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Comelec to rent 93K machines for 2016 but what about 80K in storage?

By: - Reporter / @santostinaINQ
/ 03:26 AM August 14, 2015

Pressed for time, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday decided to rent all-new counting machines for the balloting in May, ditching the plan to reuse old counting machines to be supplemented with brand new ones and closing the door on the adoption of a hybrid system.

Under the hybrid precinct automatic tallying system that some groups are promoting, the voting and counting will be done manually, while the transmission and canvassing of ballots will be automated.

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Renting a set of all-new voting machines will cost the Comelec an additional P2.5 billion compared with leasing 23,000 optical mark reader (OMR) machines and refurbishing the 81,896 machines used in the 2010 and 2013 elections, the poll body said.

But Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III wondered what would happen to some 80,000 PCOS machines the Comelec earlier bought and are now gathering dust in its warehouse.

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Pimentel, chair of the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated election system, said he was assuming that Comelec officials knew what they were doing and he was giving them the benefit of the doubt.

He noted that the poll officials were already pressed for time to prepare for the May 2016 elections.

But he said the Comelec should disclose what it planned to do with the PCOS machines it purchased and explain why these were allowed to deteriorate.

“Why was this allowed to happen, since we own the machines? Do we not have the diligence of a good father?” he said in a phone interview.

In 2012, the Comelec purchased the 80,000 PCOS machines for P1.8 billion and used these for the 2013 elections. These machines were first used in the 2010 polls.

The Comelec is still considering pursuing the refurbishment of the PCOS machines for future elections.

“We will still bid out the refurbishment/upgrade contract of PCOS with a longer lead time. We plan to utilize the refurbished/upgraded 81,000+ PCOS machines for the 2019 elections,” Bautista said.

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“Rush jobs are more expensive and present greater technical risks,” he added.

The Comelec en banc unanimously approved the lease of 93,977 all-new OMR machines from multinational firm Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp. for the 2016 elections.

Safest option

“The commission believes this is the most viable, practical and safest option to pursue in our effort to ensure the credibility of the 2016 elections,” Comelec Chair Andres Bautista said in a press briefing.

“After exhaustive consultations with stakeholders and with due consideration of the current circumstances, particularly issues relating to cost, timeliness and technical risks, the commission unanimously decided to choose the more prudent approach of leasing all new 93,000 plus machines for the 2016 elections,” Bautista said.

Smartmatic-TIM earlier won the separate bidding exercises for the first set of 23,000 OMR machines and the second set of 70,977 OMR machines.

The Comelec en banc already issued the notice of award (NOA) to Smartmatic-TIM on July 31 for the provision of 23,000 new OMR machines for P2.2 billion (P1.7 billion for lease and P500 million for option to purchase).

The Comelec’s special bids and awards committee 1 (Comelec-SBAC 1) earlier recommended that Smartmatic be issued a NOA for the lease of 70,977 OMRs with option to purchase for P7.862 billion (P6.286 billion for lease and P1.576 billion for option to purchase).

Smartmatic-TIM was also the supplier of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

PPCRV hails decision

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) welcomed the decision of the Comelec en banc.

“We’re happy that we can finally proceed and concentrate on the task of preparing for fair, credible, transparent and fully automated elections in 2016,” PPCRV counsel Howard Calleja said in a statement.

Stressing that time was of the essence, Calleja said the Comelec under Bautista should be commended for making a bold and decisive move for the country.

“As an accredited citizen arm and election monitor, PPCRV believes that full automation is the only way to go. We cannot go back to the cumbersome manual system which, time and again, has been proven to be open to manipulation and wholesale fraud,” he added.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Comelec decision was “in fulfillment” of its “constitutional mandate to ensure the conduct of orderly and credible elections.”

Coloma called on the people to support the Comelec. “Citizen vigilance and support will go a long way toward enabling the Comelec to fulfill its mandate,” he said in a statement.

Judgment call

“It’s good we won’t go manual. I have always been for automated elections,” Sen. Francis Escudero said in a text message.

Asked what he thought about the Comelec decision not to use the PCOS machines that were purchased earlier, the senator said it was a “judgment call” on the part of the poll body.

He said the Comelec was an independent constitutional body.

“I believe that any additional costs can be covered by their existing budget and/or whatever agency savings they may have accumulated,” Escudero added.

Long process

In a statement, Smartmatic said the Comelec’s announcement had once again showed the company was in the “best position to provide top-quality election systems at the most advantageous price to the government.”

“It was a very long and grueling process but we understand the need to weed out noncompliant systems and to ensure that only the best of the best gets to be deployed for such a critical matter as the elections of this country,” said Cesar Flores, Smartmatic president for Asia Pacific.

Flores added that the Comelec and Smartmatic were set to sit down to negotiate the terms of the contracts.

He said the lease of the all-new OMRs was expected to reduce the voter-to-precinct ratio from 1,000:1 to 800:1.

Flores also pointed out that taking the contracts for the 23,000 and 70,977 units together, the average price of the PCOS machines amounted to only P40,676.61 per unit.

“Given that the going rate of OMR machines in the international market is around P220,000, we are pleased that these contracts will mean significant savings for the government,” he said.

Flores added that his company was “raring to finally start to work and help the Comelec ensure that the 2016 elections will be the most transparent and most credible elections possible.”

Additional cost

The Comelec said opting for an all-new set of voting machines would cost it an additional P2.5 billion compared with the lease of 23,000 OMR machines and refurbishing the old PCOS machines.

But Bautista cited the advantages of using all-new OMRs, saying the 93,977 OMRs can be delivered by January next year. Its initial delivery will start in two months.

“The government will have sufficient time to test the voting units,” he said, adding that the new machines are configured to address the problems encountered in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

Two options

The reuse of 81,896 PCOS machines to be supplemented by the 23,000 OMR units, and the use of all-new OMR units by combining the 23,000 and the 70,977 OMR units were the two options the Comelec had considered.

The Comelec–SBAC 2 twice declared a “failure of bidding” for the P3.1-billion refurbishment project of the PCOS machines, which were purchased by the poll body from Smartmatic-TIM before the 2013 polls for 1.8 billion.–With reports from Nikko Dizon, Christine O. Avendaño and Leila B. Salaverria

Originally posted as of 8:55 PM | August 13, 2015

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TAGS: 2016 elections, 2016 presidential elections, 2019 elections, Andres Bautista, Cesar Flores, Commission on Elections, Election, Government contracts, Government Procurement, Lease, OMR machines, optical mark reader machines, PCOS machines, precinct count optical scan machines, procurement, refurbishment, Smartmatic-TIM Corp., Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corporation, technology
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