MANILA, Philippines?As winners celebrate, tales of electoral fraud seem to get wilder.
The latest twist comes from a masked, bespectacled man alleging in a video, presented during a columnist?s forum, that he was involved in vote-padding and vote-shaving to benefit the current front-runners in the presidential and vice presidential races.
The witness said the votes of administration party standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino?s Joseph Estrada and Bangon Pilipinas? Eddie Villanueva were shaved to benefit dilaw, or yellow, referring to Liberal Party?s Benigno Aquino III.
Aquino and Jejomar Binay, Estrada?s running mate, are leading tallies of the May 10 automated elections so far released by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the Comelec?s citizens? arm, Tuesday described as ?negligible? discrepancies between electronically transmitted election results and election returns that its volunteers had manually examined.
PPCRV spokesperson Ana de Villa-Singson told reporters that the difference of 0.0006 was less than 1-percentage point, an indication of the accuracy of the electronic count.
Former Sen. Francisco Tatad, who lost in the Senate race, said he wasn?t buying the claims of the masked witness. ?The credibility of the source has to be established,? he said. ?There has to be concrete evidence.?
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said it was easy for any masked person to make claims.
?I?m sure Comelec can send a masked person to deny allegations by a masked witness. He should stand up now and say that was me, I know what happened,? he said.
?He says there?s cheating but he?s unwilling to show his face? If our system is like this, there?s no hope for this country.?
But Sen. Jamby Madrigal, a losing presidential candidate, supported the witness. ?What he says corroborates all the evidence we have,? she said.
Madrigal, who also has raised alleged irregularities in the country?s first automated elections on May 10, threatened to walk out of the forum after she was irked at the moderator for asking her to present facts.
The video was shown during a Manila forum by newspaper columnist Buddy Cunanan, who said he got it from a friend whom the witness had approached to tell his story.
The man had a ?crisis of conscience,? Cunanan said, adding he had documentary evidence and wanted the government to conduct an investigation.
?Both parties are willing to come out in the open in the proper forum,? he said.
In the half-hour video, which was edited from a two-hour interview, the masked witness alleged that the cheating was carried out by switching ballots, by using preprogrammed flash cards and by intercepting and altering transmissions from the counting machines.
Worse than Garci
?This is an election you can call gruesome. This is worse than Garci,? the man said in Filipino, referring to allegations that Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano rigged the 2004 elections to favor President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a charge she denies.
Cunanan said Teodoro lost about 5 million to 6 million votes, while Villanueva lost 2 million to 3 million votes. Estrada also lost a lot, but he did not provide a figure.
Vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda, who has already conceded the race, supposedly lost 4 million to 5 million votes through vote-shaving. These were then transferred to Binay, according to the witness.
Presidential candidate Nicanor Perlas said the standoff at Antipolo City, where 60 voting machines were earlier found in the home of an official of Smartmatic-TIM, the Comelec?s automation partner, was proof of irregularities.
Perlas said his camp had opened two of the machines, and found that these had transmitted results on May 9 and May 11, the day before and after the elections.
The camp of Estrada also made a similar allegation, pointing out that election returns from Manila carried different dates.
Pimentel said he found it odd that an election return from a precinct in Montalban showed that Roxas got all but one of over 600 votes cast. The other vote went to Makati?s Mayor Binay.
In Guimba, Nueva Ecija, Vice Mayor Ler de Guzman said 60 machines that had disappeared after the elections showed up in the municipal hall, but the treasurer?s office refused to accept them. Many machines failed to transmit for five days after the vote in the area.
Estrada said he felt vindicated with his decision not to concede defeat with field reports now coming in pointing to what he called ?large-scale? cheating.
Jamming devices used
?Looking back, I think I did the right thing,? he told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
Ernesto Maceda, Estrada?s campaign manager, said his camp had received reports that between 4 million and 5 million votes had been taken away from Estrada and added to Aquino.
Maceda said it was made possible by the use of ?jamming devices? that allegedly blocked the transmission of results from precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.
He said ?substitute results? were then sent to the Comelec and the PPCRV using ?spare? PCOS machines.
?It?s large-scale cheating,? Estrada said, pointing out that while members of his family swept elections in his San Juan bailiwick, he lost there. ?They?re all my creation. They all won by a landslide. It was only I who lost.?
Maceda said his camp also got information that some ?brokers? offered to manipulate results at P20 per vote, or P5 higher than offers in past elections.
He said his group had evidence indicating such forms of cheating and would present them before Congress during the official canvass of votes for president and vice president later this month.
In the House of Representatives, the committee on suffrage and electoral reform is to begin on Wednesday an investigation into alleged fraud as a result of programming flaws in the electronic machines.
Speaker Prospero Nograles, who is pushing for a random manual count of at least 800 precincts, said he was disturbed that the Comelec had to recall 76,000 PCOS machine flash cards due to programming flaws four days before the elections when there was no longer time to examine them. ?Is this a coincidence??
However, Nograles said that ultimately these concerns should be addressed either by the Comelec or the House electoral tribunal.
?We will fulfill our constitutional mandate to act as the national board of canvassers for the presidential and vice presidential votes. We will not over-step into that mandate,? he said.
Sen. Richard Gordon on Monday night said the automated count should have been completed in three days and any delay could be considered a form of cheating. The chair of the senate electoral reforms committee said that the outcome of the vice presidential race was crucial because of the neck-and-neck race.
Far from perfect
?This election is far from perfect. I hear there will be some surprises these coming days,? he said. ?The count is perhaps accurate but somebody is starting to manipulate it by delaying it,? Gordon said.
Undersecretary Rogelio Peyuan, deputy presidential spokesperson, said it was about time the lawmakers looked into whether Smartmatic-TIM delivered on its contract with the Comelec.
?I?d like to think that if we discover any flaw in the use of these machines, this is the right time because eventually we?ll reach the stage of this whole exercise where we have to look back and draw lessons,? he said in a briefing.
Peyuan said Malacańang agreed with the proposal to withhold the balance of the payment due to the Smartmatic pending review of its performance. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Cathy Yamsuan, Norman Bordadora, Tarra Quismundo, DJ Yap, Christian V. Esguerra, TJ Burgonio and Franklin A. Caliguid, Inquirer Mindanao