Petitioners want Smartmatic out of next polls for ‘meeting with Marcos Jr.’s wife before May 2022 elections’

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From left: Retired Brig. Gen. Eliseo Rio Jr., Frank F. Ysaac, former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong and former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman sing the national anthem before the start of the press conference on Sept. 13 at Metro Club in Makati City. — PHOTO BY OLIVER TEVES

Representatives of Smartmatic met with the future first lady before the May 9, 2022, presidential election, violating their contract as the automated election system (AES) provider for the Commission on Elections (Comelec), according to a motion to disqualify the company from involvement in the 2025 polls.

The submission to the Comelec on Sept. 11 is the second supplemental motion to the main petition questioning the qualifications of Smartmatic TIM Corp. filed in June by the frontliners of the Truth and Transparency movement, an informal group that alleges that the last presidential election was rigged from the start.

The motion states that the petitioners—retired Army brigadier general Eliseo Rio Jr., former Comelec commissioner Augusto Lagman, businessman and former banker Frank F. Ysaac and retired Army colonel Leonardo O. Odoño—“received new information that Smartmatic had met with the representatives of a presidential candidate during the election period.”

Rio and the other petitioners announced the filing of the motion in a press conference on Sept. 13.

The supposed meeting was “in blatant violation and willful disregard of its (Smartmatic’s)  contract” with the Comelec and was “another ground for the disqualification of or declaration of ineligibility of Smartmatic from bidding for the 2025 automated election system,” the motion adds.

Attached to the motion are a 15-page affidavit by Glenn Chong, a former lawmaker representing the province of Biliran, and the Oct. 12, 2021, contract between Smartmatic and Comelec, which includes a provision prohibiting “any direct or indirect contact” between representatives or employees of the company and “any political party, candidate, partisan organization or group.”

Ex-lawmaker’s affidavit

Chong, who used to be close to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and first lady Liza Marcos, said in his affidavit that the then presidential candidate’s wife called him to a meeting on March 7, 2022.

He said Ivan Uy, now secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and Hubert Guevarra, now senior deputy executive secretary, also attended the meeting.

Chong quoted Liza Marcos as saying: “Guys, I have a meeting with the owners of Smartmatic. I need two technical guys to come with me.”

He added: “Then, she suddenly turned around to face me, emphatically pointing her finger at me, and blurted the following: ‘But not you because they hate you so much.’ I already knew what the meeting with the owners of Smartmatic involving ‘two technical guys’ will be about.”

At the press conference, Chong said the intention for excluding him from the meeting was to “sell me out to Smartmatic.” He said he earned the ire of Smartmatic because he had been opposed to the company’s involvement in Philippine elections since 2010.

In his affidavit, he said his advocacy was “focused” on exposing the “fraudulent election system” and “systematic cheating” by Smartmatic, the company’s alleged continuous violations of election laws, and its “stranglehold of the procurement process” in the 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 and 2022 elections.

Chong said he became close to the Marcos couple after he helped Mr. Marcos in the latter’s election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo in the 2016 elections.

He said Liza Marcos paid for two of his bodyguards for six months after his friend and aide, Richard Santillan, was killed by a group of police officers in Cainta, Rizal, in December 2018.

He helped the Marcos campaign and was part of its vote protection unit (VPU).

According to Chong, Liza Marcos may have met with Roger Piñate, a cofounder and president of the Britain-based Smartmatic, who visited the Philippines in 2022 at least three times—on March 17-April 5; April 19-April 23; and May 3-May 18—around the time of the supposed meeting with the future first lady.

Chong said there was also an earlier meeting with representatives of Liza Marcos and officials of Total Information Management Corp., the joint-venture partner of Smartmatic, on Dec. 10, 2021, which Chong said he failed to attend as he received the notice late.

No independent confirmation

The meeting between the wife of the would-be president and Smartmatic cannot be independently confirmed. Chong offered no concrete proof that it actually took place and admitted that there could even be “plausible deniability” on the part of Liza Marcos.

There has been no response to CoverStory’s request for comment from the first lady through Presidential Communications Office Secretary Cheloy Garafil. CoverStory is also still awaiting responses from DICT Secretary Uy and Smartmatic.

Chong said, however, that certain circumstances supported his allegation that the meeting indeed took place.

One, according to him, was that the first lady, who had been “so sweet” to him, later suddenly turned “cold” after the March 7, 2022, meeting with Uy and Guevarra, and stopped responding to his text messages. Another, he said, was the withdrawal of successive offers of jobs for him in the Marcos administration, including as Comelec commissioner and eventually its chair, and also as chief of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Chong said he never sought any position in the new administration and declined the last job offer, to head the task force against hunger.

He expressed the belief that it was Smartmatic that blocked his would-be appointments, especially in the Comelec and the NTC as, he said, he could have used those positions to scrutinize the company’s activities.

“There were subsequent circumstances, which taken as a whole, will validate the meeting between Liza and Piñate,” Chong said at the press conference. 

“The biggest proof that the meeting took place was the discrepancy in the election results, which is independent of my circumstances,” he said. “If all the last 13 years I entertained doubt that I was wrong in hitting Smartmatic, my doubt disappeared. I am sure Smartmatic can deliver cheating and deliver big time. This is it.”

Improbable, impossible canvass

The “discrepancy” Chong was referring to was what Rio has described as the improbable, even impossible, canvass of over 20 million votes from more than 39,000 election returns (ERs) in the first hour after the polling precincts closed at 7 p.m. on Election Day. The votes showed Mr. Marcos and his running mate, Sara Duterte, already establishing a landslide win.

This was the finding by Rio, a former military intelligence officer, and his group with help from volunteer IT experts who combed through the raw files of election data posted on the Comelec website last March.

Rio, an IT expert himself, said in an earlier interview that their “smoking gun” evidence of vote rigging was the existence of an alleged private network with private internet protocol (IP) addresses for vote counting machines (VCMs) that sent ERs directly to the transparency server, instead of through the public networks of the telcos—Globe, Smart, Dito—that had been contracted by the Comelec.

See: May 2022 vote rigged from the start, retired general, others say

The retired general said the telcos’ transmissions ended at the private network as the Comelec data showed that the ERs received by the transparency server came from a private, not a public, IP address. 

A private network is not supposed to be established in the middle of the end-to-end ER transmission path that was disclosed to the public by the Comelec, said Rio, who has set up electronic networks for the military.

A private IP address appearing in the transparency server’s reception log means it is directly connected to the server’s local area network, and the data it transmits to the server did not have to come in through the internet via the telcos.

This raises several questions: Who authorized the setting up of the private network? Who maintained it? Who knew about it? Where was it physically located?

Rio said no one outside the Comelec knew that a private network had been put up. It was established secretly and it acted like a man-in-the-middle (MITM) hacking tool.

The clandestine MITM stands between networks that exchange data. It captures all the data from a sender, who is not aware of its existence, before relaying the intercepted data to the intended destination. Such a setup could also mask or hide the original source of the transmitted data.

At the Sept. 13 press conference, Rio said more than 70% of over 39,000, or 36% ,of all 107,000 VCMs nationwide that transmitted ERs during the first hour, had the same IP address.

He said this was “clearly manipulated” to ensure the victory of the selected candidates for president and vice president and to make the margin between them and the others “so wide” as to frustrate any electoral protest.

This victory “must occur at the very first hour of counting” to achieve a “shock and awe” effect that would push the public and other candidates to bow to the outcome, Rio said.

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