Poll automation faces 3rd Supreme Court petition

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is facing a new hurdle after election watchdogs filed the third Supreme Court (SC) petition against a last-ditch effort to ensure automated elections in May 2016.  

The petitioners want the SC to stop the Comelec from qualifying Smartmatic, a Venezuela-based technology provider, in a bid for the lease of 23,000 optical mark reader (OMR) vote-counting machines.

OMR is the generic name for the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines. The Philippines used PCOS machines in its first two automated elections in 2010 and 2013.

In a decision dated June 29, the Comelec said the joint venture of Smartmatic TIM Corporation, Total Information Management Corporation, has "the lowest calculated responsive bid," or the cheapest bid, for 23,000 OMR units.

Through this ruling, the Comelec overturned the decision of its bids and awards committee in May, which disqualified Smartmatic-TIM because it failed to meet certain requirements. 

Responding to a protest filed by Smartmatic, the Comelec ruled that Smartmatic meets a key technical requirement in the bidding process. 

The petitioners' lawyer, Manuelito Luna, however asserted that the SC should stop the Comelec from enforcing its decision dated June 29. 

"Smartmatic cannot be allowed to participate, much less be declared the winning bidder, in the lease with option to purchase (OTP) of 23,000 new units of optical mark reader or optical scan system because it is 100% foreign owned based on the audit report submitted to the House of Commons, UK," Luna told Rappler on Saturday, July 18. 

"Moreover, its articles of incorporation say that its obligations and dealings are for the automation of the 2010 elections," Luna added.

The petitioners include former Comelec commissioner Augusto Lagman, Leo Querubin, and Maria Corazon Akol.

2 earlier SC petitions 

This is the third SC petition filed against the Comelec's last-ditch efforts to ensure automated elections in May 2016.

This last resort involves parallel bids. 

Basically, the Comelec is holding two public bids at the same time: one, to repair and supplement its existing vote-counting machines, and another to buy 100,000 new ones for the presidential elections in 2016. After having pursued these two bids, it is set to choose between the two options in the next few weeks.

This comes after an SC ruling in April derailed the preparations for the 2016 elections. The ruling practically barred the Comelec from using 82,000 vote-counting machines because it nullified a P268.8-million ($5.94-million) contract to repair these.

The two earlier SC petitions involved these parallel bids.

In a petition on July 7, members of the group Automated Election System Watch requested the SC to stop the Comelec's parallel bids for vote-counting machines.

On the same day, another group, composed mostly of bishops, asked the SC to stop the Comelec's P12.6-billion* ($278.51 million) lease of more than 93,000 vote-counting machines for the 2016 presidential elections. AES Watch members also criticized the lease.

The SC on Tuesday, July 14, directed the Comelec to comment on these petitions within 10 days. The High Court, however, said it issued these directives "without necessarily giving due course" to the two petitions filed by critics.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista was asked what he would tell these critics amid fears that their actions could derail the 2016 elections.

"I think that's exactly what I would tell them," Bautista said. "Your actions could possibly derail the elections in 2016." – Rappler.com

*$1 = P45.24

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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