SC asked to stop Comelec’s repair, lease deals for vote machines
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections and Smartmatic-TIM (Total Information Management Corp.) are facing challenges before the Supreme Court anew, as two parallel petitions were filed on Tuesday to stop the bidding for the refurbishment of voting machines and the lease of optical mark readers (OMRs) for the 2016 national elections.
The two petitions, filed by religious groups, former lawmakers, academics, teachers, artists and election watchdogs, both questioned the legality of contracts for the PCOS refurbishment and the OMR
lease: one, Comelec’s parallel bidding, and the other, the sourcing and use of funds for the same purpose.
Impleaded in both petitions were Comelec Chair Andres Bautista and Smartmatic-TIM General Manager Alastair Joseph James Wells.
In a 52-page petition, multisectoral representatives under the Automated Election System Watch asked the high court to stop the enforcement of Comelec Resolution No. 15-0355, which paved the way for
the parallel bidding of contracts for the refurbishment of existing Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines and the lease of new OMRs, with a total price tag of P14.58-billion.
The Comelec had resorted to the use of OMRs after the Supreme Court invalidated in April the eleventh-hour P268.8-million contract between the poll body and Smartmatic for the diagnostics, maintenance and repair of 80,000 PCOS machines.
The petition also sought to invalidate Comelec Resolution No. 15-0359, which created two technical working groups for the bidding of questionable representation, according to the petitioners.
“The Comelec resolutions are null and void for being legally and constitutionally infirm. Parallel bidding is a failed experiment because it doomed the bidding for the refurbishment of the PCOS machines, and failed to protect the public interest by giving the public the best possible advantages through open competition,” read the petition.
“The commission unwarrantedly approved the conduct of parallel bidding…. Shockingly, most members of the additional technical working groups are nominees of the head of the procuring entity and the commissioners. How can they be expected to be neutral or impartial with nothing but the interest of the public in mind?,” it said.
The plea said it was “illogical” to consider procuring the OMRs “since there are existing PCOS machines in its inventory, which are still reusable.”
Petitioners include the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a non-government think-tank, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Sister Mary John Mananzan, activist artist Mae Paner and 11 other petitioners from the academe and the information technology industry.
The petition also asked the high court to issue a writ of mandamus to compel Comelec “to ensure that the automated election system meets the minimum system capabilities and other safeguards” under the AES law and “promulgate the IRR enforcing this law, which Comelec has failed to do for more than six years.”
It also asked the court to prompt Comelec to file a damage suit against Smartmatic for failed training obligations in 2009, ahead of the 2010 polls.
The separate petition, filed by eight members of the clergy, two former lawmakers and a failed Senatorial candidate, specifically asked the high court to invalidate the bidding for the P12.6-billion OMR lease.
“Despite the innumerable technical glitches, failures or problems experienced during the 2010 and 2013 elections, the Comelec appears poised to do away with the refurbishment of the old PCOS, preferring instead to lease 93,977 new OMRs for a whopping PHP 12,641,000,000 in taxpayers’ money – to be used in the 2016 national, local, and ARMM regional elections,” read the 34-page petition.
In particular, the plea asked the high court to invalidate Comelec Resolution No. 15-044, or the sourcing and release of funds for the purpose.
It cited how Comelec had reversed the disqualification of Smartmatic from the OMR bid, and that no other bid has been submitted for the refurbishment of existing PCOS machines.
“The Comelec’s re-alignment of items in its appropriation for FY2016 to meet the budgetary requirement for Certificate of Availability of Funds P14.58 billion is legally and constitutionally infirm,” said the petition.
It said the questioned resolution “will wreak havoc to the budget system and result in the wastage of taxpayer’s money.”
Petitioners include Archbishops Rolando Tria, Romilo dela Cruz, Fernando Capalla, and Ramon Arguelles, Bishops Filomeno Bactol, Juan de Dios Pueblos, Ramon Villena, Father Arthur Corpuz, former Senator Francisco Tatad, former Biliran Representative Glenn Chong, and former Manila Councilor and failed senatorial candidate Greco Belgica. SFM
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