Groups ask SC to stop Smartmatic deal for 2013 polls

Various groups and personalities ask the Supreme Court to stop the Comelec-Smartmatic deal for the 2013 polls

MANILA, Philippines – Various electoral watchdogs and personalities asked the Supreme Court on April 10, Tuesday, to stop the Commission on Elections from implementing its P1.8-B contract with the Venezuelan company Smartmatic.

The contract, signed on March 30, secures the purchase of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines for use in the 2013 elections.

Two civil society groups – the Automated Election System (AES) Watch and the Solidarity for Sovereignty Supreme Court – filed their respective petitions, as well as Davao City Archbishop Fernando Capalla, former Marawi City Mayor Omar Solitario Ali and ex-Quezon City Rep Mary Ann Susano.

The petitioners also asked the High Court to declare Comelec resolutions 9376, 9377 and 9378 – which finalized the purchase of the PCOS machines for the 2013 polls – as unconstitutional.

Comelec signed the contract on March 30, a day before the contract with Smartmatic lapsed. This contract – which ceased in 2010 but was extended by Smartmatic to 2012 – contains an option for Comelec to purchase the PCOS machines.

The petitioners argued, however, that the option to purchase had already expired after the original contract – which was signed by Comelec, Smartmatic and its local parner Total Information Management in 2009 – lapsed on Dec 31, 2010.

The AES Watch cited a related argument raised by the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPBB) of the Department of Budget and Management in a letter dated March 28 to Comelec.

In that letter, GPBB executive director Dennis Santiago said that the option to purchase had “ceased to exist” by the time the contract expired in 2010. “The extended offer should be treated as new and therefore subject to competitive bidding according to law,” Santiago said.

Capalla, Ali and Susano said in their petition that the option to purchase is already dubious, because it allegedly circumvents Republic Act 9184, or the Government Procurement Act.

They said that even if Comelec was authorized under Republic Act 9369, or the Automation Election law, to buy equipment for automated elections, it should still be made according to existing laws, which include RA 9184.

The 3 warned that the option to purchase will “open the floodgates of questionable contracts in the future, which contain extended option to purchase clauses at the behest of interested few and to the detriment of the government and the general public.”

On the other hand, the Solidarity for Sovereignty said that by accepting Smartmatic’s unilateral offer to extend the option to purchase, Comelec has prejudiced other contractors that participated in the bidding for the 2010 elections, where Smartmatic was also the winning bidder.

Smartmatic, the group said, became a preferred contractor because it was allowed to extend the option to purchase, as opposed to the other contractors.

The 3 petitioners also said the PCOS machines lacked security features, such as the digital signature and the paper audit trail.

The digital signature determines the authenticity of election returns from the precincts, the Solidarity for Sovereignty said. The paper audit trail, on the other hand, shows a person his votes while it is being entered into the system.

Dr Pablo Manalastas of the AES Watch noted that Smartmatic has yet to account for other glitches in the 2010 elections, such as the missing data in some of the election returns. He told reporters that the missing data include information on partylist groups and the governor and vice-governor in Antipolo. 

“What happened in the past? Glitches, lapses, should not be repeated,” said former vice president Teofisto Guingona, a member of AES watch. –

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