Bataan poll protest case may provide evidence of fraud at local level
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Philippines—An election case in Dinalupihan, Bataan province, should not be dismissed as only a matter of small-town politics, said former Bataan Rep. Felicito Payumo.
“Dinalupihan deserves attention, perhaps deeper scrutiny, from voters, candidates, political parties or democracy advocates because it provides incontrovertible evidence how fraud in the local level was done despite the automated elections in 2013, Payumo, a native of Dinalupihan and former chair of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, said in an interview on Monday.
Questions about the accuracy of automated counting surfaced during the manual recount the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc ordered in March. The recount was in connection with the lone election protest in Bataan that was filed by Payumo’s nephew, Jose Alejandre Payumo III, against Dinalupihan Mayor Maria Angela Garcia.
The 2013 elections used 78,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that Smartmatic supplied nationwide. The machines recorded and counted votes and electronically transmitted results of the canvass.
Felicito Payumo, who lost in the Bataan second congressional district race in 2013, said Dinalupihan stood out because while there were other candidates who claimed they were victims of the so-called “hocus PCOS,” none had persevered and succeeded in proving that the PCOS machines could be preprogrammed or tampered with.
PCOS machines from Smartmatic were first used in the 2010 elections, ushering in automated elections in the Philippines. Smartmatic has won a new contract to supply the Comelec with new counting machines for the 2016 elections.
In a July 21 letter, the elder Payumo asked Comelec Chair Andres Bautista to conduct an “urgent investigation of the election anomaly” in Dinalupihan to “prevent the repetition of the same.”
“If it can be done in Dinalupihan, it can be done elsewhere,” he said.
But Mayor Garcia said Dinalupihan did not deserve undue focus because nothing wrong happened in the 2013 elections in the town.
“The court record of the protest does not show any evidence of electoral fraud,” she said in a text message on Monday.
The Supreme Court, in a July 21 decision, granted Garcia’s petition to annul two Comelec resolutions reinstating the election protest of Payumo’s nephew.
The high court also upheld a Feb. 17, 2014, court decision of Judge Merideth Malig of the Bataan Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 5, who dismissed the case because it was filed past the required 10-day period following the proclamation of winners.
“We feel vindicated. The protest was filed out of time,” Garcia said.
With the Supreme Court decision, what happens now to the manual recount and to the so-called fraud uncovered in the process?
This is not much about the outcome because Jose Alejandre Payumo III lost, getting only 261 in additional votes for his total of 13,202, and Garcia, 634 votes for her total of 31,138.
In an unofficial tally by the Nationalist People’s Coalition-Liberal Party coalition, based on photocopies of the ballots allowed by the court, the results in 51 precincts between manual recount and PCOS count showed the following percentage differences:
Congressional race—10 percent (Felicito Payumo) and 5 percent (Herminia Roman)
Gubernatorial race—1 percent (Abet Garcia) and 2 percent (Joel Jaime Payumo)
Vice gubernatorial race— 3 percent (Jay Consunji) and 1 percent (Bondjong Pascual)
Vice mayoral race—2 to 6 percent
Sangguniang Bayan race —1 to 5 percent.
No tally was given for the mayoral candidates as its announcement was left to the court’s discretion.
“Keep in mind that what we counted manually were fraudulent substitute ballots. They only tried to match the mayoral candidates’ PCOS count,” Payumo said.
Under the terms of the bidding for the automated system for the 2010 elections, the Comelec required an accuracy rate of 99.995 percent.
“Once the Supreme Court decision becomes final, the manual recount, which actually validated the PCOS count, will be rendered useless,” Garcia said.
The younger Payumo said he would ask the high court to reconsider its decision.
His uncle said what the tribunal had resolved was a technical issue.
“The high court did not pass verdict on the fraud. No temporary restraining order was issued against the manual recount,” he said, making it possible for his nephew to submit more evidence of fraud.
“I won’t benefit from this manual count but I would like to expose automated election cheating. I just want to seek the truth,” he said.
The elder Payumo, in his letter to Bautista, said his camp, on the first day of the counting, discovered five bundles of wrapped ballots for three clustered precincts in the municipal election office.
“Every day, as the ballot boxes were opened, there were no loose ballots but instead, neatly wrapped ballots in brown paper [with Comelec seal and markings] were found inside the ballot boxes,” he said.
“It was clear that the genuine ballots cast by the voters were pulled out from each box and replaced with fabricated ballots, but the perpetrators, who were in hurry or overconfident that the boxes would no longer be opened when Judge Malig dismissed the protest, did not even bother to take out the wrapping paper,” he said.
At least 78 of 80 ballot boxes contained wrapped ballots, he said.
Garcia’s lawyer, Emiliano Pomer, said the five bundles of wrapped ballots were included in the revision and these were “likewise found to be genuine, valid ballots.”
Pomer said it was Payumo, not the revision committee, who “made the unilateral declaration that the wrapped ballots found inside the ballot boxes were fake ballots.”
A July 10 report of the revision committee to the Bataan RTC Branch 5, which Garcia provided the Inquirer, said: “All the ballots examined by the two revision committees were properly authenticated using a UV [ultraviolet] lamp and no ballot was found to be fake or spurious.”
The brown sheets of paper, Pomer said, were official Comelec envelopes for “scanned/counted official ballots” with instruction that the “chairman of the board [of election inspectors] shall deposit [these] in the ballot box.”
“But who wrapped the ballots in the envelopes? That’s the big question because the teachers [doing poll duties] denied having touched the ballots or putting these in envelopes,” Payumo said.
The revision committee report, prepared by its chair, Edlyn Almario, did not mention finding wrapped ballots in the 80 ballot boxes that were retrieved from the municipal treasurer’s office.
Pomer said teachers had acknowledged receiving two envelopes. The certificates of receipt, he said, could be the basis for the filing of perjury complaint against teachers who denied receiving the envelopes.
Payumo said he suspected the wrapped ballots were part of an “operation cleanup” that intended to “have the ballots match the programmed or tampered PCOS results.”
Garcia said court records did not show any ballot replacement. “On the contrary, the official revision report says that not a single ballot was found to be fake or spurious,” she said.
Payumo said two precincts yielded stacks of ballots lacking the signatures or initials of the BEI heads. The BEI chairs had testified that they had signed all ballots before handing them out to voters.
“There was no way they could have missed that many,” he said.
‘Peddlers’ of CF cards
Payumo said the results could have been programmed in CF (compact flash) cards because he recalled that ahead of the polls, “some peddlers offered programs that supposedly could give us a 60-40 [percent] or 55-45 [percent] winning margin.”
“We did not bite,” he said. No candidate in the Nationalist People’s Coalition and Liberal Party, even the most popular ones, won local seats, he said.
Pomer said Payumo should have called the Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation or the Comelec to have these supposed peddlers arrested.
“Or at least raise a ruckus in the media for the public to be warned. Had he done so, the peddling, assuming that there was really one, would have been nipped in the bud, so to speak,” he said.
Payumo said the perpetrators must be “some other person or group who had done it while the ballot boxes had been under lock and key in the municipal treasurer’s office.”
But Pomer said the manual recount proved the PCOS count to be accurate.
“As far as we are concerned, based on the revision that was conducted under the strict supervision of the court, the elections of 2013 were clean and reflective of the will of the electorate,” he said.–With a report from Allan Macatuno, Inquirer Central Luzon