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Row over Smartmatic deal continues to rage

/ 03:30 AM February 05, 2015

MANILA, Philippines–“Unconscionable.”

This was how the Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) described the last official act of retired Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Sixto Brillantes—signing the P269-million negotiated contract with Smartmatic for the diagnostics of 82,000 voting machines for reuse in the 2016 polls.

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“Revolting as it is, it confirmed what we have all along suspected—that the (precinct count optical scan, or PCOS machines) refurbishment deal was a midnight deal, having been sealed at the 11th hour of Brillantes’ final days in office,” C3E coconvenor Melchor Magdamo said on Wednesday.

Magdamo, a former Comelec lawyer, noted “the shameless manner by which it was signed has stripped off the transaction of all trappings of legality, making the Comelec-Smartmatic contract purely a sweetheart deal.”

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At the same time, C3E unveiled what it called Smartmatic’s “anomalous ownership structure, which has gone unnoticed since the controversial firm bagged in 2010 the contract to run automated elections in the Philippines.”

In a statement, the group said “information we gathered on the company’s origins revealed very troubling details showing how shady it handled itself from its founding to its transactions with foreign governments.”

Hugo Chavez link

“Smartmatic’s history in Venezuela dates back to 1997, when the venture was still known as the Research and Development Unit of Panagroup. Its experience in elections started in June 2003 when the Venezuelan government under then President Hugo Chavez bought a 28-percent stake in a company called Bizta R & D Software CA,” the group also said.

“Bizta was owned by Venezuelan businessmen Antonio Mugca and Alfredo Anzola and was part of a consortium that included Smartmatic, SBC and another company contracted by the Caracas government to automate polls,” C3E said.

Smartmatic “got several Venezuelan contracts, worth at least $131 million, all without public bidding as the deals were virtually handed to the company by the Chavez dictatorship…. In Caracas, Bizta shares an office with Smartmatic,” the poll watchdog said.

Magdamo said “these are just a few of the details that we have uncovered about Smartmatic’s ownership structure.”

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Reputable company

But Smartmatic president Cesar Flores dismissed C3E’s allegations as “all false, all lies.”

The firm, he asserted, is a “reputable company based not in Venezuela but in the United Kingdom. The truth is, we’re the largest supplier of automated election systems (AES) in the world.”

He credited Smartmatic for having “piloted AES in more than 10 countries worldwide.”

Aside from the Philippines, the company has supplied voting machines to such countries as the United States, Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Belgium, Indonesia and Zambia, among others, he said.

Vote-cheating

When interviewed, Flores assailed critics, some of whom, he claimed, “belong to a vote-cheating syndicate whose main goal is returning to manual elections to serve their vested interests.”

“Others are apparently working for our competitors,” he said, “[T]hese small groups of detractors are not only trying to destroy the good image of Smartmatic but also Comelec and the democratic system in this country.”

Name names

Sought for comment, retired Lingayan-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz called Flores’ charges “silly” as he asked the Venezuelan national to “name names.”

“Very funny,” former National Treasurer Leonor Briones referred to the Smartmatic top executive’s allegations, adding “bishops cheaters?”

Former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman said “this is not the first time we would catch him lying.”

“He’s insulting Filipinos and should be deported for it. Maybe after serving time in jail for libel,” he added.

Said C3E coconvenor Hermenegildo Estrella Jr.: “When Flores was making his statements, he was looking at himself in the mirror. He also showed his and his company’s ignorance in election IT systems, as well as incompetence in implementing them.”

“It’s their PCOS system that used fraudulent automated kuno manipulations and conniving with Comelec insiders to disable and remove vital safeguards required by law that changed the true votes,” he said.

Magdamo said C3E “strongly oppose[s] returning to manual elections.”

He said the group was advocating genuine automation that must comply with Republic Act No. 9369.

“We bitterly oppose Smartmatic’s fake automation for gross violations of our election and procurement laws, resulting in grand-scale electronic cheating.”

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TAGS: C3E, Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections, Elections, Melchor Magdamo, negotiated contract, PCOS machines, Smartmatic
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