IT experts on Sunday accused the Commission on Elections of electoral sabotage for engaging the services of Marlon Garcia, the same Smartmatic project director who was embroiled in an election-related scandal in 2013, also for tampering with the transparency server.
The Venezuelan technician admitted last week that he had introduced a script into the transparency server after voting had ended on May 9, but said it was just “a cosmetic change.”
But IT expert and former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, a convener of AESWatch, vowed to revive his case against Garcia, the Comelec and other Smartmatic officials for “undermining the integrity” of elections.
Chong, who ran but lost the 2013 congressional race, likened his case to independent vice presidential candidate Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., whose one-million vote lead over Robredo vanished after a few hours after the script was introduced.
Chong likened Garcia to former Comelec official Virgilio Garcillano, who was accused of electoral fraud during the Arroyo administration.
Garcillano was made famous for the “Hello Garci” scandal when then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allegedly called him up and ordered him to take care of the administration candidates.
In a complaint lodged with the Comelec and the Department of Justice, copies of which were obtained by
The Standard, Chong said on May 13, 2013, Garcia, then Smartmatic technology manager, “inexplicably changed the scripts on the un-reviewed source code at or about the time of the canvassing purportedly to adjust the questionable figures” received and announced by the transparency server without notifying the Comelec and concerned political parties.
The tampering was made two hours after the voting closed, Chong said.
At 7:30 p.m. of May 9, 2016, two hours after the voting closed and canvassing was already in progress, Garcia, now Smartmatic project director, ordered the introduction of a new script that resulted in the “breach” and change of a hash code that was supposed to protect the integrity of the packet data files in the transparency server, he said.
This developed as lawyer Harry Roque, first nominee of Kabayan party-list that won a seat in Congress, said Smartmatic must be investigated and be held liable for the unauthorized and patently illegal change in the server script.
“Their questionable move has brought serious doubts into the credibility of what should have been an otherwise orderly elections,” Roque said.
“That the change they 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,” he said.
“If one character can be changed, so can others,” Roque said.
Chong said he could not understand why the Comelec had to hire the services of Garcia again when his penchant for violating the country’s laws were officially recorded as evidenced by the pending cases against him.
He said charges of electoral fraud were filed against Garcia and his fellow Smartmatic officials Albert Castro Rico and Cesar Flores.
Apart from Chong, those who co-signed the complaint were Leo Querubin, Maria Corazon Akol and former Comelec commissioner Augusto Lagman.
In the complaint, Garcia had tampered with the transparency service to “fix” the figures of about 12 million votes for the senatorial election as the numbers “far exceeded the number of voters in the precincts.”
The complainants said Garcia had to introduce scripts to “adjust the questionable figures.”
“Garcia had done it already three years ago and he did it again yet the Comelec still tapped him to do the dirty job for them,” Chong said.
Garcia admitted having ordered the change in the hash code but said a new script had to be introduced to change the “?” to “ñ” in the names of some candidates such as Roy Señeres for president and Sergio Osmeña and Getulio Napeñas for senator.
“Smartmatic made a serious security breach, one that should not have been allowed and one that they should be held liable for. As a petitioner against Smartmatic since way back 2009, I welcome the promise of Commissioner Rowena Guanzon to have them investigated,” Roque said.
Guanzon said Sunday the Smartmatic officials should not be allowed to leave the country while the incident is being investigated.
Chong echoed the views of an IT expert who exposed Garcia’s “illegal moves.”
At 4:57 a.m., Chong said Robredo overtook Marcos and posted a margin of 575 votes and since then had steady increased the margin to over 200,000 votes.
Chong said he suffered a similar fate as Marcos when his 2,000-vote lead was overtaken at 5 a.m.
“The hash code is like an electronic seal for the program but the Comelec allowed Garcia and Smartmatic to tinker with it just like that,” Chong said.
He said several senatorial candidates were most likely affected by the change in the script or commands.
“I would not be surprised for other people to believe that former Justice Leila de Lima, who consistently hung on to the 12th slot for the senatorial race, deliberately sat on our case because of the magic that Smartmatic officials can do,” Chong said.
De Lima, he said, failed to act on their complaint just like the Comelec.
So if I were Francis Tolentino, Osmeña and Martin Romualdez, who ranked 13th, 14th and 15th, respectively in the senatorial race, I would watch the figures very closely,” Chong said.
In the case of the Comelec, Chong said the officials also did not lift a finger on the complaint and even favored Smartmatic by awarding to the Venezuelan firm multi-million-peso contracts.
“The lowest bidders in the P507.7-million transmission contract, the P1.1-million thermal paper and P122.7-million national technical support system had been disqualified by the Comelec in favor of Smartmatic. Smartmatic is the most favored bidder by the Comelec,” Chong said.
Smartmatic, he said, remains “untouchable” to this day.
The IT expert who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Comelec had surrendered its matching password twice to Smartmatic, allowing Garcia to breach the system with the new code.
The surrender of the matching password by the Comelec gave the Venezuelan firm Smartmatic full access to and complete control over the transparency server, according to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting-accredited IT expert, who requested anonymity so as not to violate the source’s non-disclosure agreement.
“The breach and tampering of the hash codes happened two times in as many nights,” the IT source told The Standard.
The source explained that the first breach took place at 7:30 pm of May 9, 2016 to change and tamper with the hash code to enable Smartmatic to “introduce a new script.”
The second breach, the source said, happened at around 8 p.m. of May 10 to “clean up the mess” and restore the pairing hash code.
In both instances, the source said, not one Comelec official was present.
“Under the rules of protocol, the transparency server can only be opened using matching passwords –one from the Comelec and another from Smartmatic. In the absence of either pair, the server cannot be opened,” the source said.
“So how was it possible that Smartmatic was able to gain access to and tamper with the hash code without the matching password from the Comelec due to the absence of the poll official?” the source said.
The breach prompted independent IT experts and election watchdogs such as the AESWatch to demand a probe.
The IT source debunked Comelec officials’ claim that the opening of the transparency server was witnessed by a Comelec official.
“The transparency server room is a restricted area. It is located in front of the building where the canvassing of votes by the PPCRV is being held at the Pope Pious VII along United Nations Avenue in Manila. There were only a few of us in the server room. It is hard to miss anyone who was present those two nights. I did not see anyone from the Comelec that came with Smartmatic,” the source told The Standard.
The source said only the Venezuelan Smartmatic IT technician went to the server to open it and introduce new scripts.
When confronted, the source said, the Smartmatic guy explained that a new script had to be introduced in order to change the “?” to “ñ” in the names of some candidates such as Roy Señeres for president and Sergio Osmeña and Getulio Napeñas for senator.
It was during the confrontation that the Smartmatic personel admitted that it was another Garcia, Smartmatic project director, who ordered the change in the hash code to enter the new script or command of the program.
The source said it was incumbent upon the Comelec to prove that one of its officials, who was entrusted with the password, was there to make access to the server possible.
“I was there. I should know. I even confronted the Venezuelan Smartmatic IT guy why he had to change the hash code or the electronic seal of the server,” the source said.
The Smartmatic technician, the source said, could not possibly deny that the hash code had been changed since the code was reflected on the file that was stored in the server or the files that were retrieved from it.
“All of our files that were retrieved from the server carried with it the hash code. Everybody has it. The PPCRV and those who participated in the canvassing could see them. And the files, including the results of the votes retrieved on May 9 had on it the hash code. A different hash code came out again on May 10 when the code was restored,” the source said.
With the Comelec yet to act on the allegations of irregularity, Marcos and hundreds of his supporters offered a “mass for truth and integrity” at the Baclaran Church.
Dubbed as “Buong Bayan Magkaisa, Isang Misa Para sa Katotohanan at Integridad ng Halalan”, the mass was offered by Marcos supporters and volunteers to give thanks for the peaceful elections and to pray that truth would prevail allowing the will of the people to be reflected in the results of the elections.
They were joined by Marcos who came with his wife Liza Araneta Marcos, son Sandro, mother, former first lady and Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Romualdez Marcos, his cousin, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, other members of his family and close friends for the 12:30 p.m. mass officiated by Rev. Fr. Ben Sy. – With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rey E. Requejo