MANILA, Philippines — People questioning the processes and results of the automated elections should focus instead on vote-buying and voter suppression claims, as the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) stressed that the data and procedures have been scrutinized by a wide variety of analysts.
During an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel’s Headstart on Monday morning, PPCRV chairperson Myla Villanueva said that while the elections was generally peaceful, there were numerous reports of massive vote-buying even before election day itself.
Villanueva’s remarks came as rumors about vote-counting machines (VCMs) from automated election provider Smartmatic being rigged for a particular candidate are spreading over social media and messaging apps.
“I think we have bigger issues than the counting because it is so scrutinized, it’s really before the vote is happening — all of us have heard of vote-buying, suppression,” Villanueva said.
“Although it was rather peaceful and you know, good (and) orderly elections, we still have some societal problems that we have to resolve,” she added.
Villanueva also noted that the country may have been “spoiled” with the automated system that those calling for a return to a manual system of voting may be forgetting the huge problems and risks that it carries.
Instead of blaming the automated system, the PPCRV chair said that acceptance and the understanding of the credibility of the polls must be improved, considering again that a lot of people are looking at the processes — including opposition coalition 1Sambayan.
“I think we’ve become spoiled with the automated system, I experienced the manual way and I think we will have many more problems if we go back to manual. So we just have to have more logical and factual sharing of information amongst many stakeholders to improve the acceptance and credibility of every election cycle, not just this one,” Villanueva said.
“1Sambayan also did their own analysis and again the universities — the more people are looking at the systems, and you know recommending improvements, the better it would be for us […] But by and large I could say, as far as it is now, halfway mark, the data has been scrutinized by so many people and I can certainly assure at this stage that you know, it is quite regular,” she added.
Claims that the elections were rigged were being shared within opposition circles, after the presidential bet and former senator Bongbong Marcos opened up a huge lead against fellow candidate Vice President Leni Robredo.
Currently, the partial and unofficial tally from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) transparency server showed Marcos leading big, with 31.09 million votes, or over double of Robredo’s 14.81 million votes.
There have been several rumors about the supposed 68:32 ratio magic where votes between former senator Bongbong Marcos and Robredo were supposedly split in that percentage — a claim that was debunked by both PPCRV and the University of the Philippines’ School of Statistics, as the latter stressed that electoral fraud cannot be proven by such claims.
The quick count from Comelec’s transparency server, which was reflected in PPCRV’s own quick count, started coming in just hours after most polling sites have closed on 7:00 p.m. — leading Villanueva to speculate whether it was the quick transmission that led to doubts.
However, Villanueva stressed earlier that the vote transmission for the 2019 polls was actually faster, although the public did not immediately see it due to a glitch.
As to whether PPCRV and other election watchdogs would still be relevant if the automated system continues, Villanueva said that there are measures to check whether ballots match with the results sent by the VCMs — like the random manual audit which is being done by Comelec.
Villanueva said the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) are currently supervising Comelec’s random manual audit.
“Well, the work of the PPCRV is to ensure that nothing goes wrong in the transmission, meaning that there’s no dagdag-bawas happening when you feed the ballot and it goes into cyberspace. So we’re confirming for the public that before the results are transmitted and after it’s received by a transparency server, that nothing was manipulated, hacked or changed,” she said.
“Namfrel and Lente’s work is ongoing now, they have a vast experience in the appreciation of ballots. What they’re doing is they’re actual ballot faces with the Comelec, observing that process, and ensuring that that vote-counting machine counted the ballots and submitted it properly,” she added.