DFA exec pins ‘pre-shaded’ ballots on human error
MANILA, Philippines — A series of “human errors” made by consulate personnel handling official ballots for overseas absentee voting (OAV) has caused what was earlier reported as “pre-shaded” ballots, an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) told the Senate on Tuesday.
Brigido Dulay, the DFA undersecretary for civilian security and consular affairs, denied reports mainly on social media that pre-shaded ballots, purportedly meant to benefit presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his running mate, Sara Duterte, were handed out at various overseas polling posts.
“By virtue of a human error, when the ballot was given out to the voter, two ballots that were sticking together after coming out of the printing press, and when this ballot was filled up, the voter actually filled two ballots,” he said.
When this anomaly was discovered as the ballots were to be fed to the vote-counting machine, DFA personnel supposedly peeled off the second ballot, but in another case of human error, it was returned to the pile of unused ballots instead of being lumped with other spoiled ballots, Dulay said.
He said that “again partly due to human error, this [ballot] was mixed in the receptacle for unused valid ballots.”
The supposedly spoiled ballot was then mistakenly handed to another voter, causing the “impression” that the ballot received was “pre-shaded,” according to the DFA official.
But Dulay dismissed reports of similar pres-haded ballots being handed out to voters in Dubai.
“Insofar as the reports are also concerned, the alleged distribution of pre-shaded ballots [in Dubai] is fake news,” he said.
Dulay gave the explanation during a hearing called by the Senate committee on electoral reforms chaired by Sen. Imee Marcos on various problems in the preparations and the conduct of the national elections.
The DFA personnel in overseas posts are mandated to assist the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in carrying out OAV in various posts worldwide, in accordance with Republic Act No. 9189, or the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003.
Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said the supposedly pre-shaded ballots may have escaped scrutiny from election officers as the chair of the board of election inspectors only authenticates official ballots on the first page.
“If an allegation is that two ballots were given, it must have been authenticated on the first page only because at the back page, there’s no authentication of the chairman,” he said.
Dulay assured the committee that voting posts have resumed normal operations, except for three that had suffered delays.
Ballots and other voting materials have not yet been received by the OAV posts in India and Damascus, Syria. Voting was suspended in Shanghai, China, because of a government-imposed COVID-19 lockdown.
Dulay said the DFA sent out an advisory for all foreign posts to follow the host governments’ public safety rules.
The DFA has also reported, mainly from various social media platforms, a “deluge” of voters supposedly due to the high number of Filipinos abroad who were eager to vote.
Aside from the reports of supposedly pres-haded ballots, the Senate committee also resumed its investigation of the alleged breach of the database of election service provider Smartmatic Inc.
Comelec chair Saidamen Pangarungan told the committee that the poll body withheld the third tranche of its payment to Smartmatic amounting to P90 million upon the recommendation of its law department.
The amount is what remains unpaid of its P402.7-million contract for the automated elections system (AES) software for the May 9 elections. The Comelec has P3.12 billion worth of contracts with Smartmatic for the polls.
The decision to hold the payment follows a National Bureau of Investigation finding that a former Smartmatic employee, Ricardo Argana, admitted that he shared his credentials to an unknown person whom he met through Facebook Messenger allegedly in exchange for “free lectures.”
Argana was supposedly offered P50,000 to P300,000 for helping still-unidentified persons gain access to the confidential AES files.
Asked when they intend to release the payment, Pangarungan replied: “Once we are convinced that Smartmatic is innocent about this leakage of data.”
Pangarungan said the Comelec is also studying other possible sanctions against Smartmatic, including the termination of its contract and blacklisting of the company from future engagements with the government.
It may also resort to forfeiture of the contractor’s performance bond, as well as the filing of criminal charges. The Comelec could also sue Smartmatic for damages under the Data Privacy Act and the Civil Code of the Philippines, he said.
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