• Answer fund juggling rap, Comelec told

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    The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to answer the complaint filed by several bishops and other personalities who accused officials of the poll body of realigning funds to support the purchase of Optical Mark Reader (OMR) machines.

    In a resolution, the High Court, sitting en banc, also directed the Comelec to answer the petition of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) asking the tribunal to void a Comelec resolution allowing the holding of parallel biddings for the refurbishment of old Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) and the acquisition of 23,000 OMR.

    The SC gave cognizance to the petition for a temporary restraining order filed by a group of Catholic Bishops along with The Manila Times columnist and former Senator Francisco Tatad questioning the Comelec’s realignment of funds which was allegedly to favor Smartmatic-TIM Corp.

    The group said the poll body juggled the appropriations for other projects amounting to P14 billion and used the allocations for the acquisition of OMR machines. The petitioners include Bishops Rolando Tria-Tirona, Oscar Cruz, Fernando Capalla and Ramon Arguelles. They wanted the High Court to declare as illegal Comelec Resolution No. 15-044 titled “In the Matter of the Realignment for the Capital Outlay Requirement of the FY2016 National and Local Elections (NLE); and Cancellation of the Voter Registration System (VVS) Project.”

    A separate petition was filed by Cenpeg, asking the SC to strike down as unconstitutional three Comelec resolutions—Resolution No. 15-0355 (parallel bidding), No. 15-0359 (creation of two Special Bids and Awards Committees), and No. 15-044 (Realignment for the Capital Outlay Requirement of the 2016 polls.

    The resolutions were issued on June 2, 2015, upon the assumption of Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista.

    Cenpeg said “the conduct of simultaneous bidding finds no support in law and is contrary to public policy.”

    “The petitioners humbly submit that the resolution in question is le¬gally or constitutionally infirm, for be¬ing in contravention with the Constitution, the 2015 General Appropriations Act, and the ruling of the Supreme Court in Araullo. Hence, it must be stricken down by the Honorable Court, conformably with Article VIII, Section 1, in relation with Section 5 (1), 1987 Constitution. Being null and void, Comelec Resolution No. 15-0444 can be assailed anytime,” the group said.

    It added that the resolution on the realignment of funds was issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction and should be voided.

    The group also sought to stop the bidding for the refurbishment of PCOS as well as the lease of OMR machines.

    “Suspiciously, no bid has been submitted for the refurbishment of the existing PCOS machines. The Commission en banc reversed the disqualification of Smartmatic from the bidding of 23,000 OMR units; there are indications that the Comelec will unduly prefer Smartmatic over other bidders in the lease with (Option to Purchase) OTP of 70,977 more OMR units,” it stressed.

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