MANILA, Philippines ? (UPDATE 4) The ?erroneous? number of registered voters, the alleged ?two sets? of certificates of canvass (CoCs), and the digital signatures of the poll inspectors on the election returns were the focus of discussions Wednesday by the joint congressional canvassing committee seeking to start its count of the votes for president and vice president Thursday.
For hours, committee members from the Senate and the House of Representatives needled Commission on Elections and Smartmatic officials and technology experts over these concerns.
?I apologize for the error that is presented in the server,? Smartmatic president for Asia-Pacific Cesar Flores told the committee after Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile demanded an explanation as to why the figure ?256, 733, 195? was reflected on the ?No. of Registered Voters? during the initialization process of the consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) server to be used in the tally of votes for president and vice president.
But Flores assured the body that the error would ?not have an impact on the individual CoCs? as shown in the senatorial and partylist canvassing.
He added that while the error would affect the calculation of the voter turnout, the individual results would be ?untouched.?
Enrile noted that all other information on the number of certificates of canvass, total valid ballots counted and names of each candidate, and the total votes garnered for the presidential and vice presidential elections yielded zero results except the ?No. of Registered Voters.?
The main reason for this, Flores said, was an error in the application ?that was adding the number of registered voters from the PCOS [machines] from the precinct level and it was adding the number of registered voters from the municipal level?and from the province?Therefore, multiplying the number of registered voters.?
Flores admitted that there was an error in the application in the server that gave out the figure of 256,733,195 as the total number of registered voters.
The number of registered voters for this election is 51.2 million.
?When the image that is embedded into the canvassing server was taken from the overall server, it was multiplying by five, plus the number of absentee voters and the number of registered voters for Hong Kong and Singapore,? he said.
On Enrile?s questioning, Flores claimed responsibility for the said error. ?Our mistake?my personnel,? he said.
Not satisfied by the explanation, Enrile directed the Smartmatic to submit a written explanation how the error was committed and who were responsible for it.
Lawmakers also raised anew the lack of digital signatures on some of the election returns.
Comelec chairman Jose Melo assured that all election returns have the signatures of the chairman of the board of election inspectors.
Asked if he thought the purpose of the automated election was being defeated by the cycle of discussions by the committee, Melo said it was good that the issues were being raised now so that counting of the CoCs would proceed smoothly.
Earlier in the day, lawmakers quizzed the Comelec for having two sets of CoCs.
Maguindanao Representative Didagen Dilangalen said that in the canvassing of votes in 2004, there was only one set of CoCs and one signature of the board of election inspector.
?I ask this because the consequences would be gargantuan. In the matter of the vice president, the difference between the highest and the second highest is very small,? he said.
Speculations have been raised that there could be a delay in the canvass of votes for vice president, as only about 800,000 votes separate Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay and Senator Manuel Roxas II.
Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said that the CoC per area came only from one file but printed in several pages. For example, he said the CoC for La Union province was classified only as one document but has 36 pages.
Melo said that per province, for example, there was a separate CoC for every position.
Majority Leader Arthur Defensor asked whether if this meant that Congress could also canvass the CoCs separately.
Speaker Prospero Nograles said it was up to the canvassing committee to decide how to canvass the votes.
The canvassing committee convened at 2:44 p.m.
All seven commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), officials of its automation partner, Smartmatic Inc., and independent information technology experts were present in the session.
Questions were also raised on the absence of digital signatures of the board of election inspectors on the election returns. Smartmatic, however, explained that digital signatures were built-in in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the elections.
Congress will canvass a total of 278 CoCs.
The session was suspended at 8:45 p.m. It will resume Thursday at 1 p.m.
Congress created panels from the Senate and the House of Representatives composed of nine members each to canvass the votes.
The Senate panel is composed of Enrile, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Rodolfo Biazon, Alan Cayetano, Aquilino Pimentel, Gregorio Honasan, Edgardo Angara, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Joker Arroyo.
The House panel is composed of Nograles as chairman, majority leader Arthur Defensor, minority leader Ronaldo Zamora, senior deputy majority leader Neptali Gonzales II, senior deputy minority leader Roilo Golez, Representatives Crispin Remulla (Cavite), Dilangalen (Shariff Kabunsuan with Cotabato City), Matias Defensor (Quezon City), and Michael John Duavit (Rizal).