THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) may end up doing the refurbishment and repair of 82,000 units of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines as it fears the specter of reverting back to manual elections with the issuance by the Supreme Court of a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the P268-million contract awarded to Smartmatic.
Meanwhile, election watchdog Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) said the Comelec should now abandon its contract with Smartmatic and set the mechanics for a new bidding as advocated by the poll body’s legal department.
Comelec spokesman and Director James Jimenez on Wednesday said the prospect of holding manual elections remains a possibility even as he noted that the poll body is determined not to backslide to manual polls.
“So manual elections, while that remains in the realm of possibilities, in the sense that everything is possible, it is not likely to happen at this point,” Jimenez said. “The Comelec is determined not to backslide to manual [polls]and will do everything legal so that it will not happen.”
Jimenez noted that this is not the first time that the prospect of returning to manual elections was raised since it also happened in 2009 but the Comelec was able to proceed with the automated election system.
The Comelec is yet to come up with back-up plans if lifting of the TRO would take much longer or beyond the timeframe of election preparations, which is not later than the first half of the year.
But Jimenez said the poll body can explore the possibility that its technical people will themselves conduct the diagnostics, repair and refurbishment of the PCOS machines.
“I believe we have technical competence to do it. That’s something we can include in the planning moving forward,” he added.
Jimenez said it would really be a problem if the TRO was not lifted early enough because the 82,000 PCOS machines will be used in the 2016 national and local elections.
“It would really push back [our preparations]. But will it affect the outcome of the preparations? That really depends on how long the TRO remains in effect,” he added.
“If we have an early resolution and lifting of the TRO, it is possible that we can finish this program within the year,” Jimenez added.
C3E co-convenor Alain del Pascua also on Wednesday said the Comelec should abandon the deal with Smartmatic, noting that the SC decision is an opportunity for the poll body to redeem itself.
“Waste no more time justifying before the Supreme Court a patently unlawful act,” Pascua suggested, referring to the Comelec-Smartmatic refurbishment contract that former Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. signed two days before he retired.
He said the Comelec should review the performance of Smartmatic in the past two elections vis-à-vis the various complaints raised against the Venezuelan firm.
Pascua pointed out that contrary to Smartmatic’s claim of proprietary rights, the PCOS machines were already bought by the Comelec way back in 2012 and are now government property.
“The court action only cemented the fact that the extended warranty agreement between the Comelec and Smartmatic violated the procurement law, and the justifications made regarding proprietary rights and the lack of time by the Comelec are invalid,” he said.