Time constrained

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 - The Philippine Star

Barring any more hitches, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is well on its way to meet its timeline of preparations to conduct the country’s next automated elections on May 9, 2016. This after the seven-man poll body was unanimous in its decision yesterday to lease all-new 93,977 optical mark reader (OMR) machines.

The more than 93,977 OMR machines are covered by two contracts worth a total of P7.9 billion. And both contracts were won by Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp. in two separate public biddings conducted by the Comelec one after the other.

The financial bid of the joint venture for the project is P2.2 billion, including P1.7 billion for lease and P500 million for option to purchase. The first batch involved 23,000 OMR machines and which had been awarded to Smartmatic-TIM last July 31. 

The other contract covers the rest of 70,977 OMR machines, for which Smartmatic-TIM had offered a bid of P7.862 billion, including P6.286 billion for lease and P1.576 billion for option to purchase.

But it ain’t over until it’s over, until the fat lady sings, so to speak. The next steps and procedures that the Comelec needs to undertake should lead to the signing and ultimately the award of contract. For sure though, and quite expected, losing bidders and organized groups against Smartmatic would do their best to try stop the Comelec in its tracks from proceeding.

Like our country’s elections, there are no losers in public bidding for government projects in the Philippines. Losers will always claim they were cheated. So what else is new?

It is a jaded view but that has always been the reality on the ground that makes it “More Fun in the Philippines,” to borrow the government’s tourism campaign slogan.

At any rate, candidates are geared up this early for the country’s synchronized national and local elections next year, way ahead of the filing of certificates of candidacy this October. That’s why there has been so much hue and cry over the indecision on the part of  Comelec on the issue on the kind of automated election system that will be used.

Why should there be any indecision when in fact, this will be the third time we are having automated elections? Because of this indecision, the Comelec fell open to renewed attempts to return to manual system and some even went to the extent of suggesting a “hybrid” one.

Appointed only a little over three months ago, Comelec chairman Andres Bautista took in stride all these not so subtle attempts to put his back to the wall. The Comelec chairman showed the stuff of his leadership and put his foot down against further delays on the poll body’s preparations for 2016.

With Bautista at the helm of the Comelec, no one will get their way into negating the gains of electoral reforms taking root through these years.

The procurement of entirely new OMR machines followed after the two failed biddings on the option to refurbish the existing stocks of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) in the Laguna warehouse of the Comelec.

The Comelec chairman, however, cited the PCOS machines at the warehouse will not be wasted because they could be refurbished and be utilized again for the May 2019 mid-term elections. Thus, there would be longer period to do preventive maintenance and upgrade at the same time without compromising the credibility of election results.

Incidentally, don’t be misled by the different terms. PCOS is actually an OMR. The OMR is the generic term for all scanners like PCOS. The PCOS is an electoral term to call a scanner used for election counting purposes.

This I learned only lately from Bro. Romulo “Moy” Guillermo of the Parish-Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCFV) who was one of three panelists during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Luneta Hotel last Wednesday. The other guests were Smartmatic Asia-Pacific president Cesar Flores and professor Dindo Manhit of Democracy Watch.

Flores confirmed the OMR and PCOS are one and the same. Flores surmised the Comelec decided to refer to the generic name of the scanning machines to be known by another acronym. The PCOS machines have been pejoratively linked to alleged electronic cheating. But they remained accusations because not one of its critics and losers in the last two automated elections came up with evidence on any PCOS machines used in our country.

Nonetheless, all three panelists at the breakfast forum were one in attesting that none of these accusations against PCOS machines have been filed before the Comelec or at the House and Senate Electoral Tribunals (HRET/SET) and even the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). Pending cases being heard at the Comelec were, in fact, merely related to violations of election rules and regulations by certain candidates.

The only pending protest at the PET involved the “null” votes being claimed by losing vice presidential candidate, then Sen. Mar Roxas II against winner and now Vice President Jejomar Binay.

In the May 2013 Senate elections, Manhit recalled they were alleged configured pattern to favor administration-backed candidates. But when a forensic digital investigation was conducted, it was proven it could not certainly be done without being detected.

The major cause of these time constraints that bedevil the Comelec goes all the way back to President Aquino. It took him five months to fill the three vacancies at the Comelec following the retirement of erstwhile chairman Sixto Brillantes, and commissioners Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph.

As of Wednesday when we discussed the preparations for the 2016 elections at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay, there was still no word how soon the Comelec would hurdle all the challenges to its timelines following the failed biddings and renewed smear campaign to discredit the country’s automated election system.

When he first took office last May a few days after his appointment on April 28 but made public only on May 5, Bautista immediately came up with contingency plans to make sure they have alternative options to thwart any conjured “no election” scenario to succeed.

Though time constrained, Bautista manned up to his promise.


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