It’s final: Comelec automation deal nullified
- Aurea Calica () - February 19, 2004 - 12:00am
The Supreme Court denied with finality yesterday the appeals of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Mega Pacific Consortium (MPC) to push though with the automation project for the coming May elections.

In a three-page resolution, the SC en banc said the Comelec and the MPC merely raised the same procedural and substantive issues in their separate motions for reconsideration on the Jan. 13 decision of the Court nullifying their P1.3 billion contract for the supply of the automated counting machines.

Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, for his part, conceded defeat and said he has tasked Commissioner Resurreccion Borra to study their options. The poll body has set a special en banc session on Friday to discuss the future of the machines.

"I think there is nothing more we can do about the case. It is already final," he said.

"We have to do what we can now. The machines are already here; it was custom-built for us. The machines are no longer considered brand new because they have endured the harshest tests," Abalos added.

He said it is possible to conduct selective automation, but refused to elaborate since "everything is still under study." The Court had earlier ruled the contract between Comelec and MPC should be junked due to major flaws in the bidding process and failure to meet the technical requirements for the project.

The SC said all the issues surrounding the contract were "exhaustively discussed and definitively passed upon" in its Jan. 13 decision.

"Other than rehashing the same basic arguments already made, no compelling reasons have been adduced to justify the modification or reversal of the Court’s findings and conclusions on such issues," the Court said.

With respect to the movants’ contention that the decision was grossly unfair because it exposed them to possible criminal prosecution, the Court noted there had been no prejudgment made on their criminal liability.

"Although the decision stated that the Ombudsman shall determine the criminal liability, if any, of the public officials (and conspiring public individuals, if any) involved in the subject resolution and contract, the Court did not make any premature conclusion on any wrongdoing but precisely directed the Ombudsman to make that determination, after conducting the appropriate proceedings and after observing due process," the Court said.

The SC further said that the Comelec and the MPC complained that while it had directed the Ombudsman and the Solicitor General to determine their criminal and civil liabilities (if any), the Court did not make the same direction in regard to the officials involved in the cases of Amari Coastal Bay Development Corp. and the Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc. (Piatco).

The Amari case involved a land deal with the Public Estates Authority, which the SC nullified for being violative of the constitutional provisions expressly prohibiting the sale of foreshore and submerged areas of Manila Bay for being "inalienable lands of the public domain."

On the other hand, the SC voided the contracts between the government and Piatco on the construction and operation of the $650-million Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 project for being against public interest as the bidding and other laws were not followed.

"Such misplaced outbursts merely show that, up to this day, the Honorable Comelec Commissioners and the other officials concerned have not realized the gravity of their misdeeds. While the contracts in the Amari and Piatco cases were mainly commercial in nature, here — as already explained in the decision – the ‘illegal, hasty and imprudent actions of the Commission have not only desecrated legal and jurisprudential norms (governing contracts and public biddings) but have also cast serious doubts upon the poll body’s ability and capacity to conduct automated elections," the Court said. — With Jose Aravilla

AMARI AND PIATCO AMARI COASTAL BAY DEVELOPMENT CORP COMELEC COMELEC CHAIRMAN BENJAMIN ABALOS COMMISSIONER RESURRECCION BORRA COURT HONORABLE COMELEC COMMISSIONERS JAN MANILA BAY MEGA PACIFIC CONSORTIUM
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