The ‘ñ’ conspiracy


    Smartmatic strikes again! In 2008, while votes were being consolidated in the regional elections at the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Smartmatic, remotely from Manila, changed the number of voters in a counting and consolidation server in Wao, Lanao del Sur. In 2010, during the canvass of votes for the President and Vice President in Congress, the canvassing and consolidation system showed 256 million registered voters which Smartmatic corrected, admitting a programming error. In 2013, within the first two hours of voting, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) announced that it had counted 12 million votes, an improbable number. Smartmatic made a correction to the program in the transparency server, revealing in the process an intermediary server, the function of which nobody knows.

    The recent “ñ” affair is Smartmatic’s fourth incursion into the automated election system (AES) while in a state of live operations.

    In a news briefing, Smartmatic’s Mr. Elie Moreno said that Mr. Marlon Garcia had proactively taken action to correct misspelling of candidates’ names while Chairman Andres Bautista said that the correction was cosmetic. Prior to correction, the names of candidates like Osmeña and Señeres were displayed or printed as Osme?a and Se?eres. The correction wasn’t that important. The error could not have caused a fatal failure in the AES. Nobody really paid serious attention to the erroneous display or print because everybody knew that Osme?a is Osmeña and Se?eres is Señeres, well, unless somebody raised hell over the error, giving Mr. Garcia opportunity to act proactively.

    That proactive action is devoid of authority. Mr. Garcia contravened the order made by Commissioner Christian Robert Lim during the hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the AES on March 23, 2016. Responding to a question about the operations of the transparency server, Commissioner Lim declared that “we are now prohibiting Smartmatic from interfering with any of how the political parties will come out with the results (sic).” He did not even care to inform the poll body, political parties, and all interested groups of what he was about to do. He did not stick to security protocols, if such protocols are indeed in place. Is the Commission in control?

    That proactive action generated a lot of noise and caused clouds of doubt to hover over the integrity of the AES and the credibility of the results of the just concluded electoral exercise.

    How come Mr. Garcia had unimpeded access to the transparency server while lesser mortals like representatives of other organizations authorized to connect to the transparency server via a mirror server were not even allowed to take a peek inside the transparency server room? What protocols are in place and why were these protocols not properly and strictly enforced? Why had the authorities responsible for the transparency server and its operations allowed the introduction of a program script into the transparency server to happen? Had the AES technology been used in prior elections in Venezuela as claimed? If so, how come the Spanish speaking Venezuelan developers of the AES missed to ensure that the Spanish letter “ñ” would be properly recognized by the system?

    The claimed minor change that Mr. Garcia made cannot be taken lightly. If he can effect a simple change, he also had the opportunity to change something else. If he moved freely around unimpeded, did he, unknown to the poll body and everyone else concerned, take the same action with the PCOS renamed VCM, the canvassing and consolidation servers (CCS) at all levels, and the central server? After all, the “ñ” problem could have been present across the whole AES, including the central server and the results website. Come to think of it, Mr. Garcia need not move around physically. After all, the security codes stored in the ibutton keys for the VCMs, the USB tokens for the CCS laptops, and the corresponding personal identification numbers (PINs) were all generated by Comelec and Smartmatic. Access credentials to the virtual private network are also known only to them.

    Is there more to the “ñ” correction than meets the eye? Following the claimed minor correction, it was noted that vote counts for certain candidates had gone down, the difference credited to other candidates. In an update on the night of May 14, 2016, PPCRV reported that the election return count had gone down only to recover half an hour later. PPCRV said that only the poll body can explain the anomaly but declared in the same breath that the election results had passed its “anomaly test.” Anongmali? In a mid-afternoon update the following day, it was reported that there were discrepancies observed between the official canvass reports and the unofficial reports generated from the transparency server.

    Former COMELEC Commissioner Gus Lagman has consistently said that tampering of the AES by an insider is more likely than hacking by external attackers. And Mr. Garcia just proved Mr. Lagman right when he, without authority, implemented a program script in the transparency server which is under the care of the PPCRV.

    Is the “ñ” correction a red herring, a distraction?

    Let’s face IT. In the eyes of many Mr. Garcia’s action threatened the integrity of the AES and the accuracy of the election results. The matter merits full investigation. It must be done regardless of the personalities involved. It must be done for our country, our Republic. Smartmatic must be held liable.


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    1. Smartmtic must be barred from our country to have a business like this. maraming beses na pala nilang gingawa ito na kakutsaba ang dilawang partido, kaya pala hindi sila maalis alis sa poder ng gobyerno dahil dito sa smartmatic. Ginagawa ninyong mangmang ang mga Filipino smartmatic… ngayon na nahuli na kayo sa inyong modus operandi everytime na may election dito sa Pinas. Dapat lang na palayasin na kayo dito sa Pilipinas..Your time is over smartmatic, so be it..We Filipino people will request from our new president to sent you back to your own country, and blacklisted your company to do business in our country…

    2. michael richardson on

      For those readers who know how to program, as an academic exercise, try devising ONE line in some high-level programming language that can convert all the ‘?’s in a character string to “n”s.

      It is easy to write a sub-routine to do it, but all sub-routines require more than one line!

      It may only take one line to call that sub-routine, but the subroutine itself could contain 10,000 lines!

    3. Sa aming mga mata ng Pilipino, iyang ginawa ng Smartmatic ay hindi katanggap-tanggap. They seem to be higher than President Noynoy and even Comelec Chairman Bautista as they can do anything in our Land ng walang paki-alam!

      HOY MARLON! Huwag kang magkalat dito sa aming bansa. Mag-walang-hiya ka sa iyong Bayan….HUWAG DITO! F***_***

    4. renato irlanda on

      the writing is on the wall
      the conspiracy of smartmatic, comelec, and ppcrv, to make the liberal party VP and senatorial candidate win is slowly proving to be true!
      if the digong won on the premise that people wanted change, would it be logical that these same voters would vote for the likes of Drilon, Sotto, Pangilinan, Hontiveros, Lacson, Recto and the surprise of all De Lima, all of whom have ties with the old rotten regime of BS Aquino
      to erase doubt , villanueva and Gatchalian was included having won inspite of being newbies
      in my honest opinion Gordon and Pacquiao and Zubiri seems to be the only ones who won legitimately

    5. Amnata Pundit on

      Shouldn’t we have enough of trying to sound rational about this whole nonsense ! Para itong basketball, palagi nalang tayo fina-FOUL ng kalaban and yet hindi sumisipol ang referee maski anong angal ang gawin natin. Ano, tuluy pa rin ang laro, mag-walkout nalang, o mag-suntukan na lang tayong lahat? Kung suntukan, sa tingin ko ang unang dapa tama-an eh yung walanghiyang referee.

    6. If I may allowed to suggest, the best way to know if the transparency server has been tampered or not . The concern party must used the same server but this time around put a data example all of them with equal vote and let say there is 30 trial precinct of equal vote per candidate . If the outcome differed from the input then you can our right distinguish the discrepancy. It so simple . Used the tamper machine for retrial.ika nga used their own medicine to search for the truth.

    7. “is a puzzlement,”, from The King and I, with this highly irregular track record of this smartmatic a foreign entity we/the Comelec still allows them to conduct our elections for us? Isn’t this a direct violation of our Constitution?

    8. The philippines trusted its elections/democracy to a foreign company which refuses to say who owns it and which has a track record of election fraud in 3rd world countries.

      Anyone with a modicum of sense could predict the outcome!

      You get the government someone else buys.

      And with so called IT professionals making ludicrous pronouncements that a script could not affect the election outcome, then it is no surprise the country does not produce MIT calibre computer personnel. Speaking of which, those same people should read the MIT research on Hunting Trojan Horses in Systems and the use of Harrier software to detect anomalous patterns following malicious system intervention.

      It’s not rocket science to find out what happened, just computer science.

    9. So Mr.Garcia is the be castigated on what he ‘didn’t’ do because he ‘could have’. This is pure paranoia. What he did do was in good faith from a code writers ‘purist’ viewpoint i.e. to correct an anomaly with the letter ‘n’, nothing more. Now as far as following the correct protocol that is another matter.

      • “This is pure paranoia.”

        Could be. But until we have seen it all, it is good to be a little paranoid. You see, with computers, a simple tweak could trigger a set of commands that could trigger another set of commands and so on and so forth which to one with little understanding of how computers work would pass as nothing more than a simple tweak. That is the reason for protocols, they are there to prevent something.

      • Just an example

        Let’s see if Ian will not get paranoid if he found out that the ATM machine he previously used was reported to be tampered with a nice and clean PINpad overlay

    10. Cruel-World on

      To Manilatimes: Please remove your comment portion if you’re not publishing it. Is your screening committee bias or lackadaisical?

    11. The “ñ” maybe acting as a “program variable” to trigger and activate a sort of dagdag-bawas worm embedded in the AES system

    12. The stoppage of the automated count (AES) by an outsider is a blatant violation of the law and of Comelec rules, and yet so blithely explained away by Bautista as “mere cosmetics.” Of course, the guilty party is expected to explain away its own wrongdoing! It’s like the burglar whom the house owner meets downstairs at midnight, and the former is killed by the latter. When asked to explain by the judge why he had to kill the homeowner, the burglar replied: “It’s his fault, Your Honor. HE SURPRISED ME!” Chairman Bautista and his cohorts had to say something, even if it was ‘non-sequitur.’