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Opinion

‘Stay wary’ despite Comelec elimination of Smartmatic

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

“Remain cautious,” advocates of clean-elections alert Filipinos despite Comelec’s disqualification of their hated Smartmatic from any more Philippine balloting. They cite three reasons:

One, Comelec’s ruling shuns on mere technicality allegations of Smartmatic fraud in Election 2022.

Two, Smartmatic can tie up with another automated election system (AES) supplier to circumvent the blacklisting.

Three, the poll body continues to ignore calls for transparent hybrid AES.

Comelec junked Wednesday two of three anti-Smartmatic petitions. The first was filed in June by former information-communications secretary Eliseo Rio, ex-Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman and ex-Finance Executives Institute president Franklin Ysaac, nicknamed Truth & Transparency Trio.

TNT Trio cited breaches of the 2008 AES Law. Specifically, transmission of precinct results to a Comelec Transparency Server before printing, unsubstantiated flood of 20 million-plus votes (37 percent of those cast) within the first hour of counting and use of only one private Internet Protocol address instead of individual public IP addresses in 20,300 precincts as early as 1 p.m. on Election Day.

The poll body upheld its law department on this matter. Voting five to one with one absent, commissioners said Smartmatic’s eligibility was not at issue when TNT Trio’s petitions was filed because AES bidding for Election 2025 had yet to commence this month.

In eliminating Smartmatic, Comelec said it has already answered in various forums TNT Trio’s accusations. But Rio countered that the poll body should have formalized such replies in its resolution.

Elated, Lagman told this column: “There are more reasons [to remove Smartmatic] than already reported in the media.” While commissioner in 2011-2012 he pushed in vain for hybrid AES: manual precinct balloting and counting, followed by electronic transmission and canvassing.

Ysaac posted online: “We propose hybrid system to save billions [of pesos] and for election integrity. Comelec’s resolution also allowed opening of [2022] ballot boxes. We are prepared for [it] and will announce only if security and integrity of ballots are assured. Hindi pa tapos ang laban.”

The second petition concerns allegations that first lady Liza Araneta-Marcos had met with Smartmatic execs on 2022 Election Eve. In a September petition, former congressman Glenn Chong named two “technical men” – now a Cabinet secretary and a Malacañang undersecretary – picked to confer with Smartmatic president Roger Piñate. Chong cited dates of Piñate’s presence in Manila.

Chong, a lawyer, foresees legal maneuvers in the works. He said Smartmatic can get a court injunction in time for opening on Dec. 12 of 2025 AES bids. The Venezuelan is one of four bidders.

The poll body considered instead a third petition concerning public trust in elections. It cited a US justice department case against former Comelec chief Andres Bautista, presently in America seeking political asylum.

Bautista was charged September in Florida for $4-million bribery. Four unidentified Smartmatic execs supposedly conspired in foreign corrupt practices, money laundering and wire fraud for Bautista to open shell companies.

Comelec said it was cooperating in the exposé by Bautista’s estranged wife. Smartmatic repeatedly denies criminality, saying it has never been indicted in the US.

Retired Colonel Leonardo Odoño (PMA 1964) filed that third anti-Smartmatic petition. He said reports on Bautista’s bribery dent the credibility of Comelec and elections.

“The charges against Smartmatic and former chairman Bautista are of public knowledge and tend to cause speculation and distrust in the integrity of the electoral process,” Comelec acknowledged.

Chairman George Garcia and Commissioners Socorro Inting, Rey Bulay, Ernesto Maceda Jr. and Nelson Celis formed the majority. Marlon Casquejo is on leave. In dissenting, Commissioner Aimee Ferolino said the majority deprived Smartmatic the chance to answer the US charges and news reports.

Odoño told this column that he will closely observe Comelec’s bidding this December for a new AES provider: “I’ve been briefed about how bidders in government projects dodge blacklisting and other rules by secretly combining.”

Lawyer Melchor Magdamo, who has opposed Smartmatic since the first AES bidding in 2009, named a bidder that purportedly has no track record in AES anywhere. Magdamo resigned as Comelec officer when Smartmatic was picked for the 2010 election despite bidding anomalies.

Smartmatic was then selling for the first time the precinct count optical scanner, which its website previously bad-mouthed as having “unreliable results that could cause civil unrest.” The firm also sold or leased PCOS machines for Elections 2013, 2016, 2019 and 2022.

Former UP professor Rene Azurin remarked: “Disqualification may be just a ploy. Another entity may replace it, but the same actors in disguise. The power to manipulate elections is not something to be easily given up. Remember that Comelec officials have always been complicit in election cheating.”

In his book “Hacking Our Democracy,” Azurin detailed technical anomalies in the first three electronic polls.

Registered in Barbados before 2000, Smartmatic used to operate from the Florida home garage of founder Antonio Mugica’s father. Since 2010, Chong estimates it has earned P25 billion from voting machines alone, plus P5 billion in accessories and logistics. Under a new name, SGO, Smartmatic now holds office in a nine-storey building in London.

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

Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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