Supreme Court stops Comelec’s PCOS dealBy Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon, Vincent Cabreza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BAGUIO CITY—The Supreme Court en banc on Tuesday stopped the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from purchasing the automated election machines that were used in the 2010 polls.
The high court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Comelec’s P1.8-billion contract to buy the 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines which the poll body plans to use again in the 2013 elections, according to Court Administrator Midas Marquez.
All stakeholders were directed to participate in oral arguments on May 2, he said.
The high court had consolidated three petitions, which challenged the legality of buying the machines supplied by Smartmatic Corp. after the technical and logistical flaws these supposedly displayed during the 2010 national elections.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. earlier said the poll body has already worked out the glitches that the counting machines encountered in 2010.
“We are finished with the glitches, we are just doing enhancements for 2013,” he said.
One of the petitioners, the Automated Election System (AES) Watch, said it found the P1.8-billion price tag for the used machines too high.
Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. also filed a petition seeking to nullify the Smartmatic purchase, saying it would “cause grave and irreparable injury to the petitioners and entire Filipino people, as well as the political and economic future and integrity of this country.”
In Manila, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez on Tuesday said the TRO was only a temporary setback and that the poll body was confident that the high tribunal would eventually approve the contract with Smartmatic, and soon.
“With the TRO, we won’t be able to proceed as we should [but] ultimately, it’s for the good of [all] because, of course, if there are lingering doubts over the use of the system, that won’t help us all,” Jimenez said.
“We still have high hopes for the final outcome,” he said.
Jimenez said the Comelec was worried not just about the time it would take to conduct a bidding process but also the projected costs of a new automated election system.
“The question is, do we have the money to do this. We have a P7 billion budget but the projected cost is P6.8 billion so that would leave very little money for everything else,” he said.
“We are preparing for all eventualities but ultimately the en banc will have to decide. The issue that we face is not just the time but also the money,” he said.
According to Jimenez, it could take six months to conduct a bidding should the high court eventually decide to junk the contract with Smartmatic.
“First of all, many will participate and we have to evaluate all of them. We also have to study which machine to choose,” he said.
“As the chairman (Brillantes) said, there is a possibility that bidding may not be a very realistic solution. But ultimately, the en banc will decide,” he said.
Jimenez said the Comelec was hoping that the high court would issue a final ruling on the case before the end of May so that the poll body would still have time to make the necessary poll preparations should the tribunal rule that there should be a public bidding.
“At least this comes early which means that we can make other arrangements if necessary. But remember, this is just a TRO and not a final decision on the merits of the case,” he said.
Brillantes last Wednesday urged the high court to rule quickly on the petitions, as the time frame narrows to make preparations for a return to manual elections in 2013. With reports from Tetch Torres, INQUIRER.net and Philip C. Tubeza, PDI
Originally posted: 4:21 pm | Tuesday, April 24th, 2012