Ex-Comelec chair must explain–Senator Pimentel
The previous leadership of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should be made to explain why it “dilly-dallied” in refurbishing some 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines in its possession, which forced the poll agency to decide to lease new counting machines instead for the 2016 elections, according to Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
Lawyer Sixto Brillantes Jr. was the Comelec chair prior to the currently sitting Andres Bautista. Brillantes retired in February.
Two recently appointed Comelec commissioners, Rowena Guanzon and Sheriff Abbas, said they were reluctant to award the contract to lease more than 93,000 optical mark reader (OMR) machines to Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp., but felt that they had no choice because of time constraints.
Guanzon had taken note of Smartmatic’s refusal to join the bidding for the refurbishment of the old PCOS machines, which she said “pushed the poll body to the edge” and prompted it to decide to lease the new machines instead.
Pimentel, chair of the joint congressional oversight committee on the Automated Election System, yesterday questioned in separate phone and radio interviews why the Comelec reached a point where it had little time for the refurbishment of the machines and was left with little choice on what to do.
“If we have to assign blame, we will have to ask the old leadership, plus its commissioners who know the inside story, what happened and why it dilly-dallied or relaxed until time ran out,” Pimentel said in a radio interview.
One year lost
In a phone interview, he said it was apparently only around October 2014 that the Comelec en banc discussed the refurbishment of the 82,000 PCOS machines in its possession.
He noted Smartmatic’s statement, as reported, that as early as November 2013, it had called the Comelec’s attention to the refurbishment of the machines by proposing an extended warranty.
“Close to a year was lost,” Pimentel said.
In February 2015, the Comelec entered into a negotiated contract with Smartmatic for the refurbishment of the PCOS machines that some people found highly questionable, and was later struck down by the Supreme Court.
A new bidding for the refurbishment was held, but Smartmatic opted out of it, citing time constraints.
It was the previous Comelec leadership, including its commissioners who are still at their posts, which owes the country an explanation on why the refurbishment was not done early, Pimentel said.
In November 2013, Brillantes was the Comelec chair, and the commissioners were Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, Christian Robert Lim, Grace Padaca, Al Parreno and Luie Tito Guia.
Padaca’s interim appointment to the poll body expired in June 2014, and Arthur Lim was named her replacement. Tagle and Yusoph retired in February 2015 at the same time as Brillantes.
Christian Robert Lim, Parreno and Guia are still commissioners.
Guanzon blamed Smartmatic for refusing to join the bidding for the refurbishment, which left the poll body with no choice but to go for the lease contract.
But Pimentel said Smartmatic could not be forced to bid for the contract if it did not want to.
Nevertheless, he said, he hoped there would be other companies going up against Smartmatic for election-related services so the country would get the best price.
Smartmatic also still has some explaining to do about the OMRs to be leased from it under two contracts. In particular, Pimentel wants to know why the lease price of its machines in the first and second contracts it won were different.
The lease price per machine was higher in the second contract for close to 71,000 OMRs. Based on economies of scale, the lease price per machine should have been lower than that for the contract for 23,000 OMRs, he said.
The Comelec earlier awarded the P2.2-billion contract for the lease of 23,000 OMRs to Smartmatic, or P56,000 per machine. The second contract to lease nearly 71,000 counting machines was worth P7.8 billion, or P68,000 per machine.
Pimentel also said the joint congressional oversight committee may look into the Comelec’s activities and decisions, without distracting the poll body from its preparations for the 2016 elections.
The committee could ask about the reasons for the delay in the refurbishment of the PCOS machines that put the Comelec in a situation where it had no choice but to lease the counting machines, he said.
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