#PHvote wRap: Comelec plans for 2016 voting machines

MANILA, Philippines – In the coming days, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is set to make important decisions on voting machines that will be used in the 2016 national and local elections.

Precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines will be used again for the country's third automated polls, and the Comelec would have to refurbish the 80,000 PCOS units in its inventory.

The poll body will also be leasing additional voting machines, including some 400 units, to test the use of touchscreen technology in elections.

At least one poll watchdog is opposing the participation of Smartmatic – the supplier of the PCOS machines in the 2010 and 2013 polls – in all of the Comelec's preparations for 2016.

The Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) said that Smartmatic had committed numerous violations of election laws in the past, and should therefore be blacklisted.

Additional voting machines

On Thursday, December 4, the Comelec Bids and Awards Committee will start opening bids for the lease of 23,000 voting machines that use optical mark reader (OMR) technology – which the PCOS also uses – and 410 direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines that use touchscreen technology.

The examination of bidders' eligibility documents and the testing of their initial technical proposals will be open to the public, said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez.

Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corporation is among the firms that have submitted bids for both the OMR and DRE technologies.

The C3E on Monday formally filed a petition before the Comelec to blacklist Smartmatic. They said that Smartmatic was guilty of misrepresentation because it was "merely a reseller" of the PCOS machines and not the owner, and it just subcontracted Taiwan-based Jarltech International Corporation to produce the machines.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, November 26, a former congressman asked the Supreme Court to stop the public bidding itself.

According to reports, ex-Misamis Oriental assemblyman Homobono Adaza and co-petitioner Jonathan Siñel sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Supreme Court to block the December 4 public bidding.

In their complaint, Adaza and Siñel said that the Comelec should have conducted the inventory of PCOS machines used in the last two elections and resolved past poll issues first before having a public bidding for new machines. They also prayed for the exclusion of Smartmatic-TIM from the bidding.

Refurbishment of existing PCOS machines

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr confirmed to Rappler on Thursday, November 27, that they would decide next week on the refurbishment of existing PCOS machines.

The poll body will choose between conducting a public bidding or accepting Smartmatic's extended warranty offer.

The Comelec purchased the PCOS machines from Smartmatic in 2012 for P1.8 billion, after leasing it from them for the 2010 polls.

Commissioner Lucenito Tagle said that while the public bidding reflects transparency and allows other companies to submit bids for PCOS repairs, it might cause delays in the Comelec's preparations for the 2016 polls.

"Kapag nag-bidding kami, masisira ang timetable namin. Matagal ang bidding eh, about 3 or 4 months iyan," Tagle told Rappler. (If we conduct the bidding, our timetable would be affected. Public bidding takes about 3 or 4 months to finish.)

The C3E expressed concerns that the Comelec would eventually select Smartmatic to carry out the refurbishment in a "negotiated deal."

"The concern about the delay in the bidding is rather disturbing. It is not surprising that it will be used as a convenient excuse for the Comelec to proceed with approving the extended warranty agreement, which is synonymous to a negotiated deal and direct contracting,” said C3E spokesperson Dave Diwa in a statement on Wednesday.

They also questioned Smartmatic's offer of P300 million to inspect the PCOS machines, aside from a separate budget for the actual repairs and parts replacement.

Based on their own computation, the C3E said that it would only take P15 million-P30 million, "given 25 well-trained technicians working 8 hours a day getting P200,000 a month," to inspect and test the machines.

"Why would Comelec pay P300 million to turn machines on and insert papers to segregate working ones from those that are not?" asked the C3E in a text message to Rappler.

Former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal also supported calls to bid out the PCOS repairs.

"The refurbishment of the PCOS machines, that has to be bidded out. You can't just award it directly to any bidder or any company, because you have to be transparent, because the 2016 elections are very important," Larrazabal said.

He added that Smartmatic was not in a position to offer a warranty. "The machines were produced not by Smartmatic but by a company commissioned by if. If you want to contract anyone, you have to go to the manufacturer themselves."

Even Comelec's legal department commented on the option to avail of Smartmatic's extended warranty.

In its legal opinion, the Comelec law department pushed for a public bidding, saying the repair of PCOS machines "still falls within the purview and ambit of Republic Act No. 9184 [Government Procurement Reform Act] as amended, and thus, must comply with the provisions of said law."

It added that Smartmatic's extended warranty offer, which falls under "direct contracting" or "single source procurement" should undergo tests of validity under RA 9184.

Furthermore, the number of PCOS units needing repair has yet to be determined, prompting the Comelec law department to say any repairs would be premature.  – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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