Presidential bets demand swift action over alleged Comelec hacking

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 11 2022 12:10 PM | Updated as of Jan 11 2022 05:32 PM

A member of the city board of canvassers shows the printout of the canvass report for COMELEC’s mock elections held inside the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City on Dec. 29, 2021. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
A member of the city board of canvassers shows the printout of the canvass report for COMELEC’s mock elections held inside the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City on Dec. 29, 2021. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (3RD UPDATE) — At least four presidential contenders in this year's election demanded on Tuesday swift government action over a report claiming that the Commission on Elections' systems were hacked and compromised.

The Manila Bulletin on Monday said its Technews Team verified information from an unnamed source about the supposed hacking that took place Saturday.

"Congress should exercise its oversight powers in relation to Republic Act 8436 or the Automated Election Law," Sen. Manny Pacquiao said in a statement. 

"This is not the first time that the Comelec has been hacked and this shows very serious security flaws on the poll body's computer system. Hindi na ito dapat palampasin at kailangang magpaliwanag ang Comelec kung ano ang totoong pangyayari at kung ano ang epekto nito sa darating na halalan," he said. 

(This should not be condoned and the Comelec should explain what really happened and its effect on the upcoming election.) 

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he has asked an in-house Comelec-accredited cyber-security team to "exert whatever effort to get initial information" on the alleged hacking, despite their "limited accessibility."

"Finding out who was/were responsible is already material information just to establish the motive and who will benefit from the alleged hacking," the former national police chief said in a statement.

"Meantime, we have to await the response of the author/s who said they will show proof to substantiate their hacking allegations," he added. 

Vice President Leni Robredo and her running-mate Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, meanwhile, urged the poll body "to immediately take steps to ensure that this, or any other similar incident would not affect the integrity of the May 2022 elections." 

"The welfare of the people, more than the candidates, is paramount. This election is for their future and they should not have any doubt about the process and its result," the pair said in a statement. 

Pacquiao added that Comelec should bare its plan in case the automated polling system is compromised and should allow political parties to check the extent of the alleged hacking incident. 

Lacson urged the body to "be forthright with its findings" and "be open to letting experts and related stakeholders help strengthen the security system."

"Only through transparency and accountability can we guarantee the integrity of the upcoming election," said the senator. 

"Our elections on May 9 could not have come at a more critical time. This is not just about the individual candidates, but about upholding our democracy which, if the hacking turns out to be true, is gravely being threatened," he added. 

Former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s camp is "keenly observing the development", said his chief of staff and spokesman Victor Rodriguez.

"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 in a statement. 

He urged the Comelec Steering Committe and the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) "to convene, initiate the probe and work to ensure the integrity of the systems and of the forthcoming elections." 

WHAT GOV'T SAYS 

Poll information that was supposedly hacked does not exist yet, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said on Tuesday. 

He said the commission has not started a so-called "configuration" process that would have generated usernames and personal identification numbers of the vote-counting machines. 

"Bago matapos itong linggo, makakapaglabas tayo ng final report ‘no tungkol diyan. Kasi ngayong umaga pa lang sisimulan na natin yung pagpupulong natin with all of our different units para makita natin kung ano ba talaga nangyari," Jimenez told TeleRadyo. 

(Before this week ends, we will release a final report on that because we will only start to meet with our different units this morning to see what happened.)

Malacañang "will await any update to be pronounced by Comelec regarding this," said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles. 

"Obviously, we’re also worried about this, kung totoo man ito... Hintayin natin na magpalabas ng official statement ang Comelec tungkol sa report na ‘to," he said in a press briefing. 

(We’re also worried about this, if this is true. Let us wait for the Comelec to release an official statement on this report.) 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said it would let the poll body carry out its own investigation but added it is ready to assist if asked to.

"We'll let the Comelec finish its own internal probe. If a wider investigation is found necessary and NBI assistance would be useful, we’d gladly oblige," DOJ secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

If the alleged hacking is confirmed, this would not be the first time the poll body suffered a data breach.

In 2016, a group of hackers also stole personal data records of some 54 million registered voters.

In 2017, Comelec also reported that a desktop computer of its election officer was stolen, compromising voters' data.

The country will hold national and local elections on May 9, 2022.