NBI assures safeguards against hacking of automated election system

Marje Pelayo   •   April 29, 2019   •   2238

MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Cybercrime Division assured that the automated election system (AES) in the upcoming May 13 has safeguards against hacking.

The agency said the data in the system is digitally encrypted which cannot be easily accessed.

“It is very safe system, considering na wala talagang actual incident na naimbestigahan ng NBI involving hacking or breach doon sa election system,” explained NBI Cybercrime Division Chief Atty. Vic Lorenzo.

However, Lorenzo said some problems may still be inevitable such as disruptions in the operations of the vote counting machines that’s why the agency has prepared measures for troubleshooting.

There is also NBI personnel deployed in different regions to ensure smooth conduct of the elections in May.

“Kahit na hindi deputized ang NBI ng Comelec, we are mandated to implement the law kapag may hacking incidents, because it’s a criminal offense. It’s a violation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Kapag may hacking talaga, we will respond and we will investigate,” Lorenzo added.

To date, the NBI has not received any report of hacking in connection with the AES.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said the AES will be independent of any other network connections on the day of the elections from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm and any attempt to manipulate the system will be detected promptly.

“The only time it is connected to the network is when it transmits the election results, ‘yung transmission na ‘yan is a very, very quick process,” Comelec Director James Jimenez said.

“The data pocket being transmitted is encrypted. It’s encrypted with an encryption strength that is basically at par with online financial transactions which means it’s safe as money,” he added.

Despite assurance from the local code reviewers of the security of the AES, Comelec will remain on guard to maintain the integrity of the AES.

Jimenez noted that compared to the previous polls, the participation of tech provider Smartmatic will be lesser this year as they are limited only to providing technical support. – Marje Pelayo (with details from April Cenedoza)

COMELEC has the power to postpone elections under certain circumstances —election law expert

Marje Pelayo   •   September 25, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Under specific circumstances, the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) has the authority or power to delay or postpone the conduct of an election.

This was clarified by election law expert Atty. George Erwin Garcia amid issues on a possible postponement of the 2022 national elections should the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic persist.

“COMELEC even has the power to postpone the elections or declare failure based on the Omnibus Election Code,” he added citing provisions of the law.

Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code  states: When for any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous causes of such a nature that the holding of a free, orderly and honest election should become impossible in any political subdivision, the Commission, motu proprio or upon a verified petition by any interested party, and after due notice and hearing, whereby all interested parties are afforded equal opportunity to be heard, shall postpone the election therein to a date which should be reasonably close to the date of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect but not later than thirty days after the cessation of the cause for such postponement or suspension of the election or failure to elect.

News of a possible postponement of the 2022 election came after Pampanga Representative Mikey Arroyo asked the poll body if it would consider such a move given that the country is currently facing a health crisis.

“No matter how prepared we are, it will cause a serious dent on our health situation. Would you consider it?,” he asked representatives from COMELEC during Congress’ hearing on the agency’s proposed budget on Thursday (September 24).

“Has the thought that you’ll propose to postpone elections, has that ever triggered in your minds?” the lawmaker further asked.

In response, COMELEC Commissioner Sheriff Abas said the postponement of election is beyond the agency’s responsibility.

“I think  wala sa call namin sa COMELEC iyan (I think that matter is not COMELEC’s call). It’s the call of both the chambers of the House and the president,” Abas said. 

Commenting on the issue, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin claimed that to cancel the election is an act of treason while former COMELEC commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal Sr.  said there is no reason to postpone the elections because other countries have been able to conduct it despite the challenges in the middle of the pandemic.

To clarify the matter, Atty. Garcia explained that the elections can be carried out before or after the second week of May as mandated by the Constitution as long as there is a law passed by the Congress.

“Pwede iyang ilipat sa ibang araw man lang o ibang linggo, pwede ngang ibang buwan ilipat (It can be postponed to a later date or week or even month). Bakit (Why)? Kasi ang nakalagay (because it says) ‘as may be provided by law,'” Garcia said.

“But it needs a constitutional amendment if the elections will be done beyond the elected officials’ term,” he added.

Garcia explained that by conducting an election outside or beyond the deadline or the term of office is therefore extending the term of office of the incumbent.

Such a case is prohibited or is not allowed by law, he said, because of what the law calls as hold-over capacity and fixed term of elected officials.

For now, Garcia said, what is important is for the Comelec to prepare for the elections and this includes voter registration. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

DBM slashes COMELEC’s proposed budget for 2021 by more than half

Marje Pelayo   •   September 25, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is asking Congress to increase its budget for next year as it prepares ahead for the 2022 presidential election.

The poll body initially proposed a budget of almost P23.7 billion for next year, but this has been slashed by more than half.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) approved only P10.41 billion for COMELEC’s 2021 budget.

According to COMELEC Spokesperson Director James Jimenez, a huge portion of the slashed amount was intended for measures that will be adopted during the 2022 national elections amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The COMELEC was planning to rent additional vote counting machines.

“Iyong gagawin namin sa present budget, kung iyan lang ang maibigay sa amin, is ire-refurbish namin (What we will do with the present budget — if that’s the only amount we have — is to refurbish),” COMELEC Chairman Sheriff Abas.

Around P65.4 million voters, an increase of 13.76 percent from last elections, are expected to vote in 2022.

“Kapag marami ang botante at nagsisiksikan sila sa isang makina, medyo unsafe iyan pagdating sa situwasyon natin ngayon na pandemya (If there is a huge voter turnout and everyone flocks to one machine, that’s unsafe given the current situation in this pandemic), ” explained COMELEC Spokesperson Director James Jimenez.

Based on COMELEC’s plan for the elections, the number of voters inside precincts would be reduced from 12 to 5 to maintain safe physical distance.

COMELEC is also mulling on holding the election for more than one day to reduce the number of voters coming to the venues.

The online filing of candidacy is also being considered.

Meanwhile, Agusan del Norte representative Lawrence Fortun is worried about the turnout in the 2022 elections if the poll body fails to convince Filipino voters that it is safe to go to polling precincts physically.

“If COMELEC cannot assure our voters of their safety, considering that electoral activities really draw large crowds, many might not be able to vote,” Fortun said,

The poll body is also waiting for election-related bills to address fears of virus transmission.

These include early voting for persons with disability and senior citizens, as well as voting via mail.

COMELEC also plans to apply the best practices in other countries who have held elections in the middle of the pandemic, such as South Korea.

There is also a bill that aims to push for hybrid elections.

However, COMELEC estimates that P50 billion to P60 billion will be needed for hybrid elections. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

Comelec announces newly nominated poll commissioner

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 21, 2020

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday (September 21) announced its newly nominated poll commissioner, Atty. Michael Braganza Peloton.

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas in a statement said, Peloton will be able to greatly contribute in further improving and revolutionizing electoral processes due to his vast experience in the field of law and information technology.

“Commissioner Peloton joins Comelec at an exciting and challenging time, as we have already started preparations for the 2022 national and local elections in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Abas said.

Abas also said Peloton will serve as commissioner until February 2, 2027 after replacing Commissioner Luie Guia who retired last February. AAC (with reports from Aiko Miguel)

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