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MANILA, Philippines – At the moment, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will not stop election machine and technology provider Smartmatic from participating in the bidding of contracts for the 2025 midterm elections.
Comelec Chairman George Garcia made the statement on Friday, September 22, in response to a damning US government affidavit detailing a supposed bribery and money laundering scheme involving an unnamed poll technology firm and former elections chief Andres “Andy” Bautista for the 2016 elections.
“[It is] premature at this point. Let us wait until the start of the bidding process,” Garcia told reporters. “At this point, the presumption of innocence stands.”
The affidavit filed by the US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Homeland Security Investigations with a Florida court on Tuesday, September 19, alleged that Bautista accepted bribe money from the unnamed firm in exchange for assistance in securing numerous contracts worth $199 million on the lease of vote-counting machines (VCMs) and result transmission services.
Smartmatic is the lone supplier of the Philippines’ voting machines since 2010.
The company said on Friday it has always complied with Philippine procurement laws.
“Winning a bid in the Philippines is never solely one individual’s preference or decision,” Smartmatic said. “Dozens of Comelec officials have a say in selecting the provider.
“Smartmatic always has and always will cooperate with authorities,” it added.
The US government case against Bautista was reported on Thursday, September 21, by MLex, an international news service which provides exclusive news on regulatory risks.
Bautista on Friday denied he was ever involved in the supposed fraudulent scheme.
“I did not ask for nor receive any bribe money from Smartmatic or any other entity,” he added. “Be that as it may, I am ready to respond to the alleged charges at the proper forum and time.”
According to the affidavit, the DHS pursued investigation after learning that Bautista’s estranged wife Patricia alerted Philippine authorities about his alleged ill-gotten wealth worth nearly P1 billion ($17.6 million).
During the course of its investigation, the DHS found that executives of the poll technology firm allegedly created numerous “slush funds” – a reserve of money used for illegal purposes – to facilitate the transfer of funds to a dummy bank account allegedly owned by Bautista, passing through the US financial system.
Citing lawfully obtained bank records and emails, investigators said the poll tech firm executives wired $1 million to Bautista.
Garcia described the news on Friday as an “eye-opener,” but all he was willing to promise for now was full transparency in the bidding of contracts for the 2025 elections.
“We would closely monitor this development most especially the nature and weight of evidence to be presented in court,” Garcia said.
“As to our procurement of new machines for the 2025 elections, the right thing to do is to make it transparent, inclusive and fair. That is, that everybody is afforded a level-playing field thereby ensuring equal chance and opportunity to all. Nothing should be hidden to public scrutiny and with only the best interest of the people in mind,” he added.
The Comelec will need 110,000 voting machines for 2025 to replace its current VCMs which have been used in the past three elections. Smartmatic is again expected to join the bidding process.
Previously, some groups have asked the Comelec to exclude Smartmatic from the 2025 elections because of technical glitches suffered by the machines in past polls. – Rappler.com