May 25th, 2010
‘Koala asked P50M to rig vote’
By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:24:00 05/25/2010
MANILA, Philippines—Going by the stories of losing candidates, a group of “koala bears” must have been roaming the country during the election period offering to fix votes for a fee ranging up to P50 million.
Defeated candidates from Quezon City to Surigao del Norte Monday testified at a congressional hearing and alleged that men had approached them claiming they could rig the country’s first automated polls.
“I was surprised when he asked me if I am willing to engage his services, including those of his partners, to guarantee the victory of my entire slate in the province,” Surigao del Norte Gov. Ace Barbers told the House of Representatives committee on suffrage and electoral reforms.
“If I subscribe, the victories of myself, my vice governor, congressmen, and all my mayors will be guaranteed. The price—P50 million,” Barbers said.
Barbers said he spurned the offer. He and his entire team, including 21 mayoral candidates, lost.
Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor, who also came to grief at the polls, said three men came to his house in January and offered to cheat for him. He said he refused and they did not talk about money.
Last week, a masked man claimed in a video shown at a media forum that he had taken part in vote-shaving and vote-padding operations in exchange for money.
The same video was played at the House hearings and the committee chair, Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., immediately dubbed the masked man the “koala bear” because of his appearance. The man identified himself in the video as “Robin.”
Several officials have doubted the man’s claims.
The term “koala bear” is a misnomer. Koalas are not bears but marsupials, like the kangaroos. They feed on low-energy eucalyptus leaves. Endemic to Australia, they walk on four legs but also climb trees.
Koalas are said to be loners and wail like a baby when hurt or sad. They might scream when touched but are described as harmless.
Barbers spun a lengthy tale at the hearing, telling of how a man approached him at the Camp Aguinaldo golf club last November and offered to make him and his allies win. He said the alleged poll operator was a “decent-looking man.”
Barbers said Laguna Gov. Teresita Lazaro and Rep. Munir Arbison had similar tales to tell.
Election officials and representatives of automation machine suppliers Smartmatic have stressed that the results of the polls could not be manipulated, and that preprogrammed results could not be inserted in the machines.
They also said that if any shenanigans took place, it would be easily detected under the automated election system.
One of a group
Barbers later told reporters he was withholding the identity of the man at the moment because he wanted to convince him to come out. He said he had the man’s phone number but could not contact him when he tried to call the number.
Barbers said the man told him that he was part of a group going around the country in search of politicians who wanted to manipulate the polls.
The man claimed to have the capability of manipulating the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and that all of these would be reprogrammed before the polls to accommodate those who would hire their services.
Barbers said he was told that the PCOS machines were tampered with to reflect different dates and times to confuse those who would investigate the transmission of results. The machines could also be overridden by another computer when it came to transmitting results.
The man also supposedly said that the compact flash cards, which contained the instructions for the PCOS machines, would be replaced with ones containing the preprogrammed results after the testing process.
Barbers said he would have to shell out a 35-percent downpayment on the P50-million fee by February, another 35 percent at the start of the campaign and the balance upon proclamation.
If he was not interested, the man would peddle his services to his opponents, Barbers added.
Makati Rep. Locsin, committee chair, asked why Barbers had not come forward then and said he should have executed an affidavit about meeting the man.
Barbers said he did not believe the man then, and that because of this, he did not think of reporting the matter to anyone.
‘Like cold water’
It was only when reports came out that Smartmatic would replace 76,000 flash cards for possible defects that he felt the man might have been telling the truth, Barbers said.
“I thought I would have a heart attack, I felt like ice cold water was being poured on my entire body. I remembered the conversation and the offer and the words rang in my ear as if my eardrums would burst. Is this it? I remember asking myself. So is it true?” he said.
Barbers claimed the loss of his entire slate was very “revealing.” He also found suspicious the high voter turnout in his rivals’ bailiwicks and their large winning margins.
He also said that in one precinct, a member of the board of election inspectors had cut one side of the ballot to fit it into the machine.
He scoffed at the reason given by Commission on Elections (Comelec) regional director Danny Pobe—who he claimed was linked to the “Hello Garci” scandal—which was that the ballots had expanded due to the weather.
Defensor said the three men who came to his house were accompanied by a longtime friend.
“I asked them if [what they were offering] is to prevent cheating. They said, ‘No, no. To cheat,’” he told reporters.
Upon hearing that, Defensor said he just shook the men’s hands to indicate that he was rejecting the offer.
The men gave him their contact numbers, but he did not call them.
According to Defensor, the men showed him documents to back up their claims that they could disable the PCOS machines and manipulate the results. He was unable to get a good look at the documents.
Asked why he only brought this out now, Defensor said he thought that it was just a scam.
James Jimenez, spokesperson of the Comelec, lamented the bandwagon effect of the allegations being made at the House hearings.
“Suddenly there is a proliferation of pre-election offers of ways to subvert the elections. (This is) a case of the ‘me, too’ syndrome … One congressman claims of being offered (help) to cheat and the others say, ‘Me, too,’” Jimenez complained.
“The Comelec hopes that those who claimed to have received such offers can make good on their claims because it would be very instructive for everyone,” he remarked with a hint of sarcasm.
Jimenez said that prior to the elections, the poll body had appealed to politicians who had received shady offers to alert the poll body. Sadly, no one did.
No more recount
The Comelec regional office in Butuan City rejected calls for a manual recounting of votes in the Surigao del Norte elections.
Pobe, the Comelec regional director in Caraga, said: “The winners had been duly proclaimed so any recounting of the votes is impossible. There must be a court order or directive coming from the Comelec central office.”
On Friday, hundreds of Barbers’ supporters and political allies gathered at the Surigao city plaza condemning alleged massive fraud.
Barbers lost by 2,114 votes to the wife of Rep. Francisco Matugas.
“Barbers and his allies were just sour-graping. They must accept the will of the Surigaonons,” Matugas said.
Another protester was Speaker Prospero Nograles, who charged that the compact flash cards supposed to transmit the results might have been tampered with when they were reconfigured before the elections.
“A lot of people are asking how it can be done, if it is possible to reconfigure flash cards and deliver them within 48 hours. And where did the replacement flash cards come from? Taiwan? I did not see a paper trail,” Nograles, who lost in the Davao City mayoral race, said in Filipino. With reports from Cathy Yamsuan in Manila and Franklin A. Caliguid, Inquirer Mindanao
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