Public school teachers count the votes during the random manual audit for the national and local elections at the Diamond Hotel in Manila yesterday.
Edd Gumban
Palace: Poll results credible despite VCM, server issues
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Despite vote-counting machine (VCM) glitches and issues with the election transparency server, Malacañang believes the results of the midterm polls, where its allies are dominating the senatorial race so far, are credible.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday said only a small percentage of VCMs had technical problems and noted that glitches would not stop the transmission of votes because poll officers could count the votes manually.

With regard to the problems that hounded the transparency server, Panelo said the counting delay would not affect voting results.

“If you ask me, if there are three receivers from one source, and two of them worked, it doesn’t matter if there are delays. If there is a delay but it’s the same number of votes, what’s the problem with that?” the spokesman said.

The problems in the VCMs have been blamed on low-quality secure digital (SD) cards. The delay in the transmission of real-time poll results to media outfits, meanwhile, was attributed to an application error.

The National Secretariat for Social Action Justice and Peace, the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, has urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to defer the proclamation of winning senators until the allegations of irregularities are probed.

Panelo said it would be up to the Comelec to decide on the appeal.

“The President will never interfere in an electoral process,” he said.

The Duterte administration, however, supports an investigation on the alleged cheating in Lanao del Sur that was caught on video. The video, which has gone viral in social networks, showed a woman supposedly pre-shading some ballots.

“The Comelec should investigate that, that’s their turf, we cannot interfere,” Panelo said, adding the poll body should do more to educate voters. He also noted that more than one million people overvoted in the senatorial race.

“I think the Comelec should do something about that. Imagine, you cannot count 1.1 million (votes). It will make a big difference,” he said.

Comelec sets probe

The Comelec is set to investigate allegations of pre-shading of ballots in Lanao del Sur.

“We are not dismissing outright the video as fake. We are not ready to make that determination yet. We will look into the details first,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said at a press conference yesterday.

The Comelec would seek the assistance of Facebook or refer the video to proper agency for forensic experts to determine its authenticity, according to Jimenez.

The 39-second video showing a woman supposedly pre-shading several ballots went viral, but it was later taken down.

Jimenez said the video has not proven any irregularity, but the Comelec would still conduct an investigation. If the video is proven authentic, he said the Comelec would look into the possible extent of the pre-shading and whether it affected the results of elections in the area where it happened.

Jimenez, however, said it is unlikely that the incident could affect the results of Monday’s elections in other areas.

“You cannot just cite an incident in one area and project it for the entire country. If this really happened, we should identify the extent and identify the affected areas,” he explained.

“If proven that it affected the results of the polls in that area, then we will suspend the proclamation, but that is very unlikely,” he added.

Jimenez said the Comelec needs to clarify first who took and uploaded the video and where the incident supposedly happened.

“Based on the accompanying caption, there is very little that we could tell; there may be questions that have to be answered,” he pointed out.

Jimenez encouraged the person behind the video to come out and file appropriate complaint if the pre-shading indeed happened.

PPCRV: Canvass credible

Echoing the sentiments of Malacañang, election watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) yesterday said the canvassing of votes has so far been “credible.”

PPCRV media director Agnes Gervacio said there has been “minimal discrepancies” between physical election returns (ERs) and electronically transmitted results they received and validated so far.

Gervacio revealed that as of 4 p.m. yesterday, they had recorded discrepancies only in two ERs out of the more than 8,000 ERs encoded by PPCRV volunteers.

“But this is no cause for concern. This is still way above the threshold set for the integrity of the system. This has no impact,” she told reporters at a press conference.

“Except for the two returns, everything that has been received and encoded has a total match to what is being shown electronically on the board. Everything is matching; we have no reason to have any concern whatsoever. So far, so good,” she added.

The PPCRV would refer the discrepancy they found to the Comelec for verification, according to Gervacio.

She stressed that they have also not seen any irregularities in the condition of ERs, saying “everything was properly sealed.”

As of yesterday afternoon, the PPCRV has received over 20 percent of the physical election returns from clustered precincts all over the country.

In the ongoing quick count of PPCRV at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila, volunteers encode the ERs – which were printed before vote-counting machines (VCMs) transmitted results to the Comelec servers on election day – into computers for checking against the electronically transmitted results.

As of 11:04 a.m. yesterday, the PPCRV has received electronic transmission from 85,568 of 86,769 local clustered precincts. There are also 1,771 expected returns from overseas absentee voting.

Access granted

Also yesterday, the PPCRV has been granted access to the audit logs of the transparency server by the Comelec for its investigation on the seven-hour delay in the electronic transmission of election results last Monday evening.

PPCRV chair Myla Villanueva announced that the poll body has granted their request to get the logs of the transparency server to determine what happened during the delayed transmission.

“We’re gonna get the logs from the transparency server. Our information technology team will work over the weekend to check on these logs,” she said.

An IT expert herself, Villanueva explained that the audit logs will show what actually happened to the glitch in the transmission of results last Monday.

“We always want to know the root cause of the glitch because it’s important for the public to know if it was only a technical issue or if there’s something more,” she pointed out.

Villanueva further bared that they have also requested the poll body for a copy of the central server.

The PPCRV head lauded the Comelec for its transparency on this issue.

Meanwhile, the PPCRV has deferred commenting on reported calls for suspension of proclamation of winners amid allegations of fraud and also for replacement of Smartmatic as technology provider of the automated election system due to glitches.

“We have no comment yet or statement on the calls for suspension of proclamation. What we want in PPCRV is to further study the transparency logs to determine what really happened in the glitches,” PPCRV executive director Maribel Buenaobra stressed.

“We also cannot comment on (calls for the replacement of Smartmatic). Our volunteers in the field only observed that about 1,000 VCMs malfunctioned... But perhaps because of the environment, particularly the heat, some of the VCMs would really malfunction,” Buenaobra added.

Lastly, the PPCRV said they would verify reports of disenfranchisement of over one million votes in the senatorial polls due to over-voting, which critics attributed to failure in voters’ education campaign of poll watchdogs.

“We cannot say that this is the fault of voters education program because there could be many factors involved. People could have been confused because of the many positions in the ballot,” Gervacio said.

Disenfranchisement fears

Poll watchdog National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) yesterday expressed fears that the incidents of VCMs that malfunctioned during election day could have resulted in disenfranchisement of a big number of voters.

“While the count of the VCMs that broke down or malfunctioned, corrupted (SD) cards and the problematic voter registration and verification machines in pilot areas continue to tick, we have yet to determine the full impact of those problems on the voters, especially in remote areas of the country. We have yet to determine if those problems resulted in disenfranchisement,” Namfrel national council member Lito Averia said in a news conference.

Namfrel volunteers in far-flung areas are still waiting for the replacement of VCMs and SD cards so that the votes of the people can be truthfully counted, according to Averia.

Namfrel national chairman Augusto Lagman pointed out: “The margin is very slim, especially in the 10th to 15th places in the senatorial race. The results of the remaining untransmitted SD cards are very important because the differences in the figure are small, so that will matter.”

JR Contreras of the Namfrel Systems Committee said those untransmitted are the most worrisome because these are not visible to them.

“It is important that we are aware of what happened to it. It is a big reason to get worried because there is no visibility,” Contreras said.

There is a need for the Comelec to fully explain the Java error that caused the delivery of election returns to various recipients to stall, according to Namfrel.

“We call on the Comelec to reveal the location of its central server and its backup, and who are managing their operations,” Averia said.

No problem in manual audit

Another poll watchdog, Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), has found no problem yet in the start of the random manual audit (RMA), which the Comelec has tasked the group to oversee.

“So far, we have not seen any discrepancy in our review,” Lente executive director Ona Caritos said in an interview with radio station dzBB yesterday.

The STAR learned that teachers, serving as RMA teams composed of three members, yesterday continued to audit the ballot boxes assigned to them last Wednesday.

Some teachers and ballot boxes, containing around 600 to 800 ballots, have been pulled out, finishing their role of tallying votes from each ballot and checking if their tally matched with voters’ receipts and ERs printed by VCMs. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Edu Punay, Rhodina Villanueva, Ghio Ong

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