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Smartmatic disqualified from Comelec procurements —Garcia

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has disqualified service provider Smartmatic from all procurements, Comelec Chairman George Garcia announced Wednesday.

“We disqualified Smartmatic to participate in all Comelec procurement,” Garcia told reporters in a Viber message.

The Comelec chief announced this after the weekly en banc session of the poll body.

The petition against Smartmatic was filed by former Department of Information and Communications Technology chief Eliseo Mijares Rio Jr., Augusto Cadelina Lagman, Franklin Fayloga Ysaac, and Leonardo Olivera Odono on June 15.

They claim that Smartmatic "failed to comply with certain minimum system capabilities that resulted in serious and grave irregularities in the transmission and receipt of election return" during the 2022 polls.

According to the en banc’s resolution on the petition against Smartmatic, the service provider was disqualified due to the bribery allegations against former Comelec chairperson Juan Andres “Andy” Bautista “in exchange for awarding a contract for election machines to Smartmatic Corp.”

“It was revealed that Bautista established a foreign shell company, which was used to receive bribe payments from Smartmatic. The charges against Smartmatic and former Chairman Bautista are of public knowledge and tend to cause speculation and distrust in the integrity of the electoral process,” the en banc resolution read.

The Comelec en banc noted the “gravity” of the allegations related to bribery and compromised procurement processes and recognized the “imminent threat to the strength and integrity of our democratic processes.”

“The Comelec (En Banc)…cannot overlook the serious, unresolved allegations against Smartmatic related to previous elections. Although these allegations stemming from incidents potentially spanning at least three election cycles, have not been conclusively proven their gravity and potential to damage public trust warrant the Commission (En Banc’s) proactive measures to safeguard the integrity of elections and democratic institutions,” it said.

The poll body invoked their authority to disqualify a potential bidder from participating in any procurement processes by citing Section 2(1) of Article IX of the 1987 Constitution and Supreme Court’s decisions in several cases.

‘No irregularities in 2022 polls’

The Comelec also clarified in its decision that “no irregularities attended the conduct of the 2022 [National and Local Elections]” as alleged by the group of Rio.

Apart from their previous explanations on the alleged consistency in the ratio of transmitted results, the use of single IP address, and alleged discrepancies in the transmission and election returns, the Comelec cited its conduct of Random Manual Audit as well as the statement of the petitioners admitting that the parallel count of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting matched the transmitted results.

Despite this, the Comelec said it will “do everything necessary and within its power to demonstrate its commitment to electoral integrity and full transparency” as these issues raised by Rio’s  group erode public trust and confidence in the country’s electoral process.

In line with this, the Comelec reiterated their offer to or a recount of votes by opening the ballot boxes chosen by the petitioners.

The resolution was signed by Garcia, Commissioners Socorro Inting, Rey Bulay, Ernesto Ferdinand Maceda Jr., and Nelson Celis.

Commissioner Aimee Feroline likewise signed the resolution but she issued a separate opinion on the body's decision.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Casquejo’s signature was not attached to the resolution because he is on official business.

Separate opinion

In her separate opinion, Ferolino said the petitioners failed to substantiate the alleged irregularities during the 2022 polls and concurred with the majority that blacklisting Smartmatic or any prospective bidder cannot be ruled upon due to lack of jurisdiction as the procurement for future elections is still underway.

However, Ferolino questioned the en banc's consideration of a “distant matter”--pertaining to bribery charges against Bautista--“has been interjected into this case.”

While it may be proper to take into consideration the criminal case filed in the United States against Bautista, Ferolino said this circumstance “does not warrant an outright condemnation of persons or entities involved in the said foreign criminal case.”

“In ruling against Smartmatic based on an issue never properly raised, Respondent Smartmatic was deprived of its right to be properly notified of the allegations against it and was not given an opportunity to defend itself from those allegations,” Ferolino said.

'Profound disappointment'

Smartmatic, for its part, expressed "profound disappointment" with the development although it said it has neither been notified nor receive a copy of the Comelec decision.

In a statement, the firm pointed out that it has never been indicted in any country, including the United States, in connection with any election-related contract in its 23-year history.

"We urge Comelec officials to conduct this research independently, and to show to the public any indictment against Smartmatic. We are confident there is no such indictment in the United States," it said.

In a statement over the weekend, Smartmatic reiterated its call to the Comelec to dismiss the disqualification petition against them in the bidding process for the 2025 automated election.

The firm maintained that the accusations against them are "unfounded" and that the petitioners "lacked evidence." 

"The petitioners' clear objective is both political, attempting to delegitimize the government, and commercial, supporting Smartmatic competitors. These claims are unfounded, presented as facts but lacking any evidence," Smartmatic said. —KBK/RSJ, GMA Integrated News