SC okays purchase of PCOS machines

Posted at 06/13/2012 4:21 PM | Updated as of 06/13/2012 8:19 PM

Petitioners to appeal, but lawyer says it's a long shot

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the decision of the Commission on Elections to purchase 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines from automation provider Smartmatic-TIM.

SC acting spokesperson Gleo Guerra said the High Court voted 11-3 to uphold the Comelec procurement.

Only 3 justices - Martin Villarama, Arturo Brion and Estela Perlas-Bernabe - voted against the Comelec P1.8 billion contract with Smartmatic-TIM. 

The 11 justices who voted to uphold the PCOS purchase are Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, Diosdado Peralta, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, Maria Lourdes Sereno and Bienvenido Reyes. 

The SC also lifted a temporary restraining order on the PCOS deal.

Smartmatic: PCOS accurate, secure

Cesar Flores, president for Asia-Pacific of Smartmatic, said they are pleased with the decision of the Supreme Court.

"We believe it is the most advantageous option for the continuation of the automation process started in 2010," he said.

"The system used in 2010 is accurate, secure and auditable, and the more than 17,000 officials elected in May 2010 are the legitimate choice of the Filipino people.

"We will continue our hard work improving the system and supporting comelec's efforts and following their guidance in the 2013 elections."

SC ruling a 'chilling effect'?

Meantime, a lawyer representing the petitioners, said the Supreme Court's ruling may be seen as an aftermath of the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

In an interview with ANC, lawyer Abraham Espejo said, “I’m afraid to think that this could be a result of the chilling effect after the conviction of Corona.”

Corona had said that the impeachment complaint against him was a result of President Aquino's desire to also control the Supreme Court.

Last May 22, senator-judges voted 20-3 to oust Corona from office due to his failure to disclose in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) his bank accounts.

“I think our justices have lost their courage to stand up for what is right,” Espejo said.

In April 24, the SC stopped the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from purchasing 82,000 precinct optical scan. Oral arguments were scheduled on May 2.

Espejo said he will file a motion for reconsideration on behalf of the petitioners, admitting though that it is a “suntok sa buwan [long shot].”

“We will file an MR, but that’s the last step, we have no other remedies. It’s unfortunate that the purchase was allowed despite the fact that there was no bidding,” he said.

Strict application

Espejo said procurements laws are very strict on public bidding procedures because “it’s a matter of public funds…taxpayers’ money.”

Comelec purchased the machines from Smartmatic-TIM a day before the option to purchase expired.

This was an offshoot of the contract with the private firm for the automation of the 2010 polls on June 9, 2009. The contract provided an option to purchase up to Dec. 31, 2010, which Smartmatic-TIM extended up to March 31, 2012.

“We have different opinions, but it is clear that it was approved without public bidding,” he said.

He stressed that the subject of contract is very clear, which is for the automation of the 2010 polls alone. “Yes, there was a purchase clause, but it could not possibly refer to the purchase outside the 2010 polls.”

Former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman shared the same view. His ad interim appointment was not renewed months ago.

In a separate interview with dzMM, Lagman said the SC’s decision came as a shock. “I was shocked. It should have gone through the bidding purchase. It is clear that the option to purchase had already expired,” he said.

'236 problems with PCOS machines'

Lagman said public bidding is not a problem since there are two to three vendors who have expressed interest to automate the 2013 polls.

“Time is also not a problem. There is time for bidding,” he said.

He noted that when he was still with Comelec, the poll body opted to sign anew a deal with Smartmatic even if the latter had failed to address a lot of errors in the machines.

He said when he joined Comelec, the PCOS machines had “236 problems.”

“But these problems have not been addressed, and yet Comelec proceeded to enter into the deal,” he added.

He asked: “Are we going to count on Smartmatic’s word that these will be addressed?”

Lagman, an IT expert, believes that the machines can be hacked. The petitioners before the SC believe that this could eventually lead to widespread cheating.

Be reasonable, says Brillantes

In a separate interview with ANC, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. asked the critics to be “reasonable people.”

“Magtulungan na lang tayo, wag nang bara ng bara. [Let’s just help each other, we should not always criticize],” he said.

He asked that the critics come over and discuss the matter with the poll body, although he insisted that the issues they raised are already old.

Espejo said, however, that the case here is not personal. “We can’t just say yes to everything what the government wants to happen. We’re in a democratic country.”

He said the petitioners agree to automation of the polls but it should be “in accordance with the law.”

Comelec working on PCOS enhancements

Brillantes said they are happy and will now proceed with the purchase. He said the P1.8 billion contract was signed over a month ago, and they just have to implement it now, starting with the inspection and payment.

Brillantes said, once they've inspected 50 percent of the machines, they will start making payments to contractor Smartmatic.

He said the decision gives them more time to prepare, considering that in the 2010 elections, the contract was awarded in August of 2009. He said they are now prepared for the 2013 elections.

Brillantes said the en banc would like to reach out to the petitioners and ask them to meet the Comelec so they can once and for all settle differences over the machines.

He said the poll body has already finished working on enhancements to the machines to address glitches.

Brillantes and the en banc of the Comelec met today for a special session on stricter rules for campaign finance and the party-list elections. -- with reports from RG Cruz and Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News; Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com; ANC