Election day already cast in stone
The spokesman of the Commission on Elections on Wednesday allayed fears that the 2016 national elections will not push through as a result of a Supreme Court decision nullifying the contract for the repair and maintenance of electronic voting machines to be used in the political exercise.
“We will not allow that. Not even a postponement,” said Director James Jimenez, spokesman of the Comelec.
The SC on Tuesday voided a Comelec resolution approving its P300-million agreement with Smartmatic-Total Information Management, which was directly contracted to diagnose and repair the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines for the 2016 polls.
It said the poll body “failed to justify its resort to direct contracting.”
Jimenez said the Comelec has options for every scenario that may affect the conduct of the 2016 elections.
Among the options the poll body was considering is to ask Congress for a P14-billion supplemental budget to enable them to buy new counting machines.
Another possibility is to revert to a manual canvass of the votes cast.
Holding of manual elections, however, raises some legal questions because Republic Act 9369 mandates that all elections be automated.
Jimenez said the Comelec can do the diagnostics and repair of the PCOS machines or just use the machines “as is.”
But poll commissioners, he added, are not amenable to the idea of using the PCOS machines under their conditions at present even if they were given assurances that majority of them are in good condition.
Jimenez said the poll body is yet to officially receive a copy of the Supreme Court decision nullifying the Comelec’s agreement with Smartmatic-TIM.
Malacañang spokesman Edwin Lacierda said there are laws that mandate the regular conduct of polls, and these must be followed.
“The elections should push through. [They are] constitutionally mandated and everybody should comply with the Constitution… We are very certain that the Comelec is very aware of its mandated role of making sure that elections happen in 2016.,” he added.
The 1987 Constitution sets the elections on the second Monday of May in an election year hence, the 2016 exercise would be held on May 9.
Lacierda said Malacañang will leave it to the Comelec to figure out the best way to conduct the 2016 polls.
The commissioners were having an en banc session late Wednesday afternoon to discuss the SC decision and its implication on the 2016 elections.
Commissioner Luie Tito Guia earlier said they already have a set of alternatives that can readily be implemented under the current situation.
Guia explained that they came up with the options after a series of scenario-building meetings right after the SC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping implementation of the Smartmatic deal.
He, however, did not elaborate on their plans.
Guia said the Comelec remains open to other options and alterative modes of election system that can provide the requirements, particularly on the issue of accuracy and transparency.
He conceded that the poll body is operating on a tight time frame because of recent developments.
At the Senate, Sen. Francis Escudero also on Wednesday said the Comelec should no longer appeal the SC ruling and instead start working on a new bidding process and maximize the time left to prepare for the 2016 elections.
He added that the best option for the poll body is to bid out the contract again because it is unlikely for the High Court to reverse its unanimous decision.
“For me, it would be better if they [Comelec] begin the bidding process and not anymore appeal the decision for them to maximize the time remaining before the 2016 elections,” Escudero said.
The senator noted that if the Comelec would stick with the bidding process and procedures, there is still time to address the technical needs for operating the machines and even Congress has time to help the poll body, if needed, particularly additional funding.
WITH JOEL M. SY EGCO AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA