Comelec to review Smartmatic deal

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is looking into the possible liability of automation service provider Smartmatic Philippines over 2,363 vote counting machines (VCMs) that malfunctioned on election day.

Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia said they might review the terms of reference of their contract with Smartmatic that supplied 92,509 VCMs used in the elections.

“Allow us to make an assessment first of the elections and the performance of the machines. Let’s see. We would have to relate it to issue of liability or accountability,” he said.

Since the VCMs that malfunctioned were not used, Guia added there might be something in the contract that they can explore.

The Comelec was greeted with reports of malfunctioning VCMs that either rejected ballots, did not spit out voter receipts or had simply bogged down.

Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo asked the House of Representatives to investigate Smartmatic for the reported malfunctioning of the VCMs.

Rona Ann Caritos, executive director of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections, also called on the Comelec to hold Smartmatic accountable for problems with the VCMs.

“Comelec should make sure that election law violators should be prosecuted and punished as impunity is becoming more of a problem in Philippine elections,” Caritos said.

Castelo added there were numerous complaints about defective VCMs in last Monday’s elections.

“Some 2,500 precincts have reported to the Commission on Elections the problems they encountered with their VCMs. At 800 voters per precinct, two million voters were affected,” Castelo said.

Comelec records showed a total of 143 VCMs were replaced but this was minimal compared to the replacement rates in the 2010 and 2013 polls.

In 2010 elections, 205 VCMs of the 76,347 units were replaced, while 171 of the 77,829 units used during the 2013 polls were also replaced.

Castelo added that in Ormoc City, Leyte, the machines rejected ballots even though voters shaded the circles correctly as certified by the board of election inspectors.

He said it took hours for the Comelec and Smartmatic to replace defective VCMs.

Castelo added that in some cases, the voter receipts showed names different from those voters voted for.

“Although these incidents would not alter the results in the presidential contest, they are critical and enough to cast doubt on some local officials and congressional candidates and the investigation of these irregularities has to immediately be carried out,” he stressed.

Castelo pointed out that glitches should have been minimized, since Smartmatic has been involved in the 2010 and 2013 elections as Comelec’s automation contractor.

Smartmatic supplied the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the past two elections and which cost taxpayers billions of pesos, he said.

Castelo said the supplier just changed the name of the machines to VCMs but their defects have not been corrected.

He said the VCMs, like the PCOS units they replaced, cost additional billions of pesos.

Castelo urged the Comelec to consider imposing penalties on its service provider for the defective machines.

‘A new record’

Despite the issues of malfunctioning VCMs, Comelec praised the transmission of voting results in this year’s elections, saying it posted a “new record.”

As of 11 a.m. yesterday, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said 95.15 percent of the election returns were transmitted to the three servers of the Comelec – the central server, the transparency server and the mirror server.

“So this is just 17 hours after the polls closed. This is again a new record and we are still awaiting the returns of the other jurisdictions, including that of the OAV (overseas absentee voting),” Bautista said.

So far, the Comelec has received the election results from Guam, Yangon, Czech Republic and the Vatican. The poll body is waiting for the results from Philippine posts that have large populations like Hong Kong, Singapore, Middle East and the United States.

He said the Philippines is now seen as a model country by foreign observers in terms of holding automated elections.

“It was very good to speak to foreign observers, especially they are from countries contemplating changing their system from manual to automated,” Bautista said.

“Usually, the Philippines is the one learning from other countries. Now it’s the other way around, they look to us for learning. They look to us for international best practices. We are now the leader in terms of automated elections in Asia,” he said.

Antonio Mugica, chief executive officer of Smartmatic, said it was proud to be part of the largest electronic vote counting project in history.

?“In only six years, the Philippines has become a world reference point for automation and well-run elections. This has also been a landmark with the largest ever manufacture and deployment of vote counting machines, making this a truly historic moment,” Mugica said.

Bautista said poll body officials are getting invitations from other countries to speak on how the automated election system works in the Philippines.

“I think that is something we should be proud of – that we are now a leader with respect to automated election management,” he said.

A foreign observer from Afghanistan said he just flew to the Philippines to check how automated elections really work on the ground.

“We were able to observe a couple of polling centers in Manila and we were quite impressed. We talked with some people around. We’ve seen that the system is very effective and efficient in terms of counting of votes,” Ahmad Jawed Habibi told reporters.

“We are now contemplating on how we can initiate or incorporate technology in our election system since vote counting in our country is still being done manually,” he said.

Habibi is CEO of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan. He is among 130 representatives from 15 countries who arrived to observe last Monday’s elections.  – Jess Diaz, Rhodina Villanueva, Janvic Mateo

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