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MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has barred poll technology firm Smartmatic from participating in future elections in the Philippines.
In a 17-page ruling, the seven-member Comelec en banc made clear that the disqualification order had nothing to do with the 2022 presidential elections, but the alleged 2016 bribery scheme involving the company and former elections chief Andres Bautista.
“We disqualified Smartmatic [from participating] in all Comelec procurement,” Comelec Chairman George Garcia said on X, formerly known as Twitter, past Wednesday noon, November 29. “We have to maintain the integrity of our electoral process,” he added.
Smartmatic has provided Comelec with poll machines and the technology since the 2010 national elections, the Philippines’ first automated polls. It is 100% privately owned and has no ties to political parties or groups, according to its website.
The company’s undoing came after it was implicated in a US government case against Bautista.
It was alleged an unnamed poll firm whose description matched Smartmatic sent payments totaling $1 million to Bautista in exchange for assistance in securing multi-million-dollar contracts in the 2016 elections.
Both Bautista and Smartmatic denied wrongdoing, but the Comelec said the serious allegations posed an “imminent threat to the strength and integrity” of the Philippines’ democratic processes.
“These allegations not only undermine and cast a shadow over the procurement protocols but also threaten to erode the public’s confidence in the electoral system,” the ruling read.
The Comelec said it is considering recommending “the permanent disqualification and blacklisting of Smartmatic from all government procurement proceedings.”
The Comelec ruling was in response to the June 2023 petition against Smartmatic filed by a group of automated election skeptics led by former information and communications technology chief Eliseo Rio.
The group sought a review of Smartmatic’s qualifications, and their eventual disqualification “if warranted,” due to allegations of automated election irregularities in 2022.
“To be clear, the commission en banc categorically states that no irregularities attended the conduct of the 2022 national and local elections. The allegations of petitioners pertaining to the alleged consistency in the ratio of transmitted results, the use of a single IP address, and alleged discrepancies in the transmission and election returns have been sufficiently addressed by the commission at length,” the ruling read.
The poll body, however, authorized a manual recount of ballots in areas that the petitioners will request, in an effort to “pursue all avenues to strengthen transparency in the conduct of elections.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Smartmatic expressed “profound disappointment” over the Comelec’s decision, although it has yet to receive a copy of the ruling.
“Over the course of these 15 years, as we contributed technology and services to Comelec, we have consistently adhered to all their procurement processes during biddings and contract execution,” the company said.
“Our significant role has played a key part in establishing the Philippines as a global model for election integrity,” it added.
The Comelec will need 110,000 voting machines for 2025 to replace its current vote-counting machines which have been used in the past three elections. Smartmatic was among those who tried to join the bidding process. – Rappler.com