'Poll cheating' in Quezon: Did Saycon's witnesses change story?

MANILA, Philippines – On Monday, May 30, as Congress was set to proclaim Rodrigo Duterte and Leni Robredo as president and vice president, allegations of poll cheating in Quezon province surfaced.

The poll fraud claim was carried by The Philippine Star, The Standard, and other news outlets. All the stories have the following claims in common:

These were revealed by a witness who introduced himself as "Ka Bert." The Standard described him as a "municipal hall official, whose mayor was an LP official." The Philippine Star said he was a "self-confessed operator in vote-rich Quezon."

The whistleblowers were presented by Pastor "Boy" Saycon, secretary general of the Council on Philippine Affairs (COPA) in a press conference on Sunday, May 29. 

With no evidence presented so far, how do we check the credibility of the whistleblowers’ claims? One way is by cross-checking the numbers they have cited. 

Do the numbers add up?

Quezon province has 1,124,090 registered voters for the May 2016 elections. On May 9, a total of 936,359 voters actually voted.

In the partial, unofficial count of the Comelec Transparency Server, with 98.71% of precincts in Quezon reporting as of May 18, Robredo received 380,277 votes, while Marcos placed 3rd with 171,220 votes in the VP race.

Then, in Quezon's certificate of canvass (COC) that Congress admitted and canvassed on May 26 for the official count, Robredo got 385,164 votes and Marcos obtained 173,394 votes. 

QUEZON votes, VP Cayetano - 54702 Escudero - 191444 Honasan - 27946 Marcos - 173394 Robredo - 385164 Trillanes - 29752 — Rey Santos (@reysantosjr) May 26, 2016

If Ka Bert's claims were true, Marcos should have garnered around the votes of 670,000, or over 70% of Quezon's voters who trooped to the polls on May 9.

Meanwhile, Robredo would have initially received negative votes, because the supposedly "additional" 500,000 votes is bigger than the 385,164 votes that she got in the province, based on official canvass. The Robredo camp pointed this out after her proclamation.

Different story?

On Monday morning, Saycon went to the Senate to seek the audience of some senators regarding the poll fraud allegation.

He also brought 3 witnesses, who faced the media in a press conference at the Senate. It was not clear if "Ka Bert" was among them, as they were not identified with aliases or nicknames. 

As the 3 whistleblowers offered more details, they seemed to conflict with what "Ka Bert" revealed earlier.

The witness who mainly spoke to the media – supposedly a local government employee and designated "logistics supervisor" – said that around 200,000 votes were "deducted" from the votes of vice presidential candidate Marcos. 

Meanwhile over 300,000 votes were "added" to Marcos’ closest rival, Robredo. He also noted that the votes of other VP bets were shaved. This is less than the 500,000 votes narrated by "Ka Bert" in news reports.

If the whistleblower’s claim at the Senate were considered, Marcos should have received over 370,000 votes and Robredo should only have around 80,000 votes.

Presidential race

The witness also claimed on Monday that around 400,000 votes were "added" to Roxas in the presidential race. But in both the unofficial and official tallies, Roxas did not reach that number.

In the partial, unofficial count, Roxas obtained only 203,051 votes. It was Senator Grace Poe who won in Quezon province, with 302,269 votes.

Meanwhile, in the COC officially canvassed by Congress, Roxas got 205,791 votes from Quezon. Poe, on the other hand, got 305,814 votes.

QUEZON votes, President Binay - 175002 Defensor-Santiago - 21768 Duterte - 184950 Poe - 305814 Roxas - 205791 Seneres - 553 — Rey Santos (@reysantosjr) May 26, 2016

This also differed from Ka Bert's earlier claim – 300,000 votes from Duterte and 200,000 each from Poe and Binay, for a total of 700,000 votes. Nonetheless, this would also exceed Roxas' official vote count.

Manipulated?

The witness who spoke at the Senate also described how they did the alleged "dagdag-bawas."

He said, "Sa amin po naita-transmit 'yung mga galing sa munisipalidad na nabilang na, upang ito ay mamanipula namin ang mga numero, at mailagay po namin dun sa gusto nilang kandidato."

(The votes from municipalities got transmitted to us. Then, we manipulated the numbers by placing votes for the candidates they preferred.)

"Pagkatapos po sa amin, dinadala naman po namin, ibinabato naman po namin dun sa aming mga kasama sa second floor, third floor, na siya pong may makina ng Smartmatic na nagbabato po sa mga kaukulang server, na ito po ay malinis na malinis na, na galing sa amin."

(As soon as we're done, we bring it to our colleagues at the second and third floors. They have a Smartmatic [vote-counting] machine, which then transmit the changed votes to the necessary servers.)

Later, the witness mentioned that they had SD cards containing the altered votes. In news reports, "Ka Bert" was quoted as saying that transmissions of election results were "intercepted."

The alleged whistleblowers need to answer the following questions to make their account plausible:

The way the automated election system works, the VCMs at the polling precincts transmit election returns to 3 servers, one after the other.

Each transmission goes directly to the Transparency Server (to which media organizations had instant access), the Central Server of the Commission on Elections, and the municipal or city canvassing server.

All votes from the town/city level are consolidated for transmission to the provincial canvassing server, which then transmits to the national board of canvassers.

Cheats will have to fix the results in all 3 servers and in all canvassing levels in a seamless manner, not just one stage in the transmission process. All the election returns from the precinct level – both the printed and electronically-transmitted – should be changed, too, so that everything adds up.

They were not able to present evidence in Monday’s press conference. But Saycon said they were already preparing their affidavits, and that they will produce their evidence at the proper time and forum. – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech 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.

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