Now, it's Smartmatic warning of massive poll failure

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 07 2012 03:29 PM | Updated as of Nov 08 2012 05:10 AM

MANILA (UPDATED) - Now, the shoe is on the other foot.

Once the subject of doomsday scenarios, election contractor Smartmatic now finds itself warning against a massive failure of next year's mid-term elections.

Smartmatic President Cesar Flores told ABS-CBN News of the risk of failure unless the National Printing Office (NPO) and the Commission on Election (Comelec) orders a rebidding of the contract for ballot printing over alleged irregularities.

Smartmatic and ASA Colors/ePDS Inc (a subsidiary of the PLDT) were disqualified from the bidding for that contract, valued at  P780.7M, which went to Holy Family Printing/Canon Joint Venture last September 10, 2012.

"What do we want? We want Comelec/NPO to void the current process, which is voided with irregularities, and rebid the ballot printing services following all the requirements of the law. Otherwise the risk of a failure in the automated election system is too high," Flores said.

Smartmatic filed several appeals of their disqualification before the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of the National Printing Office, which was in turn tasked by the Comelec to handle the procurement of ballot printing requirements for the mid-term elections next year.

Holy Family

In its September 14, 2012 appeal, Smartmatic said, the BAC "unduly qualified Holy Family on the grounds "which we strongly believe are questionable, unfair and illegal."

It also noted that during the testing of sample ballots supplied by Holy Family, "more than half of the attempts of the Holy Family Joint Venture to feed their sample prototype ballots into the PCOS machines were rejected by the PCOS machines. If this will apply during the elections, we estimate more than half of the Filipino voters will be disenfranchised and their votes will not be accepted because of the defects in the ballot paper offered by the Holy Family Joint Venture."

Smartmatic, in its appeal, also cited its track record during the 2010 national elections. "Given the developments in the BAC during the bidding proceedings last September 12, we are certainly not assured that the 2013 automated elections will run smoothly."

Smartmatic also said that their disqualification was done hastily and was witnessed even by Comelec representatives.

Sample of PCOS testing

A video clip of the testing can be found at http://www.youtube.com/.

It shows the sample ballots being fed into the PCOS machines, rejected by the machines and those manipulating the machines folding the ballots during subsequent attempts to test the ballots. Even after being folded, the test ballots were still rejected.

National Printing Office

In a September 7, 2012 letter to the NPO, Smartmatic said that it was disqualified on the grounds that some pages in its bid were initialed by three authorized representatives, some had 2 or 1 initials  while others had no initials, which Smartmatic said is not a ground for disqualification under existing laws and regulations.

It, in turn, asked the BAC to disqualify Holy Family for alleged failure to comply with the requirement that the bid specify whether the company is a manufacturer, supplier distributor or service provider.

In a September 14 appeal, Smartmatic also disagreed with its disqualification over its not being in existence since 2006 because there is nothing in the rules that requires this. Smartmatic pointed out that this was only in the checklist of documents required by the BAC in relation to the requirement for a possible contractor to present its single largest contract.

Furthermore, Smartmatic rebutted the argument that it should be disqualified because its contract for the 2010 national elections is not a contract similar to the one being bidded out now, when it is "exactly what the NPO is bidding out for this project."

It also said that while the printing of ballots in 2010 was done by the NPO, it was Smartmatic which provided the NPO with the resources.

It also said Holy Family should be disqualified because the other bidders were not allowed to meaningfully examine the documents submitted by Holy Family; that Holy Family has no capability to print the ballots that will be honored by the PCOS machines.

"There were 8 ballots submitted. Of this number, 6 ballots did not even fit into the PCOS machine slot. These 2 remaining ballots were tested and 15 attempts were made to feed the 2 ballots into the 5 PCOS machines. Out of the 15 attempts, only six times were the sample ballots accepted by the PCOS machines."

Moreover, Smartmatic also disagreed with Holy Family's supposed compliance with the requirement to present its single largest contract when it presented contracts for a seaman's manual with the MARINA and election returns for 2010.

Smartmatic presented a September 14 letter from the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) that it "had never transacted with a certain Holy Family printing to print the Seafarer's Identification and Record Book (SIRBs) worth P20M, considering that MARINA only procures from recognized government printers such as the NPO to print our SIRBs.  Furthermore, our annual budget in procuring SIRBs ranges from P30M to P35M per year, hence there were no contract awarded to any RGP's to print MARINA SIRBs amounting to P20M in one year or at one time purchase order."

The letter was signed by MARINA Officer-in-Charge, Deputy Administrator for Planning Roberto V. Arceo.

Brillantes: Not just one test

The BAC granted Smartamtic’s appeal of its disqualification last September 10.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes confirmed he has seen the YouTube video. He also confirmed that the first testing saw the rejection of test ballots by the PCOS machine.

However, he also confirmed that there was a second testing where a bigger sample of 1,000 ballots was used where a few were rejected over wrong shading of the test ballot candidates.

“Actually nasa YouTube na ata, nilalabas na. This was the first, then 2 lang tinanggap nun kaya nagkaroon ng issue. Totoo yon na 2 lang tinanggap, diniscuss namin. Wala naman kaming reason to say no. I don’t know if they have issued a notice of award. I’m asking for a meeting with NPO on the details of this," he said.

Brillantes said he met with Smartmatic Tuesday over this matter. He confirmed that Holy Family is not an accredited printer of the Comelec.

“As far as we know, NPO has been reporting to us, yun ang isang issue, masyado lang na-blow-up. Sampu tapos 2 lang pumasok. We have nothing to do with Holy Family...Ako, di ko kilala, background checking namin diyan...They have been a regular printer of NPO. I don’t think...tinignan ko listahan, they're not one of the accredited of comelec, wala kaming nililihim as far as we know."
 
Atty Sylvia Banda, chair of the NPO’s Bids and Awards Committee which awarded the contract to Smartmatic, reserved her comments for Thursday morning