Sotto finds Smartmatic’s answer on ‘ñ’ ‘unacceptable, unbelievable’

MANILA – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday described the answers of Smartmatic on the issue of the character “ñ” that was suddenly changed in the middle of the counting and canvassing of votes during the 2016 national elections “unacceptable” and “unbelievable.”

The issue of the questionable character was raised against the provider of the automated election system (AES) during the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the AES after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) could not satisfactorily answer why Smartmatic changed the computer script of the transparency server in mid-count.

The Comelec earlier confirmed that the script of the transparency server was tweaked, but only to correct a character in the names of candidates with “ñ” in them.

Sotto prodded Smartmatic representatives to answer after a question was raised why the poll body did not foresee the problems that may arise from the character replacement in the election process.

“Let Smartmatic answer. To other people, Comelec seemed to be the lawyer for Smartmatic. Most of the questions should be answered by them (since) the guy who made the ‘ñ’ thing came from Smartmatic,” Sotto said.

The “fix” was supposedly done by Marlon Garcia, the head of the Smartmatic technical support team at the time.

Smartmatic project director Pravir Dahiya admitted to the JCOC-AES that they do not know the specific issue on the character in question.

“In terms of knowing the error itself of the ‘ñ,’ we were not aware. We would admit it as an oversight that is something that could only be detected during the process,” Dahiya said.

Sotto said he found this unacceptable and unbelievable.

“We cannot accept that it can only be found during the process. Filing of certificates of candidacies were in October and there were many candidates nationwide with ‘ñ’ in their names,” he said.

“From October to May.. you only found out in May during the counting that there is something wrong with a letter? It’s unbelievable! So that you can open the transparency servers? We cannot accept that!” Sotto said.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III also pointed out that there were field tests and a mock election months before the actual polls.

Comelec executive director Jose Tolentino initially explained that the “ñ” is not part of the three main source codes related to the counting, canvassing and consolidation of votes, but is rather inn the transparency server.

“The ‘ñ’ is not connected to the CCS (Consolidated Canvassing System). It is at the transparency server whose only function is to get advanced unofficial results. Any script made there (transparency server) will not affect our elections,” Tolentino said.

However, Philippine Computer Society director Edmundo Casiño said the insertion of ”ñ” in the middle of a live transmission is a clear violation of the automated elections law.

“You don’t do that in a live transmission or production run because that is direct tampering,” Casiño said.