Comelec move to suspend unofficial count alarms watchdogs
With more than 11.5 million votes still unaccounted for three days after Monday’s balloting, the official poll watchdogs are alarmed at the order of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to suspend the unofficial count until all 12 senatorial winners are proclaimed.
The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and its quick count partner, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), said the Comelec had, in effect, kept the public in the dark on the results of 23.83 percent of the total election returns (ERs).
“That’s too high a number that we’ll keep away from the public,” KBP president Herman Basbaño said in a news conference on Thursday.
But at 6:46 p.m., just minutes shy of 72 hours after polling precincts closed on Monday, the PPCRV and the KBP stopped releasing their Election 2013 Count.
“Upon Comelec’s instructions we will be temporarily suspending this service until the completion of the proclamation of the winning senatorial candidates,” the groups said in an announcement flashed on the giant screens in the PPCRV operations center at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila.
The partial and unofficial count of the electronically transmitted ERs in the senatorial and party-list race stopped at 6:01 p.m. with results from only 59,551, or 76.18 percent, of the total 78,166 clustered precincts tallied.
This represented more than 11.5 million unaccounted votes, according to PPCRV data.
“Yes, based on our accreditation we are bound to comply with Comelec rules. Nonetheless we will continue receiving and analyzing (transmitted ERs) and will release them after the proclamation,” PPCRV media and communications director Ana de Villa-Singson said in a text message.
“Our manual encoding of ERs as an audit of the transmitted files will not stop,” Singson added. This means even if it cannot show its unofficial tally, the PPCRV will continue to receive ERs transmitted to the Comelec transparency server.
The two major political groups, media networks and the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections are also linked to the transparency server.
The PPCRV and KBP earlier Thursday complained to the Comelec about the “trickle” rate of the transmission, saying the number of unaccounted votes was “too high.”
Basbaño said stopping the unofficial tally being done by the PPCRV-KBP and media networks would be more acceptable once 90 percent of the ERs had been tallied.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the PPCRV-KBP partial and unofficial count showed results from 59,538 clustered precincts, or 76.17 percent, of the 78,166 clustered precincts.
The candidates in the winning circle in the Senate race remain unchanged since Monday night.
Grace Poe leads with 16.3 million votes; Loren Legarda, 14.9 million; Chiz Escudero, 14.1 million; Alan Cayetano, 14.09 million; Nancy Binay, 13.2 million; Sonny Angara, 12.8 million; Bam Aquino, 12.3 million; Koko Pimentel, 11.8 million; Antonio Trillanes IV, 11.3 million; Cynthia Villar, 11 million; JV Ejercito, 10.9 million; and Gregorio Honasan, 10.5 million.
In the press conference, the PPCRV and the KBP, which are jointly conducting a quick count as the Comelec’s accredited citizens’ arm, spoke of public anxiety about the “alarming” slow rate of transmission of results that had led to huge numbers of unaccounted votes.
Basbaño and PPCRV national chairperson Henrietta de Villa said the Comelec had not satisfactorily explained the reason for the delayed transmission.
De Villa said she formally wrote Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes on Thursday morning to express concern about the trickle of data being transmitted to the Comelec transparency server, which is the basis of the quick count.
She said the 11,578,413 votes unaccounted for was a “considerable number that could still alter the tenth to 12th ranking” in the senatorial race.
De Villa also demanded that the Comelec provide a copy of the supposedly “manually uploaded” returns that were transmitted straight to the Comelec national canvassing center and that did not pass through the Comelec transparency server.
“Unlike in 2010, we were told the manually loaded returns will no longer enter the server,” she said. “It’s not because we are casting doubts or mistrusting Comelec but it is for transparency purposes.”
Even so, De Villa said the suspension of their unofficial tally was “understandable” because election rules provided that the unofficial count could be stopped at the start of the official count. She echoed Brillantes’ claim that stopping the unofficial count would prevent confusion.
Basbaño disagreed, pointing out the Comelec data was what the PPCRV-KBP and other accredited media networks received through the transparency server.
“If you stop transmitting now that’s unacceptable. Why will the public be confused? This is the same data that Comelec receives so why should we keep that from the public?” he asked.
“We are worried about the move of Comelec to stop us from informing the public on the latest figures from the server. I’m not saying there is hanky-panky but it might not be able to address the anxiety of the public,” Basbaño said. “You don’t solve a problem by creating more anxiety.”
He said the Comelec should proclaim the winners as soon as possible but only after fast-tracking the transmission of results.
While De Villa only conceded that the KBP president’s concern was “very valid,” Singson gave a stronger statement.
“We are not happy with the rate of transmission. We are not happy with the 76.14-percent threshold. There’s too much at stake. We are blind to 23 percent (of the results). And we appeal to you on behalf of the voting public to make that known because that is our vote,” she said.
She said in 2010 the PPCRV stopped its unofficial count to make way for the Comelec proclamation when it had already tallied 90.35 percent of the returns.
“We didn’t see 9.65 percent of the returns then and we complained about that before the 2013 elections. We’re even more concerned about this now,” she said.
Too big to ignore
The 11.5 million untransmitted votes “is too big, the impact is too significant,” Singson said. “We are begging the Comelec to make this data available to us.”
The PPCRV was expected to review Thursday night the audit logs of the transparency server after the United Nationalist Alliance alleged data tampering due to the presence of Smartmatic representatives in the PPCRV operations center.
De Villa said any deletion or tampering of the results being transmitted to the server would show in the audit logs. She said Comelec and Smartmatic representatives were supposed to be at the server workstation because Comelec ran the elections and Smartmatic was its contracted service provider.
The PPCRV also continued its manual count based on the ER printouts obtained from the individual precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.
As of Thursday night, the PPCRV had 21 percent of these printed ERs, which would be used to countercheck the electronically transmitted results.
“If we don’t see 23.86 percent of the data, those ERs gain major significance,” Singson said.