THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has decided not to take action or “defer” the request of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for a systems audit of the transparency and central servers that it used in the just concluded polls.
“The Comelec en banc deliberated on the letter of Senator Marcos about his request to audit our servers. In our opinion, at this point, we need to defer our ruling on his request,” Chairman Juan Andres Bautista on Wednesday said.
According to Bautista, the decision was unanimously arrived at by the seven-man commission en banc during its regular en banc session on Tuesday after lengthy deliberations on three important aspects.
The commission, he explained, maintained that all election stakeholders–candidates, political parties and clean election watchdogs, among others– were already given enough time or seven months to “audit, scrutinize and study” the systems used in the May 9 elections, referring to the “source code review” conducted at the De la Salle University .
The source code is basically an independent auditor to ensure that the automated election system is running free from possible malicious lines.
According to Bautista, it was also pointed out during the en banc’s deliberation that Congress has already convened as the National Board of Canvassers for President and Vice President, and “in deference, out of respect [to Congress], it might affect the work of Congress.”
Furthermore, he said, the commission has also noted that criminal charges have already been formally filed against Smartmatic and Comelec IT personnel.
“Pag nag-audit ano mangyayari? Pag may nahanap, gagamitin bang ebidensiya sa kasong isinampa [What will happen if there is an audit? If there are findings, will they be used as evidence on the complaint filed]?” the poll chief said.
“We unanimously voted that it would be better to defer our decision on his [Marcos] request until after the canvass and the criminal proceedings,” Bautista added.
But for the sake of transparency, he said, the Comelec is open to a non-partisan disinterested group of qualified IT professionals, such as the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC), to conduct an independent audit.
The CAC is made up of nine members from the academe, non-government electoral reform organizations, ICT professional organizations and select government agencies.
In his letter, Marcos asked the Comelec that his team of “IT experts and programmers” be allowed to conduct an audit of the transparency and central servers under the supervision of the commission and its technical personnel.
Bautista pointed out though that the scope and methodology of the audit as requested by Marcos were vague.
“That is why we are coordinating with DOST and the Comelec Advisory Council how the audit should be conducted. If it is the whole system, it might take several months to complete,” he said. “On our part, we will be meeting with our counterparts in the DOST to ask for their opinion about the matter.”
Marcos’ call for a systems audit was spurred by the “unauthorized” tweak by Smarmatic project manager Marlon Garcia on the script or hash code of the Comelec’s transparency server on the night of Election Day, May 9.
Garcia explained though that it was a ”cosmetic” change and did not affect the election results of the tightly contested vice presidential race between Marcos and Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo.
But the Marcos camp was not buying Garcia’s explanation, saying only a systems audit can clear things up.
It claimed that by changing the script, Smartmatic effectively removed the only security feature of the data by causing the hash code to change.
Marcos has also filed an election offense case against Smartmatic before the Comelec and a criminal case against Garcia, Smartmatic general manager Elie Moreno and Comelec official Neli Banigued and Rouie Peñalba in the proper court.
The Robredo camp welcomed the audit of poll servers sought by Marcos but said that it should be done after the proclamation of the winning vice-presidential candidate.
Congress, sitting as the National Board of Canvasseers (NBOC) for presidential and vice-presidential votes, will start its canvassing on Wednesday.
Robredo’s camp has already claimed victory, saying that based on official results culled from Certificates of Canvass (COC) in the provincial and municipal/city levels, Robredo is ahead of Marcos and there is no way the latter could overcome the former’s more than 200,000 vote lead.
But the Marcos camp also claimed that based on its exit polls, the senator won the just concluded polls for Vice President.