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Opinion

Comelec dumbly accepts Smartmatic sly donation

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Beware of geeks bearing gifts. That was the instinctive reaction of info-techies to Smartmatic’s ballyhooed donation of thermal paper to the Comelec. They simply distrust the slick seller of vote counting machines. A Barbados-listed Venezuelan outfit that claims to be Dutch and lately British can only be up to no good. That’s just the least of Smartmatic’s sins. It had rigged elections for Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, but botched those in Illinois, Nevada, and Mexico. In the Philippines it has raked in P22 billion so far supplying dubious wares to three successive Comelecs. Publicly derided, its precinct count optical scanner (“Hocus-PCOS”) had to be rebranded as optical mark reader (“O-MaR,” as in the admin presidentiable), then as VCM (“vote cheating machine”). Still Smartmatic persists.

The donation was fishy. Comelec had bid out the thermal paper for Election Day voter receipts and precinct tallies. Budget for 97,000 rolls in as many VCMs was P86 million. The lowest bidder handily won with an offer of only half: P43.5 million. The only other bidder, Smartmatic, was way up at P84 million. But the latter just had to bag the supply by hook or by crook. Having been edged out price-wise, Smartmatic casually announced to just donate the paper caboodle. Comelec approved without thinking.

Poll watchdogs were appalled. Here was a frequent multibillion-peso bid winner who, in losing a relatively small deal, would mess up the government bidding system by donating. Smartmatic and Comelec lie in saying the donation would benefit the government.

Consider the tax angle. Any “emergency donation” to the government, as the paper supply is made out to be, is completely tax deductible. Crafty Smartmatic would get a tax break. And that break would amount to P84 million, the overvaluation that it gives its paper stock. It’s as if Smartmatic had won the bidding with its obvious overprice of P84 million against the competitor’s half-price. Leo Querubin, past president of the prestigious Philippine Computer Society, pointed that up last Saturday on “Sapol” (Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, 882-AM). The Comelec would be violating bidding laws in accepting the worse price, even if donated.

The Comelec has been unduly favoring Smartmatic for years. With no public bidding in the 2010 and 2013 elections, the poll body granted it P350 million and P455 million to transmit the precinct results to the canvassing centers. Smartmatic failed to transmit nine percent of such results in 2010, and 24 percent in 2013. But the Comelec didn’t mind. The transmission failures conveniently covered up the baser failure of Smartmatic’s PCOS to count the precinct votes accurately. The senatorial tally showed millions more votes cast (56.5 million) than there were registered voters (52 million) and the turnout of only 65-percent (36 million). Comelec crooks must have received millions in kickbacks.

They’ve gotten away with heinous electoral fraud. So Comelec contracting of Smartmatic has become more ridiculous than ever. Take as example the recent one for a National Technical Support Center. The NTSC is the call center for technical support, which field technicians can contact in case of PCOS foul-ups. It used to be automatically granted to Smartmatic, as the PCOS supplier. Not this year, as Comelec pretended to be fair.

Look at the figures. The Comelec budget was P122,710,999.40. Smartmatic’s bid was P122,710,999 flat – only 40 centavos lower. The only other bidder offered a much lower P90,899,721. Comelec promptly disqualified it on flimsy technicalities. So Smartmatic will still handle the call center for Election 2016. It will be another convenient cover-up for PCOS failures to count and transmit.

“It’s as if Smartmatic knew beforehand it would be handed the contract,” Querubin said. Normally a bidder would offer 15 percent less than the publicized agency budget. Not Smartmatic, which holds Comelec by the nose.

Back to the thermal paper, there should have been no bidding to begin with, Querubin noted. Smartmatic knew from the start that the 97,000 VCMs that Comelec was lease-purchasing for Election 2016 should churn out up to 38 copies of the precinct tally to political parties and poll watchdogs. Meaning, the cost of paper already should have been included in Smartmatic’s price for the new PCOS units. Yet when the Supreme Court recently imposed the PCOS issuance of receipts to individual voters, Smartmatic-Comelec balked. Supposedly they would need to purchase heavy-duty cutters to replace the light ones built into the PCOS. Comelec then bought 97,000 scissors for P56 million; somebody made kickbacks again.

Querubin warned of worse happenings on Election Day as the very objective of Smartmatic’s paper donation. It’s all for ease of cheating and cover-up. Through Comelec co-conspirators, Smartmatic needs to steal the voter receipts at the precincts, to be replaced with fabricated ones that reflect the rigged results. Having a separate paper supplier would expose differences in paper stock and source. Thus crucial for the Comelec cheats is to have the Venezuelan fraud partner control the paper supply. The competing bidder nearly spoiled the scheme, forcing Smartmatic to just donate.

That Comelec-Smartmatic will cheat is certain. Querubin said that anti-fraud watchdogs should at least make it harder for the duo to do it. One way is to divert the P30-million budget for needless bibs for the 350,000 public teachers-cum-precinct inspectors. Querubin proposed to buy instead stamp pads. All voter receipts would be stamped with the correct precinct and PCOS numbers, location, and other pertinent distinguishing info. That would make the receipts a real paper audit trail. It’s a foil to Comelec-Smartmatic’s plan to issue plain receipts that would not state where those came from.

* * *

Willie Nep’s “Pang-GULO ng Pilipinas,” the show that happens only once every six years, will be staged on April 30, at the Music Museum, Greenhills Commercial Center, San Juan City. Watch it before you vote.

For reservations, call TicketWorld at (02) 891-9999; or Music Museum, (02) 721-6726.

* * *

Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

E-mail: [email protected]

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