Comelec overturns Smartmatic disqualification

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) reversed the disqualification of technology provider Smartmatic from a bidding for 23,000 new vote-counting machines for the 2016 elections.

However, Smartmatic will have to wait before it could proceed with the project, pending the Comelec's final decision on what poll system to use in 2016.

In a press conference on Tuesday, June 30, Comelec commissioner Christian Robert Lim reported that the en banc voted 4-2-1 in favor of the protest filed by the Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM)-led joint venture regarding its disqualification from the said bidding.

In May, Smartmatic-TIM was disqualified by the Comelec bids and awards committee (BAC) during the post-qualification stage of the first round of public bidding for the lease of 23,000 optical mark reader (OMR) machines. The OMR technology is the same one used by Smartmatic's precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that had been used in the 2010 and 2013 automated polls.

The bids committee ruled that Smartmatic-TIM failed to submit valid Articles of Incorporation (AOI), and that one of its demo units failed to meet a requirement in saving election data in 2 storage devices at the same time.

But in the Comelec en banc's 12-page decision, Lim said 6 members believed that the supplier "passed the technical requirement of a simultaneous recording by the CF cards" after further technical demonstrations.

Smartmatic was able to show that it complies with the requirement, according to the en banc. "We cannot help but agree with the findings of the [Technical Evaluation Committee], and so hold that [Smartmatic's] OMR+ can and does write election data in two storage devices simultaneously," it said in its decision.

The issue of Smartmatic's articles of incorporation had earlier been reversed when its motion for reconsideration was granted by the BAC. But Commissioner Tito Luie Guia, in his separate opinion, suggested that the poll body look further into this issue.

"A notice of award will be given to Smartmatic, and we will now proceed to discussions on the contract," said Lim. "If the Comelec and Smartmatic will be able to agree on the terms of the contract, then we will issue a notice to proceed to Smartmatic in so far as the 23,000 OMR (optical mark reader) machines are concerned."

Lim noted that the 23,000 OMR units will be needed "whether or not the Comelec will go with the refurbishment [of the existing PCOS machines] or the 70,977 new OMRs."

As a result of the en banc's decision, Tuesday's opening of bids for the same number of OMRs in the second round of public bidding – which started after the first round failed – was cancelled. (READ: Comelec holds parallel biddings for 2016 vote counting machines)

No notice to proceed yet

Lim clarified, however, that the poll body will still have to decide on the election system that the poll body will implement in 2016.

"As of now, the commission is also looking into the hybrid system that [was demonstrated last Saturday]," said Lim. "If the commission will decide on the hybrid system, then we will not issue a notice to proceed on these 23,000 units."

The Comelec plans to make a decision by next week regarding the hybrid polls.

Meanwhile, it is considering all its options for its final plan for 2016.

"We need to decide by the end of July as to which option we will be pursuing. Before we finally decide, we will be consulting the various stakeholders in the election," said Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista.

Smartmatic had submitted a bid of P2.23 billion, compared to its competitor Indra Sistemas, which submitted a bid of P3.69 billion. The approved budget for the contract is P2.5 billion.

Four Comelec commissioners who voted to grant the protest wish to explore the possibility of further reducing the lowest financial bid submitted by Smartmatic, said Lim.

In a statement, Smartmatic hailed the poll body's decision and thanked the Comelec for its objectivity and impartiality.

"The reversal validates what we have always asserted – that our system is indeed 100% compliant with all the technical requirements of the RFP (request for proposal), and is ready to be deployed in the 2016 national elections," Smartmatic's statement said. – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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