(First published in the February 11, 2013 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

It is a memory that must serve us right. During vote counting in the May 2010 elections, compact flash cards, election returns and ballots were found in a Cagayan de Oro dumpsite. Some sleuthing by Sen. Koko Pimentel led to the dump truck’s registry—it belonged to the city hall of Cagayan de Oro. Months later, the dump truck’s driver was found dead. Let us review the timeline.

At the ensuing investigation by the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms chaired by then Rep. Teddy Boy Locsin, the flash cards were shown to Smartmatic executive Cesar Flores. “The PCOS machine software would not allow it to read any tampered CF cards,” he claimed.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal explained the ERs were actually stolen from the local Comelec office. Blowing his top, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. accused Larrazabal and Comelec of trying to protect its own people. Commissioner Rene Sarmiento responded by saying that the Comelec has ordered an investigation.

At a subsequent hearing, Cagayan de Oro Second District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez questioned Smartmatic on the authenticity of the dumpsite flash cards. Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma testified on the same flash cards found in the dumpsite which he had in his custody. PCOS log receipts were also found.

On the hearing’s Day 6 on May 26, 2010, Flores testified that “it is not possible for a pre-programmed compact flash card to pad or shave votes. He explained the PCOS is not supposed to accept data from outside.”

In early June, Cagayan de Oro First District Rep. Rolando Uy, who had lost the mayoralty race to comebacking Vicente Emano (who had, in the intermediate, “rested” as a vice mayor) cried, “The dumping of election materials was meant to hide a serious crime—the crime of election sabotage.” At the final vote count, Emano had won by a mere 2,130 votes—an incredible figure for one always gifted with wide margins.

In the June 7 issue of Sunstar Cagayan de Oro, writers Annabelle L. Ricalde and Danilo V. Adorador III reported that “Lawyers Mariano and Evangeline Carrasco said the discovery of CF cards reconfiguration at the DOST regional office hours before the May 10 elections has provided the missing link in the mysterious dumping of election materials. The jigsaw puzzle seems clearer now, the lawyers said.”

“They alleged that the electronic ‘insertions and manipulation’ of votes were done at the time when the vote-transmission suddenly stopped on the evening of May 10, when 89 percent of the results were already in. At this point, the contest was neck and neck, and the bailiwicks of the Uy camp were still being awaited. Without checking thoroughly what caused the transmission failure and asking the technicians to do something about it, Gina Sabio (the city election supervisor) precipitately ordered the hand-carrying of the flashcards to city hall where they would be inserted into the canvasser’s computer.”

The Uy camp saw a different angle. “The printed ERs, they said, were actually results or returns from the flashcards manipulated or reconfigured by the so-called ‘DOST technicians’ early in the morning of May 10.”

Back at the House hearing, “Comelec Executive Director Jose M. Tolentino Jr. shocked lawmakers when he disclosed that there was no en banc resolution authorizing the distribution of blank CF cards to regional DOST offices throughout the country.” This disclosure shocked the PPCRV chair, Ambassador Tita de Villa. “I am not aware of the distribution of extra CF cards.”

The Locsin report’s item no. 9 concluded: “The curious distribution of blank extra CF cards … is another matter. Rep. Rufus Rodriguez could not stress enough the illegality of a contingency measure that was ordered before it was authorized by the Comelec en banc. The head of the Advisory Council had been alarmed by it.”

At the Smartmatic warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna, the dumpsite flash cards were fed to a PCOS machine and the results examined. The findings said: “Smartmatic and Comelec decrypted the cards and stored the unencrypted files in a separate storage device. The success of the decryption shows the content of the cards was legitimate. Opening of the logs and results, the conclusion is that the cards come from 4 precincts that successfully transmitted results to the AES and no tampering was done. All 4 CF cards are genuine.”

Rufus Rodriguez, who was present, asked “These were already canvassed. The only question is why were these thrown away?” The Philippine National Police announced they will investigate.

“We still don’t know whether or not you can manipulate the machine itself … that’s not answered,” one congressman in Cabuyao opined.

The Locsin report concludes: “Cheating appears therefore to have been confined to local contests. Too few to make a difference in a crisis of the national magnitude of the wrongly configured CF cards but enough to make a difference in the outcome of local elections at the hands of unscrupulous election officials on the ground.” Locsin’s one-liner: “If some losers are whiners, let me tell you, some winners are cheaters.”

Pray tell us, Comelec, how do you expect the people of Cagayan de Oro City to believe in your PCOS machines come May 13?

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Blog MontalvanAntonio Montalvan II writes for Kriss-Crossing Mindanao, an opinion column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. 

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