Is Comelec hacking for real? | Inquirer News

Is Comelec hacking for real?

04:50 AM January 12, 2022

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday said it would release before the end of the week its findings on the reported hacking of its servers, which had raised concerns about the integrity of the May elections among lawmakers and several presidential candidates who called for an urgent investigation.

Malacañang also is troubled by the reported hacking just four months before Filipinos head to the polls to elect a new president, acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said on Tuesday.


“Obviously we are also worried about this if this is true,” he said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, standard-bearer of Partido Reporma, urged Comelec to be “forthright” in reporting its findings.


“Only through transparency and accountability can we guarantee the integrity of the upcoming elections,” he said.

The Manila Bulletin reported on Monday that its Technews team received a tip from a “source” about the hacking last Saturday and discovered that the hackers downloaded more than 60 gigabytes of data which “could possibly affect the May 2022 elections.”


The stolen data included usernames and PINs (personal identification numbers) of vote-counting machines (VCMs). The Bulletin said that it immediately informed Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez about the alleged hacking.

“When you say that there is a data breach in Comelec, people would of course be alarmed. That’s why it’s important for us to validate this report,” Jimenez said in a radio interview on Tuesday.

But he warned that “someone should be held accountable” if the report was proven wrong.

In a statement on Monday night, the Comelec questioned parts of the Bulletin report, particularly the downloaded usernames and PINs of the VCMs.

“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,” Comelec said. “This calls into question the veracity of the hacking claim.”


3rd party audit

Presidential candidate Sen. Manny Pacquiao wants a congressional oversight investigation of the alleged hacking and that political parties be allowed to conduct an independent third-party audit of the alleged breach.

“This is not the first time that the Comelec has been hacked and this shows very serious security flaws in the poll body’s computer system,” the senator said, citing the 2016 hacking of the Comelec website when the personal information on 55 million voters was stolen. (See In The Know.)Jimenez said the Comelec had “learned” from that experience and now had a “hardened system” with “heightened defenses.”

Sen. Francis Tolentino filed a resolution asking the committee on electoral reforms to open an inquiry into the reported hacking.

There was no immediate response from committee chair Sen. Imee Marcos, the eldest sibling of former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is the standard-bearer of the little-known Partido Federal ng Pilipinas.

The former senator’s spokesperson, Vic Rodriguez, said they wanted the Comelec steering committee and the joint congressional oversight committee to initiate an investigation.

“We do not intend to immediately jump into any conclusion that could lead to undermining or discrediting the preparations and the conduct of the May 9 general elections,” Rodriguez said.

Vice President Leni Robredo, the opposition presidential candidate, and her running mate, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, asked the Comelec in a joint statement to confirm whether its servers had indeed been hacked.

Separately, Robredo urged the Comelec in a press conference to publicly disclose measures to protect the polls.

“This is not just for the candidates but for the public. Because what is at stake here is the will of the people—and we need an assurance from the Comelec that this will not be compromised,” she said.

Robredo said there was another “black propaganda” that there would be massive cheating in her favor, the same allegations hurled against her but dismissed by the Supreme Court after she defeated Marcos Jr. in the 2016 vice presidential polls, who is again one of her rivals in the May elections.

“Once again they are trying to set the minds of people that there is cheating going on,” she said. “That’s why there needs to be an honest-to-goodness investigation into this.”

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, the presidential candidate of Aksyon Demokratiko, demanded assurances from the Comelec that the alleged hacking would not pose a serious threat to the elections and to make the hackers “pay for the crime they committed.”

“Whether they are from within or outside the Comelec, this brazen act committed by these hackers, which further attempt to diminish the integrity of the upcoming 2022 national and local elections in the Philippines, should not go unpunished,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Several members of the House of Representatives also pushed for a congressional investigation.

“The credibility of the coming elections will be put into question if this issue is not swiftly, independently and efficiently probed and addressed,” according to House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate.

Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento said there were only two explanations for any hacking of the Comelec’s servers—poor network security protocols or an “inside job.” Congress must invite the author of the hacking story and find out if the report has a factual basis, he said.

Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun said the hacking report could again cast doubt on the automated elections.


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