Collusion seen in ballot secrecy folder contract

By Aries Rufo,

Posted at Apr 19 2010 08:31 PM | Updated as of Apr 20 2010 07:35 PM

MANILA, Philippines — The P690-million contract for ballot secrecy folders, cancelled by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for allegedly being overpriced, has just become more questionable.

Documents obtained by indicate that there could have been collusion between poll officials and winning supplier One Time Carbon (OTC) Paper Supply to effectively do away with the bidding and ensure that OTC would bag the contract.

This developed as the Comelec en banc last week rejected the offer of OTC Paper Supply to halve the unit price of the folders just so the poll body would honor the awarding of the contract. The resolution will be promulgated this week.

On February 17, Comelec executive director presented for the commissioners’ approval a design for the ballot secrecy folders. This was after he had asked some Comelec personnel to propose several designs, and rejected all of them.

The en banc approved the design proposed by Tolentino.

Ten days later, OTC Paper Supply submitted its proposal to supply the ballot secrecy folders. The design it was proposing was exactly the same as what Tolentino got the commissioners to approve.

Together with the proposal to supply, OTC submitted a certification issued by the Intellectual Property Office that the company has a pending application for a patent for the design.

The certification says that OTC Paper Supply applied for the patent only on February 10—or a full week before Tolentino presented the design to the commissioners.

Whether it was mere coincidence or the OTC obtained advance information on the design that would be approved by the en banc, the sure thing was the patent application that cost OTC only P3,030 in filing fee snagged for it the P689.7-million deal with the Comelec.

On March 5, the Comelec’s BAC said that “after a careful evaluation” of OTC’s proposal, it found that “only OTC Paper Supply can supply and deliver the necessary ballot secrecy folder…by virtue of its claim of copyright over the design of the ballot secrecy folder.”

A Comelec source privy to the probe that was ordered by the en banc on the scandal said that the patent application of OTC should have raised the alarm to the BAC that something was highly suspicious.

The source said that having the design patented (actually, OTC has only applied for the registration of the design), the OTC forced the BAC to set aside any bidding and just award the contract to OTC.

One peso per folder
The overpricing of the folders was exposed by Arwin Serrano, a representative of the watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.

A Comelec source familiar with procurements said that, in previous elections, ballot secrecy folders only cost P1 apiece “There was no need to purchase special folders since it will be only used once. The ordinary folder would do.”

The source explained that the cheaper cost for folders before was a result of competitive bidding among the suppliers—something that wasn’t done for the current contract.

In all communications on bidding and procurement in the past, the source said, the total amounts of supplies or items were stated, in numbers and words, in any pricing document that were presented to the en banc.

In the case of the contract with OTC, the total amount of the ballot secrecy folders was not indicated.

The Comelec also came up with specially designed folders. It was not clear why the Comelec had wanted specially designed secrecy folders when the plain ones would do.

Documents show that it was Tolentino who presented to the en banc the specifications for the special folder during its February 17 meeting. That same day, the en banc, with the exception of Commissioner Rene Sarmiento and Elias Yusoph who were both on official business, approved Tolentino’s proposal.

The poll body had eventually recalled the P689.7-million contract after it concluded that it was “extravagant and beyond the ordinary needs of the Commission.”

OTC Paper Supply had filed a motion for reconsideration after the Comelec decided to nullify the contract for the delivery of 1.815 million ballot secrecy folders, which were found to be overpriced at P380 each.

A poll commissioner told that the en banc deemed it improper to accept the OTC offer since it would be a tacit admission that the folders were overpriced.

The en banc admitted that it mistakenly awarded the contract, based on the “incomplete staff work” of the Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).

Documents obtained by indicate that the BAC attempted to withhold from the en banc the total amount of the contract by presenting only the unit price of a folder. (