DAGUPAN CITY—Voters who turned up in five countries to participate in overseas absentee voting and opposition candidates complained Sunday of “a pattern of cheating” after discrepancies between the vote receipts and actual votes cast heavily favored administration candidates led by the ruling Liberal Party standard bearer Manuel Roxas II and other candidates tailing in the surveys.
In a news conference in Ormoc City, Leyte, vice presidential candidate Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his cousin senatorial candidate Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez bared “a plot of cheating” to deprive them of their votes in the ongoing overseas absentee voting.
In a separate news conference in this city, United Nationalist Alliance presidential candidate Vice President Jejomar Binay also complained of similar incidents.
Marcos said he has received several reports over the weekend that votes being cast in his favor were being credited to another vice presidential candidate, Senator Gregorio Honasan of UNA, who has been trailing opinion surveys.
Marcos, Romualdez and Binay said they were alarmed that the same kind of cheating would mar the May 9 polls when 54-million voters would troop to their poll precincts to cast their votes.
Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista simply attributed the vote-shaving to “machine errors.”
The voters said Marcos, Romualdez and Binay were among the candidates who lost the votes in Hong Kong, Guam, Dubai, Kuwait and Okinawa, Japan.
Marcos and Romualdez raised the alarm when voters from these five countries barraged their offices with reports that they were among those they had voted for but the actual votes cast showed their votes went to their opponents.
“Last week, we were just hearing about votes for me not being reflected in my name in Hong Kong but now we have similar reports in Dubai, Kuwait and in Japan. Just this morning, we received another report from Okinawa of the same incident. We are seeing a pattern here,” Marcos said.
Romualdez also cited a similar incident in Hong Kong where his votes were also not reflected in the voter’s receipts.
“I was told by my coordinator in Hong Kong that there were those who voted for me but did not see my name in the receipts and the Comelec officer just responded ‘Noted’ when told about it,” Romualdez said.
Marcos called the attention of the Comelec and service provider Smartmatic to immediately investigate the incidents and not dismiss them outright.
“Comelec and Smartmatic should investigate this immediately because this does not reflect well on the credibility of the elections. We are very alarmed and very upset about these reports and the Comelec should not take this sitting down,” Marcos said.
Marcos warned that such vote discrepancies could happen on a larger scale in the polls on May 9.
Andresa Amba, who is from Butuan in Mindanao and an overseas Filipino worker in Hong Kong, said she voted on April 20 and questioned the Comelec board of canvassers when the name of Romualdez for senator did not reflect on the voter’s receipt.
“I was surprised to see Romualdez’s name is gone. Of the 12 candidates I have voted for, only Romualdez’s name was missing and it was replaced by another senatorial candidate [Bayan Muna Rep.] Neri Colmenares. I did not vote for Colmenares. I voted for Martin Romualdez,” Amba told The Standard.
Amba said she tried to ask the poll officials and was told that her complaint has been “noted.”
On April 21, Amba, 56, said she flew to Butuan in Mindanao to attend a big event for her pastor Apollo Quiboloy and reported the matter to him.
Amba said she decided to go on air on radio dzAR, to alert Filipino voters.
“The dzAR anchor tried to reach Bautista through a phone patch and Bautista told me it must have been caused by machine error,” Amba said.
Amba said Bautista downplayed the vote shaving and claimed Amba must have failed to follow the instructions properly like how to shade the portion that would signify her vote for a particular candidate.
She said Bautista promised to look into the incident and if indeed the error was due to a “computer glitch.”
“I am not sure what to do with it? I am thinking if I should file a complaint before the Comelec. My priority now is to alert the electorate about my experience. I just hope the Comelec can fix the problem,” Amba said.
“I still wanted my vote for Romualdez counted for Romualdez. I wanted him to be senator. That’s why I voted for him. It makes me angry and disappointed that they would simply tell me I was entitled to vote only once and I could not do anything about the lost vote for Romualdez. I did vote but my vote was shaved at the expense of Romualdez. It was also at my expense because I felt cheated,” Amba said.
“This makes the whole electoral process vulnerable and it will reflect very badly on the credibility of the elections,” Marcos said.
Marcos said one of the reports that reached him came from a sibling of a Smartmatic employee.
“These reports are coming from different sources and in different places. If this was just one incident, we could dismiss this as a mere isolated case or a machine glitch but they are happening in places very far apart. This is very, very disturbing and the Comelec and Smartmatic should also be concerned about this,” Marcos said.
The senator also said they have already written the Comelec about the report that took place in Hong Kong last week where an overseas Filipino worker was caught on video complaining that her vote for Marcos went to Honasan in her voter’s receipt.
Marcos said when the voter told the election officer about it, the OFW from Laoag City, Ilocos Norte was told that she could not vote anymore because there is an existing one ballot, one voter policy.
Marcos said they have also informed the camp of Honasan about the matter and said they are also looking into it.
“Senator Honasan is a very honest man and I know that he would not like that votes not for him are being given to him,” Marcos said.
Marcos reiterated his call for the Comelec to lay down the rules in cases where there were discrepancies in the vote receipts from the actual votes cast.
“If a voter says the content of the receipt is wrong, what shall he or she do? How will he or she make the complaint? What’s the procedure? The Comelec needs to take steps so that when voters go to their precincts, they will know what to do when this kind of problem surfaces,” he said.
“This is a very serious matter… How can we be sure that it will not happen on May 9? It is therefore important that the Comelec releases clear guidelines if the same problem occurs on Election Day,” Marcos said.
In a news conference here, Binay said his lawyers already petitioned the Comelec to explain the irregularities that figured in overseas absentee voting.
Binay also said the Comelec should look into the possibility that the glitches have something to do with the recent hacking of Comelec’s voters’ database.
Congressional candidate Danilo Suarez, UNA campaign manager, said similar reports were also received by UNA from Hong Kong, Guam and Okinawa.
In the case of Binay, the vote was replaced with Roxas while Marcos’ name was replaced with Honasan, Binay’s running mate.
“That is really alarming. The Comelec has a lot of explaining to do,” Suarez said.
Binay added that it was worrisome that the Comelec has been silent about the reported discrepancies.
“Until now, they have no explanation of this, and how they were hacked. I have not heard them say anything to clear up what happened in Hong Kong,” Binay said in Filipino.
Last week, the Marcos camp asked Bautista to take a serious look into reported discrepancies between actual votes on the ballot and the printed voters’ receipts in the OAV in Hong Kong.
Marcos said that instead of threatening to file election offense charges against voters who would make petty complaints on supposed discrepancies, the poll body should conduct a thorough investigation to establish the truth.
In some of these reports, the voter receipt showed no vote for president when in the physical ballot it was actually shaded and voted for, while other reports said the voter receipt showed a candidate’s name different from the one actually voted for in the physical ballot.
“Unless we can assure our people that no irregularities tainted the elections there would always be a cloud of doubt on the mandate of the elected officials and this would be detrimental to the interest of the entire Filipino nation,” Marcos warned. With Joel E. Zurbano