MANILA, Philippines – Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr is set to represent the current runner-up in the vice-presidential race, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, in the canvassing of votes in Congress.
Only Congress sitting as the National Board of Canvassers can officially tally the votes for presidential and vice presidential candidates starting May 23.
The presidential and vice-presidential tallies reported by media as of Friday, May 13 – even if coming from almost 96% of polling precincts – still emanate from the Transparency Server. This is an unofficial source meant to allow media groups, political parties, and election watchdogs to countercheck official results.
When asked if he will represent Marcos during the canvassing of votes in Congress, Brillantes told Rappler on Friday, "Yeah, I’ll be one of those who will represent him."
Brillantes on Friday was in the Philippine International Convention Center, Pasay City, to observe the canvassing of votes for senators and party-list representatives.
The 76-year-old Brillantes, the son of a former Comelec commissioner, has been an election lawyer for more than two decades. (READ: Brillantes: Comelec chair in his father’s seat)
His former client, President Benigno Aquino III, appointed him Comelec chairman from January 2011 to February 2015.
Brillantes oversaw the Philippines’ second automated elections, which made use of machines provided by the Venezuelan firm Smartmatic.
Representing Robredo, on the other hand, is another veteran election lawyer: Romulo Macalintal.
Brillantes and Macalintal, two of the Philippines' most sought-after election lawyers, already faced off in previous elections.
One of these is the presidential race between then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and actor Fernando Poe Jr in 2004. Macalintal defended Arroyo, who won, while Brillantes lawyered for Poe, whose camp alleged election fraud.
This year, Brillantes brings his expertise as former elections chief in the tight race pitting Marcos against the current front-runner, Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Leni Robredo.
Brillantes: Hash code issue 'minor'
While waiting for the official canvassing of votes, Brillantes on Friday commented on a current issue raised by Marcos: a change in an election-related hash code, a part of the system that receives election results.
Marcos has cited the hash code issue to insinuate fraud in the May 9 elections. (READ: Marcos cried fraud even before May 9 polls)
Brillantes, however, cited reports that the hash code issue is "minor."
"May mga issues sa protocol kaya lumaki lang ‘yung issue. Pero ‘di bale, hindi pa naman ‘yan ang formal results e. Sa Congress ang final canvassing," he said. (There had been issues in protocol so the issue became big. In any case, that’s not yet the formal results. Final canvassing will be held in Congress.)
Asked if the change in hash code indicates cheating, Brillantes said: "Wala namang makakaalam kung may dayaan. Wala naman siguro. Hindi kayang dayain." (No one will know if there’s cheating. I don’t think so. It cannot be rigged.)
Brillantes explained that all election results have a "trail" that allows people to countercheck the numbers.
"Kaya lang magkakaroon ng isyu ultimately, kasi ang kina-canvass sa Congress is the hard copy," he said. (But there will be an issue ultimately, because what’s canvassed in Congress is the hard copy.)
Macalintal, for his part, said he is sure the change in the hash code was made in good faith.
Macalintal said, "Ang bottom line naman diyan is, ‘yun bang pagpapalit ng hash code, nabago ba ang resulta, in favor or against a particular candidate?" (The bottom line here is, did the change in the hash code alter the results in favor or against a particular candidate?)
Robredo’s lawyer said: "If it didn’t change the results, there is no problem. It’s just a matter of procedure. Then the substantive issue had not been destroyed."
Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim has said the hash code issue has been blown out of proportion. "It’s being used…to discredit the elections," he said.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.