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Comelec: Smartmatic execs, partner face 15 years

June 30, 2009 8:23am

MANILA, Philippines - Unless they get their act together, officials of the consortium that won the P11.3-billion contract to automate the 2010 elections face up to 15 years in jail if they fail to do their work, Comelec executives said Tuesday.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Special Bids and Awards Committee head Ferdinand Rafanan said the law mandates Smartmatic Corp. and Total Information Management (TIM) to automate the polls.

TIM, however, has pulled out of its partnership with Smartmatic, putting the multi-billion-peso poll automation project in jeopardy.

"Batas ang nag-uutos niyan. Baka gusto nilang mabilanggo ng six to 15 years [The law orders the automation… unless they want to spend six to 15 years in jail]," Rafanan said on government-run dzRB radio.

Commenting on possible punishment for TIM’s withdrawal from the consortium, Comelec chair Jose Melo in an interview on dzBB radio Tuesday morning said that the group’s officials could face prison for possible violation of Section 65 (c) of Article 21 of Republic Act 9184.

Under Section 65(c), Smartmatic and TIM could be liable for withdrawing from the automation bid awarded to them.

"Mr. Jose Antuñez (President of TIM) came to my office and told me they are withdrawing from the project citing their irreconcilable differences (with Smartmatic)," Melo told reporters in an interview on Monday, without mentioning the nature of the feud.

But word has leaked that the breakup was caused by corporate issues between Smartmatic and TIM ranging from the chairmanship of the board to funding disputes.

On the other hand, Rafanan said Smartmatic and TIM could see their performance bonds forfeited, and their right to bid in all Comelec projects suspended.

"Maliban diyan suspended ang karapatan mag-bid sa anumang project sa Comelec [Their right to bid in any Comelec project will be suspended]," he said.

For now, he said the Comelec has called off the contract review, even as it considers its options.

He also said the Comelec is studying the possibility of a “takeover" of Smartmatic if it couldn’t get its act together with its local partner TIM.

But he refused to discuss the possibility of manual elections, saying the Comelec’s concentration now is to ensure automated polls.

On the other hand, Rafanan admitted there may not be enough time for a second bidding, which he said may take at least three more months.

"Pwede yan. Pinag-aaralan natin yan kung ano ang legal implication, parang tantamount or equivalent to takeover. Ang Comelec naman nagsasagawa ng election talaga. Kung matutuloy ito ngayon lang may ibang kumpanya o corporation na tutulong sa Comelec," he said of the "takeover" scenario.

[That is possible. We are studying the legal implications. It is tantamount to a takeover. Since the Comelec is implementing the election, we can consider getting help from other IT companies.]

Rafanan said the implementing rules and regulations of the law on automated elections penalizes failure or delay in the submission of relevant documents.

In this case, he said Smartmatic and TIM’s failure to submit their incorporation papers by this Friday will result in a jail term of six year and one day up to 15 years.

"Ito [ang] tinitingnan natin at pinag-aaralan kung ano ang legal implications [We are now looking at the legal implications]," he said. - GMANews.TV
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