A lawmaker on Sunday expressed dismay after reports that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) might purchase brand-new voting machines instead of repairing the old ones that the government had bought from the consortium Smartmatic-Total Information Management (Smartmatic-TIM) Corp. for P1.8 billion.

Rep. Rodolfo Albano 3rd of Isabela’s First District warned the poll body to avoid being pressured into pushing through with awarding automation deals for the next year’s elections to the consortium.

“If this plan is pursued, Smartmatic-TIM has enjoyed pole position as it has an ‘inside track’ in the poll body’s latest automation plan,” Albano said.

Recently, the Comelec decided to award the P1.7-billion deal for the supply of 23,000 new PCOS machines to Smartmatic.

“It is evidently clear that the the present Comelec under the leadership of [Chairman] Andres Bautista is being pushed against the ropes by circumstances created by clearly inept and incompetent past leadership of the poll body, which approved a multi-billion midnight contract with Smart¬matic-TIM that the Supreme Court [voided] in a unanimous vote last April,” Albano said.

The P300-million contract was called a “midnight deal” because it was executed by the poll body just three days before then-Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. retired in early February.

The Automated Elections System (AES) Watch and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) filed petitions before the tribunal questioning the diagnostics and repair deal of some 80,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

Comelec said it did away with public bidding and resorted to directly negotiate the deal because of a “tight time schedule” but the court said it failed to justify the same.

Albano said the poll body had enough time since 2010 to prepare for the automation of the 2016 polls yet it “could not get rid of the controversial Smartmatic-TIM consortium’s hold on the poll body” despite the Supreme Court’s decision to nullify the P300-million contract for the repair of the voting machines.

“Congress must step in to correct and help the Comelec in its predicament because the Smart¬matic-TIM consortium continues to hold the Comelec hostage over its plan to repair the 80,000 PCOS machines in its warehouses because of its claimed proprietary rights over the machines and would not allow any other company to undertake the repair at a cost that it [Smartmatic-TIM)] dictated,” he added.