Comelec: Intel shows China may sabotage 2016 polls

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has received intelligence reports that China might attempt to sabotage the May 2016 polls, prompting the poll body to seek the transfer of the manufacturing site of automated voting machines to Taiwan, an official told the House of Representatives yesterday.

Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim told lawmakers during deliberations on its proposed P15.6-billion budget for 2016 that the poll body had asked Smartmatic-Total Information Management Inc., provider of the optical mark reader (OMR) machines, to transfer its manufacturing site from Suzhou, China to Taiwan.

China, however, dismissed the Comelec official’s warning of election sabotage.

“I want to emphasize that the move to Taiwan was a product of the contract negotiations because we have received intelligence reports that there may be an attempt to sabotage the elections by China,” Lim told the House appropriations panel chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab.

“We are concerned that as a result, if any, of the arbitration that it may have an effect... I feel personally that the biggest threat to the 2016 elections is China,” Lim said.

He was referring to the suit filed by the Philippines against China before the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague to stop the latter’s encroachment into the country’s territory in the West Philippine Sea.

Lim said the Comelec made it “non-negotiable” that Smartmatic would have to transfer facilities to Taiwan at their expense.

He said the report came from military officials, who briefed Comelec officials in July.

He said they could not ascertain how valid the report was, but the Comelec wanted to take precautions.

Lim said the poll body asked Smartmatic to deliver all the OMR machines by January or four months before the elections in 2016.

“This could not just be sabotage of the machines but there could be a trade embargo, some issues there, so how can the machines come out, or there could be restrictions on visiting the manufacturing site so we don’t want that, we want to avoid the complications,” he later told reporters.

He said Taiwan was one of the manufacturing sites of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the 2010 elections.

Smartmatic confirmed it received a formal request from the Comelec to transfer its manufacturing site from China to Taiwan. 

“We have agreed to the request despite the fact that such transfer will force us to shoulder an additional cost amounting to five percent of the total contract price,” Smartmatic said in a statement.

“Although both facilities in China and Taiwan operate under the strictest international standards and are capable of manufacturing the machines to specifications, we respect the Comelec’s decision and have therefore acceded to the request,” the provider said.

‘Sheer fabrication’

China rejected yesterday a suggestion from a Comelec official that China might try to sabotage a presidential election in the Philippines next year, saying it was “sheer fabrication.”

The spokesman at China‘s embassy denied any such plan.

“The so-called attempt by China to sabotage the 2016 elections is totally groundless and a sheer fabrication,” embassy spokesman Li Lingxao, said in a statement.

“China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference into other countries’ internal affairs,” Li added.

Philippine voters will elect a president, vice president and more than 18,000 legislators and local government executives next May.

Lim did not elaborate on how he thought China might try to interfere with the vote but said the 20,000 vote-counting machines would be manufactured in Taiwan instead of China.

Philippine government spokesmen were not available to comment on Lim’s suggestion of Chinese skulduggery.

Smartmatic deal signed

The Comelec has signed the P6.3-billion deal with Smartmatic for the lease of 70,977 OMR machines to be used in next year’s polls.

“We have signed the contract on Sept. 4 and issued the Notice to Proceed,” said Lim, who chairs the Steering Committee for the 2016 elections.

With the issuance of the Notice to Proceed, Smartmatic can now start manufacturing the OMR machines.

The Comelec is expecting the joint venture to make an initial delivery of the five OMR machines this month, Lim said.

Lim said 200 OMR units would be delivered next month and 12,000 units in November and December. The rest of the voting machines will be delivered in January next year.

A similar timeline was given for the 23,000 other OMR machines being leased by the Comelec from Smartmatic-TIM for P1.7 billion.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said the poll body is ready to defend its decision to least the OMR machines, totaling 93,977, before the Supreme Court (SC).

Last Monday, migrant Filipino workers Guillermo Santos and Francisco Aguilar Jr. filed a petition at the SC questioning the Comelec’s decision not to use the 81,896 PCOS machines used in the last elections.

The Comelec is looking at using around 5,000 of the PCOS machines in 2016. – With Sheila Crisostomo, Pia Lee-Brago                 

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