THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has junked proposals to still use 82,000 old Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines in the 2016 elections even without the machines undergoing a maintenance check-up.
Comelec spokesperson and Director James Jimenez on Monday said even as they were certain that majority of the PCOS machines were in tip-top shape, it would be best to avoid risks because of the sensitivity of elections, especially polls for the country’s presidency next year.
“The Comelec will not allow it. We will not allow it even if we are sure that majority of the machines are in good condition. But we will not use them without preventive maintenance, this is a presidential election,” Jimenez added.
“In the interest of prudence and ensure the success of the 2016 elections, we need to actually maintain these machines. It’s not an option to use them without maintenance,” he said.
Earlier, Comelec acting Chairman Christian Robert Lim admitted that the PCOS machines have not undergone any maintenance check-up since the automated election system was first implemented in 2010.
The Comelec and PCOS machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM Corp. also earlier signed a P268-million negotiated contract for the diagnostics, repair and refurbishment of the poll machines.
But the Supreme Court (SC), voting 12, 2, issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on complaints from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and election watchdog Automated Election System (AES) Watch that the Smartmatic-Comelec contract was a violation of the procurement law, since it did not go through public bidding.
The TRO, however, does not prohibit the Comelec from using the PCOS machines again in the 2016 polls.
Jimenez said the poll body continues with its contingency planning while waiting for the decision of the SC on their appeal to lift the TRO.
A number of options, he added, were being considered if the TRO would not be lifted.
“While waiting for the court process, we are also preparing for our fall-back positions. Some expensive, some cheaper. All of them have their own set of complications, there are drawbacks and benefits,” Jimenez said.
He added though that the Comelec’s main consideration is for the TRO to be lifted.
The TRO is “highly impractical,” according to election lawyer Romulo Macalintal.
“It will unreasonably delay the diagnosis of these machines and might affect the timetable of the Comelec to prepare for the 2016 national elections,” Macalintal explained in a statement also on Monday.
To complete the diagnosis of these PCOS machines to determine their capability or accuracy will take approximately six months and there are only about 13 months left before the elections, he noted.
And, Macalintal asked, what will happen if, after say, four months, the SC would just the same declare the Smartmatic contract to be valid and dismisses petitions filed against the Comelec and Smartmatic?
The poll body, he said, would have only around nine months left to make the diagnosis and thereafter will be left with four months to go before the 2016 elections.
Macalintal suggested that the SC immediately lift the TRO because the issue involved in the contract is merely whether there was compliance with laws governing bidding of government property.
“Worse scenario” will happen, according to the election lawyer, if the SC decides that the contract is invalid as the Comelec has to undergo another bidding process to find out the most qualified bidder to service the PCOS machines.
And if another bidder wins, Macalintal said, the problem continues as Smartmatic is not expected to disclose its technology to the winning bidder.
If this happens, he added, “we can say goodbye to automated election[s]or no election[s]at all in May 2016 as there is no provision in the automated election law allowing the conduct of a full-manual election[s].”
Unless of course, in anticipation of an adverse decision from the SC, Macalintal said, the law at present is immediately amended authorizing manual elections in case automated polls are no longer feasible.