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Robredo camp downplays concerns on credibility of polls

MANILA, Philippines – The camp of vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo downplayed concerns on the credibility of the polls, following comments made by Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon against technology provider Smartmatic over the unauthorized change of an election-related hash code.

On Friday, May 13, Guanzon had slammed Smartmatic for changing the hash code that changed the "?" in poll results to "ñ" without first obtaining permission from the poll body. Robredo's chief rival in the tight vice presidential race, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, had raised alarm over this change as a possible indication of cheating.

While the Comelec has maintained that this was a mere "cosmetic" change that did not alter vote counts, Guanzon said that the unauthorized change may affect how the elections are perceived, especially given the tight race for the vice presidency.

In a press conference, Robredo's spokesperson Georgina Hernandez downplayed concerns that Guanzon's comments censuring Smartmatic might cast doubt on the credibility of the polls.

Hernandez pointed out that Guanzon herself considered the breach benign.

"Sa amin, kahit may ganoong pagbabago, parating pare-pareho naririnig natin. Mismong si Commissioner Guanzon ang nagsabi na hindi maapektuhan ang resulta ng eleksyon. Ang sabi niya, thank God that the election results won't be affected by that change," Hernandez said.

(For us, even if there was a change, we've been hearing the same thing. Commissioner Guanzon herself said that it won't affect election results. What she said was, thank God that the election results won't be affected by that change.)

"Nandito tayo upang linawin at ipaliwanag na ang pagbabagong ito ay di magkakaroon ng bearing sa final results ng eleksyon," she added.

(We're here to clarify the issue and explain that this change won't have a bearing on the final results of the election.)

The Marcos camp has hurled allegations of cheating against Robredo and the ruling Liberal Party, after Robredo slowly cut down Marcos' almost million-vote lead in the early hours after polls closed, eventually overtaking the senator by the early hours of May 10.  

Observers and experts say this was because votes from Marcos' bailiwicks were transmitted earlier, while those from Robredo's strongholds in the Bicol region, parts of the Visayas, and parts of Mindanao came in late.

As of 4:55 pm on Friday, with 95.95% precincts reporting, Robredo continued to maintain her lead with 14,007,422 votes – obtaining 225,291 votes more than Marcos' 13,782,179 votes. 

'Trust in the process'

Despite the Comelec's assurances that the hash code change was only "cosmetic," Marcos' campaign adviser, Representative Jonathan dela Cruz, earlier said they want their own information technology experts to examine the network operating system of the Comelec server.  

“They are making light of it and we don’t like to make light of it. The word they are telling is, it is cosmetic [but] this is not cosmetic,” Dela Cruz said on Thursday.

Asked if the Robredo camp would be open to this, Hernandez said they are leaving it up to the decision of the Comelec, should the Marcos camp file a formal request.

"Kung mayroong ganoong mungkahi ay sana dalhin nila ito sa Comelec, bahala na ang Comelec mag-desisyon ukol sa bagay na 'yan," she said.

(If there's such a proposal, they should bring that up to Comelec. It's up to Comelec to decide on that matter.)

In a press conference also on Friday, lawyer Glenn Chong of election watchdog Automated Election System (AES) Watch said there was no need for Smartmatic to modify the system and apply a name change.

“There is no overriding necessity. They should have let it be. If I were Comelec, I would not have changed that,” Chong said in a mix of English and Filipino.

A former congressman of Biliran, Chong is helping out the Marcos camp in its call to have its own IT experts examine the Comelec server.

Meanwhile, Robredo's spokesperson also highlighted the remarks of international observers and other IT experts that there was nothing suspicious about Robredo's continued lead.

"Ang mensahe sa mga kinakabahan, nag-aalala na may dayaan dahil sa sinasabing tungkol sa hash code, magtiwala tayo sa sinasabi ng ating mga eksperto mula sa iba't ibang bansa na nakaranas ng eleksyon...Sinasabi nilang walang dayaan at walang epekto 'yung pagbabago sa hash code na sinabi kanina ng mga IT experts natin," she said.

(Our message to all who are worried that there was cheating because of the hash code, trust in what experts from other countries are saying...They're saying that no cheating occurred, and our IT experts are also saying that it does not affect the election results.)

For its part, the Comelec has said that the issue over the hash code has been blown out of proportion to discredit the elections.

Among the vice presidential candidates, only Marcos has alleged cheating in the elections. His other rivals – Senators Francis Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Gringo Honasan – have all conceded the race.

Even before the May 9 polls, Marcos has already aired concerns over supposed fraud in the heated vice presidential race. 

In a press release on April 25, Marcos claimed that "several" votes for him went to Honasan during the overseas absentee voting, and insinuated that there was "clearly a pattern."

Marcos and Robredo remain locked in a very tight race, with Robredo leading by a hairline gap. Robredo's camp earlier said it expected to win over Marcos by just over 226,000 votes. – with a report from Patty Pasion/Rappler.com