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Comelec asks DoJ to probe ‘Hello, Ronnie’

By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:24:00 05/27/2010

Filed Under: Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Wiretapping, Computing & Information Technology

MANILA, Philippines??Hello Ronnie,? the alleged wiretapped phone conversation between Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and Election Commissioner Nicodemus Ferrer will be investigated by the Department of Justice.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has asked the justice department and also the Philippine National Police (PNP) to investigate reports of other irregularities in the May 10 elections, which some officials said could be aimed at discrediting the country?s first automated voting process.

Election Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said poll officials had met with their counterparts from the justice department and the PNP to discuss the investigation.

Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra told reporters at the Comelec that the department would investigate, aside from the alleged Puno-Ferrer conversation on how to manipulate election results, the case of Quezon City Rep. Annie Susano, who brandished a compact flash (CF) card used for precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines during a hearing at the House.

?We are doing this to help the Comelec,? Agra said, adding the department expected to finish the investigation by June 15.

?We are confident that we will meet the deadline,? he said.


Ferrer, who denied his was the voice in the supposedly wiretapped phone conversation with Puno, said the Comelec was leaving the investigation to the justice department because it was ?self-serving? for election officials to investigate the cases themselves.

Agra said the National Bureau of Investigation, which is under the justice department, would take the lead in the investigation of the supposed wiretapped phone conversation, which Comelec officials said was one attempt to discredit the elections.

The supposed wiretap, which is circulating in the Internet, is said to have captured portions of a conversation between Puno and Ferrer on how to manipulate election results. Both denied that the voices in the audio recording were theirs.

Critics of the automated elections, however, were quick to conclude that the recording was another ?Hello Garci? scandal that also started from wiretapped phone conversations between Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the 2004 counting of votes for that year?s presidential elections.

Garcillano admitted the voice in the wiretap was his, while Ms Arroyo issued a scripted public apology for a ?lapse in judgment.?

No probe of ?koala bear?

Agra said the investigation would not touch a supposed witness to massive election fraud but who was ridiculed by Rep. Teodoro Locsin as a ?koala bear? for wearing a mask during an interview in which he made his allegations.

The department, Agra said, would not make public the results of its investigation without clearance from the Comelec.

Susano said PCOS machines used in the elections were not secure and proof of this was the CF card that she brandished during the House hearing. Possession of CF cards by unauthorized persons is a criminal offense.

Susano, who lost miserably in the race for mayor of Quezon City, refused to reveal how she got the CF card or who gave it to her.

Officials of election contractor Smartmatic-TIM, however, said they could not determine if the CF card in Susano?s possession was authentic. CF cards contain instructions and precinct-specific information for PCOS machines.

CF cards failed tests made a week before the elections, inaccurately reading ballots for local races. The glitch forced Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM to recall and replace at least 76,000 cards.

Resource persons now accused

For more than a week now since the elections, Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM officials have been kept busy answering questions and allegations of cheating from defeated candidates and lawmakers in nationally televised proceedings.

Ferrer said election officials attended the House hearings as ?resource persons? but ended up being accused by defeated candidates of rigging the elections.

PNP Deputy Director General Edgardo Acuña said his men would investigate two cases?the emergence of CF cards and election materials at a junk shop in Cagayan de Oro City and the delivery after the elections of 60 PCOS machines to the house of a Smartmatic-TIM technician in Antipolo City.

PCOS machines in Antipolo

Acuña said police would investigate individuals who tried to foment chaos in Antipolo City following the discovery of PCOS machines at the technician?s house.

Smartmatic-TIM and Comelec officials said the PCOS machines ended up in the technician?s house as a result of miscommunication between couriers and field workers.

Defeated presidential candidates Sen. Jamby Madrigal, JC de los Reyes and Nicanor Perlas, whose combined votes barely exceeded 100,000, went to the technician?s house and opened the PCOS machines.

On the Cagayan de Oro case, Larrazabal said a burglary was reported at the Comelec office prior to the elections. The Comelec, he said, wanted to know who brought the CF cards to the junk shop.

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