Is the Comelec ready to count?
The certificates of candidacy have been filed. Is the Commission on Elections ready for the May 2016 vote?
Controversies involving integrity questions have been hounding the Comelec since 2003. The 2004 presidential election was supposed to be the first fully automated polls. But the Supreme Court pronounced the contract with Mega Pacific eSolutions Inc., a supply arrangement valued at close to P1.3 billion, null and void, as its execution violated the Procurement Law. It was determined to be fraudulently negotiated.
Yet then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez decided that no one from the Comelec or Mega Pacific was criminally or administratively liable. The Supreme Court said there was a crime; the Ombudsman concluded there were no criminals. And the Comelec goes on its business-as-usual way.
Again there are cases pending in the Supreme Court questioning the award by the Comelec to Smartmatic-TIM of the contract to supply by lease, valued at P6.68 billion, 70,977 optical mark readers (OMR) to replace the unrefurbished 81,896 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines. Last March 24, a temporary restraining order was issued by the high court to stop the refurbishing of the PCOS machines by Smartmatic for P268 million—a “midnight contract” signed by the then outgoing chair, Sixto Brillantes. The refurbishing deal stopped, the Comelec simultaneously bid out the refurbishing of the PCOS machines and the supply of 70,977 new OMRs, as well as additional 20,000 OMRs.
Smartmatic was no longer interested in the refurbishing. It submitted a bid for the new supply but a failed bidding was declared. At one point, Smartmatic was even disqualified by the Comelec bids and awards committee (BAC) for documentation deficiency and noncompliance on technical aspects. But the election commissioners, meeting en banc, reversed the BAC’s disqualification decision. There is reason to be suspicious of the process, thus the petitions at the Supreme Court.
The 2010 presidential election was supposed to be the first automated polls, with Smartmatic supplying the 81,896 PCOS machines by lease contract for P7.9 billion, with an option to buy. For the 2013 elections, the option to buy was exercised for P1.8 billion. The total cost of the machines, therefore, was P9.7 billion—over seven times the amount involved in the deal with Mega Pacific, which the high court wanted refunded and the machines returned. Questions also accompanied the award to Smartmatic for the 2010 and 2013 elections. There were issues on the source code and the ownership of the software. Glitches marred the actual run. The transparency of the process under the automated system was deemed inadequate.
Yes, the election results allowed for the earlier proclamation of the winning candidates. But at what price? Hello, Smartmatic! Are the votes of the Filipino people being counted properly? Perhaps dishonest elected public officials are the natural outcome of a dishonest conduct of elections.
It is imperative that the Comelec get its act together and convince the voting public and the candidates that the entire election process will be free, clean, fair, honest and peaceful. Else, the election will be meaningless. As long as there are pending cases in the Supreme Court questioning the legality and propriety of how the Comelec has procured whatever it will use for the elections, the polls will have to be put on hold. The limited time for preparations is not an excuse to hold elections without all that is needed.
The Comelec, a constitutional body, has vast powers to decide on matters pertaining to elections. Chair Andres Bautista must do everything to project the integrity of the Comelec as worthy and capable of conducting the 2016 presidential election.
There have been serious questions of cheating in presidential elections since after the restoration of democracy in 1986. Miriam Defensor Santiago has not conceded that she lost the 1992 election to Fidel V. Ramos. Then there is the “Hello Garci” election of 2004, which Fernando Poe Jr. protested as having been stolen from him by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This must still be vivid in the mind of his daughter, Sen. Grace Poe, who is running in the 2016 presidential race. Can there be a “Hello Smartmatic” circa 2016? The 2004 scenario looked deviously orchestrated, with pre- and post-election polling results seemingly conditioning the public mind for the projected outcome. GMA may have really won the vote if Cebu and Maguindanao were assumed real, but not by the more than one million she wanted, and got. The questionable legitimacy of her term and the acquiescence of vested interests brought perdition to the land.
The result of the 2010 presidential election may not be in doubt, but this was the first automated election and the efficacy of the 2013 automation conducted under Smartmatic a second time around has apparently not been validated adequately for everyone’s comfort. The hybrid voting process looks like a sound option for 2016.
On May 9, 2016, the sixth president of the post-Edsa republic will be elected. Can the next president give the Filipino people reason to hope? The Comelec is managing the starting block: If there will be doubtful integrity and wanting credibility in the electoral process, the people can kiss hope goodbye.
Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.
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