Commissioner says Smartmatic forced Comelec’s hand

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - An official of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has accused the joint venture of Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp. of taking advantage of the tight timeline of the poll body for the 2016 polls.

In her “separate concurring opinion” in Resolution No. 9980 promulgated on Aug. 13, Comelec Commissioner Ma. Rowena Amelia Guanzon took a swipe at Smartmatic-TIM, although she voted to award the lease contract for the 70,977 optical mark reader (OMR) machines to the joint venture.

Guanzon said the Comelec was “burdened with time constraints in the preparations” for the May 2016 elections and “what is further deplorable in this whole state of affairs is that Smartmatic seemed to have taken advantage…”

“Their refusal to participate in the bidding for the refurbishment of the existing precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines is, to my mind, pushing the commission to the edge so that it is left with no choice but to award to Smartmatic the Lease with Option to Purchase (contract) of the 70,977 OMR units,” she added.

The Comelec has decided to forgo the planned refurbishment of PCOS machines after two failed public biddings.

In the first bidding in June, Smartmatic-TIM, Indra Systems S.A. and Vertex Business Applications backed out when the price tag for the refurbishment went down from P2.8 billion to P2 billion after the provision for the repair of damaged PCOS machines was removed from the contract on recommendation of Guanzon.

The Comelec held a second bidding after increasing the bid price to P3.13 billion.

Smartmatic-TIM, Miru Systems, and the joint venture of Dermalog Identification Systemjs GmbH, Avante International Technology and Stone of David bought bid documents for the second bidding.

But during the opening of bids last Aug. 1, Smartmatic and Miru withdrew, citing the tight timeline of the Comelec. 

This left Dermalog-Avante-Stone of Age as the sole bidder, but they were also disqualified after failing to meet some technical and eligibility requirements. They filed a motion for reconsideration but this was rejected.

“Precious time was even more put to waste when the commission entered into an Extended Warranty Contract by way of direct contracting with Smartmatic and later on litigate the same before the Supreme Court only to find out in the end that the same contract is annulled and voided for being legally infirm,” Guanzon said.

“Our hands are tied, but it is not of our own making. If only there is enough time for the commission, it is my opinion that the refurbishment of the existing PCOS machines is the more advantageous course to take,” she added.

Guanzon was referring to the contract entered by the Comelec with Smartmatic, days before former chairman Sixto Brillantes retired on Feb. 12, concerning the refurbishment of PCOS units. Guanzon, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista and Commissioner Sheriff Abas were appointed only on April 28.

Smartmatic: Don’t blame us

Smartmatic president for Asia Pacific Cesar Flores said in a statement that while the company respects Guanzon’s opinion,  “we beg to differ with her assertions.”

Flores said that Smartmatic has been proposing the refurbishment of the PCOS machines since 2013 to help the government save money and maximize its investment. 

“(It is) unfair to pin the blame on us when the reason the refurbishment could not have been done in time was the interminable delays caused by all the legal cases and Comelec’s own actions or inaction,” he said.

“The good commissioner also seems to be forgetting that it wasn’t only Smartmatic which pulled out of the refurbishment bids. Other suppliers also had their reasons for staying away from the tender… This only proves what we have been saying all along – that Smartmatic is the only company with the capability of doing the best job of repairing its own machines.

 “We did not push Comelec to the edge. We cannot be forced to offer services that we know to be disadvantageous to the government and would imperil the elections. If we would agree to refurbish the PCOS machines at this point in time, the delivery of the elections would be in grave danger. It should be noted however, that the refurbishment was still doable up until a few months ago,” he added.

 Flores also said that this experience should prod Comelec to be more mindful of time and the immovability of the elections.

Meanwhile, the joint venture of Dermalog-Avante-Stone of David said yesterday there is a monopoly of the country’s election system, without naming anyone.

“We are not happy about the monopoly. I don’t know how the Philippines feels about it. But monopoly in normal life means I have to pay more, and I get less service and less quality. That is normally the consequence of monopoly for sure,” Dermalog Identification Systems chief executive officer Gunther Mull said.

Comelec to buy OMRs for 2019 polls

While Comelec will not procure the 70,977 OMR machines it is leasing for P6,286,382,682.72 from Smartmatic after the elections in 2016, it will buy 23,000 OMR units to supplement the PCOS machines to be used in the 2019 mid-term elections.

In the same resolution, the Comelec said it would issue the Notice of Award to Smartmatic, which was declared as the bidder with the lowest calculated responsive bid, “provided that this award pertains solely to the lease of the units of OMR.”

The Comelec said it also would procure 23,000 OMR units to supplement the 81,896 PCOS machines to be used in the 2019 mid-term elections.

Under the contract that was awarded to Smartmatic last July 31, Comelec would lease 23,000 OMR machines for P1.7 billion and would buy them for P500 million or a total of P2.2 billion.

‘Not saving people’s taxes’

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal has assailed Comelec’s decision, saying that the PCOS machines were leased for P7.2 billion in 2010 polls and purchased for P1.8 billion in 2013 with an assurance from Comelec and Smartmatic that they could be used in the 2016 polls.

“If we use the PCOS machines in the 2019 elections, it is highly possible that the machines will already be obsolete by then… It is saddening that we are not saving on the people’s taxes,” he added.

The Automated Election System (AES) Watch also lambasted the poll body for not waiting for the ruling of the Supreme Court on the “legal questions” that it raised against Smartmatic.

“The Comelec proceeded to award the lease of 93,977 expensive new PCOS units to a sham joint venture, in violation of the Constitution and the laws,” said AES Watch spokesperson Nelson Celis.

The Comelec and Smartmatic have also lied that the “old, defective and non-transparent” PCOS machines could be repaired, Celis added.

Former Comelec commissioner Augusto Lagman said the public biddings supposedly conducted by the poll body were a mere “zarzuela” or stage play.

Lagman noted the Comelec was only acting based on the desires of Smartmatic and it was the poll body that delayed the proceedings to justify the awarding of contract to the joint venture. – With Evelyn Macairan




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