Comelec to study Duterte call to junk Smartmatic machines

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will review if there are legal grounds to support the call of President Rodrigo Duterte for the poll body to junk the vote counting machines (VCMs) of technology provider Smartmatic in the 2022 elections.

"Kakailanganin natin ng legal basis to ban any supplier. 'Yun ang titingnan natin (There needs to be legal basis to ban any supplier. That's what we'll look into)," Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez told reporters in a press conference at the National Press Club on Friday, May 31.

Duterte had made the call in his speech before the Filipino community in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday night, May 30, where he urged the Comelec to "look for a new one that is free of fraud."

The Philippines has used Smartmatic VCMs, previously known as precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, since its first automated elections in 2010. In 2018, the Comelec decided to buy the 97,000 VCMs used in the 2016 elections.

No more public bidding?

Jimenez also said the Comelec will seriously look into into thePresident's suggestion against observing public bidding in government agencies.

Duterte had made the call as he lamented on Thursday that Smartmatic had been tapped for the Comelec project as it won the public bidding.

Jimenez, however, reiterated Smartmatic had no control over Comelec or Philippine elections.

"It is clear to us that Smartmatic has no hold on the Comelec except for the fact that they always win the bidding," Jimenez said.

Despite this, Jimenez said the poll body would study the President's call against public bidding.

"That's the President's sugggestion and certainly it cannot be dismissed out of hand. The President speaks from a place of greater knowledge than I do. If he feels that’s a good solution, it deserves a lot of serious consideration," he said.

During the 2019 elections, a host of problems including malfunctioning VCMs, bleeding markers, and defective SD cards marred the polls. The Comelec pointed to incompatibility between VCMs and election paraphernalia as a major cause behind this, but that its hands were tied due to the procurement law.

Jimenez said the poll body was undegoing "extensive forensics" to find out what happened but stressed the 2019 elections remained a "success."

"Again, we admit there were issues with the VCMs, SD cards, but at this point, let us not lose sight of the fact that our elections were successful. In that context, we have to reevaluate what we did prior to the elections...whether or not it was correct to procure the VCMs," Jimenez said in a mix of English and Filipino.

In a statement, the National Movement for Free Elections backed Duterte's call, saying the Comelec should use it as an opportunity to look at other technology and review Republic Act No. 9369 or the Automated Election law so that local companies can participate.

"R.A. 9369 needs to be revisited and amended to open up opportunities for local technology providers to supply locally developed election solutions that protects the secrecy of the ballot and ensures transparency of the vote count... It is high time that the Philippines’ IT talents are harnessed for our elections," it said.

Meanwhile, Liberal Party president and Senator Kiko Pangilinan said the poll body should also look at election reforms and address problems seen during the 2019 polls. These include election laws on the use of government resources to campaign, election paraphernalia, and ballots that were supposedly not mailed to overseas Filipinos voters.

Pangilinan also called on the Comelec to look into the President's "baseless" narco-list and the poll body's selection of dominant majority and minority parties, which he earlier said was as a "decision against democracy." (READ: Duterte allies named dominant majority, minority parties)

The Comelec is yet to choose its service providers for the 2022 elections. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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