FORMER and incumbent officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) were charged with plunder and graft at the Office of the Ombudsman on Monday in connection with a multi-million peso deal awarded to Smartmatic for the repair and diagnostics of 82,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines in 2015.
Named respondents in the complaint filed by former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras
were former Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., former Commissioners Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph as well as Commissioners Christian Robert Lim and Al Parreno.
Also charged were Smartmatic officials Cesar Flores, Elie Moreno and Marlon Garcia.
“The public respondents’ acts of illegally awarding to Smartmatic-TIM through their manifest pa[r]tiality, gross inexcusable negligence and evident bad faith gave Smartmatic-Tim undue advantage or unwarranted benefits and it deprives other bidders who would have offered better price and quality service if public bidding were held, thus, the mode of Direct Contracting which public respondents chose over competitive public bidding as mandated by law, worked to the prejudice of the government and the Filipino people,” Paras said.
The Supreme Court voided the deal in April 2015.
But although the High Court nullified the deal, Paras said the mere award of the contract to Smartmatic was illegal because it did not undergo public bidding.
The Comelec had justified its action by saying it resorted to direct negotiation because there was no more time to hold a public bidding.
But Paras rejected this excuse.
“The acts of public respondents to award a contract through anomalous and illegal means showed clearly their manifest partiality, evident bad faith and gross inexcusable negligence, hence they committed graft and corruption and since it involves a staggering amount of P240,000,000 as the principal, it is the normal belief of herein complainant that the public respondents must have acquired from Smartmatic-Tim as reward for their very strong defense of the deal between Comelec and Smartmatic, they must have received ill-gotten wealth of at least P50,000,000. And as to the veracity of this allegation, this must be properly looked into by the Honorable Ombudsman in a formal investigation,” he said in his complaint.
Paras maintained that direct contracting was inappropriate because the Comelec should have conducted public bidding in order to address transparency issues and to widen the choice of suppliers who could provide the best price and most advantageous quality of service.
The contract was criticized for being a “midnight deal,” having been signed just days before Brillantes, Tagle and Yusof retired in February 2015.
Though the High Court nullified the deal, Paras said the commissioners may have also received monetary favors or “pabaon” in exchange for the award of the contract to Smartmatic.
As to the incumbent Comelec officials, he added, the Ombudsman should hold an investigation to determine if Lim and Parreño can be impeached.
When sought for comment, Brillantes dismissed the complaint as another publicity stunt.
“Not a single cent was paid to Smartmatic. Will await copy of charges and will respond accordingly,” he said.