Smartmatic barred from Philippines elections

Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star
Smartmatic barred from Philippines elections
Women cast their vote at Pasong Tamo Elementary School in Quezon City during the automated mock barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections on August 8, 2023.
STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — After 15 years of providing the Commission on Elections automated voting machines, technology company Smartmatic was disqualified by the Comelec yesterday from participating in future elections in the Philippines.

Voting 6-1, the seven-member Comelec bench prohibited Smartmatic from taking part in all public biddings and procurements for elections.

According to Comelec Chairman George Garcia, the commission’s decision is immediately executory unless restrained by a court.

While there is no suspension and blacklisting proceedings against Smartmatic, the Comelec stressed the need to maintain the country’s electoral integrity.

“The commission en banc, in pursuing the instant course of action, recognizes its duty to uphold the integrity of our electoral process,” the poll body said.

“It cannot overlook the serious, unresolved allegations against Smartmatic related to previous elections,” the commission added.

The poll body clarified that the disqualification order had nothing to do with the 2022 presidential elections, but the alleged bribery scheme involving Smartmatic in 2016.

Although the allegations spanning three elections have not been proven, the Comelec said the gravity and potential damage to the public warrant pro-active measures to safeguard the integrity of elections and democratic institutions.

The Comelec declared that no irregularities marred the conduct of the 2022 presidential elections. However, the commission admitted that the issue against Smartmatic undermines democracy by eroding public trust and confidence in the electoral process.

Smartmatic has provided the Comelec vote counting machines and the technology since the Philippines shifted to automated elections in 2010.

John Rex Laudiangco, spokesman for the Comelec, pointed out that the decision to disqualify Smartmatic is not a question about the integrity of past elections during which Smartmatic supplied the technology.

“The decision is on the integrity of the procurement then and not, we repeat, not, the integrity of any automated elections conducted in the Philippines, particularly that of the 2022 polls,” Laudiangco said.

In the same ruling, the Comelec ordered if requested by petitioners a recount of ballots in areas in every region in the country to clear any doubts on the results of the 2022 elections.

Last June, former Comelec commissioner Augusto Lagman, former Department of Information and Communications Technology secretary Eliseo Rio, retired Col. Leonardo Odoño and former Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines president Franklin Ysaac filed a petition for the disqualification of Smartmatic.

They asked the poll body to declare Smartmatic as ineligible to participate in public biddings and procurements for the 2025 automated election system.

The petitioners alleged that the May 2022 national and local elections were marred by “serious and material irregularities,” particularly in the transmission and reception of voting results.

Rio cited early transmission of election returns or ERs and that the voting results came from one IP address.

Rio alleged that ERs were transmitted before being received by the Comelec transparency server.

Comelec Commissioner Aimee Ferolino voted for the dismissal of the disqualification complaint against Smartmatic. Commissioner Marlon Casquejo was unable to vote as he was on official business.

“In ruling against Smartmatic based on an issue never properly raised, respondent service provider was deprived of its right to be properly notified of the allegations against it and was not given the opportunity to defend itself against those allegations,” Ferolino said in a separate opinion.

Ferolino noted that the petitioners failed to substantiate the alleged irregularities committed by Smartmatic. She also believed that the disqualification complaint is beyond the jurisdiction of the Comelec.

Smartmatic expressed disappointment over the Comelec decision.

“In its 23-year history, no Smartmatic company has ever been indicted in the United States or any other country in connection with any election or election-related contract,” the technology company said in a statement.

Smartmatic urged the Comelec to show the public any indictment case filed against the company.

According to Smartmatic, it has consistently adhered to all Comelec procurement processes and played a key part in establishing the Philippines as a global model for election technology.

Smartmatic has expressed its intention to join the bidding process for the P18.8-billion Full Automation System with Transparency Audit/Count project of the Comelec.

Along with two other technology firms, Smartmatic purchased bidding documents last Oct. 31.

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