Senators hit reset button
For the second time in as many months, a member of the Senate majority has come forward with tantalizing hints of possible fraud committed in the 2016 elections. For the second time in as many months, a senator allied with the Duterte administration has claimed the existence of possible evidence of possible election fraud, reportedly in the hands of a credible source. And for the second time in as many months, a senator associated with the Nationalist Peoples Coalition has encouraged public speculation of possible election fraud by declining to name his source. If the objective is to place the 2016 election process in protracted doubt, Sen. Francis Escudero, now nominally independent of any party, and Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, now the majority leader, have succeeded.
Why would they do so? Surely they do not mean to question the basis of President Duterte’s electoral mandate. The President has shot down any attempt to pry into his votes; it’s a settled matter, and Escudero and Sotto are his allies. They cannot invoke the political equivalent of the legal maxim about the law being harsh but it is still the law, because they have not moved with the urgency one would expect from such bearers of bad news. They should have damned the torpedoes and moved full speed ahead, instead of following a slow pace.
On Feb. 2, Escudero announced to the world that a former official of the Commission on Elections would come forward to talk about possible discrepancies in data recorded by vote counting machines (VCMs) in three regions. He said in a mix of English and Filipino: “We received a printout, but it would be better if [the information] comes straight from the witness who said the backup drive was not the mirror image of the main drive.” In response, Acting Comelec Chair Robert Lim said there was no cause for worry. He said, also in a mix of English and Filipino: “If the main [drive] and the backup don’t match, the machine won’t release results. We’re confident in our systems … we are not scared that they won’t match.”
Escudero declined to identify the former official. And over a month later, the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System has not yet met to look into the matter.
On March 6, Sotto announced to the world that a “concerned” and “impeccably reliable source” gave him secret information on alleged anomalies conducted immediately before and during the
2016 elections. He said his informant told him of unusual “transmission activity” involving the
Comelec servers the day before the elections.
“In summary, there has been an alleged early transmission of votes by certain VCMs … to the Municipal Board of Canvassers. These are only examples of the numerous early transmissions to different Municipal and Provincial Board of Canvassers in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.” Sotto said Smartmatic, the Comelec’s election technology partner, cannot claim the early transmission was a test.
He also alleged that there was unauthorized “foreign access” to the election servers. These “election servers were allegedly accessed remotely and information gathered were copied and submitted to a server in the Amazon cloud services in the United States.” Election Commissioner Rowena Guanzon immediately took up the challenge, and Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez appealed for coordination with the Senate.
To be clear, we share the view that Sotto’s allegations, and Escudero’s, too, must be thoroughly investigated. We must wonder why, given the importance of the issue, Sotto, like Escudero, continues to decline to identify his source, even to the Comelec. We must wonder why, despite welcoming the Comelec’s appeal for coordination, Sotto has to lay down a condition before revealing his source. He will do so only “if needed. Especially if [the Comelec has its] copy of what the transmission contains.”
But, yes, the allegations must be investigated. In the first place, Sotto is not in a position to say what those transmissions contained. Secondly, and in the light of available information on the hacking of the US elections in November 2016 and in the face of ample evidence of the hacking capabilities of both Russia and China, we must determine who was behind the foreign access. And thirdly, the longstanding complaint of the losing vice-presidential candidate, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., was that manufactured votes for Vice President Leni Robredo came in late on Election Day (not the day before), to overtake his lead.
Not least, the inquiry should prove whether it is possible to engineer the automated election system to benefit just one specific candidate.
Otherwise, press reset.
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