Comelec steers clear of Smartmatic-NPO row

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 09 2012 07:36 PM | Updated as of Nov 10 2012 09:04 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is staying out of the controversial award of the National Printing Office (NPO) of a P780-million contract for ballot printing to Holy Family Printing-Cannon joint venture.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said "for now the best course of action is to let the process resolve self, (but) di sinasara Comelec sa posibidad makialam. Patuloy ang pagevaluate natin sa sitwasyon."

For now, it is standing by the contract and the NPO. Asked if the Comelec is leaving too much to chance, Jimenez said, "we don't think so. Too risky? Do we distrust NPO that much? If all we have are allegations of a losing bidder, other processes have to take precedence over our intervention."

Jimenez characterized the concerns of Smartmatic over the rejection of test ballots by the Smartmatic PCOS machines as a complaint of a losing bidder.

Smartmatic was declared ineligible by the NPO to bid for the contract.

Jimenez also downplayed fears of a failure of elections over the possible rejection of ballots.

"Lahat naman may failure of election scenario. These are common complaints. Best solution is to be sober about it. It is best to allow process to see through. If at any point, the Comelec feels the security of the ballot is threatened, it will not hesitate [to act]," he added.

Jimenez also stressed Smartmatic may not held liable if the PCOS machines reject defective ballots on election day.

"It's a perfectly reasonable expectation of course, their machines are in place. We don't want it to be blamed on them. Everyone knows they did not make the paper. If something goes wrong with paper, they established deniability already. The Comelec gave them that deniability by refusing to bundle (the contracts)," he explained.

Jimenez also dismissed allegations that the Comelec does not know what it is doing. "That's what other people said about them (Smartmatic). It would be very early to assume na may pagkakamaling nagaganap. This is not yet critical. In terms of time lines, we have time to handle properly without being spooked by allegations."

He said the Comelec en banc will not review the award of the contract to NPO.

"First of all, that would partake the nature of control. The point is, bidding process given to them is delegated authority. The NPO is presumably competent to do this. We made a decision to give it to them. Wala kaming pakialam diyan."

Jimenez pointed out that the NPO told them that the test ballots passed 100%.

Nevertheless, he stressed that the acceptability of the ballots to the PCOS machines should match the machines' accuracy rating.

"The rate of rejection should be very low, should be close to 100% acceptability. But again, this lies within province of NPO. We can set standards. It's them that should be meeting expectations . We're not critical in terms of ballot printing. Di pa na-finalize laman ng balota," Jimenez said.