An election watchdog on Saturday denounced the move of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to release supposedly unused vote counting machines (VCMs) to Smartmatic, arguing that the move violates the Protective Protection Order (PPO) of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) on the pending election protest of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
Glenn Chong, convener of the Consortium for Clean and Credible Elections and vice chairman of Reform Philippines Coalition, branded as highly suspicious the decision of the Comelec to agree to the recall of 1,356 VCMs which were allegedly not “deployed and/or used” during the elections, since it is being made amid an election contest involving the vice presidential race.
“Deployed and/or used connote two things – deployment to the municipalities and deployment to the precincts in cases where the VCMs actually malfunctioned. On the first, if they were not deployed to the municipalities at all, then it is a violation of the protocol which provides that there should be reserved VCMs on standby in every municipality,” Chong said.
“If that is the case, the Comelec should be held liable for wasting almost 100 million of the people’s money on machines that they did not intend to use in the first place. On the second, if they were deployed to the municipalities but were not deployed to the precincts, then they are still covered by the PPO since there was in fact a deployment and Comelec has no business agreeing to their recall,” he added.
Earlier, the Supreme Court ordered the Comelec to preserve and safeguard the integrity of all ballot boxes, their contents, VCMs and all other election-related paraphernalia – including the automated election equipment and records – in all 92,509 clustered precincts used in the May polls.
Chong said he got hold of a letter dated September 27, 2016 by Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim to PET chairperson, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, informing her of the poll body’s decision to grant the request of Smartmatic to release the 1,356 VCMs beginning October 26, 2016.
Lim said the VCMs were not deployed and/or used during the elections. Hence, they are considered not covered by the PPO.
“It bears to emphasize that since the units were not actually deployed and/or used during the said elections, the Commission considers the same as not within the scope of the Precautionary Protective Order (PPO) issued by the Honorable Tribunal. Accordingly, the Commission intends to begin releasing the said VCMs on 26 October 2016,” Lim told Sereno.
Accordingly, the Comelec, through Executive Director Jose Tolentino Jr., has invited the parties in the election protest involving the vice presidency to a briefing on the release of the VCMs on October 19, 2016 at 10 a.m. at the JAM Liner warehouse in Santa Rosa, Laguna.
Tolentino’s letter, however, failed to mention whether the machines will be opened for inspection.
But Chong said given the highly irregular actions of the Comelec in the conduct of the elections, such move is dubious.
“Comelec, being a serial violator of our election laws, has been committing highly illegal acts from the beginning. Since 2010, it allowed Smartmatic to get away with at least eighteen blatant violations of its contract. Before the elections, it adamantly refused our request for an inventory of all machines as a guarantee of the integrity of the elections. Then on the day of elections, there was the ‘cosmetic script’ change in the Transparency server during the transmission of votes,” the lawyer said.
“It refused all requests to subject the system to a platform and system audit by third party IT experts. Then there was its plan to strip the data from the VCMs despite the issuance of the PPO. Now, they want to give the VCMs to Smartmatic without even subjecting it to inspection. This is too much,” he added.
“The syndicate is at play again and this is another attempt to hide the truth,” Chong said.
He challenged the Comelec to subject the machines to a thorough inspection by IT experts before their release to ensure that they indeed were not deployed or were not used in any way during the last elections.
“If the Comelec has nothing to hide, then they should open the VCMs for a thorough inspection. We should not let them get away with it again. Their nefarious plans should be stopped,” he said.