BAGUIO CITY: If you can’t beat them, join them.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justice Presbiterio Velasco, whom sources of The Manila Times earlier identified as fighting tooth and nail to convince their colleagues to green-light a “midnight deal” between the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic-TIM, made a turnaround and joined the majority of the Supreme Court in declaring the P300-million agreement void.
The decision was “immediately executory.”
Sereno and Velasco earlier voted against issuance of a temporary restraining order to stop the Comelec from enforcing its contract with Smartmatic.
Voting 15-0, the High Court granted petitions filed by the Automated Elections System (AES) Watch and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) questioning the diagnostics and repair contract of about 80,000 voting machines, popularly known as PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines, which would be used in the 2016 elections.
“The petitions are granted. Comelec Resolution 9922 and the Extended Warranty Contract Program 1 are declared null and void,” the tribunal’s spokesman Theodore Te told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
Quoting the ruling penned by Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Te said the Comelec “failed to justify its resort to direct contracting.”
Comelec Resolution 9922 gave approval to the P300-million “Extended Warranty Proposal (Program 1)” through direct contracting.
Justifying its move, the poll body said it decided to do away with public bidding and directly negotiate the service contract with Smartmatic because of a “tight time schedule” in preparing for the elections.
The agreement was labeled a “midnight deal” because it was consummated three days before the retirement of then-Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. last February 2.
The AES Watch petitioners led by Bishop Broderick Pabillo and former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman questioned the deal and haled the poll body to court, accusing its commissioners of committing grave abuse of discretion when it issued Resolution 9922.
The petitioners argued that the Comelec resolution violated the Government Procurement Reform Act and Commonwealth Act 128.
The IBP, meanwhile, said bypassing the bidding requirement is contrary to public policy hence, the contract is “void and inexistent” under Article 1409 of the Philippine Civil Code.