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Indelible ink deal rebidding eyed

Domestic helper Rowena de la Cruz, the first overseas absentee voter in Hong Kong, feeds her ballot into the precinct count optical scan machine at the start of the overseas absentee voting yesterday. AP

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering conducting another bidding for the contract to supply the indelible ink to be used on election day, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said yesterday.

“There was a failure of bidding, failure in the sense that we did have an eligible bidder but the ink, upon testing, was found not to have met the specifications of the Comelec,” Jimenez said.

Two bidders vied for the contract last month but only Texas company passed the initial bidding.

The firm’s indelible ink failed the first test but it was allowed to reformulate the product. During the second test, the ink met the Comelec’s specifications.

Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) member Arwin Serrano said the Comelec should not have allowed another test, and should have called for a rebidding.

Jimenez said he understands that Texas’ ink had almost passed the test, but admitted that another bid should be conducted because it would be fairer to other bidders.

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He revealed that the Comelec is also studying the possibility of increasing the required silver nitrate content in the indelible ink so that it would not easily be removed from the voters’ fingers.

At present, the Comelec only requires seven percent silver nitrate in the indelible ink.

“In India, I think it’s 25 percent. But of course there are health issues that we have to take into consideration so this is being studied as of now,” he added.

Despite all these problems, the Comelec has started the distribution of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

Reports obtained from the Joint Security Coordinating Center of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) showed that government security personnel escorted yesterday the shipment of 907 Palawan-bound PCOS machines.

Aside from the machines, 1,111 batteries and 31 back-up generators were pulled out and loaded on two trailer trucks owned by Ace Logistics from the Smartmatic warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Poll watchdogs breathing down Comelec’s neck

Poll watchdogs have been closely monitoring the developments at the Comelec.

Kontra Daya called on the agency to junk any deal for the purchase of ultra-violet (UV) lamps with OTC Paper Supply, citing the company’s “overpriced” ballot secrecy folders.

The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg), on the other hand, hit the Comelec for its lack of safeguards and its refusal to heed proposals from various civic organizations, leaving the elections “with few processes and features to thwart or prevent electoral fraud.”

Kontra-Daya convenor Bibet Orteza said the Comelec should “not be spending a single centavo to solve a problem caused by Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (TIM).”

“Moreover, Comelec should not be entering into any deals with firms already implicated in overpriced contracts,” Orteza said in a statement.

Cenpeg information technology consultant Lito Averia said Comelec’s withholding of the source code review; disabling of the machines’ capability to scan the ballots’ UV security mark; non-requirement of the Board of Election Inspectors’ digital signature to attest to the accuracy of the election returns; use of an untrustworthy compilation process; lack of voter verifiability of vote counts; lack of random manual audit; and the non-categorical language of the certification of the Technical Evaluation Committee of the source code review conducted by a contractor are part of the “striptease act” that the poll body is doing which compromises the integrity of the May 10 elections.

Orteza said the Comelec should not use taxpayers’ money to purchase some 80,000 UV lamps since it was the “responsibility of Smartmatic-TIM, being the ones doing the printing of the ballots and acquiring the ink.”

Smartmatic-TIM, however, explained that the machines’ UV ink readers were “fine” but there was no time to configure them owing to the late release of the list of candidates and polling precincts that would be printed on the ballots and the late proposal of the National Printing Office to have its own security markings on the ballots.

Orteza said the joint venture should have been penalized for the problem.

“Why is Comelec quick to pick up the tab for the UV lamps? What adds insult to injury is that taxpayers will be paying for a contract with a firm already implicated in an earlier overpriced deal. It cannot be helped that this latest Comelec transaction will be viewed with suspicion,” she said.

Last Monday, the Comelec cancelled the P690-million contract with the OTC Paper Supply after finding out that the 1.8 million ballot secrecy folders were priced at an exorbitant P380 each.

“Pushing through with the deal with OTC will further undermine the damaged credibility of the Comelec. Heads must roll. The problem with Comelec is that no officials, even those involved in electoral fraud, were ever held accountable in the past. Will this trend change now?” Orteza added.  

Palace: No stopping now

Meanwhile, Malacañang remained optimistic that the Comelec would be able to conduct the first-ever nationwide automated polls in the country in spite of concerns about possible electoral fraud and even a failure of elections.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar, in an interview over Radyo ng Bayan, said he was assured by the Comelec, through Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, that there are no major issues in the poll body’s efforts to implement the automated elections this May.

Olivar said the recent controversies over the procurement of equipment by the Comelec have all been addressed because of prompt intervention by the agency.

“According to him (Sarmiento), this is being investigated, this was stopped and not a single centavo was spent for this contract,” Olivar said in Filipino.

As far as the UV lamps are concerned, Sarmiento told Olivar that it was just one of many security features being used by the Comelec to help prevent fraud in the electoral process.

“So, again, this is all a matter of perception, the reality on the ground is much different and much more optimistic,” Olivar said.

“Again we ask our voters to think in terms of success, do not think in terms of failure. We can do it. We are better than what some politicians say we are,” he added. - With Jaime Laude and Marvin Sy

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