MANILA - Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes had a heated exchange at Senate hearing over the printing of ballots for the May 2013 mid-term elections.
Cayetano accused the poll body of favoring a bidder.
Both appeared at the Senate Finance Committee's hearing on the agency's budget, which quickly turned into an inquiry into the controversial award of a P780-million printing contract to an allegedly favored bidder, Holy Family Printing and Canon joint venture.
Cayetano initially followed up on the list of Brillantes' clients before he assumed his post as chief of the comelec.
Cayetano then proceeded to show video clippings of the testing of prototype ballots for the bidding of ballot printing. The video depicted the rejection of the prototype ballots from Holy Family.
Cayetano got Brillantes to confirm that no commissioner was present during the bidding or testing.
Brillantes did not even initially know who from the Comelec observed the bidding and testing and was only able to identify Law department Chair Esmeraldo Ladra as the observer in a note handed by Brillantes' seatmate, Commissioner Lucenito Tagle.
Cayetano hit the Comelec for not exercising its oversight powers over the bidding of the contract. "No one expects you to monitor everything but you're all over the media pero yung pinakaimportante pagimprenta ng balota di mo alam sino nagbabantay?"
Cayetano then noted that during Brillantes' confirmation hearings at the Commission on Appointments, Brillantes confirmed that cheating can happen before, during and after the elections. Brillantes had also said that one way to cheat is the overprinting of ballots.
Brillantes said the en banc discussed the bidding of the ballot printing contract and in a 4-2 vote resolved to hand it over to the National Printing Office (NPO).
Cayetano proceeded to show a video of the bleeding of the prototype ballots during testing.
Brillantes maintained that the controversies over the contract have been resolved by the NPO, pointing out that the NPO has been authorized and that allegations of wrong doing are coming from a losing bidder-Smartmatic.
Brillantes said, "the NPO has already resolved it. It's finished."
Cayetano then insisted that under the terms of reference, a second testing of ballots is not allowed, to which Comelec Bids and Awards Committee Chair Helen Aguila Flores Concurred.
The Comelec previously said that the prototype ballots passed the 2nd round of testing.
"Nagdiskusyon na ho kami. Desisyon namin is go into retesting of 1,000."
Cayetano said, "you cannot have retesting without rebidding."
Cayetano then accused both the Comelec and the NPO of unduly favoring Holy Family. "The NPO is not the only one favoring Holy Family. Comelec is also favoring Holy Family. Why are they only one allowed to resubmit? That's the allegation, that they're favored. They're Holy Family but not so holy."
Brillantes then accused Cayetano of mouthing the words of Smartmatic."Galing ho ba ito sa losing biders? Did you talk to the losing bidders?"
Cayetano replied, "I don't care about losing bidders. I don't care who gives me materials."
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile then tried to deflect the questioning of Brillantes, pointing out that Cayetano shouldn't teach the poll chief how to answer questions.
Cayetano then countered, "do we allow the resource person to dictate the questions?"
Cayetano later on remarked that the poll chief doesn't see the problems in the preparations for the elections. "You do not see na may problema."
Brillantes refuted this, saying he's just not prepared to answer those questions in a budget hearing, preferring to instead face the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Elections.
Cayetano said the NPO seems to be messing up the preparations for the elections.
Brillantes countered, "we have been monitoring, we don't know if it is messed up, or messed up by people who lost."
Cayetano would lose his patience and remarked that Brillantes keeps on insisting the budget hearing is not the venue for these questions every time he cannot answer a question.
Cayetano also noted how the poll body doesn't seem concerned. "There is proof presented there was a favored bidder."
He also noted there is proof that ballots were rejected and there was a violation of the terms of reference, that there was proof of bleeding, and that NPO had been accused of overprinting.
Brillantes was dismissive, "we can investigate it but we have a timeline to follow."
NPO Bids and Awards Committee Chair Sylvia Banda would explain the mechanics for the award of the contract to Holy Family, but Cayetano didn't seem placated. Cayetano said it didn't change the fact that the prototype bled.
After the hearing, Brillantes joked he may stop giving media statements because his media interviews were used against him.
The panel's hearing ended with the budget of the agency finally submitted to the plenary.
The Comelec's budget is the only budget still pending before the panel as the budget of other agencies have been endorsed to the Senate plenary.
Earlier in the hearing, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile appealed to the panel to endorse the budget to the plenary and have all issues and questions for Comelec answered there. "Time is of the essence we have to move on. We have to deal with urgent matters."
Finance Committee Chair Franklin Drilon said, "we hope we can finish all questions this morning."