THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday started testing the precinct-based optical mark reader (OMR) machines behind closed doors, part of the post-qualification process that is required before the poll body awards the P2.503 billion deal to Smartmatic-TIM Corp.
Smartmatic won the contract to lease to the commission 23,000 OMR machines that will be used in next year’s elections. The Comelec intended to use the OMR units to augment the 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in past elections that were also supplied by Smartmatic.
Members of the media were barred from witnessing the examination of the OMR machines. The testing was done by the technical working group (TWG) of the Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC). Only representatives from the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC), the Commission on Audit and other stakeholders were allowed to witness the evaluation of the machines.
Comelec spokesman Director James Jimenez said the commission is not hiding anything from the public, adding that the result of the evaluation will be made known to the public after the process has been finalized.
“It involves lots of technical matters, it involves lots of things that the Comelec will decide later,” Jimenez said.
“For now, it would be an internal matter for the BAC and TWG and the outside advisers from COA and CAC and other stakeholders. They have to make sure that the machines and the award of the contract will give us the services that we expected as advertised,” he added.
Jimenez admitted that the Comelec is under intense pressure as it prepares for the 2016 elections because of the Supreme Court’s decision stopping the deal between the Comelec and Smartmatic for the repair of the 82,000 old PCOS machines. Because of the temporary restraining order issued by the High Court, Jimenez said the poll body can not afford to make mistake on the acquisition of the OMR machines.
On January 31, 2015, two days before the retirement of former Chairman Sixto Brillantes, the commission approved a P268 million contract with Smartmatic for the diagnostic, refurbishment and repair of the PCOS machines.
The Comelec had admitted that unless the TRO is lifted, the PCOS machines can not be used.
According to Jimenez, the 23,000 units of OMR machines were supposed to serve only as backup to the 82,000 PCOS machines during the 2016 elections, but because of the TRO the Comelec has to come out with plans on how use the OMR.
“As the Supreme Court has said, the Comelec is mandated to conduct the election, and it will therefore do anything it has to do to ensure the conduct of elections,” Jimenez pointed out.
The post qualification evaluation is a verification process to determine if Smartmatic complied with all legal and technical requirements.