Worries raised over poll integrity as Comelec moves to verify alleged hack

Jonathan de Santos - Philstar.com
Worries raised over poll integrity as Comelec moves to verify alleged hack
This file photo shows the Commission on Elections headquarters in Manila.
Philstar.com / AJ Bolando, file

MANILA, Philippines — Members of the political opposition on Tuesday raised concerns over reported hacking of the Commission on Elections system that the poll body said it is still valiating.

Comelec on Monday said it is verifying allegations in a Manila Bulletin report but said that some details of the report cast doubt on whether hacking actually happened.

Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Francis Pangilian urged the poll body to confirm whether there was a breach and what data was compromised. 

"We ask the Commission to immediately take steps to ensure that this, or any other similar incident would not affect the integrity of the May 2022 elections," they said in a statement.

"The welfare of the people, more than the candidates, is paramount. This election is for their future and they should not have any doubt about the process and its result," they also said.

Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list), meanwhile, recalled the massive 'Comeleaks' breach in early 2016 that exposed the personal data of around 55 million Filipino voters. 

"Is this a repeat of that incident or this designed to destroy the credibility of Comelec for a no election scenario?" he said in a statement, adding that Congress should hold hearings on the alleged breach.

"The credibility of the coming elections will be put into question if this issue is not swiftly, independently and efficiently probed and addressed," he said. 

Comelec: Hacking yet to be confirmed

In a statement to media on Monday evening, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the commission is aware of the report and is validating assertions made in the article.

"With no independent verification that a hack has indeed taken place, one thing immediately stands out: the article alleges that the hackers were able to 'download files that included, among others, usernames and PINS of vote-counting machines (VCM).' ," he said.

"The fact, however, is that such information still does not exist in COMELEC systems simply because the configuration files — which includes usernames and PINs — have not yet been completed. This calls into question the veracity of the hacking claim." 

Manila Bulletin reported Monday afternoon that an unnamed group of hackers had managed to hack into Comelec's systems on January 8 and "download more than 60 gigabytes of data that could possibly affect the May 2022 elections." The report said that the newspaper had informed Comelec about the alleged hack before publication.

"As for the rest of the allegations made, please note that the article offers scant substantiation for its assertions despite  claiming that the authors had 'verified that there was an ongoing hack.' Indeed, the article does not even offer proof of such verification," Jimenez said.

He also assured the public of the commission's "full and scrupulous compliance with the Data Privacy Act, as well as its continuing cooperation with the National Privacy Commission."

The Data Privacy Act requires notification of the NPC within 72 hours "upon knowledge of or the reasonable belief" of a breach of personal data.

"The Comelec will likewise continue its efforts to validate the assertions made by article," he said.

"Considering that 'news' like this could potentially damage the credibility of the elections, the Comelec stands ready to pursue all available remedies against those who, either deliberately or otherwise, undermine the integrity of the electoral process," Jimenez also said.

The Automated Election System has been hounded by allegations of cheating and other irregularities, although none have been proven. Comelec officials, including Jimenez, have maintained that computerized elections are more reliable and less suceptible to fraud than manual elections where votes are read out and tallied by hand.

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