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Comelec chief bares 'attempt' to tamper with poll equipment

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is looking into filing contempt of court and election-related charges against staff members of the Cabuyao, Laguna, warehouse for allegedly tampering with the poll equipment stored there. In an interview on GMA News TV's "News to Go" program on Tuesday, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said they are investigating last week's incident where employees of warehousing firm Power Serve Inc. (PSI) were caught inside the configuration assembly area, which stores and secures the compact flash (CF) cards that will record the election results in May. PSI is the long-term lessee of the warehouse currently subleased to Comelec to secure equipment for the upcoming midterm elections. Brillantes said upon inspection, they found that the screws on the conveyor of the assembly have been allegedly loosened by the employees. "Nakita namin na mayroong nagalaw — mga maluwang na tornilyo. So we started already the maintenance," he said. Brillantes, however, said the ballot-reading Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, which are stored in another area of the warehouse, were not tampered with. While noting that the incident is not a cause for alarm, Brillantes said the configuration assembly is "an important aspect" for the 2013 elections. "Hindi pwedeng masira ito. Continued ang maintenance namin. Kailangan namin palaging tinitingnan. Sini-secure lang namin ito na tao lang namin ang makakapasok," Brillantes said. Comelec has the power to secure the place after receiving permission from Biñan Regional Trial Court Branch 25  to take over the warehouse in the name of national interest. This was after the falling out between Comelec and PSI on the terms of agreement, with the poll body only wanting to sublease the place until June 2013 and the PSI wanting it to last for three years. Comelec was not granted a contract to sublease the place. Instead, it resorted to apply for a temporary expropriation or a government take-over of a private property in the name of public interest even when the owner is not in favor of the move. Comelec already deposited a seven-month rental of about P44.8 million following the expropriation. The poll body earlier secured the warehouse with police and military forces after PSI threatened to evict Comelec and its equipment from the area due to the dispute. The Cabuyao plant was a facility of PCOS supplier Smartmatic-Total Information Management consortium during the 2010 elections. Comelec took over its management after it bought from Smartmatic the 82,000 PCOS machines for the price of P1.8 billion. With two failed biddings for the supply of a warehouse as potential bidders fell short in the post-qualification stage, Comelec decided to negotiate with the Cabuyao warehouse to extend the storage of PCOS until June 2013. — Marc Jayson Cayabyab/KBK, GMA News