There was a sudden change of rules in the middle of the game during the 2016 national elections.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) was accused of evading technical questions related to the alleged irregularities in the 2016 presidential elections forcing a bicameral panel to summon a witness of Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
It was Sotto who sought the probe into the automated election system (AES) based on revelations of a “concerned and impeccably reliable source.”
Sotto said he will call his witness in the next Joint Congressional Oversight Committee hearing to untangle technical issues on the alleged AES fraud, particularly in the transmission of results from the precinct up to national level.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chair of the Senate committee on electoral reforms, called on the presentation of the witness of Sotto to shed light on the questions raised in connection with the May 2016 national elections.
Pimentel made the invitation as more confusion came out during the oversight body’s probe.
“In the next hearing, we will just have to produce the witness of the Senate President so that we can confront allegations under oath with the answers of Comelec (Commission on Elections). So we will not be debating this issue to death,” Pimentel said.
Layers of confusion
During the hearing, Sotto expressed disappointment over the Comelec for failing to address questions he raised regarding the layers of transmission of the election results from the vote counting machines (VCM) to the central server.
“If their responses will be unsatisfactory, I will be forced to ask my source to come out in the open,” Sotto said while also expressing dissatisfaction to the responses of Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino Jr.
The Senate President also noted there was a “sudden change of rules in the middle of the game” during the 2016 national elections, citing the use of queue servers in the transmission.
Tolentino maintained the Comelec has no queue servers and pointed to AES provider Smartmatic and telecommunications companies as providing such equipment.
Sotto, however, stressed that his privilege speech last March was based on the accounts of his witness whom he described as an “insider.”
“I will not make that privilege speech if I don’t have a reliable witness,” Sotto pointed out.
Early vote transmissions
In his 6 March speech, Sotto called on the Senate to conduct a full-blown investigation on alleged early transmission that happened prior to the actual 10 May 2016 presidential elections.
Sotto claimed that as early as 8 May, there was already a transmission of data happening. Citing his source, it was done by IP Address 10.11.5.5 to 0507.ccs.pili2016pinas.net – which he said is an address of a clustered VCM or Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS).
The transmission code, he said, “points to the Consolidated Canvassing System (CCS) of the Municipality of Libon, Albay.”
He also said that there was also early transmission to the CCS of Angono, Rizal.
The early transmission supposedly continued until the morning of 9 May 2016 – ahead of the official start of the election.
Sotto said Senators Panfilo Lacson and Grace Poe were among those who got zero votes during the early transmissions.
He added senatorial candidate Francis Tolentino, who has a pending complaint before the Senate Electoral Tribunal against Sen. Leila de Lima, also received zero votes then.
At an earlier hearing of the joint panel, Smartmatic was put on the spot over the issue of the character “ñ” that was suddenly changed in the middle of the counting and canvassing of votes.
Sotto then said Smartmatic made “unacceptable” and “unbelievable” explanations on the anomaly.
The Comelec then also could not satisfactorily answer why it allowed Smartmatic to change the computer script of the transparency server in mid-count.
The Comelec earlier had confirmed that the script of the transparency server was tweaked, but only to correct a character in the names of candidates with “ñ” in them.
Sotto prodded Smartmatic representatives to answer after a question was raised why the poll body did not foresee the problems that may arise from the character replacement in the election process.
“Let Smartmatic answer. To other people, Comelec seemed to be the lawyer for Smartmatic.
Most of the questions should be answered by them (since) the guy who made the ‘ñ’ thing came from Smartmatic,” Sotto said.
The “fix” was supposedly done by Marlon Garcia, the head of the Smartmatic technical support team at the time.
Smartmatic project director Pravir Dahiya admitted to the joint panel that they did not know the specific issue on the character in question.
“In terms of knowing the error itself of the ‘ñ,’ we were not aware. We would admit it as an oversight that is something that could only be detected during the process,” Dahiya said.
Sotto said he found this unacceptable and unbelievable.
“We cannot accept that it can only be found during the process. Filing of certificates of candidacy was in October and there were many candidates nationwide with ‘ñ’ in their names,” he said.