• SC asked to void P12-B Smartmatic deal

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    A group that includes several Catholic bishops, a former senator and a former Manila councilor on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to order a halt to a P12-billion lease contract for over 90,000 Optical Mark Readers (OMRs) for use in next year’s elections.

    It argued that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) committed a grave abuse of discretion when it issued Resolution 15-044 dated June 2 upon the assumption of Chairman Andres Bautista and which allows the realignment of P12.64 billion for the capital outlay requirement of the 2016 National and Local Elections (NLE) and use the amount to lease 93,977 OMRs from Smartmatic-TIM Corp.

    The petitioners claimed that the Comelec resolution will also realign several items including funds for the Sangguniang Kabataang elections and voter verification system project to meet funding requirements for the lease of the new OMRs.

    They said the Comelec resolution violated the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) and a Supreme Court (SC) ruling against the Aquino administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

    The SC previously declared illegal several DAP-related moves such as the use of unprogrammed funds and unobligated allotments as savings, as well as the cross-border transfer of the executive’s savings.

    “It is crystal -clear that the intention of the commission en banc in realigning the capital outlay requirement of the FY2016 NLE… amounting to billions of pesos was to meet the funding requirement for the lease with OTP [option to purchase]of a total of 93,977 new OMR units, in violation of the Constitution, the 2015 GAA, and the ruling of the Supreme Court… barring DAP-like realignment of funds,” the petition read.

    The petition was signed by Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Archbishop Fernando Capalla, Archbishop Romulo dela Cruz, Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona, Bishop Filomeno Bactol, Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, Bishop Ramon Villena, Rev. Arthur Corpuz, former senator Francisco Tatad, former Manila councilor Antonious Beda Greco Belgica and Glenn Chong.

    The petitioners said the P12-billion procurement would exceed the legally authorized P11.436-billion expenditure level for the Comelec’s preparatory activities for the 2016 polls.

    “Suffice it to stress that if permitted, the commission will be permitted not only to undermine Congress’ spending power but more important, to wreak havoc [on]the budget, the system, as well as desecrate the fundamental law of the land,” the petition also read.

    The petitioners argued that the 2015 General Appropriations Act does not contain any item authorizing the Comelec to incur obligation related to the acquisition of new OMRs.

    They said it was even “illogical” to consider using OMRs when the Comelec still has Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines at its disposal.

    “It may be recalled that the Comelec has never expressed doubt on the viability of the PCOS [machines]and even boasted that the same are repairable,” the petition said.

    “Despite the innumerable technical glitches, failures or problems experienced during the 2010 and 2013 elections, the Comelec appears poised to do away with the refurbishment of the old PCOS, preferring instead to lease 93,977 new OMRs for a whopping P12,641,000,000 in taxpayers’ money–to be used in the 2016 national, local and ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] regional elections,” it added.

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