New PCOS machines, 93,977 in all, will be used at all voting precincts in the 2016 Presidential Elections at a staggering cost to the taxpayers of at least Pesos 8 billion!
The existing stock of 81,896 PCOS machines will be ditched because they have not undergone preventive maintenance since they were last used in 2013.
Recall that on March 30, 2012 the Commission on Elections (Comelec) with former Chairman SixtoBrillantes Jr. at the helm, using public funds, purchasedthe PCOS machines used in the 2010 elections at a cost of Pesos 1.83 billion. Then the Comelec started paying for warehousing and storage at the rate of P800,000.00 per month!
Perhaps the last time that the PCOS machines had undergone maintenance checks and possibly repair was before the 2013 elections. But despite those checks and repair, the PCOS machines were hounded by a variety of problems within a week before and during election day of 2013. In fact, the digital lines problem found in some PCOS machines surfaced immediately after the 2013 elections. The digital lines could have affected the vote counts in the affected PCOS machines!
The Comelec, absolute owner of 81,896 PCOS machines, has the responsibility and obligation to ensure that the PCOS machines are properly maintained and kept in good operating condition. By omission or commission, no preventive maintenance was done on the machines since the 2013 elections. An attempt to have the machines undergo maintenance came on January 30, 2015 when former Chairman Brillantes, exercising one of his last official acts before retiring, contrary to the advice of the Comelec’s own Law Department and without public bidding, entered into a negotiated contract with Smartmatic-TIM. The Supreme Court voided the Extended Warranty Contract finding that it is a circumvention of the procurement law.
Following the nullification of the negotiated contract, the Comelec set out to bid the refurbishment and repair of the PCOS machines. This bid activity failed.
Time was quickly running out. By the second quarter of 2015, the Comelec was grasping at proverbial straws on what to do. The current Comelec, now joined by the new Chairman Andres Bautista and new Commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Sheriff Abas turned to stakeholders for other options. Two alternative voting systems, PATaS and TAPAT, were presented. But, citing legal, logistical, and operational issues that have yet to be addressed, the Comelec put on hold assessment of the alternative voting systems perhaps for elections after 2016.
Then a tactical misstep. The new Chairman and new Commissioners had barely warmed their seats when the Comelec En Banc issued Minute Resolution No. 15-0355 approving the conduct of parallel bidding for (1) the refurbishment and repair of existing PCOS machines and (2) the lease of new PCOS machines divided in two lots: Lot 1 for 23,000 units and Lot 2 for 70,977 units. Lot 2 was contingent on the result of the refurbishment bid; that, if the bid succeeded, then Lot 2 would not proceed. As is now publicly known, the second attempt to bid out the refurbishment of existing PCOS machines failed and Lot 2 was awarded to Smartmatic-TIM who was also awarded Lot 1.
But Comelec resolved to have the existing PCOS machines undergo maintenance after the 2016 elections so that the same may be used in 2019. By then, the machines will be 9 years old and extremely obsolete. In the meantime, with costs to be shouldered by taxpayers, Comelec will continue to spend for the warehousing and storage of the PCOS machines at the rate of P800,000.00 per month.
Some legislators are probably pleased with the decision. The Comelec, in its En Banc Resolution No. 9980, cites the Spot Report on the Meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Suffrage and Electoral held on July 29, 2015 which highlights, among others, the “importance of a foolproof system as the May 2016 presidential elections are crucial to the future of the country and as such, they prefer the lease with option to purchase of a total of 93,977 units and not use the old machines.”
Let’s face IT! National elections come in three year cycles. Indecision and inaction waste time and lead to missed opportunities. “Lack of time” or “time constraints” should never be an excuse. The Comelec could have avoided having to spend for the lease of new PCOS machines for the 2016 elections if it acted soon after the 2013 elections to have the existing PCOS machines refurbished and repaired. Ditching the existing PCOS machines is a despicable waste of public funds! It raises a serious accountability issue as noted by Commissioner Arthur D. Lim in his separate opinion on En Banc Resolution No. 9980. Who’s accountable? Go figure!