Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista tried his best to answer allegations of cheating in the vice presidential race yesterday. But I think all Bautista succeeded in doing was to raise more questions about what happened when elections contractor Smartmatic fiddled around with the computer code of the transparency server used by media and poll watchdog groups to come up with their controversial “quick count.”
The revelation by this paper that a Smartmatic employee, on the night of May 9, election day, changed the hash code of the transparency server used by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and the media is disturbing. The circumstances surrounding the change are alarming, as well.
According to the unidentified IT expert who made the disclosure, Smartmatic project director Marlon Garcia, a Venezuelan, inserted a new script to the program being used by Comelec to tally the results at around 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 9, without proper authorization from the poll agency. According to both Smartmatic and Comelec, Garcia made the change because the automated election system provider wanted to show the “enye” symbol, which they said was turning up as a question mark in the names of candidates in the election.
If that was the objective, then it certainly is laudable. But there were other questions that Garcia’s action raised that were not answered by Comelec and its systems provider.
Here are some of them:
How did the offending symbol escape the notice of Comelec when it tested the program - thoroughly, according to its claims?
Why did Garcia not ask formal and competent permission from Comelec, which already owns the AES that Smartmatic created for it and which had already placed the source code in escrow, to prevent further, unauthorized changes on it?
What was the reason for making the change so late on election day - coincidentally, shortly before the alleged inexplicable rise in the votes of vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo started?
And finally - and this question is really important - if a Smartmatic employee successfully changed the program to fix a typographical glitch, what guarantee do we have that nothing else was changed?
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That said, I think the pro-administration and pro-Leni Robredo crowd have got it all wrong when they say that questions about the alleged rigging of the vote are intended solely to boost the chances of Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the vice presidential contest. There is that, of course - but there’s more.
The rigging controversy, while it was first raised by Marcos after his camp noted the strange statistical phenomena surrounding his decline and Robredo’s rise the night after the polls closed, will not only have an impact on that race. It could actually call into question the accuracy of the entire election.
That is certainly something that Comelec and its automation provider cannot allow. And these two entities cannot simply issue blanket denials that any rigging has taken place and expect people to take their word for it.
Of course, Comelec, Smartmatic and Robredo’s camp have at various times called on Marcos and everyone else questioning the veracity of the count to produce evidence and file charges before Congress, instead of going to the media. But when has it been prohibited to question the actions of the overseers of the elections and its pricey automation provider as soon as the problems arise?
Even people who have a clear anti-Marcos bias - but who are known for their highly-developed sense of fairness overall - are asking that the very serious questions about the accuracy of the count not be waved off with quick denials and instead be given due course. One of these is prominent social media commentator Inday Espina-Varona, who posted this on Facebook May 12: “It’s like this. Let Marcos exhaust all the processes that the law allows him to ensure a clean election. We don’t want to copy what his dictator-father did, do we? Let’s give him what the dictatorship denied us. Let’s show him that a democracy is different. As for those calling on Marcos to concede even if the count is not yet finished and the margin is still very small, this is my question: If it was Robredo who was in Marcos’ situation, would you concede?”
What’s sauce for the Bicolana goose should be sauce for the Ilocano gander, after all. And if we wait until Congress or the courts decide on matters that require urgent explanation and action, we might as well not question anything at all.