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SC asked to cancel P1.8-B contract for PCOS machines for 'bugs and defects'

(Updated 10:05 p.m.) A multisectoral election watchdog led by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. asked the Supreme Court to reject the P1.8-billion contract signed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to use Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines for the 2013 polls.   In their 18-page petition filed Tuesday, the Automated Election System (AES) Watch, pleaded for the issuance of a temporary restraining order against the implementation of the contract.   The contract, signed last March 30, is between the Comelec and the Netherlands-based Smartmatic International and its Filipino partner Total Information Management Corp. (Smartmatic-TIM)   Involving the purchase of 82,000 machines, the contract also includes the consolidation and canvassing system of Smartmatic-TIM at no cost to the Comelec.   AES said the contract should be cancelled because the Comelec "committed grave abuse of discretion in opting to buy the PCOS machines and allied paraphernalia of SMARTMATIC for use in the approaching 2013 election, despite incontrovertible findings of the glitches, malfunctions, bugs, and defects of the same."   Comelec has moved on   In a recent Senate hearing, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes defended the poll body’s decision.   “The Comelec is no longer in the level of discussing the glitches. We’re now discussing enhancements,” he said.   Cesar Flores, Smartmatic president for the Asia-Pacific region, has said that some of the problems in 2010 “are not even related to the technology or not even related to the PCOS machines.”   “There are human errors. There are time constraints. There are project management issues that have nothing to do with the machines but unfortunately some of these groups, for whatever reasons, are blaming the machines for these errors,” Flores added.   Option to purchase   AES said the contract between Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM would "cause grave and irreparable injury to the petitioners and the entire Filipino people, as well as the political and economic future and integrity of this country."   Guingona said the “glitches and lapses should not be repeated and we have to learn and improve. And it should be the Comelec that should conduct the elections not a foreign company because that is our right."   Guingona is AES honorary chair. He said the Comelec should have conducted a public bidding as provided under Republic Act 9184 or the  Government Procurement Reform Act, instead of availing itself of the "option to purchase" the PCOS machines.   Comelec should no longer be allowed to buy the PCOS machines, because its "option to purchase" as provided under the original contract had expired on December 31, 2010, the petitioners said.   In April 2011, Smartmatic-TIM still offered a revised extended option to purchase, but the term sheet for it that was signed almost a month later was cancelled by Comelec in June of the same year.   AES Watch noted a Feb. 8, 2012 resolution of the Comelec Advisory Council reiterating its position to no longer exercise the poll body's option to purchase due to the glitches.   “For the May 2013 elections, the COMELEC does not need to use the same PCOS machines... The COMELEC would be better off not exercising the option to purchase the PCOS machines, so it can look for an even better solution for the May 2013 elections,” the CAC concluded in its resolution.   But the Comelec pushed through with its plan and decided to exercise its Option to Purchase the PCOS machines on March 21, 2012, and executed a deed of sale with Smartmatic-TIM on March 30. Comelec failed once more   Father Joe Dizon, co-convener of Kontra Daya 2010, and Solidarity Philippines–one of the groups comprising the AES Watch–said in a statement that the P1.8-billion contract showed the Comelec had failed once more to provide "transparent and accountable elections."   "The Comelec under the Brillantes Commission aggressively awarded those who must be held accountable for the glitches and inconsistencies that occurred during the previous and first automated election system in the country last 2010, even agreeing to the extension of the said contract to March 31, 2012," Dizon said.   Apart from Guingona, also joining in the petition for certiorari, prohibition, and mandamus were former National Economic Development Authority director-general Solita Collas-Monsod (Movement for Good Governance), Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, former Philippine Computer Society Foundation president Nelson Java Celis Jr., and Pablo Manalastas of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance.   Former University of the Philippine Dean Georgina Encanto of Transparency International-Philippines, Anna Leah Colina of "We Watch," and Ma. Corazon Mendoza Akol of also singed the petition.   The AES is a multi-sectoral election watchdog formed in January 2010 by 45 organizations and institutions nationwide. —KBK/ELR/VS, GMA News