Poll watchdog asks SC to stop Comelec-Smartmatic deal

MANILA, Philippines – An election watchdog asked the Supreme Court on Monday, February 2, to nullify a contract between the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corporation for the diagnostics of voting machines to be reused in the 2016 national elections.

On the same day, however, retiring Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr announced that he had signed the contract with Smartmatic.

Ten convenors of the Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) filed a 44-page petition for certiorari and prohibition with preliminary injunction against the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM before the SC.

They asked the High Court to declare Comelec Resolution 9922 as void ab initio (from the start) "for having been adopted in grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack or an excess of jurisdiction" on the part of the Comelec en banc.

The said Comelec resolution, promulgated on December 23, 2014, approved a P300-million deal for the first stage of Smartmatic's extended warranty proposal. It involves the diagnostics and minor repairs of the 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that were used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

They also sought a writ from the SC to prohibit the Comelec from directly contracting with Smartmatic-TIM.

The petitioners argued that Comelec Resolution 9922 was "tailor-fitted" to satisfy Smartmatic, which it said has enjoyed undue accommodation from the poll body.

They added that that the resolution "clearly contravened Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act of 2003, as it brushed aside the requirement of a competitive bidding."

They also said that if the contract is allowed to push through, it will not only "wreak havoc to the government’s policy of a public and competitive bidding, but will [also] constitute a misapplication or wastage of public funds in multiple violations of laws and COA (Commission on Audit) regulations."

"Unless Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM Corporation are halted or restrained from their unholy alliance and from resorting to direct contracting through a writ of preliminary injunction or similar injunctive reliefs, grave and irreparable injury will be sustained by citizen-taxpayers particularly, the petitioners in this action," they wrote in the petition.

Among the petitioners are Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) public affairs head Bishop Broderick Pabillo, former Comelec Commissioner Augusto "Gus" Lagman, Philippine Computer Society president Leo Querubin, Migrante International founding president Concepcion Bragas-Regalado, and Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) executive director Evita Jimenez.

Pabillo and 24 other bishops have earlier written a letter to the Comelec, urging them to rescind Resolution 9922 and defer any decision related to it until the retirement on Monday of Chairman Brillantes and commissioners Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph.

Brillantes: Contract already signed

In his retirement speech, however, Brillantes broke the news that he had signed the PCOS diagnostics contract.

The outgoing poll chief said the contract price had been lowered to P240 million. The poll body was also able to negotiate an expanded scope of work to be done on the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

"It will not cover only diagnostics. It will not cover only minor repairs, but it will also cover all forms of repairs. It will also involve replacement of destroyed machines, which was not in the original proposal of Smartmatic," he said.

"I dare those who say that this contract is not right.... Let them now bring it up to the highest courts, and I will fight for it up to the end," Brillantes said.

A separate complaint was filed with the SC last week against Comelec and Smartmatic by another election watchdog, the Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E). They seek to blacklist Smartmatic-TIM from procurements related to the 2016 polls.

The Comelec is currently bidding out two contracts for 23,000 additional optical mark reader (OMR) machines, of which PCOS is an example, and 410 direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. Smartmatic-TIM passed the first stage of both biddings. – Rappler.com