AN OVERSIGHT committee composed of members of Congress and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should convene to investigate the alleged hacking incident of the poll body’s system, a solon said Tuesday. 

Samar Rep. Edgar Mary S. Sarmiento said that under Republic Act No. 8436 or the Automated Election Law, Congress has authority to look into the alleged data breach to determine if the automated system is free from manipulation and wholesale cheating.

“We need to know the basis of the story. If there was a hacking incident, we need to know if this is serious enough that the poll results can be manipulated electronically,” he said in a statement. 

Section 27 of the law provides an oversight committee composed of members from Comelec, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. 

“The oversight committee may hire competent consultants for project monitoring and information technology concerns related to the implementation and improvement of the modern election system,” the law states.

As of May 2021, records show the committee’s Senate panel is chaired by Senator Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” R. Marcos, sister of presidential candidate Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.

Its members are: Senators Ronald M. dela Rosa, Francis N. Tolentino, Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, Franklin M. Drilon, Risa N. Hontiveros, and Francis N. Pangilinan.

The House panel is composed of: Representatives Elpidio F. Barzaga, Jr., Juliet Marie D. Ferrer, Ronnie L. Ong, Edgar R. Erice, Joseph Stephen S. Paduano, and Argel Joseph T. Cabatbat.

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, who is running for president in the May elections, said he had his own “in-house Comelec-accredited cyber-security team” conduct an investigation to gather initial information while waiting for confirmation from the poll body and the Department of Information and Communications Technology. 

“Finding out who was or were responsible is already material information just to establish the motive and who will benefit from the alleged hacking,” he said in a statement. 

The technology news team of Manila Bulletin reported on Monday that a hacker’s group managed to breach the Comelec’s system last Saturday, downloading files that included usernames and PINS of vote-counting machines. 

Comelec Spokesman James B. Jimenez, who was reportedly informed of this incident immediately, said that they are currently validating if Comelec systems have been compromised.

“The fact, however, is that such information still does not exist in Comelec systems simply because the configuration files — which includes usernames and PINs — have not yet been completed. This calls into question the veracity of the hacking claim,” he said in a statement late Monday.

“Considering that ‘news’ like this could potentially damage the credibility of the elections, the Comelec stands ready to pursue all available remedies against those who, either deliberately or otherwise, undermine the integrity of the electoral process,” he said.

Senator Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, Sr., who is also running for the top seat, called on the Senate electoral reforms committee to immediately conduct a probe on the incident. 

Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo, the opposition presidential candidate, and her running mate Senator Francis “Kiko” N. Pangilinan expressed alarm over the reported hacking. 

“We are alarmed by the news of an alleged hacking of Comelec servers. We ask the Comelec to immediately confirm if it happened and the extent of the compromise involved,” the tandem said in a statement.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s office has also expressed concerns about the report. 

“We will await any update to be pronounced by the Comelec regarding this. Of course, we are concerned,” Mr. Duterte’s acting spokesman, Karlo Alexei B. Nograles, said in a regular news conference.

“Obviously, we’re also worried about this if this is true,” he said when asked by reporters to comment on the issue.

The May 9 elections cover national and local positions — including the president and vice president, Congressional seats, provincial governor, and city/municipal mayors. — Jaspearl Emerald G. Tan, Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza