Comelec to Smartmatic: Stay away from canvassing system at PICC

ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has ordered technology provider Smartmatic to stay away from the canvassing and consolidation system at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).

The PICC is the poll body's canvassing center for senators and party-list representatives.

In a letter addressed to Smartmatic general manager Elie Moreno, Comelec Commissioner Robert Lim said this is to preserve the integrity of the system.

Lim said only the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) has sole and absolute control over the CCS workstation at the PICC, and any further access to the system by Smartmatic has to be under strict protocols and Comelec supervision.

"As a precautionary measure in the midst of numerous concerns and speculations as to the integrity of the [CCS] being used for the 2016 National and Local Elections, please be reminded that the [NBOC] has sole and absolute control over the CCS workstation located at the [PICC]," the letter read.

"Henceforth, access to the same shall be subject to strict protocols. Your personnel shall not be allowed access to the same unless with specific prior authority from the NBOC or the Project Monitoring Office. In any case, access to the same shall always be under the direct supervision of a duly designated Comelec personnel," Lim told Moreno.

According to Lim, Smartmatic also has to secure his consent before examining any other equipment or system.

"Finally, in the spirit of utmost transparency follow the protocol of announcing any action to all parties present before undertaking the same," he added.

The order comes after it was revealed that Smartmatic altered a script in the transparency server in the evening of May 9, changing all "?" to "ñ" to correct the spelling of candidates' names containing the letter "ñ."

READ: Comelec: Transparency server script altered, won't affect results

Smartmatic official Marlon Garcia stressed that the change was only for "cosmetic" purposes and did not in any way affect election results.

"There was no results changed, okay? It's very important to keep that in mind. Only the 'ñ' replacing the '?' All the votes for Candidate A were still there, all the votes for Candidate B, everything remained the same," he said.

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, however, said there was a breach of protocol since Smartmatic made the change without official consent from the poll body's en banc.

Garcia admitted that the alteration, since it was only "minor," was not brought up before the Comelec chairman or the commissioners. Only a representative from the poll body typed in the Comelec password.

Two passwords -- one from Smartmatic and another from Comelec -- are needed before a change can be made into the system.

According to Guanzon, she will push for the Comelec en banc to conduct a formal investigation on the incident to identify the possible liabilities of Smartmatic.

READ: Guanzon: Smartmatic breached protocol

"There may have been no damage in terms of no alteration in the results, but there is certainly some effects because now people are anxious," Guanzon said.

"They should not have touched that program without our prior knowledge and our official consent... It's our property, its not their property," she added. "This was unauthorized. That initiative to change a minor thing did not come from the Comelec, it came from them."

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