CALLING it a “desecration of public funds,” an anti-graft watchdog on Friday decried the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) “nightmarish” plan to buy P60-billion worth of touch screen Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines in lieu of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that were used in two previous national polls.
In a statement, leaders of the Movement Against Graft and Abuse of Power (Magap) also described the plan as an outlandish caprice to squander public money because the 90,000 PCOS units are still poll-worthy and highly fit for use in the 2016 elections.
The group also hit Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. for announcing such plan, which “does not only offend propriety but also insults matuwid na landas [straight path]policy of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, but mocks decency in government procurement, and worst, sets a wanton desecration of public funds, to extreme prejudice to the interest of taxpayers and of the state.”
“The PCOS machines were purchased after an 11-3 decision of the Supreme last June 2012 with Brillantes’ euphoria citing it “a very good decision,” now in deep contrast to his current fancy to sell these P9.2-billion worth voting machines probably at the low price of junks,” said Magap spokesman Jonas Seniel.
During a recent hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System, poll body officials disclosed that they are opting either to use the old PCOS machines with new ones in 2015 and 2016 or to replace all units with direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. These machines are touch-screen capable.
“Mixing old units with the new ones—that would entail the least cost and then less time would be needed for the certification process so the activities for the preparation can start early, and also the Board of Elections Inspectors and the voters are already familiar with the system,” according to Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino.
He raised the fear that if the old PCOS would be used entirely, the candidates “already know the system so they can disrupt the process.”
For his part, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said that they were planning to sell the 90,000 PCOS machines to any country that would opt for automation of the election process. This means that the DRE machines would have to be procured for a staggering price of P60 billion.
But Seniel argued that Brillantes’ plan to purchase DRE is entirely a wrong idea since the 90,000 PCOS machines can be fixed to its top performance capability through proper maintenance, good warehousing, systems and software upgrading.
“But I doubt Comelec, nor its seller Smartmatic, can do these things properly on the fact that both lack sufficient personnel with technical expertise on PCOS machines, lacks good warehouse, and configuration facility,” he noted.
Seniel said that if the PCOS machines were hit by glitches in 2013 election as reported, it should not be blamed on the voting machines, instead, to its non-proper maintenance since the dedicated 1,000 workers and expert technicians on PCOS were terminated after a court order was issued by Judge Teodoro N. Solis of the Fourth Judicial Region, Regional Trial Court, Branch 25, in Binan, Laguna, for Comelec to possess the private warehouse facility (where the 90,000 voting machines were stored) through expropriation on December 20, 2012.
“As a matter of fact, the 1,000 workers and expert PCOS technicians were the backbone in acquiring the ISO-certificate of the facility—who were trained to conduct hardware acceptance tests, pre-logical acceptance tests, and other system upgrades that can make each unit a perfect optical counting scanner, impeccably fit for the 2016 polls,” Seniel explained.
“They are consummate technological experts who efficiently worked to tag an electronic ID number to every part of the voting machine –and each PCOS unit, too—which effectively enables an expert to uncover any form of tampering, illegal replacement of parts, its components like flash or memory cards,” he stressed.
Seniel claimed that the PCOS machines cannot initiate cheating, and all poll fraud comes from human intervention, which should be stopped.
He also claimed that the PCOS machines can best DRE at all angles, “but it is a necessity that the 90,000 units must be maintained, replaced of parts, housed, configured, and upgraded by its original 1,000 dedicated workers and technicians at its original ISO-certified facility.”
Seniel bared that Smartmatic has a responsibility to provide PCOS parts within five years, “but I doubt if it [even Comelec]has technical experts to do replacement jobs, maintenance works, system upgrades and complete said works before May 2016 elections.”
He added that Magap can provide the PCOS technical needs and complete all works within five months from today and make all 90,000 units poll-worthy before the 2016 national and local elections.
“That is, if President Aquino or Brillantes wants our help,” he said.
“Our cause is to make sure that the 2016 would be successful, peaceful, and honest elections; where true sentiments of the people are heard, every vote cast in truly counted, and every winner proclaimed by the Comelec is the real victor in the polls,” Seniel further emphasized.