MANILA – The production of the optical mark reader (OMR) machines that will be used in the 2016 national elections will be moved from China to Taiwan, a Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner said Wednesday.
During a hearing at the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reform, Comelec commissioner Christian Robert Lim said the poll body arrived at this decision after military sources said that China could sabotage the production of the poll machines due to its dispute with the Philippines over the South China Sea.
"I feel personally that the biggest threat to the 2016 elections is China," Lim said.
Lim told reporters that the intelligence report was relayed by military contacts to a commissioner sometime in June or July. The information was neither verified by the Armed Forces of the Philippines or Malacañang.
He said the en banc decided to move the production during contract negotiations with Smartmatic.
Smartmatic-TIM earlier won two contracts covering the lease of 93,977 OMR machines which amount to a total of P8.4 billion.
The production site was originally identified to be in Suzhou, a major city in Eastern China, with full delivery of the machines scheduled by January 2016.
Lim said, possible Chinese response to a decision of the United Nations arbitral tribunal on the South China Sea dispute case could threaten the polls.
"We don't want the complications," Lim told the media. "One reason why we wanted all deliveries of the machines by January is because we are anticipating the release of the arbitration decision so baka merong trade embargo, may mga issues dyan."
"What if China decides to have a trade embargo na walang trade, so any product made in China may not be coming to the Philippines, so walang machines," Lim added.
The commissioner said there are also fears that China could sabotage the manufacturing of the machines.
"Before we accept the machines tinetest namin yan but kung sinabotage nila na ubos na yung oras ng manufacturing wala nang madeliver syempre apektado yung eleksyon natin so we wanted to be extra careful din. It pays to be paranoid to make sure elections happen," Lim said.
Smartmatic project manager Marlon Garcia allayed fears that the move would affect the production of the PCOS machines.
Garcia said that though they have started with the initial stages, full production will only start in October.
He added that their Taiwan facility is nearer to the Philippines, more accessible and has a higher production capacity compared to their facility in Suzhou.
Smartmatic will also be absorbing the cost of the move, which will amount to 5% of the contract price. Jarltech International Inc., a Taiwanese company which is also a member of the Smartmatic joint venture, maintains a site in Taiwan.
Comelec said Smartmatic-TIM was informed of the Comelec's desire to move the production of poll machines to Taiwan during the contract negotiation.
Meanwhile, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House Committee on Defense and Security, urged the Comelec to clarify the information as early as possible.
"All available channels should be mobilized against this. This is a very serious allegation. I do hope we'll be able to determine the truth behind the allegations long before the conduct of the elections so that alternative process of elections be considered and oht into place," Biazon said.