CITIZEN WATCHDOG’S CALL

Drop Smartmatic for honest 2016 polls

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The watchdog Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) has appealed to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System (JCOC-AES) to exercise its oversight powers and compel the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to disqualify Smartmatic from taking part in any aspect of preparations for the 2016 polls.

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C3E co-convenor Melchor Magdamo made the appeal on Thursday at the resumption of JCOC hearings on alleged anomalies in use of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, pointing to more compelling reasons why the government should get rid of Smartmatic to ensure honest and transparent elections next year.

On top of allegedly countless violations of election laws, Magdamo said Smartmatic should also be declared an undesirable foreign company for being untruthful about its corporate identity after it was found to be controlled by the government of Venezuela.

“Not only should Smartmatic be made liable and expelled for violation of our election and procurement laws, it should also be made accountable for thwarting the true will of the people,” he added.

Magdamo was referring to inaccurate vote counts of the PCOS machines and their possible manipulation when security features were disabled prior to the 2013 elections.

Smartmatic also on Thursday dismissed the allegations hurled against it by C3E as it expressed confidence that the Supreme Court (SC) will affirm the decision of the Comelec to award the company the P268-million diagnostics, repair and replacement deal.

Cesar Flores, Smartmatic president for Asia-Pacific, said groups critical of the Venezuelan firm should be cited for contempt for filing the same cases that were dismissed by the High Tribunal twice.

“The Supreme Court has on two occasions ruled with finality that the contracts and the bids that Smartmatic has won were fair, legal and advantageous to the country,” Flores added.

He maintained that the PCOS machines that Smartmatic manufactured for the Comelec are the same model of machines currently in use in New York, as well as several provinces in Canada, with excellent reception from political parties and voters.

Without identifying any group, Flores also expressed suspicion that some Smartmatic critics may be fronts for rival firms or groups who are seeking to corner a P2-billion Comelec contract while posing as crusaders for clean and honest elections.

Smartmatic belied an alleged midnight deal with the Comelec, payoffs to poll officials and planned rigging of the 2016 elections, saying it would abandon its bids for any Comelec project if the rival firms or groups came up with proofs to back their accusations..

Apparently showing support for the Venezuelan firm, poll chief Sixto Brillantes Jr. also on Thursday said they were able to negotiate a better deal with Smartmatic for rehabilitation and repair of more than 80,000 PCOS machines used in the 2010 and 2013 national elections.

But Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said the issue on whether the deal, signed by Brillantes three days before his retirement as Comelec chairman on February 2, is legal is yet to be resolved by the SC.

During the JCOC-AES hearing, Brillantes said the poll body in its negotiations with Smartmatic was able to technically bring down the P1.2 billion for diagnostics, repair and refurbishment of the PCOS machines by more than half.

The PCOS rehabilitation contract originally had two stages: examination, diagnostics and minor repairs of the PCOS machines for P300 million; and repair and replacement of damaged machines for P900 million..

Under the new deal, Smartmatic agreed to bring the P300-million diagnostic contract to P240 million (P268 million with Value Added Tax) and, unlike with the original deal that only covers diagnosis and minor repair, it now includes all repairs, replacement of damage spare parts and replacement of non-repairable PCOS machines.

The replacement of the non-repairable machines only covers four percent or about 3,280 of the 82,000 PCOS machines currently in the Comelec’s inventory.

“In my own analysis of the P240-million contract, the Comelec not only managed to expand the coverage of the rehabilitation works but may have also dispensed with Stage 2, since it is already covered by the new deal,” Brillantes said.

But aside from the PCOS rehabilitation contract, the poll body still needs to resolve the issue about the digital lines in the ballots that were produced by the some of the PCOS machines during the 2013 mid-term elections.

Digital lines are vertical lines produced by the machines that are only visible on the digital image of the ballots.

They were discovered by a technical eva-luation committee from the Department of Science and Technology.

The glitch is said to be capable of changing the outcome of election results, especially in areas where the number of votes garnered by candidates are not that far apart.

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