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Poll watchdog thumbs down PCOS machines for 2013 elections

The epic fail that many expected in the nation's first national automated elections in 2010 did not happen. But that's not enough reason to use the same voting machines for the next polls, according to an election watchdog. Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) even reiterated in a letter sent to the Comelec an earlier finding that the machines' supplier should be penalized for the failure of its product "to live up to expectations." The Comelec is considering the PCOS voting machines again in the upcoming elections. AES Watch opposes the purchase of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines previously leased by supplier Smartmatic-TIM for the country's first nationwide automated polls in 2010. The bidding for the voting machines conducted by the Comelec is scheduled to open this week.   "We urge you to take heed of various recommendations issued by the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) against the purchase of the Smartmatic PCOS machines," AES Watch said. AES Watch will have an ally in staunch PCOS critic Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, appointed last April by President Aquino. Lagman is the lone technology expert among the Comelec commissioners.   AES Watch explained that the CAC, in its post-election report as of June 2010, recommended that the Comelec not exercise the option to purchase the Smartmatic-TIM poll machines.     It said the CAC even asserted that Smartmatic-TIM should be penalized for the failure of its machines to live up to their expectations, specifically in terms of transmission and other aspects.   The group also cited CAC Resolution 2012-003 dated February 8, 2012 which said the option to purchase the PCOS machines “should not be exercised” since it supposedly “prevents the Comelec from taking advantage of the best possible and less expensive technology currently available” and “will prevent other prospective vendors from competitively participating in the bidding process.”   Moreover, AES Watch said the option to purchase the PCOS machines under the July 10, 2009 contract between Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM has long expired.   It added that the extension of the option was unilaterally offered by Smartmatic-TIM in its December 10, 2010 letter, which expired on March 31 the following year.   It said the contract has since been revised a few times.   "It is clear that the Smartmatic-TIM proposal is totally different from the terms and conditions under the original option to purchase stipulated in the [original] contract. As such, it is a totally new contract proposal altogether and, if accepted by Comelec, will be a clear violation of the rules on procurement which require public bidding," it said.   But the AES Watch said the Comelec should not only opt not to purchase Smartmatic-TIM's PCOS machines, it should also disqualify the supplier from participating in the bidding for the 2013 polls.   "We respectfully submit that the non-compliance by Smartmatic-TIM of the minimum requirements and capabilities that impaired the accuracy, security, and auditability of the May 2010 elections should be a ground for disqualifying the company from participating in the bidding for the 2013 elections," it said.   It explained that based on findings of at least eight local and international election monitoring groups, there is a need to "take a second look" at whether Smartmatic-TIM should be allowed to supply the techonology in the next polls.   The group specifically cited the alleged irregularities uncovered by the camp of former North Cotabato Governor Manny Piñol, specifically when a compact flash card used in one of the precincts in the province produced results in Colombia.   "Considering their use in previous election exercises in another country, as shown in the compact flash cards used in the Cotabato election for governor, the question of how old the PCOS machines are becomes a major concern," said the group.   "Was Smartmatic acting in good faith in the performance of its contract with Comelec in the light of this discovery? Was there ever an admission or representation during the contract preparation and execution that the election paraphernalia were already used in a previous election or, worse, previous elections? Where was transparency in the bidding process?" it added.   Sought for comment by GMA News Online, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said that he has yet to read the AES letter. — ELR/HS, GMA News