Sotto alleges more ‘irregularities’ in 2016 automated elections

Michael Bueza

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Sotto alleges more ‘irregularities’ in 2016 automated elections

Senator Sotto invites Comelec and Smartmatic officials to present their side in a ‘full-blown’ Senate hearing

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday, March 14, delivered a second privilege speech, alleging more irregularities in the automated election system (AES) during the 2016 polls.

Sotto questioned the existence of 4 “queueing servers” in the AES, and the timing of its use days after the May 9, 2016, elections. (Read about his first privilege speech from last week here.)

Quoting a source, the senator said the logs from domain name service (DNS) servers showed that from May 10 to 11, transmissions from vote-counting machines (VCM) “did not go straight to the consolidating canvassing system (CCS), instead they went through either one of the 4 ‘queueing servers’ before reaching the CCS.”

In the current AES, the VCMs normally transmit election returns (ER) containing the vote counts to the CCS servers in the municipal or city level. (READ: How does the PH automated election system work?)

While these “queueing servers” help in lining up incoming data “to make sure that what goes in will be sent out so no data is left behind,” Sotto questioned the need to set it up at the last stretch of the transmission of votes.

“Is it that vital, that the engineers were willing to risk a possible data loss or crashing of an ongoing system, by installing a new device in the middle of the transmission process?” asked Sotto.

He also said the presence of such servers were disclosed only during the preliminary investigation into an election-related case filed against Venezuela-based firm and 2016 AES technology provider Smartmatic by former congressman Jonathan dela Cruz, who has since worked in the campaign of defeated vice presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

“In my opinion, this last blow was the one that really tainted the outcome of the elections,” Sotto said in his speech.

‘Untransmitted’ votes

Another issue, said Sotto, was the “untransmitted” 3.86% of election returns in 2016. This is equivalent to 1.7 million votes, which are “very crucial to ongoing electoral protests.”

The Comelec Transparency Server, among the 3 servers that receive ERs from VCMs, received only 96.14% of election returns. The Comelec Central Server, meanwhile, got 96.69% of ERs.

The untransmitted ERs – stored in SD cards in VCMs – were manually tallied and uploaded to complete the vote counts.

But Sotto cited the report of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) on the 2016 polls, where the election watchdog said that “further clarification is needed as to the guideline that was observed by Comelec on the chain of custody of these SD cards.”

“Also, were the political parties, accredited citizen’s arm allowed or were asked to observe the manual tallying of these 3.86% untransmitted votes?” he continued.

He also questioned the establishment of 7 regional hubs – where malfunctioning VCMs and SD cards are fixed – one week before the polls.

“These hubs did not go through any prior inspections from the representatives of political parties or other stakeholders. Also, during the elections, the activities done in these hubs were not witnessed by poll watchers and other representations,” Sotto said. 

His source also claimed that the Comelec resolution creating these hubs was “not signed” by its commissioners.

Sotto then invited Comelec and Smartmatic to attend a “full-blown” Senate hearing to present their side “in the observance of fairness and due process.” 

Sotto blasts Comelec spokesman

He also pointed out that the Comelec has yet to fully respond to the first two issues he raised in a privilege speech last week regarding supposed “early transmissions” before election day and “foreign access” to election servers.

At the start of his speech on Wednesday, Sotto criticized the responses of Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez to these first two allegations.

Jimenez has explained that the “early transmissions” may be transmission tests during the final testing and sealing (FTS) of VCMs conducted by election officers in polling precincts.

“If we are to accept Mr. Jimenez’s alternative explanation that these could be legitimate testing transmissions, is he again saying that Comelec knows and authorized approximately 459 early transmissions on May 8 alone?” he asked.

As to the issue of “foreign access,” Jimenez said a supposed Amazon web server (AWS) hosted the website to display the results of the 2016 elections.

But Sotto said that election results web server was in the country, and that the AWS supposedly accessing election servers remotely was located abroad.

Sotto likewise mentioned that Senator Francis Escudero, head of the Senate committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, had “already requested these logs last month; however, Comelec has not responded to date.”

Later in his speech, Sotto dared critics to just cooperate in settling these issues.

“To those who are criticizing my aired concerns and to those offering excuses, lalo na kung involved kayo sa pagkakapasok ng Smartmatic noong 2016, ‘wag na kayo makialam at i-submit ‘nyo na lang sa amin ang mga laman ng logs na in-exposed ko, at magkakaintindihan tayo.

(To those who are criticizing my aired concerns and to those offering excuses, especially if you’re involved in the entry of Smartmatic in 2016, do not meddle anymore, just submit the contents of logs that I exposed, so that we can understand each other.) – 

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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.