MANILA, Philippines?Thousands of election returns (ERs) transmitted from the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines are void because these do not comply with the country?s laws on digital signatures, according to the chair of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reform.
Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin, chair of the committee, said Sunday the ERs, on which the certificates of canvass (CoCs) are based for proclaiming the next president and vice president, had no digital signatures as defined by the country?s e-Commerce Law.
The Electronic Commerce Act of 2000 (Republic Act No. 8792) gives legal recognition to electronic documents so long as these can be authenticated.
But Locsin was hopeful that the joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, acting as the national board of canvassers for the presidential and vice presidential races, would just ?close its eyes? on this ?inadvertent mistake? and vote to recognize all the ERs.
?The oversight is so pervasive, in fact universal, that all the ERs are worthless and it is as if the elections did not take place. I don?t think my peers would allow this to happen. They will choose not to raise any questions and ignore this,? he said.
An ER is a document in electronic and printed form produced by the PCOS machine showing the votes for each candidate. It must be signed by the board of election inspectors (BEI).
A CoC is a document in electronic and printed form containing the total number of votes obtained by each candidate in a city, municipality, district or province. It must be signed by the board of canvassers.
Based on his talk with legal experts and peers in the House of Representatives, which is conducting a probe of alleged election cheating, Locsin said the digital signatures on the ERs were machine generated, but the law requires that the signatures be made by the BEI.
?The logic is if there was cheating, we won?t handcuff the machines but the BEI agents and in this case, what we have are digital signatures of the machines and not the people manning them,? he said.
Locsin said this was a ?major oversight? on the part of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the equipment supplier Smartmatic-TIM, and the lawmakers and poll watch groups that had been on top of the automated election system from its preparation to implementation.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman warned that questions on the authenticity of the ERs due to the lack of digital signatures could derail the move of Congress to fast-track the canvassing of the results.
?There is no guarantee that the canvassing will start on Tuesday because the House members have yet to agree on the rules of the canvassing. Among the main issues that we expect to linger very long on are the authenticity of the ERs and the conflicting date and time stamps on the official documents,? Lagman said in a phone interview.
Congress has agreed to meet a week earlier than its scheduled May 30 opening to start the official canvass after the automated elections proved successful in providing the results quicker than expected.
Lagman said that while the issue of digital signatures and time stamps would be discussed in the House probe of election cheating, the House in session would also take up these matters during the debates on the canvassing rules.
Sen. Benigno Aquino III has a wide lead over former President Joseph Estrada, who ironically signed RA 8792, in the presidential race based on unofficial tallies. It?s a close fight between Aquino?s running mate, Sen. Manuel ?Mar? Roxas II, and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay. Binay is leading in the unofficial count.
Estrada has refused to concede to Aquino as he insisted on waiting until Congress finishes its formal count and the Comelec has addressed questions on alleged irregularities in the elections.
Act like statesman
Locsin, however, reckoned that Estrada might act like a statesman and not pursue the question on the authenticity of the ERs due to the lack of digital signatures of the BEI staff.
Sen. Edgardo Angara said the move by several presidential and vice presidential candidates to concede defeat early on after the May 10 elections would result in a much quicker canvassing by Congress of votes for presidential and vice presidential candidates.
?It?s not as hotly contested as in 2004,? Angara said Sunday of the post-election scene.
On Monday, the Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to convene separately to approve the rules that will govern the canvassing of votes for the two top elective posts.
The approval of the rules would pave the way for the two chambers to convene in a joint session Tuesday to start the counting of the votes. Congressional leaders hope to proclaim a new president and vice president before Congress goes on sine die adjournment on June 4.
Interviewed over dzBB radio, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that before Monday?s session at 3 p.m., an all-senator caucus would be held to choose those who would make up the nine members of the Senate?s joint canvassing committee.
Both Zubiri and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile are members of the Senate panel. Other members will be those who did not run for president or vice president in the May 10 elections.
Members of House panel
Speaker Prospero Nograles said he had already named the nine lawmakers who would represent the House in the national canvassing although he did not name them. He expected his Senate counterpart to announce the Senate representatives on Monday.
?It?s all systems go for the canvassing. We assure the Filipino people and the international community that we are not going to sacrifice accuracy or the integrity of the count for speed,? Nograles said in a statement.
In a text message, he said the official tallying of the votes for president and vice president would start this week, with the ballot boxes containing the CoCs delivered to the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City Monday night.
On the day of the canvassing, lawmakers will be comparing electronically transmitted and manually transmitted CoCs, Zubiri said.
?If there is no discrepancy, a CoC will be canvassed. But if this is contested by a political party, then this will be set aside for the moment,? he said.
He said Congress would approve the ?noncontroversial? votes first and would come back to those with questions later.
?But let me remind the public, that the evidence (of fraud) should be really strong?there should be documents and not just someone speaking like koala bear,? Zubiri said in reference to the masked whistle-blower.
?Unless there is massive proof (of fraud), we would proceed with the canvassing of votes,? Zubiri said, adding that parties can file a protest case before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
Zubiri said senators at Monday?s session would amend the legislative calendar first, which originally set May 31 as the resumption of sessions for the convening of Congress as the national board of canvassers for the presidential and vice presidential elections.
Senators are also expected to discuss the rules they will propose for the conduct of the canvassing of votes, such as what to do in case some people would come out with evidence of fraud.
Zubiri said the chamber would have a quorum on Monday because more than 12 senators were expected to attend.
Two senators?Manuel Villar Jr. and Loren Legarda?are abroad, having sought permission to travel from Enrile. Sen. Joker Arroyo is in the United States, according to dzBB radio.
Zubiri said that while the Senate would have a quorum on Monday, he was uneasy whether the chamber could muster a quorum for the joint sessions because many senators had inhibited themselves from participating.
Aside from Villar and Legarda, running mates who already conceded defeat in the presidential and vice presidential races, also inhibiting themselves from the canvassing were Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Senate President pro tempore Jinggoy Estrada.
Because they ran for president and lost, Senators Richard Gordon and Ana Consuelo ?Jamby? Madrigal are not expected to attend the session. Roxas, who is still contesting the vice presidential race, is expected to do likewise.