PEOPLE proven to be behind the shipment of signal jammers meant to sabotage the automated elections may face an election offense.

“Under the law, it can be considered as an election offense,” said Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Jose Melo.

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Although the Comelec has not yet verified reports that 5,000 units of cell phone jammers were shipped into the country specifically for the elections, Melo assured that “it will not affect the elections.”

He said the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines will print 30 copies of election returns once the voting is closed.

“At least even if it will be jammed, there is already evidence whatever the output of the machine is. It's (jammers) not worth it. It's too expensive,” said Melo.

Unverified reports of the bulk shipment of jammers reached the commission three weeks ago, according to Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez.

Jimenez said the poll body could not help but be suspicious because of the large quantity being shipped into the country.

"If they cover the whole country, that will be more expensive or just as expensive than holding elections... We should not be bothered by this. It will be expensive for these people to go into this jamming system," added Melo.

The Comelec chief challenged people behind the alleged shipment of jammers to buy its election partner, Smartmatic, rather than spend on jamming devices since the manipulation of results will not be guaranteed.

“(Why don't you) just buy the election instead of jamming...Just pay Smartmatic if you can do that, if you can buy them,” said Melo.

But Melo was quick to add that Comelec believes Smartmatic is a “reputable company,” which cannot be bought by any party aiming to disrupt the polls.

Negative results

The search being conducted by Bureau of Customs (BOC) on the reported 5,000 units of cell phone jammers that arrived in the country three weeks ago has yielded negative results.

However, Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales said the intelligence group will pursue in tracking down the location of the device that will allegedly be used to interfere the transmission of election results in May.

He said they are coordinating with the Comelec and National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) regarding the illegal entry of the device.

“If these new gadgets were indeed brought into the country without import permit from NTC, such shipment was illegal and any person who facilitated its shipment was guilty of smuggling and should be punished,” Morales said.

Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) chief Dino Tuason is verifying reports if these cell phone jammers gained entry in the country.

But he revealed that the devices are rarely sold in the market because it has limited end users.

Reports from Comelec showed that the shipment of the electronic devices arrived in large quantity last month.

“This is a new invention or technology. so wala makakaalam n'yan except for its manufacturers. Besides, they can be easily brought in because of their sizes that are hard to detect in container vans or when mixed with personal belongings,” he said.

Register your devices

The poll body may also consider ordering jammer operators and distributors to register their devices before election day, May 10.

“We will be recommending that to the appropriate agency or to the people who can actually monitor and enforce this kind of directive. It's very important for us to know where these jammers are and what they are being used for,” said Jimenez.

Meanwhile, the BOC has already ordered a team to investigate if there is such shipment of cell phone jammers in the country.

Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales, in a radio interview, said he has instructed the BOC Intelligence Division to search for the devices in case there is truth in the reports.

“An assurance like that from the top level is very comforting to us,” said Jimenez.

These cell phone signal jammers have worried the Comelec since election results from the automated machines will be sent through a mobile network.

But if the transmission does fail in certain areas due to problems in network coverage, Comelec and Smartmatic officials will be using broadband global area network (BGAN) satellites to transmit the data.

Palace reaction

Earlier, Deputy Presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said the reported shipment of signal jammers should be considered as highest priority of the government concerning national interest.

The Palace official, however, admitted that it is premature to be alarmed this early over the reports of huge shipment of signal jammer devices since it has yet to be verified.

“I’m not sure it would be classified as a security issue based on the usual definitions of national security. But certainly something like that would rise to the level of the highest priority national interest,” he said.

“Well, of course, if the report is true I think we should all be concerned about it because this is maybe an attempt to, you know, sabotage the elections in May,” he added.

Olivar said unless this report is validated and confirmed, it should not cause worry to the public and the Comelec as well.

“The NTC (National Telecommunications Commission) said that ordinarily they have not licensed such kind of equipment and they have not licensed any such shipment coming in. So it is still a developing story. Let’s be on top of it,” he noted.

Should this rumored shipment confirmed to be true, the Palace assumed that the Comelec is prepared for it and has measures to counter the signal jam.

“I would imagine that we do. You know in cyber world there’s really very few things that has no counter available. So, again, it depends on the way of jamming -- at what network layer jamming signals will transpire,” he said.

Olivar added that the government is ready to provide security forces if the poll body needs it.

He, meanwhile, dismissed claims of critics that supposed enter of signal jammers in the country could create chaos.

“Well, again this is one example of criticizing the Palace without any basis or evidence, non-sense. There is no issue that they have not thrown to the President in the last few months, especially now that the campaign period heats up. So, it gets more and more difficult for me to get surprised by the absurdity of the charges that keep coming up at any given day,” he said.

Olivar said the Palace seemed taking the issue on signal jammers lightly believing that there is no truth to it. “We believe it is purely politically-motivated and having said that this issue is being look into by the Comelec.”

He advised the public to be discerning in taking issues especially now that the campaign period is about to start.

“Frankly, I’m a little taken aback by the level of poison that is coming from the usual quarters and the way it is rocketing up. The level of poison in this time of campaigning is getting higher each day,” he ended.

Back up plan

But an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged the Comelec to come up with an immediate solution to counter the alleged plan to block the transmission of election results by cell phone jammers.

Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, CBCP Media Director, said the call was part of the CBCP pastoral letter released last month, asking the poll body to have a backup plan in the implementation of automated polls.

“In the CBCP statement we also encouraged Comelec to prepare a fallback position in the event that there’s technical or logistical glitches,” he said.

Quitorio said it is only proper for the poll body to prepare for a serious problem such as jamming, saying that it is a serious technical problem because a jammer is easily available.

If in case there is no cell phone signal in a particular area, the prelate suggested that the poll body should consider the manual delivery of the election results to the municipality.

“From what I know that can’t be resolved by a mere counter jammer… The next alternative is manual delivery of the results to the municipality,” the CBCP official said.

However, he said there is another alternative that can be used to electronically transmit election results by satellite transmission.

“They can probably hire a satellite transmission instead of terrestrial so that the transmission will be vertical,” Quitorio explained.

With this, he said that the Comelec should not be complacent as cell phone jammers are a serious threat to the elections. “It’s not good to be over confident…This (jammers) is a serious threat.” (Kathrina Alvarez/Jill Beltran/FP/Sunnex)