THE Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) worst case-scenario to revert to manual polls is simply not feasible as it will violate an existing law that mandates an automated election system, election watchdog Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) and topnotch election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said on Sunday.
C3E and Macalintal were reacting to a recent pronouncement made by the Comelec after the Supreme Court (SC) issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against implementation of a P268-million negotiated contract between the poll body and Smartmatic-TIM Corp.
The contract involves diagnostics, repair and refurbishment of 82,000 units of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines that will be used in the 2016 national and local polls.
C3E co-convenor lawyer Melrchor Magdamo assailed the Comelec for raising the twin bogeys of no elections and possibility of returning to manual elections, saying the two evils were meant to deliberately mislead the public into believing that the TRO will hamper preparations for next year’s polls.
“Republic Ac 9369 mandates that all elections be automated. The Comelec itself is fully aware of that. Therefore, it is absolutely confounding why the Comelec keeps on insinuating a return to manual elections,” Magdamo said.
The same concern was also raised by Macalintal, saying that reverting to manual polls is a violation of RA 9369, which mandates and authorizes the Comelec to use an automated election system in all national and local electoral exercises.
Macalintal had been an election lawyer, along with former Comelec Chairman Sixtro Brillantes Jr. and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima before they got their government positions.
Earlier, acting Comelec chief Christian Robert Lim and Comelec spokesman James Jimenez announced that they were considering all options, including a possible return to manual elections.
Voting 12-2, the High Court deemed that the Comelec-Smartmatic negotiated contract is a violation of the procurement law, since the deal did not go through public bidding.
The Comelec has expressed its concern that the TRO on refurbishment has caused significant delays in preparations being made for the 2016 elections.
“May I remind the Comelec that they proudly boast that they managed to pull off the first automated elections in 2010 in under nine months. So for them to claim that there is not enough time to prepare for 2016 is preposterous,” he said.
C3E instead implored the Comelec to drop the negotiated contract with Smartmatic and proceed directly to bidding out the refurbishment contract, as it should have done in the first place.
“The Comelec should distance itself from the toxic Smartmatic refurbishment contract altogether, and follow the proper procurement process as the Comelec Legal Department already recommended earlier,” Magdamo said.
The Comelec is also considering asking Congress for a P14-billion supplemental budget for purchase of brand-new election counting machines.
Jimenez, however, said nothing is final yet, stressing that the best option is to work for immediate lifting of the TRO.