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House suffrage committee urges poll watchdog not to put Comelec in bad light


The chairman of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms on Tuesday admonished a citizens watchdog group for accusing the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of entering into a P1.2 billion midnight deal with Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM).
 
During the panel’s hearing on the preparations for next year’s elections, Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro urged the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) and its executive director Evita Jimenez to refrain from releasing statements against the Comelec without substantiating its claims.
 
“If the integrity of the Comelec is under siege or being assailed by something unsubstantiated, those responsible not only attack the Comelec, but also militate against our democratic system,” Castro explained.
 
Jimenez had alleged that the Comelec had held secret talks with Smartmatic so that the Venezuelan company would bag the P1.2-billion contract for the diagnostics, repair and refurbishment of around 82,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.
 
No contract
 
Meanwhile, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said the poll body had yet to award the diagnostics contract to any company, and that all they did was approve Smartmatic’s proposal for the contract.
 
“We’re surprised as to why everyone is starting to shout and question this when we haven’t awarded the contract yet,” Brillantes emphasized. “As of today, we do not have any contract with any party. We’re still negotiating with Smartmatic to bring the P300-million price down.”
 
On Monday, 23 Catholic bishops called on the Comelec not to award the diagnostics contract to Smartmatic “for the best interest in the country.”
 
Brillantes, who is set to retire on Feb. 2, said the Comelec decided to approve Smartmatic’s proposal to conduct diagnostics on the PCOS machines in part because the company manufactured machines.
 
In Comelec Resolution No. 9922, the poll body said: “To give the refurbishment and/or the repair of the PCOS machines to any third party provider other than Smartmatic, the original manufacturer will be too great a risk considering the highly technical nature of the refurbishment and/or the repair to be conducted on the machines.”
 
Sign contract first
 
The poll chief maintained that the Comelec’s decision to extend the warranty contract with Smartmatic, instead of holding a public bidding, complies with the procurement law.
 
Those who have doubts about can bring before the matter before the Supreme Court. “Allow us to finish and sign the contract. We’ll make it public, the price will be there. If anybody wants to question it, they can go to the Supreme Court,” Brillantes said.
 
The poll chief’s insistence that the diagnostics and refurbishment contract was still under negotiation, however, did not sit well with Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon.
 
“It is very apparent that Chairman Brillantes has no answer to give on the very essential question posed by [CenPEG] on the current status of the PCOS machines. All he could explain was that the price of the diagnostics contract has yet to be finalized,” Ridon said.
 
“The House of Representatives conducted this hearing to find answers to the controversies hounding the preparations for the 2016 automated elections. Yet I think we will be leaving with more questions in our minds than answers,” he added.
 
Ridon said that the Comelec’s deal with Smartmatic was mired in questions because of lack of transparency, a lack of check and balance within the poll body, and the lack of openness and accountability to the public.,
 
“The chairman of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms is warning about the effect of putting Comelec in a bad light. Yet how can we stand silent if even the most essential questions on the PCOS machines’ integrity are being cast aside?” he asked. — DVM, GMA News