SC associate justice sides with Comelec decision to buy election machinesBy Tetch Torres
MANILA, Philippines— There is nothing “inherently wrong” with the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) decision to purchase “precinct count optical scan” (PCOS) machines from election technology provider Smartmatic-TIM, a Supreme Court Associate Justice said Wednesday.
During an oral argument on the various petitions urging the Supreme Court to scrap the contract between the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM for the purchase of the PCOS machines, Associate Justice Roberto Abad claimed that an option to purchase in a lease contract is a common practice in any transaction.
He asked the petitioners, “Is there a prohibition against the government to enter into a lease contract with an option to purchase?” to which they admitted there was none.
“In normal transactions, it is a common practice. You will agree with me that there is nothing wrong with it,” Abad said.
Lawyer Jose Aspiras, counsel for petitioner Automated Election System (AES) Watch, said that what they wanted is for a competitive bidding to be conducted for the purchase of the election machines.
“There has to be a competitive bidding. Maybe Smartmatic will win again, but everybody must go through with the same proceedings,” Aspiras said.
Abad said the country radically changed the election system “in a hundred ways” in the 2010 elections.
“Do you expect that we are going to have a perfect system the first time?” he asked.
“In the mistakes of the past, we cannot do anything about but we can do something for the 2013 elections,” Abad said.
For Associate Justice Jose Perez, however, the option to purchase the PCOS machines is meant to circumvent the procurement law.
Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta said the value of the contract was only P2 billion and that the country could already own the election machines compared with the almost P10 billion lease contract for the 2010 elections.
But lawyer Abraham Espejo, who is counsel for petitioners Davao City Archbishop Fernando Capalla, former Marawi City Mayor Omar Ali and former Quezon City Representative Mary Anne Susano, said it’s not a question of price since the machines are refurbished.
“What if half are white elephants? There is a danger that does not appear in the naked eye,” Espejo said.
But Peralta said that was only speculation.