By Vince Alvic A. F. Nonato, Reporter

Comelec: No cheating Marcos by script tweak

Posted on May 13, 2016

“THERE IS NO cheating whatsoever.”

Comelec Chairman Andres D. Bautista (right) explains the “cosmetic changes” made to the script. Joining him are Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim (left) and Smartmatic -- TIM Corp. Project Manager Elie Moreno (center). -- Vince Alvic Alexis F. Nonato
Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres D. Bautista stressed this as he denied that a tweak to the programming script led to the rise of Camarines Sur 3rd District Rep. Maria Leonor G. Robredo to become the vice-presidential front-runner.

In a briefing on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Bautista explained that only a “cosmetic change” was made to the script of the programming receiving election returns. This occurred on Monday, 7:30 p.m.

Specifically, Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp.’s technical support team led by Marlon Garcia corrected the script, as the letter “ñ” in candidates’ names showed up as question marks (“?”).

“The correction involves a mere cosmetic change. It does not change the counting of the votes and the source code of the automated election system,” Mr. Bautista said.

To recall, the legal team of Senator Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. blamed the change in the script for causing the erstwhile front-runner’s lead to erode until Ms. Robredo, the ruling Liberal Party’s vice-presidential candidate, overtook him on Tuesday, 3:30 a.m.

As of Thursday, 5:45 p.m., Ms. Robredo continues to lead by a razor-thin margin of 200,000 votes. She garnered 13,992,311 votes, while Mr. Marcos got 13,775,388, according to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting’s (PPCRV) partial and unofficial count with 95.87% of returns received.

Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim said they will release both the original and modified scripts so technology experts can see for themselves if the change could really impact the results.

At the same time, Mr. Lim said Smartmatic-TIM admitted to committing lapses when they edited the programming script.

“There were lapses in the protocol. The parties were only informed after the change was made,” Mr. Lim said.

According to a two-page memorandum by Comelec technology officer Rouie J. Peñalba, the character issue came about after a member of Rappler’s technical staff approached him about the data package.

Mr. Garcia corrected the script so it can read the “ñ” character, although Mr. Peñalba said he did not instruct the Smartmatic team to do so “because I did not have the authority to do it.”

Afterwards, they announced the script change to the parties, observers and media personnel inside the PPCRV’s command center.

Smartmatic-TIM Project Manager Elie Moreno explained that the team “proactively went ahead” as it considered the issue to be minor. “They thought it was cosmetic and not going to cause any doubt,” he said.

Mr. Bautista said they will “look into” the possible liabilities Smartmatic may have incurred in breaking the protocol.

“Should Smartmatic have formally informed the Comelec about this? They made a decision that it was a minor change that did not necessitate the approval of the Comelec,” he noted.

Former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Y. Larrazabal commented on Twitter that the Smartmatic official who cleared the change “without getting authority from Comelec heads clearly does not respect Comelec.”

Tellingly, Mr. Marcos’s official Twitter account retweeted that post.

Things were not peachy at the Comelec’s official canvassing of votes for the senatorial and party-list elections either.

The Comelec, convening as the National Board of Canvassers (NBoC) on Thursday, received the physical copies of the certificate of canvass (CoC) from the province of Davao del Sur.

The NBoC had to call on the provincial election supervisor Allan C. Kadon to personally deliver their set of results, as 1,797 test ballots -- used for the preliminary logic and accuracy test (pre-LAT) -- were mixed in with the true results of the electronically transmitted CoC.

Results for the province, where 310,010 voted on Monday, was not canvassed right away as the NBoC had to wait for the affected CoC to be fully transmitted to the canvassing center in Pasay City.

Once the electronic transmission has been received, the NBOC will also subject the CoC to examination by observers and candidates’ representatives, as it did to the CoC delivered by Mr. Kadon.

“You can compare, you can comment on it,” Mr. Bautista told the canvassing observers.

Meanwhile, Laguna provincial election supervisor Gloria G. Ramos-Petallo asked the NBoC to reconvene the Provincial Board of Canvassers (PBoC) after finding a discrepancy with the results of Rizal town.

Although 10,148 voted in the town, its municipal board of canvassers transmitted results coming from 68 voters.

Ms. Petallo said the Laguna PBoC discovered this after seeing a discrepancy between the transmitted results and the hard copy of election returns. At that point, the NBoC had already canvassed the Laguna CoC for the purposes of the senatorial and party-list elections.

Mr. Bautista directed Ms. Petallo to put her request into writing for the Comelec en banc to decide.

There has been no canvassing report presenting an official tally for the senatorial and party-list elections, as of press time.

The PPCRV’s transparency server showed the following senatorial candidates breaking into the top 12, as of Thursday, 5:45 p.m.: Senate President Franklin M. Drilon; former Technical Education and Skills Development Authority secretary Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva; Senator Vicente C. Sotto III; former senators Panfilo M. Lacson, Richard J. Gordon, and Juan Miguel F. Zubiri; world-renowned boxer Emmanuel D. Pacquiao; former Akbayan Rep. Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel; former senator Francisco N. Pangilinan; Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin T. Gatchalian; Senator Ralph G. Recto; and former Justice secretary Leila M. de Lima.

Meanwhile, amid the widening controversy over the vice-presidential vote count, the running mate of presumptive president-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte issued a statement on Thursday “humbly” conceding his “vice-presidential bid to Ms. Robredo.

Senator Alan Peter S. Cayetano in his statement said Ms. Robredo, by all accounts and with 96% of the votes already tallied, is our country’s presumptive Vice President-elect. Representative Leni is not only leading the race, she has clearly won it.”

“I call on the people to rally behind our newly elected leaders. It is in this crucial hour that our voice is needed the most. Let us work together and let the process of real change begin,” the statement also said.

Mr. Cayetano continued to place third with 5,663,670 votes as of 6:45 p.m. of Thursday, according to the PPCRV count.

Ms. Robredo in her statement in Filipino said she thanks Mr. Cayetano, adding: “We remain open to helping him for the continued progress in the lives of our countrymen.”

“We are hoping that this would end at the soonest time possible and that closure would begin for our nation.”