COMELEC: Too early to say if 2016 elections had irregularities

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 7) — The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) says a lawmaker's claim of election irregularities is too soon to tell

In a privilege speech Tuesday, Senate majority leader Vicente "Tito" Sotto III claims the results of the 2016 elections may have been manipulated by technology provider Smartmatic.

He questioned the Commission on Elections' (COMELEC) decision to tap Smartmatic for the 2019 polls, saying a source gave him information about the alleged irregularities that happened in the previous elections.

READ: Sotto alleges 2016 election irregularity

"What I am about to present to you may or may not be gospel truth, but very accurate information. And if these allegations are serious enough and are proven to be true after due investigation, then we have a case of electoral sabotage for the conduct of the 2016 elections," he said.

Sotto added that in the information relayed to him, two points were alleged: that there was an early transmission of votes, and there was remote access of the election server.

The COMELEC, however, said it's too early to say whether irregularities marred the 2016 elections, especially since they have yet to obtain the data Sotto mentioned in his speech.

COMELEC Spokesperson James Jimenez reacted to Sotto's claim of early transmissions, saying it's possible that the data recorded came from the final testing and sealing of the vote counting machines (VCM).

He noted, the VCMs were tested for recording and transmitting votes – using dummy results – even up to the wee hours of the morning before the 2016 elections.

Jimenez said, "The allegation of early transmissions was simply that: merong [there were] early transmissions...So, is it impossible that there were transmissions from the final testing and sealing? At this point, it's really hard to say. Final testing and sealing, the protocol is to try out everything that the machine is able to do."

As to Sotto's claim that information gathered from the election servers were submitted to a cloud services provider based in the U.S., Jimenez said the Senator might just be referring to data posted on the COMELEC's own election results website.

Jimenez also admitted the election results from the election servers passed through a server overseas before it was uploaded to the website.

He said, "We had a results website and where was that hosted? That was hosted abroad. Remember at that time, there were also concerns about security...that passes through a foreign server. I don't know if that's the same server identified, but again this is possible.]

As for the zero votes that some senatorial and presidential candidates allegedly had, Jimenez says such events do happen.

"Merong [There are] zero votes everywhere. I think every candidate had a zero vote experience," he said."

Jimenez said it's premature to speculate whether results were manipulated in the 2016 elections, however the COMELEC will be conducting its own investigation on the matter.

In the absence of solid proof of the alleged cheating, Jimenez said the COMELEC would continue its preparations for the 2019 polls where Smartmatic will still be the technology provider.