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The Manila Times - No one is complaining — until now

News & Interviews
4 August 2018

By Al S. Vitangcol 3rd | The Manila Times

First of 2 parts

SEN. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd conducted a joint public hearing among the committees on electoral reform and people’s participation, social justice, welfare and rural development, finance, public information and mass media on Tuesday. It was attended by officials from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), election technology provider Smartmatic, and the usual personalities and advocates of electoral reforms.

As expected, it became the tandem of Comelec and Smartmatic versus TanDem (Tanggulang Demokrasya). Lawyer Glenn Chong of TanDem reinforced the revelations made by Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd in his privilege speeches delivered on March 6 and 14, 2018.

Sotto had exposed the purported irregularities in the 2016 national and local elections, including the existence of queueing servers, early transmission of votes, and a foreign remote access to the election servers. He claimed that his source provided him with system logs showing these perceived anomalies.

Chong’s reinforcement

Former Biliran congressman Glenn Chong, representing TanDem, made a detailed discussion of the system logs in his possession and compared it point by point with Sotto’s revelations. In the end, Chong proved that Sotto’s exposé was supported by the entries in the system logs.

Of course, again as expected, Comelec and Smartmatic would not admit any errors on their part, much less the alleged early transmission of votes and secret servers.

Chong asserted that 459 transmissions from the municipality of Ragay, Camarines Norte were made on the early morning of May 8, a day before the 2016 elections. However, as shown on the logs, and as admitted by Comelec, no vote counting machines from Ragay were “powered on” on May 8. So, the big question now is who sent the transmissions early on that day?

Sen. Franklin Drilon was quick to ask Chong where he got his data. Well, to the surprise of the senators, the system logs came from Comelec itself. It turned out that the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), in the election protest case of Francis Tolentino v. Leila de Lima, had subpoenaed those logs and Comelec had submitted them to the SET.

“These are mortal wounds on our elections system,” said Chong.

Playing hide-and-seek

Where are the system logs covering the fateful day of May 8, 2018? It seemed that Comelec does not want to make them public. Sotto demanded that Comelec submit the relevant logs immediately. He said the Comelec submission should come “complete with answers and ammunitions.”

The counsel for Smartmatic, Lazatin, claimed that all of those allegations, and even the supposed facts of cheating, simply raised doubts and that there was no concrete evidence to show that the voting changed or that there was cheating. He said that all data that were transmitted were encrypted, and even if they were stored in an Amazon server, they were still encrypted. He added: “The source code review should have exposed it.”

What source code review was Lazatin talking about? Even if a source code review is done a hundred times, these abnormalities would not be revealed. In fact, we are not even be sure that the voting machines are still running the same software that was placed in escrow with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino, Jr. maintained that there were no complaints lodged before them. “I have yet to hear someone say that the election return that were transmitted to the canvassing center that were officially canvassed, did not match,” he said.

Former Comelec commissioner Augusto Lagman rebutted Tolentino by saying that “Nobody complains because nobody saw the counting.”

No one is complaining — until now.

Sotto’s sources

Lawyer Levi Baligod is back in his usual form as a whistleblower’s counsel. However, the whistleblowers were not there. This became a point of query from Sen. Francis Pangilinan. Why is there a lawyer without his witnesses?

Baligod claimed that he represents possible material witnesses who can confirm Sotto’s allegations. The senator then confirmed that his sources were in fact Baligod’ clients.

According to Baligod, the witnesses cannot surface yet because they are bound to a contractual obligation prohibiting them to disclose any information pertaining to the elections. His witnesses are credible and knowledgeable because they were part of the group that developed the software for Comelec and their operations.

The quest continues

The Fight for Filipino Ingenuity towards Trusted Elections (FITE) continues. The election advocates, as an offshoot of this Senate hearing, are convening again to plan their next moves. The group will be pushing for possible alternatives to Smartmatic-supplied election systems, including hybrid systems.

Even Sotto expressed some willingness to use hybrid systems. I know that some congressmen share the same sentiment, too. What then? Do we just wait and see what happens in 2019?