Young solon urges House panel to reexamine Comelec’s new deal with Smartmatic

By Sammy F. Martin

MANILA, Aug.15 (PNA) — Kabataaan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon on Saturday urged the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms to reexamine the new deal forged by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) with Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp. involving the lease of 93,977 new optical mark reader (OMR) machines for possible breach of election laws.

Ridon noted that the new machines set to be provided by Smartmatic-TIM may not be compliant with Republic Act No. 9369 or the Automated Election System Law.

“It has been clearly reported that Comelec will lease new machines from Smartmatic. But we need to ask – are these machines compliant with existing election laws, especially the provision in Section 10 of RA 9369 which states that systems used for elections should first be tested successful in either a local or foreign elections?” Ridon asked.

The lawmaker noted that the new OMR machines may not possess the exact specifications and software as those previously used in past Philippine elections, thereby needing to undergo renewed evaluation, as provided under RA 9369.

He said Section 10 of RA 9369 amended the provision on procurement of election equipment of RA 8436 reads, “To achieve the purpose of this Act, the Commission is authorized to procure, in accordance with existing laws, by purchase, lease, rent or other forms of acquisition, supplies, equipment, materials, software, facilities and other services, from local or foreign sources free from taxes and import duties, subject to accounting and auditing rules and regulations. With respect to the May 10, 2010 elections and succeeding electoral exercises, the system procured must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad. Participation in the 2007 pilot exercise shall not be conclusive of the system’s fitness.”

“As the integrity of the national elections is at stake, we need to follow the law to the letter. The new OMR machines set to be leased by Comelec needs to comply with Section 10 of RA 9369, especially with regard to the provision on demonstration of capability in past local or foreign elections. So we ask: has Smartmatic been able to conclusively prove their new machines’ capability in past elections, even in other countries? If not, then our election system is at the brink of disaster,” Ridon explained.

The young solon also expressed concern with the revelation that COMELEC’s hands were practically tied when it came to deciding which election equipment will be used in the upcoming polls.

The lawmaker noted that it is “wasteful and impractical” for COMELEC to do away with the refurbishment option.

“The old PCOS machines, numbering 81,896, will now be useless scraps of metal. By approving the new lease deal, COMELEC just wasted Php10 billion worth of taxpayers’ money, excluding costs for storage and maintenance,” Ridon pointed out.

“Despite this fact, COMELEC still decided to proceed with the new lease agreement, apparently under duress,” the lawmaker stressed, referring to Commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Sheriff Abas’ recent statements which reveal that COMELEC was practically “pushed to the edge” by Smartmatic to select the lease deal.

In a statement, Commissioner Guanzon said one of the primary reasons why COMELEC resorted to the lease deal was Smartmatic’s refusal to join the bidding for the refurbishment of old PCOS machines.

“It is now revealed to the public that Smartmatic-TIM practically coerced COMELEC to enter the new lease contract. Smartmatic now practically has a monopoly over the Philippine electoral system – and such monopoly may jeopardize the integrity of the upcoming elections,” Ridon said. (PNA)