Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Juan Andres Bautista on Thursday admitted that a “new script” was introduced to the transparency server being run by the Church-based Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) but stressed that it did not affect the transmission of election results.
Bautista also admitted that technology provider Smartmatic Corp. made the change on its own without a written authorization from the Comelec en banc.
Under the law, the Commission has the authority to act on all election-related matters. Any change pertaining to the elections need the approval of the Comelec en banc before it can be implemented.
The Comelec chief said Smartmatic assumed that changing the script was only a minor act that did not necessitate the approval of the Comelec.
“It was a minor cosmetic change that does not in anyway affect the results,” Bautista added, even as he pointed out that “the prudent course of action was to inform first the Comelec,”
But Senior Commissioner Christian Robert Lim said that Smartmatic committed a breach in protocol because it failed to give prior notice before they tinkered with the script.
Lim explained that the moment a change in the script is made, the original hashcode is also automatically changed.
Smartmatic project direct Elie Moreno admitted that they had no written authority from the Comelec before their technical support personnel made an adjustment to the script as a result of a discrepancy discovered “about the presence of certain question marks in some candidate’s names where the letter “ñ” should have appeared.
Moreno said that the discrepancy was reported to them by a Comelec IT officer.
He said the correction was made and all subsequent data packages would reflect the candidate’s names with “ñ” instead of “?”. He stressed that the change in the script did not alter the result for any candidate.
The issue has cast doubts on the credibility of the election results, but Bautista said that the records are open for public scrutiny.
“The issue is, is there cheating? Categorically I say no cheating is going on,” the poll chief stressed.
He said all results can be compared against the printed election returns (ERs) of all vote counting machines (VCMs), the electronic results transmitted form all VCMs, the results in Comelec’s central server and PPCRV’s transparency server, adding that the CCTV coverage is also available for review to validate that the process was done transparently.
But the camp of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was not convinced of the Comelec’s explanation on the change of script.
“How can Chairman Bautista call it minor change when you could even know what the Smartmatic guy had actually changed?” Marcos’ campaign adviser Jonathan dela Cruz told The Manila Times.
Bautista said the Smartmatic IT expert should have announced to the people present that he would make changes and sought Comelec approval.
“The mere fact that the one million lead Marcos was erased eventually after the hash code was replaced, the act itself was questionable,” dela Cruz said.
Marcos’ camp earlier said that the introduction of a new script altered the original hashcode and changed the election results on the transparency server.
Marcos, through lawyer Francesca Huang, said new script started the “rather distinctive pattern” of vote padding and vote shaving that wiped out his almost one million lead over his closest rival, Rep. Leni Robredo.
Romulo Macalintal, counsel for Robredo, however said that what happed was just a matter of procedure and did not alter the poll results.
Macalintal urged Marcos to file a complaint at the joint session of Congress when it convenes as the National Board of Canvassers for president and vice president.
He explained that allegations of cheating is an election offense that can only be tackled after the proclamation of the winning candidates.
WITH JAIME PILAPIL