Comelec server tweaked but fraud unproven, IT expert claims
(Editor’s Note: We are reposting this article without the screengrabs earlier published. These were photos of files meant to be compared with the files extracted from the transparency server and which Inquirer possesses and which were inadvertently included. This also adds the side of the Comelec.)
Originally posted @ 05:05 a.m., May 12, 2016.
AN Information Technology expert monitoring the ongoing quick count of votes at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila claimed that the transparency server of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) might have been tampered with, but the poll body maintained that it did not affect the results of the May 9 elections.
Backing the claims of the camp of vice presidential aspirant Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the expert, who asked to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity, told INQUIRER.net that hash codes of packet data in the transparency server supposedly changed.
“At 8:00 p.m. May 10, in the course of our regular verification of the files that we are extracting from the transparency server, we uncovered something that is not correct–the paired hash codes of the file is not the same,” the source said in an interview early Thursday morning.
“As a result of this discovery, we conducted random sampling of more files to determine… kasi baka mamaya glitch lang. So we tested files from 8:30 p.m. of May 9, 9:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m. of May 9, and we confirmed until 1 a.m.–the hash codes were different,” he said, adding that they used data from 7:30 p.m. backwards as point of comparison to normal paired hash codes.
The source, who works as a lead IT consultant in a private company, refused to divulge his identity, saying that they were covered by a non-disclosure agreement with the Comelec.
“We are waiting for Comelec to conduct an investigation then we will come out in the open. We are covered by a non-disclosure agreement, we will be criminally liable,” he said.
Echoing the claims of Marcos’ camp, the source said a new script or command was introduced to the transparency server before 7:30 p.m. which caused the hash codes to change.
No evidence of fraud
But Comelec chief Andres Bautista on Thursday said the tweaking of the script the server meant only to replace a question mark (“?) to “ñ” in a candidate’s name, noting that the integrity of poll results remain intact amid unproven claims of electoral fraud.
“It is true that someone from Smartmatic corrected a script—from ‘?’ to ‘ñ’—but this does not affect the integrity of the numbers… There is no glitch,” Bautista said in an interview aired over Radyo Inquirer 990AM.
The expert also clarified that the addition of new script and change in hash codes did not necessarily mean that there was attempt to cheat in the elections.
“We don’t have evidence that they changed anything. The only evidence as a result of this random query is that the hash codes were no longer original. If this was undetected by agencies tapped to do the protection, do you think the whole system is protected? We’re not saying the end result will be different. We don’t want to discredit the electoral system here,” he said.
“Can we say that the result of the ongoing canvassing is genuine or virgin? We cannot say. We are not in the position but these are probable. There’s a high degree of probability because they have done it already,” he added.
The source said he, together with other concerned parties monitoring and verifying the count, agreed that the hash codes were not the same and went as a group to the server room to raise the concern and ask for an explanation.
“A script was introduced into the transparency server supposedly to do something–we don’t know what was the script, we have not seen it yet. But as a result of whatever action that they did inside the transparency server, the files protected by hash codes, umiba ‘yung kanyang hash codes. So it is an indicator na pinakialaman siya,” he said.
“I’m not saying na may dagdag bawas dito. What I am saying is there was an introduction of the script. Who triggered the introduction of that script? Who authorized its execution? Is it covered by rules or protocols to change set data? Is there any recording of the incident or of the change? There are none. The only people who can answer our question are Smartmatic and Comelec,” he added.
The expert said a Venezuelan man from Smartmatic, provider of the vote counting machines, who was also in the room supposedly admitted that he was responsible for the change in script and claimed to have fixed it at the same time, allegedly upon orders from Smartmatic project director Marlo Garcia.
“Comelec is the lead here. No activity can be done without Comelec approval… ‘Finally I fixed it,’ the Venezuelan said. Who authorized him to do that? What is the implication of this? Here is a programmer of foreign nationality doing at will whatever he wants to do and he’s not even an official,” he said.
The source also raised doubts on the foreign national’s authorization to perform the act and questioned his adherence to protocols. Citing Section 28 of Republic Act No. 9369, he said the Venezuelan’s act was prohibited, regardless if it affects electoral results, as it falls under “utilizing without authorization and tampering official ballots and election returns” and “electronic devices and their components.”
The source said the integrity of the system might be at stake especially because there were no records of such incidents and changes being made in the server.
“We’re looking only at the integrity of the data, tama ba ang pinapasa niyo sa amin. In layman’s term, bumili ako ng produkto na brand new, dumating sa akin opened na. Paano mo ginamit ngayon? I don’t know,” he said, adding that hash codes are like “warranty seal” that “ensure the integrity of a file.”
The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), which is conducting a quick count in its command center in Manila, said it had nothing to do with the change in script, adding that all parties in the server room receive the same data.
PPCRV chair Henrietta de Villa said programming issues should be directed to the Comelec.
“We are only receiving electronic results from the transparency server so the issues on how it was sent to us and how the files are done should be directed to the Comelec because it is the authority here so we won’t answer if there were shaved off or increased [votes]. The Comelec should answer these issues,” De Villa said.
Marcos camp cries fraud
Marcos’ camp through lawyer Francesca Huang on Wednesday claimed that a new script was introduced to the transparency server “from which the PPCRV obtain its data for the quick count,” which “was able to alter the hash codes of the packet data.” Huang said the new script increased the votes for administration candidate Leni Robredo and grabbed the lead from Marcos.
The senator’s camp, however, did not present evidence to back their claims.
The son and namesake of the late dictator was leading the early count by as much as a million on Monday evening, until the widow of the late Interior secretary Jesse Robredo eventually overtook him early Tuesday.
Marcos’ camp on Tuesday also asked the Comelec and the PPCRV to stop the partial and unofficial tallying of votes supposedly to avoid confusion from the official counting. The poll body has challenged Marcos to present proof of inaccurate count.
As of Thursday afternoon, Robredo is still leading the vice presidential race by a hairline of about 200,00 votes over Marcos. AC