2 bids, 1 choice to seal fate of 2016 elections

MANILA, Philippines – To resolve a major crisis, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) faces two choices: to repair and supplement its existing vote-counting machines, or to buy 100,000 new ones for the Philippines' presidential elections in 2016. 

The Comelec will pursue both "tracks" by holding two public bids at the same time, newly-appointed Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista announced on Tuesday, May 5.

One bidding is for a contract "to refurbish and upgrade" the existing 81,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, and to supplement these with more than 20,000 new machines.

The other bidding is for a contract to buy "about 100,000 new PCOS machines." 

Bautista said the Comelec is "starting now" with the bidding processes, and will likely choose one of the two tracks by July. 

"We don't want to lose options as we go nearer the presidential elections so we would like to pursue this in parallel," Bautista said in a news conference. 

He said the Comelec will await the results of the two bidding processes, which will seal the fate of the 2016 elections. 

Bautista, the former CEO of the group that runs Shangri-La hotels and resorts in the Philippines, explained to reporters: "It's possible that both succeed. It's possible that both fail. It's possible that one succeeds, one fails. After the results, then we will assess what will be our next step forward. Hopefully both will succeed and then we can choose which one would be the better option." 

Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim, who served as the poll body's acting chairman before Bautista assumed office, said a bidding process can take as long as 28 days.

'May 9, 2016 will not change'

Bautista's concern is the lack of participants in bidding processes for vote-counting machines.

"To have a really good, competitive bidding, the key is to get many participants. But apparently there are not a lot of companies that are able to provide these kinds of machines and services. But hopefully that's one of the things we can do. We can encourage more companies to participate," the Comelec chairman said.

The most prominent among these bidders is technology provider Smartmatic, the subject of various complaints, as critics claim politicians can easily rig Smartmatic's PCOS machines. (READ: Poll watchdog to Comelec: Blacklist Smartmatic)

In any case, the former dean of Far Eastern University's law school stressed, "Time is of the essence and we have certain time constraints." 

"This is a time-bound exercise. May 9, 2016 will not change. We will have elections on that day. Therefore we have to make certain decisions at some point," Bautista said.

Echoing his previous call for the Supreme Court (SC) to be more transparent, he added, "We also believe that the key to having credible elections is to have a transparent process, and that's why we are committed to increasing transparency." 

The Comelec is weighing these options after a Supreme Court (SC) ruling thrust the poll body in an unprecedented crisis.

On April 21, the SC nullified a Comelec-Smartmatic contract for the repair of PCOS machines because it didn't undergo public bidding. 

The nullified contract might render more than 81,000 PCOS machines useless. This is because the Comelec vowed not to use PCOS machines that haven't been repaired.

The Comelec, in 2012, bought these PCOS machines from technology provider Smartmatic for P1.8 billion ($40.36 million). – Rappler.com

*$1 = P44.62 

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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