Sotto urges probe on alleged irregularities in 2016 polls

MANILA — Senator Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday urged the Senate to conduct a probe into the country’s automated election system.

Sotto made the call after allegations of early transmission of votes and remote foreign access to the election server during the 2016 elections surfaced, saying that these claims, if proven to be true, amounted to electoral sabotage.

In a privilege speech, the Senate Majority Leader said a “concerned and impeccably reliable source” handed him confidential information regarding the irregularities that happened on May 2016 which allegedly “altered” the results of the last national elections.

“What I am about to present to you may or may not be gospel truth but very accurate information, and if these allegations are serious enough and are proven to be true after due investigation, then we have a case of electoral sabotage,” he said.

“If we don’t do anything to clear the doubts as to the legitimacy of the previous election, then we put at risk the accuracy of the 2019 elections,” Sotto said as he asked the Senate to subpoena the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and automated election provider Smartmatic to shed light on the issue.

According to the documents presented by the lawmaker, which he said is in the joint custody of Comelec and Smartmatic, the alleged transmission activities started as early as 9 a.m. of May 8, 2016 and continued until 9 a.m. the following day prior to the official conduct of the elections.

In the slides presented by Sotto, the alleged early transmissions were supposedly being done by certain Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) to the Municipal Board of Canvassers.

He said that all the early transmissions activities were captured and seen in the logs of the main server used by VCMs and Consolidated Canvassing System (CCS).

Sotto said that what he showed were only examples of the numerous early transmissions to different Municipal and Provincial Board of Canvassers in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

“The standard answer of Smartmatic would be that these transmissions are only ‘testing’ transmissions,” he noted.

“These transmissions cannot be in any way be claimed as ‘testing transmissions’ because, as far as I can remember, the last official testing was made on April 23, 2016,” Sotto said.

On the issue of alleged foreign access into the election servers, Sotto showed slides of supposed secure logs of one of the two Domain Name Service (DNS) servers used during the 2016 elections.

Sotto said that there were a series of access before, during and after the election, with the time stamps indicating that accessing was done precisely every minute.

He noted that “this is only possible to be done by machines.”

He showed that username “e360sync” is accessing one of the DNS servers with root access privilege, which means it can open, copy and transmit any information gathered.

The DNS server in question is used only by the Queue Servers from May 10-11.

On May 8, 2016, or a day before the election, e360sync allegedly made a malicious activity -accessing DNS report logs – that is categorized as a critical intrusion to a computer system.

“Apparently, e360 is a server in amazonaws. com, which is a cloud computing service located mainly in the United States,” Sotto said.

He said that the username E360 looks very similar to a software product of the Philippine election provider, Smartmatic.

“To conclude the second issue, our election servers were allegedly accessed remotely, and information gathered were copied and submitted to a server in the amazon cloud services in the US,” Sotto said.

He said that these issues cannot be ignored as it weakens the propriety of our automated election system.

Sotto said the full extent of the early transmission activities as well as that of the foreign access would be known in the course of the investigation.

He said that the question on who might have benefited or who may have been detrimentally affected, if ever there were any, by the alleged irregularities may also be ascertained during the investigation.

“We must ascertain the accuracy of these allegations as to either make the responsible officials accountable or finally put to rest the questions clouding the results of the 2016 elections. I believe that the outcome of any investigation on this matter will surely lead to a more accurate and transparent system and results for the coming 2019 elections,” Sotto said.

Sotto’s assertions came in the wake of recent reports that the Comelec en banc has unanimously voted to exercise its option to purchase Smartmatic’s VCM’s for the 2019 polls.

While Smartmatic has been the country’s automated election provider since 2010, doubts have been constantly cast about its track record.