassing System (CCS), including Rodel Aniban, Kendrick Chan, Wilhansen Li, Pepe Bawagan, Suzi Bermudez, Dr. William Yu, myself, and other programmers. These programmers are not just some mediocre programmers, because they are some of the best C/C++/Java programmers that you can find, anywhere.

Most of us have agreed, after reading the source code, that there is enough security in the source code to make cheating, using the source code alone, very difficult. However, there are ways of cheating without touching the Final Trusted Build, compiled from the source code.

General principle for cheating: Access to the Oracle databases of the EMS, the configuration files of the VCM and CCS, the voting records in the VCM, election returns (ER) of the VCM, certificates of canvass (COC) of the CCS, and transmission packages. All these are controlled by symmetric keys, and asymmetric key-pairs used for encryption and decryption, to control access. A few Comelec insiders with proper access, with the help of a few key people in the field, can change by “dagdag-bawas” both softcopy and hardcopy ERs and COCs. This is not easy to do, but it can be done.

  1. The ballot face contains the row-column positions of candidates, and these positions must be correctly entered into the VCM via configuration XML files (XML is a certain kind computer file format). Errors in these XML files, whether intentional or not, may cause votes for some candidates to go to a favored candidate. Fortunately, these errors will show in the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), even the simple VVPAT that the Comelec will issue. Note that these XML files are not part of the source code, but they can be used for cheating in the absence of VVPAT.
  2. The asymmetric keys (private-public key pair) that all Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) will use for digital signing of the precinct ERs, and that all Board of Canvassers (BOC) will use for digital signing of the COCs and Statement of Votes (SOV) will all be generated by Comelec, will be in Comelec’s safekeeping, and will be handed to the BEIs and BOCs in time for final testing and sealing, and for digital signing on election day.

Whoever has possession and control of the signing keys will have control of the ERs, COCs, and SOVs. Control means whoever has possession of these keys, or copies of them, can generate their own ERs, COCs, SOVs, and can make these appear as if they were generated in a real election precinct on election day. This is hard to do, but it can be done.

Cheating using this method can be wholesale cheating, at the level of municipal/provincial canvassing, and can be done without touching the source code. This form of cheating can be prevented using all of the following steps:

(a) Allow the BEIs and BOCs to generate their own private-public signing keys, allow each BEI and BOC to keep secret and safeguard his private key, and allow third party certificate authorities to certify the public keys.

(b) Post the original digitally signed ERs, COCs, and SOVs at the Transparency Server (TS) and at the Comelec Public Access Website (CPAW), and allow each person that downloads them to verify the correctness of the digital signature to ensure their authenticity, that no dagdag-bawas has taken place.

(c) Post all ERs, COCs, and SOVs at the TS and CPAW, including those that were hand-carried to the CCS due to failure of transmission. Handcarried ERs/COCs/SOVs can be transmitted to their intended destinations by the CCS to which they were hand-carried.

Dr. Manalastas further noted that (a) will most likely not be implemented due to lack of time:

The important thing here is that, using OpenSSL, each BEI/BOC member must generate his own key pair, and Comelec must have nothing to do with the safekeeping of the private keys. But this is not done at present. The Supreme Court, if a case is filed there, will probably decide in favor of Comelec’s current procedure of generating all keys, even those for use by the BEIs/BOCs, simply because of lack of time.

So I asked that if there is a scenario where it would be possible to cheat if (a) is not followed since this is already a near-certainty:

This is one possible scenario…Some Comelec operators preload several extra VCMs with prepared voting records, prepared pre-signed ERs, prepared manually pre-signed printed ERs, and transmit these ahead of the real precincts, and deliver the printed ERs via Comelec couriers to recipients like PPCRV, etc. This was allegedly the manner of cheating done in 2010. It is hard to do, but can be done.

And the reason why it is hard to do is that it requires the complicity of so many people in order to cheat. If only one of them breaks and leaks out the truth, then everything will come undone. However, Dr. Manalastas also warns us in another related post that if the perpetrators are able to pull it off, the public will be clueless. We will not know about it, even if we religiously follow (b) and (c).

Finally, I asked him he thinks are the chances of cheating in this coming election and he said:

If the Comelec Mafia is stricken with guilt and behaves in 2016, and if the Commissioners’ hearts and souls are in the right places, Comelec still has 30% of voter turnout to play with in its dagdag-bawas “extrapolation” to determine winners, the 30% that was not successfully transmitted. In 2013, the Comelec never really accounted for its final senatorial count. It could not, because it does not have correct data, with the extensive dirty lines problem of the PCOS machines. So it does educated guessing, something the law does not allow, but something that Comelec has repeatedly done, and gotten away with. What confidence do I have that there will be no cheating? My heart bleeds, my soul is dying, no one really cares, not even the Supreme Court.

That doesn’t sound too good to my ears.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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