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Comelec whistleblower decries overpriced ballot packaging service

Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) lawyer Atty. Melchor Magdamo, who had earlier blown the whistle on the Comelec's P690-million ballot secrecy folder contract, this time alleged that the Comelec's ballot packaging services for the 2013 elections are also overpriced. Magdamo, a Comelec lawyer of during the chairmanship of Jose Melo, told GMA News Online that Comelec overpriced the approved budget contract (ABC) for the ballot packaging service by as much as 70 percent at P292 million. The Comelec spent P175 million for the service during  the 2010 elections. Ballot packaging involves sealing ballots in clear, airtight plastic bags and placing them in boxes for deployment to the precincts spread nationwide. The Comelec’s special bids and awards committee (SBAC) will open the bids this month. Magdamo said the ABC for the bid is anomalous because the service should only cost P70 to P80 million – or P500 for every 82,000 bundles of ballots. This should cost around P41 million plus labor costs of P30 to P40 million. Back in 2010, each bundle costs P1000. With a higher ABC, Magdamo said the cost of each bundle for next year's election would be even more expensive. “You’re just wrapping the ballots… You can even go below P5 million. Kasama na ‘dun ang two machines for removing the vacuum air, the plastic itself, and the box,” Magdamo said in a phone interview. Magdamo had earlier blown the whistle on the P690-million ballot secrecy folder contract that was to be used in the May 10, 2010 elections. The contract for plastic folders, awarded to OTC Paper Supply Co. to supply 1.8 million folders at P380 each, was later canceled for being extravagant. Kickbacks The former Comelec lawyer said the ballot packaging services in 2010, awarded to Noah’s Paper Mills, was even then overpriced. “P175 million is sobra-sobra na. Tinaasan pa nila all the way to P292 million (for 2013). Instead of bringing it down, they brought it higher,” said Magdamo, who resigned from the Comelec in 2010 after allegedly receiving death threats for his revelations. “It’s kickbacks, plain and simple corruption. And the beneficiaries of the kickbacks are they themselves, those who are whoever in control,” Magdamo said He added that said that it doesn’t take insider information to figure out that the contract is overpriced - evidence that there are kickbacks. “The price is so huge that it’s statistically impossible for the entire transaction not to be irregular. What will they do with all that money? The price itself is the evidence,” he said. ‘Show proof’ Comelec’s SBAC secretariat head Victoria Dulcera said that Magdamo should be more careful about throwing accusations around without proof. “Madaling sabihin na may kickback rito. Pero show proof." Dulcera told GMA News Online, "Ang nangyayare unfair naman sa mga tao who were working hard and who are trying to provide fair procurement process na mag-throw ka na lang ng mga statements na wala ka namang proof.” She noted that the ABC of the ballot packaging includes additional services not charged in the 2010 elections , such as the deployment of paper ballots from the warehouses of the company to the National Printing Office, and the lease of warehouses.    “As far as I know I can guarantee you na walang overpricing,” Dulcera said. Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. affirmed this, saying the unit cost remained the same but the budget is higher because the ballot packaging service for the 2013 polls also involves transportation to the warehouses Brillantes criticized Magdamo for spreading false allegations, going on to say that Magdamo should head the bidding procurement instead of the Comelec SBAC. “Siya  na magpatakbo. Kaya niyang P80 million? Kung kaya niyang P80 million kako kakausapin ko siya,” Brillantes told GMA News Online. The Comelec will open the bids for the ballot packaging service this month. The poll body originally set the bidding on November 21. — DVM, GMA News