Information Technology (IT) expert has urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to allow an independent international body to investigate the changing of a script in the Automated Election System (AES), noting that the issue is too serious to ignore.
Rogelio Quevedo, a pioneer in IT law and also a former executive of telecom giant PLDT and member of the Comelec’s advisory body, on Monday noted that letting go of the controversy will be too costly for the Philippines because of its economic repercussions.
“I am not yet concluding there was cheating. What I am suggesting is to investigate the breach of protocol and if the alleged correction of character had triggered something. You cannot just dismiss the change outright. In the first place, you cannot touch anything there without the two pass codes that were being secretly kept by designated personnel of the Comelec and Smartmatic. You cannot change anything there without the permission of the en banc,” Quevedo, also a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, said in a news forum.
He added that Smartmatic did not follow protocol also during the 2010 and the 2013 elections.
“It seems Comelec had surrendered its function to Smartmatic,” Quevedo said.
He explained that a forensic probe could also resolve the controversy regarding the vice presidential race.
The camp of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. had claimed that his lead over Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo diminished when the hash code was changed.
Quevedo likened the inscription of a new script to the Filipino-made ILOVEYOU virus that crippled 10 percent or 45 million Internet-connected computers worldwide in May 2000.
The cyber catastrophe caused $8.7 billion in damages and it took $15 billion to kill the virus.
Quevedo said if the Comelec will not heed his suggestion, IT experts or any candidate may go to the Supreme Court to compel the poll body to conduct a forensic investigation.
“Smartmartic admitted that it allowed introduction of a new script. The Comelec admitted that there was breach of protocol. Therefore, there is a probable cause to file the case,” he added.
If the change in the hash code triggered vote tampering, according to Quevedo, then there was a possibility that all votes of candidates were affected, including those in the presidential race.
“It just so happened that the lead of Mayor Rody Duterte was so big. But for the vice presidency, the lead was smaller,” he said using the nickname of the presumptive new President of the Philippines.
Quevedo clarified that the problem with the characters “?” and “ñ” does not matter at all “because what the machine reads is not the name but the shaded circle beside the name of the candidate.”
He explained that a forensic probe will reveal if the new script entered by Smartmartic operations chief Marlon Garcia triggered the tampering of votes.
“Forensic investigation will trace the effects of the new computer command. Either there was cheating or not, it will show,” Quevedo said.
He added that the Senate, Congress and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) can conduct separate investigations.
“So, it is more safe, credible, and the results acceptable if the forensic probe is handled by an independent and international election certifying firm,” Quevedo said.
“The government spent P11 billion in 2010, P8 billion in 2013 and P9 billion for this year’s polls, the sum it will spend for the forensic investigation is nothing compared to retaining the integrity of the Comelec,” he added.
Quevedo said the integrity of the accredited poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) was also compromised because of the incident.
“The PPCRV could not say there was no anomaly because they were present when that interference in the transparency server was made and they allowed it,” he noted.
Meanwhile, De La Salle University Prof. Antonio Contreras also on Monday said the quick count conducted by the PPCRV showed different behaviors of data after the hash code was changed.
“After the inception of the new script, the one million lead of Marcos was erased in a few hours. The same happened to other vice presidential candidates except that of Rep. Robredo. We are not saying they cheated, what we have observed was that after the change of the hash code, votes for Robredo surged in a questionable manner,” he added.