Comelec ‘seriously considering’ purchase of 2010 PCOS machines

Reynaldo Santos Jr
The poll body may have to scrap plans to hold bidding for new machines to be used in the 2013 national elections

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) should have started on Wednesday, March 7, with the process of bidding and procuring new election machines to be used in the 2013 national polls.

But with the poll body seriously considering purchasing the old election machines, it appears the scheduled procurement process will not push through at all.

The Comelec is reportedly considering the “option to purchase” the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the 2010 elections, because it only has a P7-B budget to conduct the 2013 polls. Leasing brand new units will cost the Comelec P6.2-B, while buying the old machines will cost them only P1.8-B.

The Comelec is yet to finalize its decision on how it will obtain the machines to be used in the next national elections. Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said in a phone interview with Rappler on Thursday, March 8, that this topic will be discussed in the poll body’s en banc on Tuesday, March 13. “We might come up with a decision by early next week,” he said.

Timetable

Based on the poll body’s implementation calendar for the 2013 automated elections, the entire bidding process should run from March 7 to June 4, 2012:

Publication of invitation to bid March 7
Issuance of invitation / request for proposal March 7
Pre-bid conference March 19
Submission and opening of bids April 2
Bid evaluation and post-qualification April 2 to 13
Submission of BAC recommendation to en banc April 16
Approval of BAC recommendation by en banc May 2
Issuance of Notice of Award May 8
Contract preparation May 14 to 29
Approval of contract and signing June 4
Issue Notice to Proceed June 4


But as it turns out, there is a high probability that the bidding process might be scrapped.

In a congressional hearing on Tuesday, March 6, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes relayed to members of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms the poll body’s plan to buy the 81,000 PCOS machines used in the 2010 elections.

There were around 82,000 PCOS machines used in the 2010 polls, but the Comelec has already bought close to 1,000 machines for use in electoral protest cases.

“The consensus now is, we will seriously consider the option to purchase PCOS machines for as long as all legal issues are resolved and that could be resolved in the next few days,” Brillantes stressed.

Members of the house committee, however, have asked the poll body to explain in writing why there is a need to purchase the 2010 PCOS machines, and to assure the lawmakers that it is safe and secure to use them.

Legal concerns

The purchase of the previously-used election machines has been criticized, as it opens legal issues pertaining to the contract between the Comelec and machine manufacturer Smartmatic-TIM.

Specifically noted is the “option to purchase” clause in the contract, which some groups claim had already expired in December 2010. Smartmatic was even reported to offer extensions and contract revisions to the poll body.

But Sarmiento said that buying the machines will not violate any contract. He explained that according to the proposal of Smartmatic, the “option to purchase” was mentioned without specifying a specific date of purchase. “The date of purchase is open, so we don’t see any legal complications with that,” he said.

It was reported that Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman disagrees with the idea of purchasing the machines, saying that the poll body may be liable for violating the Government Procurement Act or Republic Act 9184.

Section 3 of RA 9184 states that “all procurement of the national government, its departments, bureaus, offices and agencies, including state universities and colleges, government-owned and/or -controlled corporations, government financial institutions and local government units, shall, in all cases, be governed by these principles… (b) competitiveness – by extending equal opportunity to enable private contracting parties who are eligible and qualified to participate in public bidding”.

All these matters, according to Sarmiento, will be discussed in their en banc meeting next week.

Security issues

Brillantes said in the congressional hearing that they have started examining the condition of the machines to see if there are features that need updating, such as the source code.

The PCOS machines are currently stored in a warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna — the same warehouse where the machines were placed before they were deployed nationwide for the May 10, 2010 polls.

But the Comelec leaders claim they are not liable for the safekeeping and security of the machines for now. “The machines are not yet ours. They still belong to Smartmatic,” Sarmiento explained.

“If the Comelec becomes the owner, we will take custody and [be responsible for the] maintenance of the machines,” Brillantes said. -Rappler.com

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