By Jaime Pilapil & Llanesca Panti | The Manila Times
An election watcher on Tuesday accused the Commission on Elections of lying when it said that 1,356 extra vote-counting machines (VCMs) kept in a Santa Rosa, Laguna warehouse were not used in the May 2016 polls, following the discovery that some secure digital (SD) cards in the machines contained data.
Lawyer Glenn Chong, a former Biliran congressman, said at least one SD card was tampered with, which he said was evidence the election system provided by Comelec contractor Smartmatic was “very much open to hijacking or sabotage.”
In a statement, Chong pointed out that at an average of 500 votes per SD card, 5,000 extra SD cards could have produced 2.5 million votes for favored candidates by switching machines.
“With 5,000 unnecessary extra SD cards accompanying 5,000 extra VCMs, switching bogus results contained in these extra SD cards with the genuine results under the guise of replacing malfunctioning VCMs is a feat that is all too easy to accomplish. All it requires is for the cheats to feign a malfunction in order to get a replacement machine with an SD card bearing bogus results in it,” he said.
Chong backed the statement Monday of the camp of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who is protesting the election victory of Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.
Marcos lawyer Vic Rodriguez said the discovery of data in the SD cards was proof of fraud.
To recall, 127 SD cards in the same number of VCMs that were “stripped” last October ahead of their return to Smartmatic were found to contain either intact or corrupted data.
On Monday, the Comelec scheduled the decryption of the 127 suspect SD cards. But the Senate Electoral Tribunal, which is hearing the election protest of former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chief Francis Tolentino against Sen. Leila de Lima, ordered that 93 of these SD cards be preserved, so only 26 suspect SD cards were decrypted.
“Of these 26, 13 were found to be blank while the remaining 13 indeed contained data. The question arises as to how come an initial determination having been made three months ago that these 13 suspect SD cards contained data, they have suddenly become blank three months later. Definitely, someone is pulling dirty magic tricks right before our eyes,” Chong said.
Chong revealed that of the 13 suspect SD cards that contained data, at least one, with Serial No. BUF0631C, was tampered with.
Smartmatic’s representative, he noted, confirmed that they used only the Linux operating system in formatting SD cards. “Yet, this one showed evidence that it was accessed using a Windows operating system (OS). The Windows OS left its visible telltale marks on this SD card for everybody to see,” Chong said.
Yet the poll body, he noted, assured all parties that the chain of custody of all SD cards from Laguna to Intramuros was never broken.
“BUF0631C clearly exposed this lie of the Comelec,” Chong said.
The Robredo camp on Tuesday dismissed the allegations.
“The camp of Marcos must have a bionic mind or bionic eyes to be able to read these encrypted data and immediately claim that there were electoral frauds committed in the said election. For sure, no electoral fraud was committed by Vice President Robredo,” said Romulo Macalintal, Robredo’s lawyer.
“We stand by our position that all the votes cast for and received by Robredo were valid votes and we are confident that the results of the verification and examination of the ballots will confirm her victory and the defeat of Marcos in the last election,” Macalintal added.
An election protest, he argued, is not decided on the basis of SD cards, but the ballots cast in the VCMs with the results compared with election returns, statement of votes and other election documents.
Robredo beat Marcos by 263,473 votes in the May 2016 polls.
Rodriguez, however, countered: “The Filipino people should not be faulted if they conclude that these tampered SD cards are truly Robredo’s so called ‘silent majority,’” he said.
“The unused and undeployed VCMs with unused SD cards should not contain data at all since they are supposedly ‘virgins and sealed’ as certified by both Comelec and Smartmatic. The discovery of programs and/or files in them suggest only one thing, there was tampering,” said Rodriguez said.
Chong said the decryption process was reset to another day because the decryption script or tool did not work. Decryption is the process of converting encoded or encrypted text or data into text that a person or a computer can read and understand.
“In plain language, the computer said it cannot decrypt what is not encrypted in the first place. There may be several reasons for these to happen but two possibilities stand out. One, the decryption script or tool was poorly made resulting in this kind of problem. Two, the decryption script or tool refused to recognize an already tampered SD card. BUF0631C strongly makes a case for the second possibility to explain why the decryption tool or script did not work at all,” he explained.
Marcos lawyers had opposed the stripping of the unused VCMs as it was supposedly conducted in violation of the protective precautionary order issued by the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, to preserve the integrity of the ballot boxes and other equipment used in the last elections.
Despite the objections of the Marcos camp, the Comelec proceeded with the stripping and turnover of the VCMs last October 26.