SENATOR Miriam Defensor-Santiago wants the Senate to look into the allegedly illegal P300-million diagnostics deal between the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic-Total Information Management involving Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines that were used in the 2010 and 2013 automated polls.
Santiago, in filing Senate Resolution 1102, has sought an inquiry by the proper Senate committee into the contract for the refurbishment of the 80,000 PCOS machines that were manufactured by Smartmatic.
In justifying her request to investigate the diagnostics deal, the senator cited Article 5, Section 2, of the Constitution that mandates Congress to provide a system for securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot as well as a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.
Santiago called for the probe in reaction to the Comelec deciding to allow Smartmatic to carry out Phase I of the refurbishment deal without conducting a public bidding first.
Phase 1 of the P1.2-billion PCOS refurbishment process includes examination, diagnostics and minor repair of the 80,000 PCOS machines.
Phase II involves procurement of additional PCOS machines for P900 million that is yet to be awarded by the Comelec.
Santiago, in her resolution, cited newspaper reports quoting Comelec insiders about a plan of officials of the poll body to skip public bidding and instead enter into a negotiated contract with Smartmatic.
The law allows direct contracting as long as the cost of a project does not exceed P500 million.
The refurbishment contract for the PCOS machines cost P1.2 billion, with the Comelec already awarding P300 million of it to Smartmatic.
“The government should protect the right to suffrage by guaranteeing the integrity of the electoral process, while Congress, in its exercise of the power of the purse, should ensure that public funds are judiciously used,” Santiago stated in her resolution.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, chairman of the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People Participation, earlier questioned a decision of the Comelec to enter into direct contracting with Smartmatic despite the poll body still having a lot of time to call for a public bidding for the diagnostics deal.
Pimentel said open public bidding would afford the Comelec an opportunity to pick the best offer and secure the lowest bid for services and products being bought by the government.
He added that Comelec Chariman Sixto Brillantes Jr. and Commissioners Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph should not anymore decide on the matter and allow their successors instead to handle preparations for the next elections since the three officials are set to retire next month.
Meanwhile, Cesar Flores, president of Smartmatic for Asia Pacific, hailed the Comelec decision for taking advantage of extended warranty on the 80,000 Smartmatic-made PCOS.
Smartmatic remains as the sole source of the machines’ original spare parts.
“While we do not begrudge anyone the right to express their opposition to the contract, we trust the courts will once again uphold the wisdom of the Comelec to award the mission-critical task of maintaining the PCOS machines to [their]rightful manufacturer and the only legitimate source of original spare parts,” Flores said.
He noted that Smartmatic’s contracts with the Comelec have been upheld as legal and binding by the Supreme Court twice.