What binds Smartmatic, Comelec? Bishop asks
MANILA, Philippines–Oh, what tie binds the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic?
The question came up Thursday when Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo wondered, “Bakit nga ba parang nakatali ang Comelec sa kumpanyang yan (Why is the Comelec seemingly tied to that company)?”
“I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed the preferential treatment Smartmatic has been getting from the commission; it’s become too obvious,” Pabillo told the Inquirer.
The latest, he said, was the Comelec’s P300-million negotiated contract with Smartmatic to examine for glitches the 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines the latter had sold the former in 2010.
“Instead of a public bidding, the Comelec resorted to direct contracting to make sure the deal went to Smartmatic. This despite the fact basic questions about the company’s eligibility, track record, etc., had yet to be answered. The issues were raised by (information technology) experts and other concerned groups. You can’t just brush them off,” Pabillo said.
In an interview, he also wondered why Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes “seemed to be in a hurry to give the contract [to Smartmatic].”
“He’s about to retire. Why the rush? Was awarding the contract before he left the commission really warranted? That’s another questionable aspect of the deal,” Pabillo said.
Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones urged closer scrutiny of the next Comelec PCOS-related deals.
“Like civil society groups, the media has an important role to play in the monitoring process,” Briones said.
In a phone interview, she said she was “aghast” and “disappointed” when she learned about the negotiated contract between the Comelec and Smartmatic.
“Despite its questionable track record and many unanswered questions about the PCOS machines it supplied the Comelec, it was still rewarded with a new contract,” she said.
“Don’t you think P300 million is too much just for diagnostics, which is a very simple operation?” she said. “I think the Commission on Audit should take a close look at this deal.”
Poll watchdog group Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) called the contract-awarding the “most unwelcome development in the preparations for the 2016 elections,” as it prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court.
“We are utterly dismayed the Comelec chose to award the PCOS refurbishing deal to Smartmatic. And the manner by which the decision was arrived at was shrouded in secrecy from the time it was promulgated,” C3E said in a statement.
“Not only did they manage to find a loophole with Executive Order No. 424—which allows negotiated contracts for projects not exceeding P500 million—by breaking the contract into smaller parts but they also paved the way for Smartmatic to have the advantage in securing the next two stages, and also increased the contract total to a whopping P2 billion,” C3E said.
C3E’s co-convenors include Hermenegildo Estrella Jr., lawyer Melchor Magdamo, Alain Pascua of Kaakbay Citizens Development Initiatives, Dave Diwa of the National Labor Union, Nicanor Elman of the Workers Alliance Against Corruption, Leon Peralta of the Anti-Trapo Movement of the Philippines, and Eleuterio Tuazon of the Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions.
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