Supreme Court of the Philippines

Supreme Court: Comelec wrong to ban Smartmatic from future PH election contracts

Jairo Bolledo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Supreme Court: Comelec wrong to ban Smartmatic from future PH election contracts

SUPREME COURT. The Supreme Court in Padre Faura, Manila, on December 5, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(2nd UPDATE) However, the SC says the ruling has no effect on the election award already granted to another company

BAGUIO, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) ruled that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was mistaken in disqualifying Smartmatic from participating in the bidding process for future poll contracts.

SC spokesperson Camille Sue Mae Ting told reporters on Wednesday, April 17, that the High Court granted Smartmatic’s petition for certiorari questioning the Comelec’s decision.

The SC decided on the case on April 16. Associate Justice Jose Midas Marquez penned the ruling.

A certiorari is a legal remedy used to review a decision of another body or review grave abuse of discretion.

Citing the High Tribunal’s decision, Ting said the SC found the Comelec to have committed grave abuse of discretion when it disqualified the company “before it had submitted any bid, without any
reference to the eligibility requirements prescribed by its BAC (Bids and Awards Committee).”

“It implemented a discretionary pre-qualification regime antithetical to Government Procurement & Reform Act,” the SC said.

However, the SC noted in its ruling that the finding is not enough to nullify the public or award of the contract for the polls. In other words, although the Comelec committed an error in dealing with Smartmatic’s bid, the decision will not affect the award granted to Miru Systems.

In explaining why it arrived at the ruling, the SC said it considered practicality and the doctrine of operative fact. The doctrine means that a law produced consequences that cannot be ignored. So, it has to be nullified, but not its effects.

‘Significant victory’

In a statement, Smartmatic said the Supreme Court ruling was a “significant victory for fairness and the rule of law.”

The company added that it “stands ready to explore further opportunities to contribute to the ongoing
modernization of Philippine elections.”

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s ruling in our favor, which restores justice and sends a clear message to those at the helm of Comelec that due process matters,” said Smartmatic spokesman Christian Robert Lim.

“By rectifying Comelec’s questionable decision, the Court not only vindicated Smartmatic but also set a crucial precedent for upholding transparency and accountability in public procurement processes,” he added.

What happened before

For the upcoming 2025 polls, Smartmatic received from the Comelec an invitation to attend its election and procurement summit in 2023. After the Comelec published the invitation to bid, Smartmatic purchased the bidding documents and attended the pre-bidding conference. 

Bidding is a process mandated by the law to ensure transparency in the award of government contracts. 

However, the private respondents filed petitions with the Comelec seeking a review of Smartmatic’s qualifications. The petitioners cited the alleged serious and material irregularities in the transmission and reception of the 2022 elections. The petitioners also sought Smartmatic’s disqualification if the irregularities cannot be explained.

Later, the Comelec en banc disqualified Smartmatic from the bidding, citing the Comelec’s constitutional mandate to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of elections under the Constitution.

This pushed Smarmatic to file a certiorari petition with the High Court. The Comelec later awarded the contract to Miru Systems.

Election lawyer Emil Marañon III said in March that since the petition was still pending at the time, there was a possibility of Smartmatic reentering the scene. 

He also pointed out that if Smartmatic wins the case, the Comelec would have to reopen the bidding process and allow the company to bid.

The Court, however, said that although Smartmatic’s petition was granted, it will not have any effect on the contract already awarded to Miru, citing the doctrine of operative fact. 

“The Court recognized that to require the Comelec to conduct another round of public bidding would seriously disrupt its preparations for the 2025 national and local elections and potentially jeopardize the very conduct of the NLE,” the SC explained. – with a report from Dwight de Leon/

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.