Comelec, Smartmatic on software alteration: Cosmetic change, no effect on results

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Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its technology provider, Smartmatic confirmed on Thursday (May 12) that a piece of software in a component of the transparency server at the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) command center was altered.

This happened at 7:30 pm, the night of the elections (May 9).

They said this was done to fix a problem: the system could not recognize "ñ" in candidates' names. It was showing question marks instead.

Smartmatic Philippines General Manager Elie Moreno said that their project manager, Marlon Garcia was informed of the "cosmetic change."

"He (Garcia) proactively went ahead and made the change in the script," Moreno explained. "Because he considered it a cosmetic issue, a minor thing, he changed it and then he explained to the political parties and everybody present in the room."

Garcia fixed the problem and then told the journalists, volunteers and political party representatives in the room about it.

Smartmatic said the change was merely cosmetic. It said the program that was changed was separate from the program that received and counted the votes.

Even if the change altered the hash code or fingerprint of the software, the Comelec said it had nothing to do with the code of the poll automation system.

But the Comelec admitted that Garcia broke protocol when he made the change without informing the poll body first.

Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista said it was really not a big deal.

But Comelec Senior Commissioner Christian Robert Lim worried that the incident had now been used to cast doubt on the results of the elections.

Related: Marcos camp: New programming script introduced into Comelec’s transparency server

Sen. Bongbong Marcos had said the incident had aroused suspicion. His vice presidential rival, Rep. Leni Robredo, had overtaken Marcos in the vote count several hours after the alteration.

Lim recognized that the damage had been done.