Former social welfare secretary Corazon Soliman leads a protest rally in front of the Senate gate against alleged irregularities during the May 13 elections and calls on the senators to investigate them.
Geremy Pintolo
Probers see no proof of fraud in May polls
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 5, 2019 - 12:00am

But experts cite vulnerabilities

MANILA, Philippines — The Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System has found no evidence of fraud and manipulation in the May 13 elections, but some recommendations have been made to plug vulnerabilities in the country’s polls.

The committee yesterday reviewed the May 2019 polls that were reportedly marred by glitches involving vote counting machines (VCMs) and SD (secure digital) cards deployed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Committee chair Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III and other members of the oversight panel expressed satisfaction with the overall conduct of the polls.

“It’s really difficult to have a perfect, glitch-free national election. What is important is we learned from our mistakes so we will not do it again,” Pimentel said. 

He said Smartmatic, the Comelec’s service provider, had a minimal role in the last elections, and the VCMs malfunctioning and failing SD cards were the responsibility of the poll body.

Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, campaign manager for the opposition Otso Diretso senatorial candidates, admired how the Comelec conducted the polls despite some problems.

“We were demolished by the tremendous resources of the administration, but in terms of accuracy and counting, I think the Comelec has really been very successful,” Erice said.

He, however, advised Comelec officials to counsel President Duterte on his order for them to find a replacement for Smartmatic as it was the poll body that conducted the elections.

“There were no reports of double ballots or ballots with two serial numbers, there was no ballot snatching… I don’t see any cheating,” said Senior Citizen party-list Rep. Francisco Datol Jr. during the hearing.

“Our elections were accurate because the Comelec did what needed to be done,” he added.

Datol said the Comelec and third party evaluators are expected to finish their Random Manual Audit of 715 voting precincts and by all indications, the results would show no anomalies.

Comelec executive director Jose Tolentino told the panel that while there have been many complaints, there were no indications of fraud or cheating.

Vulnerabilities

 Experts in information technology, including source code reviewers, also spoke during the hearing and cited certain vulnerabilities that the Comelec must address pursuant to the Automated Election System Law.

According to the Comelec, some 1,015 VCMs broke down, comprising 1.32 percent of the 82,000 VCMs.

A total of 2,246 SD cards malfunctioned or nearly two percent of the data cards used in the polls.

The malfunctions and glitches were clustered in polling precincts in Zamboanga peninsula, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan), Central Luzon and National Capital Region.

Source code reviewer lawyer Ivan John Uy recommended that while the Comelec should tighten the security of the queue servers – which receive transmissions from the VCMs before sending the data to the consolidation and canvassing system at the municipal level, transparency servers and the central server – operations of these servers must be transparent.

“I think what agitates people is the secrecy,” Uy said.

Uy and other IT experts led by Pablo Manalastas and Nelson Celsis urged the poll body to use digital signatures in running the automated elections as mandated by law to ensure security of the voting process.

They expressed disappointment over the excuse of the Comelec that it lacked time to implement the system with the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

Manalastas said the purpose of the digital signatures is to make the ballot and other documents “immutable” or unalterable.

Alex Ramos, who introduced himself as an IT security expert, said the Comelec must adhere to international standards in conducting its source code review, auditing and handling of electronic data.

Ramos said making data conform to internationally accepted standards could make the same acceptable in courts as evidence.

Charges mulled

Congressmen are mulling criminal charges against Comelec officials and automation service providers and suppliers in connection with vote counting and transmission glitches during and after the May 13 elections.

“We will continue our investigation this week and next week. After that, we will come up with a report, in which we will recommend the filing of cases against those responsible for these glitches and other irregularities,” Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said at a news conference.

He said the House committee on public accounts conducted an inquiry into the problems encountered during the voting and canvassing process.

Suarez said the irregularities include the corruption of thousands of memory cards and the seven-hour delay in the transmission of results on the night of May 13.

He said most of those whom they would recommend to be criminally charged are Comelec officials.

“Unlike in previous elections, this year, the Comelec (was responsible for) the procurement of supplies and services. Out of their P12-billion budget, only P1.2 billion was awarded to their automation contractor Smartmatic. They are responsible for P10.8 billion and for the glitches,” Suarez said.

Rep. John Bertiz of ACTS-OFW party-list and who belongs to Suarez’s minority bloc, said they, too, and other organizations are planning to file charges against Comelec officials and their suppliers and contractors.

“We will hold them responsible for the failure of the party-list elections. They cannot explain why party-list groups lost at least nine million votes,” Bertiz said.

Bertiz attended the hearing on Monday in the Senate of the joint congressional committee on automated elections.

He said they asked Comelec spokesman James Jimenez why the Comelec decided to list party-list groups at the back of the ballot, which resulted in voters missing or skipping the listing.

“He told us that it was to make the ballot shorter and less costly to produce. But when we measured the ballot used last May 13, it was almost four inches longer that the one used in previous elections. We are really at a loss,” Bertiz said.

ACT-OFW failed to make it, along with more than 20 other party-list groups.

Over the weekend, Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. said party-list organizations received a total of 27 million votes in the recent elections, nine million fewer than the number they polled in 2016.

“That means we lost nine million votes,” he said.  – With Jess Diaz

COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS VOTE COUNTING MACHINES
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