MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr agreed to do a public recount this month of the ballots in Nueva Ecija province that allegedly showed a discrepancy between the manual and machine counts in the 2013 senatorial elections.
The poll chief, at the hearing of the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated election system (JCOC-AES) at the Senate on Thursday, August 14, said he was "sure" the discrepancy is an "isolated case."
In a civil case, the Regional Trial Court in Gapan City manually counted the ballots from 3 clustered precincts in General Tinio town, Nueva Ecija, and these "showed a big disparity" when compared with the count by the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.
The review of ballots showed that senatorial candidate Eduardo Villanueva got 900 votes in the manual counting, but he got only 781 votes in the official Comelec tally provided by the machines.
Brillantes, however, said, "You cannot count just 3 precincts and say that Villanueva won."
The topic was brought up at the hearing by former Biliran Representative Glenn Chong, who shared the details of his own electoral protest during the 2010 polls, the first time the Comelec used the PCOS machines.
"I have nothing against Chairman Brillantes, but we have to protect the interest of this country. It's only by clean and honest elections that the people will have [the power to purge] public officials that may be abusive," Chong said.
Which ballots are authentic?
Brillantes said it was possible that overvotes were included in the court's manual count of Villanueva's votes. Overvotes happen when voters shade more than the number of candidates he is allowed to pick, like more than 12 for senators.
"The judge does not even know which are the authentic ballots," Brillantes added. He also argued that the court does not have jurisdiction over the civil case involving senatorial votes.
In addition, Brillantes suspects that the physical ballots may have been tampered with. "We could see this when we open and decrypt the ballots" scanned by the PCOS.
Brillantes said that he has written a letter to Philippine Star columnist Jarius Bondoc, who first wrote about the Nueva Ecija case. He also invited Bondoc, Chong, and the Nueva Ecija judge to witness the recount.
The lawmakers in the JCOC-AES panel expressed interest in supervising the probe into the matter. Senator Aquilino Pimentel III made the recount part of the agenda of the next JCOC hearing on August 28. – Rappler.com
Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.