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Smartmatic to make optical mark readers in Taiwan

Mayen Jaymalin, Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Despite additional cost of P400 million, Smartmatic Philippines Inc. will transfer as soon as possible its production of optical mark readers (OMRs) for the 2016 elections from China to Taiwan, upon the request of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Smartmatic president Cesar Flores made the commitment yesterday in the wake of intelligence reports that China was planning to sabotage the 2016 elections.

China has denied such allegation, calling it “groundless.”

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

“We have agreed to the said request despite the fact that such a transfer will force us to shoulder an additional cost amounting to five percent of the total (supply) contract price or almost P400 million,” he said.

For Smartmatic technology manager Marlon Garcia, shipment of the machines would be faster because Taiwan is nearer to the Philippines than China. “We don’t see any problem,” he said.

Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim told lawmakers on Wednesday about purported intelligence reports on China’s plan to sabotage the 2016 elections.

“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, referring to the case filed by Manila against Beijing before an arbitral tribunal based in The Hague over China’s staking claims in the West Philippine Sea.

He said the Comelec made it “non-negotiable” that Smartmatic would have to transfer the facilities to Taiwan at the firm’s expense.

Lim said the report came from military officials, who briefed Comelec officials last July.

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

Lim said the poll body also asked Smartmatic to deliver all the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines by January or five months before the elections in anticipation of a possible decision by the tribunal early next year.

“This could be not just 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 PCOS machines used in the 2010 elections.

But for Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, Comelec officials should focus on preparations for the 2016 general elections instead of commenting on diplomatic issues.

He was apparently referring to the sabotage scenario raised by Lim.

Pimentel said that while it is well within the right of the Comelec to seek the transfer of the production of OMRs for security reasons, raising the sabotage issue before the public is not necessary and might only create unwarranted fears.

“Now we have these avoid all made in China items. That is not necessary,” Pimentel said.

He said that the Comelec should just concern itself with coming out with machines that can be relied upon come election day.

Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, for his part, said there’s nothing wrong with the Comelec’s move.

“They’re just playing safe and I agree with them,” he said.

Lim raised the matter during the hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System.

Election watchdogs called Lim’s disclosure careless and meant ironically to serve the interest of Smartmatic. They also said Lim’s pronouncement may cause his impeachment.

“I was just trying to be transparent. The en banc instructed me to talk to Smartmatic to bring out the factory from China to Taiwan. I was just disclosing that we were successful in that move,” Lim said.

“They wanted transparency and then now they are saying that I am careless. What do they want?” he added. With Marvin Sy

ACIRC

AQUILINO PIMENTEL

AUTOMATED ELECTION SYSTEM

CESAR FLORES

CHINA

CHINA AND TAIWAN

COMELEC

COMELEC COMMISSIONER CHRISTIAN ROBERT LIM

ELECTIONS

LIM

SMARTMATIC

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