Comelec backs Sotto charges of poll fraud

THE Commission on Elections announced Wednesday it was willing to look into the allegation made by Senator Vicente Sotto III that irregularities happened in the May 9, 2016 presidential polls.

James Arthur Jimenez, Comelec spokesperson and Information and Education Division director, said the poll body shared Sotto’s call to determine the accuracy of the allegations. 

“The Commission understands the grave importance of this matter and will, itself, strive to determine the veracity of these claims. To this end, the Comelec will reach out to Senator Sotto and ask for copies of any documents which may be available for close examination and careful evaluation. This is consistent with the Comelec’s commitment to the integrity of Philippine elections,” he said.

Meanwhile, lawyer Vic Rodriguez, spokesperson for former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in a statement: 

“Former Senator Bongbong Marcos is happy that he is no longer a voice in the wilderness.  He noted that other patriotic leaders and stakeholders have seen the extent of the conspiracy, interference and manipulation of the election results by Smartmatic and have begun to speak out.

“We congratulate Senator Tito Sotto for bringing the election anomalies to the attention of the public.” 

Informed observers have wondered why—despite all the evidence of massive cheating committed by Smartmatic, the Comelec still awarded them the contract to do the same thing all over again in the forthcoming 2019 elections.  We have never understood Comelec’s insistence in again awarding Smartmatic despite the multitude transgressions attributed to it.

All the issues raised by Sotto need to be investigated and all the questions he asked need to be answered by both Smartmatic and the Comelec.

But as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Jimenez, “All we have is his [Sotto] speech and the question and answer that came after. That [is] all we know about this particular case.”

Jimenez said based on Sotto’s privilege speech, there was no indication about the transmission, what it contained and how it affected the outcome of the election.

“What was mentioned was allegation of early transmission and instances of zero votes. We need first to find out what did happen?” 

“What is happening basically is release this information and let the public decide. But the public I think at this point, even the allegation itself, lacks a lot of context. Lacks a lot of explanation about what it was supposed to have done.” 

“Ultimately the election results, I don’t think these have been overturned. The errors have gone through random manual audit. There have been protests, protests that have been dismissed. In fact no protests actually prospered,” Jimenez explained. 

He said the best course of action for the Comelec was to reach out to Sotto and ask him to show what proof he had.

“Then we evaluate it. If we are going to evaluate together then let’s evaluate it together to determine what really transpired and the consequence of that was being alleged in this case,” added Jimenez.

Election watchdog Kontra Daya on Wednesday urged the Comelec to look into the allegation of Sotto.

“Senator Tito Sotto’s allegation of fraud in the 2016 national and local elections needs to be examined by the Comelec and an independent panel of experts. Now that Sotto has said his piece, it is now imperative for him to share whatever information he has to the concerned election monitoring groups,” Kontra Daya said in a statement.

“From the very start, we in Kontra Daya have stressed the vulnerability of the automated election system. We have also denounced the lack of transparency, not to mention the foreign intervention that informed our national and local polls with the awarding of the contract to Smartmatic,” the group added.

Smartmatic was the poll body’s private partner in the automated election in the country and the firm which provided the vote counting machines used in the elections.

Kontra Daya said “All allegations of fraud, whether coming from a senator or a voter, should be taken seriously and investigated consequently. The bottomline is clear. 

“We cannot afford to have an election system that is inherently vulnerable to fraud due to lack of transparency and preponderance of foreign intervention. If this continues, the powers-that-be will only make a mockery of the people’s right to suffrage.” 

In a privilege speech Tuesday, Sotto alleged that transmission of votes happened as early as May 8, 2016, a day before the automated elections, despite a Comelec en banc resolution stating that canvassers should only convene starting 3 p.m. of May 9 (election day).

Sotto said a certain Internet protocal (IP) address of clustered vote counting machines was captured transmitting data to the municipal board of canvassers in Libon, Albay on May 8.

The early transmissions had continued until the morning of May 9, with some VCMs registering votes in the municipality of Angono, Rizal.

Sotto said the two transmissions were only “examples of the numerous early transmissions to different municipal and provincial board of canvassers in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.” 

He said the Smartmatic also could not claim that such transmissions were part of testing transmission since the official testing ended on April 23, 2016.

The senator claimed this information was relayed to him by a reliable “source.”

Just recently, another lawmaker demanded the Comelec explain the P2.2-billion vote-counting machines it acquired from Smartmatic it used in the 2016 elections.

Rep. Sherwin Tugna, chairman of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, questioned the Comelec’s purchase of the VCMs in December 2016, or seven months after it was used in the national elections last year.

During a congressional hearing, Lim said he signed the contract on Jan. 12, but the decision was made by the Comelec en banc on Dec. 18, 2017,  after consultations with various offices, agencies and stakeholders.

Tugna said Congress oversight committee should have at least notified lawmakers of its decision to purchase the machines.

Two days after the May 9, 2016 elections, Kontra Daya revealed that there were five incidents in Metro Manila where the voters shaded (the oval) name of presidential candidate Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte but the vote counting machines print out administration candidate Manuel Roxas II on the receipts.

The group stated in its May 9 election monitoring report that the incidents where the voters voting for Duterte but the VCM printed out the name of Roxas happened in Burgos Elementary School in Manila, Barangay Sikatuna in Quezon City; precinct 1760-A in Barangay B12 in Caloocan City, and precinct 243 in Tipas, Taguig City.

Also in San Lorenzo, Bangui, Ilocos Norte, the vote receipt, which was supposed to have the name of vice presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr., showed the name of his rival Senator Gregorio Honasan of the United Nationalist Alliance.

There were also three incidents that the machines did not recognize the vote for senatorial candidate and incumbent Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Neri Colmenares in Manila and Amulung, Cagayan.

During the elections, Kontra Daya also received numerous incidents of malfunctioning VCMs all over the country, including the 16 cities and one municipality in the National Capital Region. 

It stated that most of the complaints were rejected ballots, paper jams, overheating and machine shutdowns.

Defective machines were also reported across 24 provinces:

Luzon: Batangas, Bulacan, Cagayan, Camarines Sur, Cavite, Naga, La Union, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Benguet, Ifugao, Abra, Ilocos Norte and Occidental Mindoro

Visayas: Tacloban, Northern Samar and Cebu.

Mindanao: Davao Oriental, Surigao del Sur, Davao del Sur, Davao City, Compostela Valley, North Cotabato and Davao del Norte.

The machines also broke down after overheating in the case of Bayanihan Elementary School in Matina, Davao and the towns of Solsona, Vintar, Batac, Pagudpud and Paoay in Ilocos Norte.

Discrepancies and failure to print vote receipts, and miscounting of votes happened in NCR: 

Mariano Marcos High School, Arellano Elementary School, Araullo High School and Celedonio Elementary School, all in Manila; Batasan National High School, San Francisco Elementary School and Commonwealth High School in Quezon City; 

Parañaque National High School; San Lorenzo Ruiz Elementary School and Rosario Elementary School in Pasig City; Brgy. Malamig in Mandaluyong City; Sta. Quiteria in Caloocan City; and San Jose in Navotas. 

Same incidents were also reported in Pangasinan.

Miscounted votes for senators and Party-List happened in Barangay Bunugan, Baggao, Cagayan.

In Barangay Kayrilao, Nasugbu, some precincts resorted to manual voting due to VCM breakdown and due to the absence of replacement machines. 

In a precinct from Tuao, Cagayan, a VCM machine stopped functioning after processing the first 50 votes. Ground reports from Dontogan, Green Valley Baguio, observed the “total failure” of VCMs.

A machine inside the poll precinct where vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo cast her vote broke down and took almost two hours to replace. 

Some cluster precincts in Parañaque, Makati and Bulacan also experienced voting delays due to ballots being rejected by the VCMs.

Topics: James Arthur Jimenez , Comelec , VCMs , Senator Vicente Sotto III ,
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