'SC's PCOS ruling chilling effect of Corona ouster'

by Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jun 13 2012 08:05 PM | Updated as of Jun 14 2012 05:31 PM

MR to be filed, but lawyer admits it's a ‘long-shot'

MANILA, Philippines - The 11-3 vote of the Supreme Court that gave the green light to the P1.8 billion purchase of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines by the Comelec is an aftermath of the ouster of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, a lawyer representing the petitioners said.

In an interview with ANC, lawyer Abraham Espejo said, “I’m afraid to think that this could be a result of the chilling effect after the conviction of Corona.”

Corona had said that the impeachment complaint against him was motivated by President Aquino's desire to also control the Supreme Court. 

Last May 22, senator-judges voted 20-3 to oust him from office due to his failure to disclose in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) his bank accounts.

“I think our justices have lost their courage to stand up for what is right,” Espejo said.

In April 24, the full court stopped the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from purchasing 82,000 precinct optical scan.

In a decision today, 11 justices decided to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) it issued against the poll body.

The decision, which is still being circulated among the justices for signature, was written by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta. He was joined by Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, Roberto Abad, Jose Portugal Perez, Jose Catral Mendoza, Lourdes Sereno and Bienvenido Reyes.

Those who dissented were: Associate Justices Martin Villarama, Arturo Brion and Estela Perlas Bernabe.

Espejo said he will file a motion for reconsideration on behalf of the petitioners, admitting though that it is a “suntok sa buwan [long shot].”

“We will file an MR, but that’s the last step, we have no other remedies. It’s unfortunate that the purchase was allowed despite the fact that there was no bidding,” he said.

Strict application

Espejo said procurements laws are very strict on public bidding procedures because “it’s a matter of public funds…taxpayers’ money.”

Comelec purchased the machines from Smartmatic-TIM a day before the option to purchase expired.

This was an offshoot of the contract with the private firm for the automation of the 2010 polls on June 9, 2009. The contract provided an option to purchase up to Dec. 31, 2010, which Smartmatic-TIM extended up to March 31, 2012.

“We have different opinions, but it is clear that it was approved without public bidding,” he said.

He stressed that the subject of contract is very clear, which is for the automation of the 2010 polls alone. “Yes, there was a purchase clause, but it could not possibly refer to the purchase outside the 2010 polls.”

Former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman shared the same view. His ad interim appointment was not renewed months ago.

In a separate interview with dzMM, Lagman said the SC’s decision came as a shock. “I was shocked. It should have gone through the bidding purchase. It is clear that the option to purchase had already expired,” he said.

236 issues vs PCOS machines

Lagman said public bidding is not a problem since there are two to three vendors who have expressed interest to automate the 2013 polls.

“Time is also not a problem. There is time for bidding,” he said.

He noted that while he was still with Comelec, the poll body opted to sign anew a deal with Smartmatic even if the latter had failed to address a lot of errors in the machines.

He said when he joined Comelec, the PCOS machines had “236 problems.”

“But these problems have not been addressed, and yet Comelec proceeded to enter into the deal,” he added.

He asked: “Are we going to count on Smartmatic’s word that these will be addressed?”

Lagman, an IT expert, believes that the machines can be hacked. The petitioners before the SC believe that this could eventually lead to widespread cheating.

Old issues

In a separate interview with ANC, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. asked the critics to be “reasonable people.”

“Magtulungan na lang tayo, wag nang bara ng bara. [Let’s just help each other, we should not always criticize],” he said.

He asked that the critics come over and discuss the matter with the poll body, although he insisted that the issues they raised are already old issues.

Espejo said, however, that the case before the SC is not personal.

“We can’t just say yes to everything what the government wants to happen. We’re in a democratic country.”

He said the petitioners agree to the automation of the polls but it should be “in accordance with the law.”