‘NBC off-limits to Smartmatic’

AFTER it learned that its technology supplier Smartmatic-TIM tampered with its  transparency server without authorization, the Commission on Elections ordered its automated election system provider to stay away from the canvassing and consolidation system.

Comelec Commissioner Robert Lim wrote Smartmatic general manager Elie Moreno to stress that only the National Board of Canvassers, which will count the votes for senators and party-list congressmen, should have control over the CCS at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

“As a precautionary measure in the midst of numerous concerns and speculations as to the integrity of the [CCS] being used for the 2016 National and Local Elections, please be reminded that the [NBC] has sole and absolute control over the CCS workstation located at the [PICC],” the letter read.

Official count. Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista and Commissioner Arthur Lim preside over the National Board of Canvassers which is conducting the official count of the May 9 elections at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City. On Saturday, the NBC had received 90,594, or 96.62 percent, of the total 93,754 election returns. EY ACASIO
“Henceforth, access to the same shall be subject to strict protocols. Your personnel shall not be allowed access to the same unless with specific prior authority from the NBC or the Project Monitoring Office,” Lim said.

“In any case, access to the same shall always be under the direct supervision of a duly designated Comelec personnel,” Lim told Moreno.

Lim also said Smartmatic has to secure his consent before examining any other equipment or system.

“Finally, in the spirit of utmost transparency follow the protocol of announcing any action to all parties present before undertaking the same,” he added.

Lim wrote the letter after Commissioner Rowena Guanzon scored Smartmatic for altering or inserting a script in the transparency server that is the source of the partial and unofficial election results that are being reported in media.

While Smartmatic project director Marlon Garcia admitted they inserted a script in the transparency server without the authorization of the Comelec, but insisted that the alteration was only “minor” and “cosmetic.”

“There was no results changed, okay? It’s very important to keep that in mind. Only the ‘ñ’ replacing the ‘?’ All the votes for Candidate A were still there, all the votes for Candidate B, everything remained the same,” he said.

“There may have been no damage in terms of alteration of the results, but there is certainly some effects because now people are anxious,” said Guanzon, who demanded that the poll agency conduct a formal investigation of the incident to identify the possible liabilities of Smartmatic.

“They should not have touched that program without our prior knowledge and our official consent... It’s our property, its not their property,” she added. 

“This was unauthorized. That initiative to change a ‘minor’ thing did not come from the Comelec, it came from them,” Guanzon said.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Guanzon said Smartmatic may even be banned from participating in future elections in the country, especially after an earlier problem over the malfunction of at least 2,363 vote counting machines (VCMs) that the Comelec leased from the company.

Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia had earleir said the poll body is reviewing its terms of reference with Smartmatic, which supplied 92,509 VCMs for the elections, so the government would not have to pay for the VCMs that malfunctioned since they were not used.

There have already been moves in Congress, like the proposal of Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, seeking a House of Representatives probe on the issue of the malfunctioning of the VCMs even before the script alteration controversy arose.

In the Senate, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Poll Automation, also asked the Comelec to withhold the unpaid balance for the lease of the 98,000 vote counting machines supplied by Smartmatic.

Nonetheless, Smartmatic issued a statement saying the Philippines can be proud that it holds the record for having the largest manufacturing and deployment of VCMs not only in Asia but in the whole world.

“I can’t tell you how proud and fulfilled I feel now knowing that I’ve been part of such an amazing and historic accomplishment,” Garcia said in an internal memo to all its employees and technicians.

Garcia said the Philippines can now call itself a leader in automated elections because it configured almost 100,000 VCMs in just a month, recruited 45,000 field technicians in less than three months, deployed the biggest BGAN in the world, set up a call center with more than 700 operators in one month, set up a private election network and three data centers in only one month.

Garcia also noted Smartmatic also supervised the printing of 56,000,000 ballots in just 49 days.

But lawyer Harry Roque, who has been a critic of Smartmatic since 2009, welcomed Guanzon’s insistence on a probe.

“Smartmatic must be investigated and held liable for the unauthorized and patently illegal change in the server script,” said Harry Roque, who said the Comelec’s credibility has been put in question despite an otherwise orderly election.

Roque, who is a professor of law at the University of the Philippines, said that the change the Smartmatic introduced was cosmetic is not the crux of the matter.

“The point is that the script was changed, and without authorization at that. If Smartmatic was able to freely change the script without Comelec’s prior approval, any result can now be changed by them. If one character can be changed, so can others,” he said.

He said Smartmatic made a serious security breach, one that should not have been allowed and one that they should be held liable for.

Meanwhile, computer experts slammed the modification of the hash code in Comelec’s election transparency server as this has cast doubts on the integrity of the election results and could even be tantamount to electoral sabotage.

 Toti Casino, board member of the Philippine Computer Society, agreed with Roque and said the matter should be probed further to restore public confidence in the electoral system.

“All of this are manifestations that there is a high vulnerability to fraud within the source code or within the election system, which now needs to be secured and subject to investigation,” Casino said.

Topics: Commission on Elections , National Board of Canvassers , Smartmatic , Smartmatic-TIM tampered
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