Comelec shifts OMR production over China sabotage fears

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The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has directed Smartmatic-TIM to move the manufacturing of voting machines from China to Taiwan after it reportedly received intelligence reports that Beijing might attempt to sabotage the 2016 elections.

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This was revealed to Congress on Wednesday by Commissioner Robert Lim, who said the Comelec en banc has made the transfer of the factory producing the 93,000 Optical Mark Readers (OMRs) “non-negotiable” for Smartmatic-TIM because they are concerned that an ongoing arbitration case between China and the Philippines may have an effect on the national polls next year.

Delivery of the OMRs is expected to happen in January 2016–around the same time that the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas in The Hague is expected to rule on the arbitration case.

“The biggest threat to the 2016 elections is China. We have received reports that there could be efforts to sabotage our elections, so we made it a point during the contract negotiations that we discuss this with Smartmatic and we told them we do not want the factory [manufacturing election machines]in China. We want the machines done outside China. We don’t want any complication,” Lim told the members of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms who sought a briefing from the poll body on preparations for the elections.

Beijing and Manila have been locked in a maritime dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which China claims.

Arbitration proceedings on the issue are pending with the United Nations tribunal in The Netherlands.

“We learned about it around June or July. There is one Comelec commissioner who has military contacts. Of course, we need to inspect the factory [in China]. What if they suddenly implement a trade embargo and we can’t inspect the factory there? We want to take precautions,” Lim said.

“We want to avoid any complication. What if the factory in China cannot deliver on time? We have to be extra careful. It pays to be paranoid to make sure the elections will happen,” he added.

Smartmatic technology manager Marlon Garcia said they understood the situation and did not mind absorbing the additional cost amounting to P395 million.

“We had a discussion with the ommission, and the best option is to manufacture the machines in Taiwan. We absorbed the additional costs, and we don’t see any problem because Taiwan is nearer to the Philippines so the shipment will be faster,” Garcia added.

‘Totally groundless’
The Chinese Embassy in Manila said the Comelec official’s statement was “totally groundless.”

“The so-called ‘attempt by China’ to sabotage the 2016 elections is totally groundless and a sheer fabrication,” Chinese Embassy spokesman Li Lingxao said in report by GMA News.

“China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference [in]other countries’ internal affairs. The deal on vote-counting machines is between Comelec and Smartmatic, which is a US company,” Li added.

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