Philippine VP polls: Did script change in Comelec server cause shift in results?

The camp of Vice Presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos believes that Smartmatic illegally introduced script change in Comelec’s transparency server to give an impression that rival candidate Leni Robredo was leading the polls. It has filed a criminal complaint against Smartmatic’s executive and wants its own IT team to audit the servers. However, Comelec says Smartmatic’s “cosmetic change” did not affect the votes. It would be best for the two candidates now to wait for the official canvass

MANILA–The camp of Philippine Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos filed a criminal complaint against Venezuelan national Marlon Garcia, an executive of Smartmatic, a Venezualan firm tapped to provide the technology for an automated Presidential election in the Philippines.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos

Garcia was identified as the one who altered the script in the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Philippines poll body’s transparency servers on the evening of May 9, the date of the elections, to correct the “ñ” in the names of the candidates. The alteration, according to the Marcos camp was in violation of the Comelec protocols.

“We are filing this because we want to know the truth what happened then,” Marcos’ campaign adviser Abakada Party-list Representative Jonathan Dela Cruz said.

Aside from Marlon Garcia, also facing a complaint for violation of the Automated Election System (AES) — particularly Section 28 of RA 9369 which prohibits acts that include “interfering with, impeding, absconding for purpose of gain, preventing the installation or use of computer counting devices and the processing, storage, generation and transmission of election results, data or information” — include Elie Moreno and Neil Banigued, member of the Smartmatic technical support team and Roui Peñalba, information technology of the Comelec.

Marcos is in a-neck-and-neck fight with administration candidate Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo, a lawyer for the poor and widow of a politician who died in a plane crash.

When transmission of votes started after voting precinct all around the country closed, Marcos was in the lead. A day later, Robredo had overtaken him and maintained the lead since then albeit close.

Dela Cruz said it is highly irregular that after the script was changed last May 9, the transmission of votes stopped for about 10 minutes.

Marcos, the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, wants the Comelec to allow his team of Information Technology (IT) experts to audit the transparency server and the central server that was used in the elections. Marcos was confident of a victory especially after he was endorsed by the influential religious group Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), known for bloc voting with over a million members who are registered voter. His victory will take him a step to the presidency 30 years after his father was thrown out of office by a popular revolt.

Atty. Jose Amor Amorado, head of the BBM Quick Count Center, said they will also request the poll body for additional access to other components of the Automated Election System in addition to a system audit of the transparency server and central server which include the reported servers containing “rogue” votes and the procedures taken by the Comelec to correct anomalies.

Leni Robredo

Leni Robredo

The move of the Marcos camp was welcomed by Robredo. Robredo said the system audit would be a welcome move to show that there really was no irregularity in the election results.

“Sang ayon ako na may audit system para maalis ang lahat ng duda tungkol sa integridad ng proseso ng eleksyon [I agree that there should be a system audit so all doubts on the integrity of the election process would be cleared],” Robredo told reporters.

Robredo is the running mate of former Interior Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas. They are running under the Liberal Party banner, the political party of President Benigno Aquino III.

The Marcos camp believes that the Liberal Party’s machinery is working to ensure Robredo’s victory.

While Robredo has already claimed victory seven days after the elections, she said she will not allow herself to be a beneficiary of cheating.

Seven days after the elections, Robredo’s camp said it would be “mathematically impossible” for Marcos to overtake her lead even if there are still nine towns which have yet to transmit their votes.

Robredo’s camp said even if she gets zero votes from the remaining towns, she will still win by about 24,000 votes.

Marcos’ lawyer, former Comelec chief Sixto Brillantes Jr., said Robredo cannot claim victory yet because Congress has not even started convening as a canvass body.

Under the Philippine law, Congress is the one to canvass the votes for President and Vice President.

“She cannot be that presumptuous. How can Robredo claim victory when not a single official canvass document has been opened,” Brillantes asked.

But fellow election law expert Atty. Romulo Macalintal, lead counsel for Robredo, said the proclamation of the 12 Senators has already “negated all accusations of system errors or irregularities that allegedly affected the votes credited to all candidates in the May 9 elections and that included the votes credited to vice presidential Leni Robredo and Bongbong Marcos.”

“The election system which recorded and transmitted the votes for senator and party list groups was the same system that recorded and transmitted the votes for vice president. The Comelec officials who canvassed and transmitted the canvassed votes for senatorial and party list bets were the same Comelec officials who transmitted the certificates of canvass of canvassed votes for President and Vice President to Congress for the presidential canvass.”

“For sure, said documents cannot be valid only for purposes of senators, party list and President and invalid for VP bets. What is sauce for the gander is likewise sauce for the goose,” he said.

He added that even watchers and lawyers of any of the candidate did not object to the canvassing made by the Comelec.

“Hence, any accusation of cheating, errors or irregularities in transmitting or canvassing said votes is baseless and has no factual or legal basis. In a word, the vote lead of Ms. Robredo as recorded in the Certificates of Canvass (COCs) to be canvassed by Congress clearly shows her election as vice president,” Macalintal said.

Congress will start canvassing of votes for President and Vice President on May 25.

Will another Marcos be defeated in the elections by a yellow-wearing widow 30 years after his father was defeated by Corazon Aquino, widow of Senator Benigno Aquino?

In the Philippines, there are more candidates who claimed they were cheated during the elections than  those who accept defeat and conceded. In this case, will this be an issue that will reach the Supreme Court, sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), the body that handles protest against proclaimed President and Vice President?

As Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) national chairperson Henrietta de Villa has said, it would be best for the two candidates to wait for the official canvass.

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