AN election watchdog and information technology experts on Thursday hit the last-minute cancellation of a Senate hearing on the unauthorized introduction of a new script in the transparency server of the automated election system (AES).
The Mata sa Balota led by Rodolfo Javellana Jr. as well as IT experts lawyer Ivan Uy and Edmund Casiño said it was highly questionable for the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System (JCOC-AES) to postpone the hearing in the Senate, simply because the Commission on Election’s IT service provider, Smartmatic, would be unable to attend.
Uy said Senator Aquilino Pimentel III’s reason for cancelling the hearing was “flimsy,” since it was the Comelec, and not Smartmatic, that had control over the elections.
Pimentel, chairman of the joint panel, earlier said it would be “useless” if the investigation was pursued Thursday without Smartmatic, which backed of the hearing at the last minute.
Uy insisted the hearing could proceed since it was the Comelec that needs to answer the more important questions on the holding of the elections including the system employed in the exercise.
“I think the JCOC should have proceeded with the hearing because most of the questions we have can be answered by the Comelec because the official logs and the people running this election are supposedly the Comelec,” he said.
The leaders of Mata sa Balota were among those that filed a class suit againt Smartmatic, the Comelec and poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting for allowing a Smartmatic technician to introduce a new script into the transparency server that was used to tally and report unofficial results.
Casiño, for his part, said the last-minute excuse of Smartmatic to not attend the proceedings may be considered a sign of guilt.
He added that if Smartmatic was really interested in attending the hearing to clarify issues regarding its unauthorized actions, it could have easily sent representatives.
“Smartmatic has a big organization they can easily send representatives because not all of the corporation is required to attend. Are they not professional enough to send their lawyers to face the Senate probe so that time is not wasted?” Casiño said.
“The apparent reluctance of Smartmatic to attend the hearing is another proof that it is part of a conspiracy to subvert the true will of the Filipino people,” Javellana said.
“The joint investigation is very crucial and important and the backing out of Smartmatic is questionable,” he said.
Javellana said his group will pursue the electoral sabotage complaint it earlier filed against the Comelec, and PPCRV and Smartmatic officials.
“They must be made answerable. That’s why we are pursuing the case, even up to impeachment, just to find out the truth,” Javellana said in Filipino.
Vice presidential candidate Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday expressed disappointment over the cancellation of the JCOC hearing because of a last-minute notice from Smartmatic.
“With the hearing intending to clarify the alteration of the script in the transparency server, which impacts significantly on the sanctity and integrity of the electoral system, Smartmatic officials owe the public a clearer explanation, rather than a cursory excuse, why they can’t participate,” he said in a statement.
Marcos said Smartmatic has been quick to claim that the change was merely cosmetic and did not in any way alter the results of the elections. “If that is so, we expect them to be the ones eager to take advantage of the opportunity which the hearing is providing to settle the issue.”
“I hope Smartmatic would not make similar excuses should another hearing be scheduled. Otherwise, it would give more ground to concerns that the alteration of the script did cause more than just a cosmetic change,” said Marcos.
The cancellation, Pimentel said, came after officials of Smartmatic sent a letter that they will not be able to attend the hearing at the Senate, citing the proclamation of elected senators at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.
Pimentel said the Smartmatic promised “to attend in some future date.”
Smartmatic is the technology provider of the Comelec in the automated election this year, a role it played in 2010 and 2013.
Last Wednesday, Marcos submitted a demand letter to the Comelec asking the poll body to allow his team of experts to conduct an audit of the transparency server and the central server of the poll body used in the elections.
In a three-page letter addressed to Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, Marcos noted that the poll body has yet to answer his legal team’s letter dated May 17, 2016 asking the Comelec to shed light on the introduction of a new script into the transparency server around 7:30 p.m. of May 9.
Marcos said what is clear is that Smartmatic introduced the new script in breach of the pertinent protocols and without prior clearance from the poll body.
He said the implications of such a change, and the admitted breach of protocols “are gravely disconcerting to say the least.” Worse, Marcos said it cast doubts on the process and raised various questions.
“In view of these doubts and questions, and the admitted tampering of the transparency server including the breach of protocols relating thereto, I am formally requesting this honorable commission to permit my team of IT experts and programmers, within three days from receipt hereof, to conduct an audit of the transparency server and the central server under the close supervision of this Commission and its technical personnel,” Marcos said in his letter.
Among others, Marcos noted that the alteration removed the only security feature of the data, causing hash codes to change. Because of this Marcos said there is no assurance the data was not altered on other occasions.
If a single person can introduce “cosmetic changes,” Marcos wondered how can the public be assured the same person or other persons did not introduce substantial changes to the script or that the data was not affected as a result.
Noting that the poll body only admitted the alteration of the script of the transparency server after his camp raised the issue, Marcos said it also raised questions about the central server of the Comelec over which the political parties and candidates have no direct access.
Marcos pointed out that the supposed discrepancy where “ñ” was displaying “?” occurred only in the transparency server and not in the vote counting machines, the Consolidation and Canvassing System (CCS), the election returns (ER), and the ballots when they are part of the same system.
“Could it be that the transparency server was loaded with an entirely different program that was not presented to the political parties and candidates?” Marcos queried.
Lawyer Jose Amor Amorado, head of the internal quick count operation of Marcos, said the audit will settle the issue on whether the script change was indeed merely cosmetic or if it was more than that.
The Comelec and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting had earlier denied the hash code in the transparency server had changed but when a video of the change circulated online, they were forced to admit it later on.
The camp of Marcos presented a graph showing how the insertion of a change in the script or system coincided with the steady drop of his lead until he was overtaken by administration candidate Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo at 3:08 a.m. on May 10.
Marcos was able to build a substantial lead to around 1 million votes. But when the change in the script was introduced between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., his lead suddenly narrowed. Thereafter, beginning at 8:59 p.m., his lead decreased and after four updates, his lead was down to just 5,000 votes, they added.
Marcos campaign adviser and Abakada party list Rep. Jonathan Dela Cruz clarified that the senator’s camp is not accusing anybody of cheating and that they are only after the truth as well as the integrity and credibility of the results of the last elections.
He said the camp of Robredo could also send its IT experts to the audit, if they were interested.
Senator Sergio Osmeña III, who lost his re-election bid, bewailed reports of widespread cheating, saying the “Garci boys” were still operating within the Comelec―referring to former Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano or “Garci” who was embroiled in a cheating scandal in 2004.
He said the “Garci boys” in the Comelec were the culprits behind the cheating and said they had even offered him “protection” at P10 a vote.
“Let’s say, I want 1 million votes at P10, so that’s a total of P10 million. Others had a lot of money ‘so give me 5 million votes at P10,’ that’s P50 million,” he said.
When asked how the cheating was done, Osmena said: “I can just see the results. If I’m leading you by 2 million votes and then after election day, you’re leading me by 2 million votes, that’s four million votes..You gathered those votes in three days, four days? That’s impossible,” Osmeña blurted out.
“I’ve been in the business for a long time. I’ve been in politics for a long time. I know that’s impossible,” he said.
Osmeña also said the cheating was not limited to the senatorial race, but would not say it was used in the tight vice presidential race, where he supported Robredo.
Vote buying, he added, was prevalent in every province.
But Osmeña said he would no longer file an election protest, because the process would be too difficult since the alleged cheating took place all over the country.