PUBLIC opposition continues to mount against alleged midnight deals at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) after the poll body’s unilateral move to grant controversial firm Smartmatic an exclusive contract to repair 80,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines for the 2016 polls.
Some 23 members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and two priests on Monday urged the Comelec to immediately rescind its resolution granting an extended warranty to Smartmatic for the repair of the PCOS machines.
The call came two days after Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed Senate Resolution 1102 seeking an inquiry by the proper Senate committee into the allegedly illegal P300 million diagnostics deal between the Comelec and Smartmatic for the refurbishment of the old PCOS machines.
A revelation made by Angel Averia Jr., a member of the poll body’s advisory council and head of the Philippine Computer Emergency Response Team, describing the Comelec-Smartmatic deal as “grossly overpriced,” prompted Santiago to ask for a Senate inquiry.
In a letter signed by 23 bishops and two priests, the Church leaders asked Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. to recall Resolution 9922 promulgated on December 23.
“As leaders of the Catholic Church acting in support of the advocacy for clean elections, and for transparent and accountable government, we call on the Comelec to heed the demand to rescind Resolution 9922 and that any decision to this effect be deferred until after the retirement of the three outgoing officials of the Comelec, led by Chairman Brillantes, on February 2 this year and the appointment of their replacements,” the bishops said.
Brillantes, together with senior commissioner Elias Yusoph and Lucenito Tagle, are set to retire on February 2, 2015.
The bishops said the poll body should be prudent to wait for the appointment of the new Comelec chairman.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, CBCP Public Affairs Committee chairman, explained that the new Comelec officials should be given the chance to decide on the matter to remove doubts on the retiring officials benefiting from the contract, which is being described as a “midnight deal.”
“Can they not wait for one week?” Pabillo asked.
The bishops said they are concerned that the resolution favoring Smartmatic will put the public at a great disadvantage as manifested by numerous testimonies on the questionable PCOS results in previous elections.
“We are disturbed that many contracts have been awarded to the Venezuelan company, Smartmatic, since 2010 to automate Philippine national and local elections now amounting to billions of pesos of taxpayers’ money despite undisputed findings by citizens’ election watchdogs, IT experts, and other concerned groups pointing to non-compliance by both Comelec and Smartmatic with election and procurement laws that compromise the transparency, security, accuracy and trustworthiness of the automated elections system,” the bishops said in a letter.
Aside from Pabillo, the signatories are Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Quezon City; Roberto Mallari of Nueva Ecija; Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Camilo Gregorio of Batanes; Jose Lazo of Antique; Jose Advincula of Capiz; Leopoldo Jaucian of Bangued; Angelito Lampon of Jolo; Jose Cabantan of Malaybalay, Bukidnon; Bernardino Cortez of Infanta, Quezon; Sofronio Bancud of Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija; Emmanuel Trance of Catarman; Martin Jumoad of Basilan; Renato Mayugba of Laoag; Emmanuel Cabajar of Pagadian; Ricardo Baccay of Tuguegarao; Patricio Buzon of Kabankalan; Patrick Daniel Parcon of Talibon; Joel Baylon of Legazpi City; Isabelo Abarquez of Calbayog; Crispin Varquez of Borongan; and Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches, Quezon City.
Pabillo said he believes that more bishops would have been able to sign the letter had there been enough time to circulate the letter during the CBCP Plenary Assembly at the Pope Pius Catholic Center in Manila.
“We call on the Comelec to uphold the rule of law in the interest of democracy and God-given people’s sovereign rights of suffrage and good government,” the bishops said.