Comelec: Legal basis needed to ban Smartmatic from PH polls

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 31 2019 01:29 PM | Updated as of May 31 2019 11:09 PM

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MANILA – Commission on Elections (Comelec) Spokesperson James Jimenez on Friday said there should be legal basis to exclude technology solutions firm Smartmatic in future public biddings for poll-related activities. 

Jimenez made the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte sought a ban on the Venezuelan-owned firm. 

Speaking in Japan on Thursday, Duterte said he wonders why Smartmatic continued to bag government deals despite numerous complaints about the efficiency of its equipment for poll automation.

The President then suggested that the poll body do away with public bidding if only to ensure that Smartmatic would not be able to participate in the next elections.

Jimenez said while the President’s suggestion “cannot be dismissed out of hand,” laws require public bidding for government contracts.

“The President speaks from a place of greater knowledge than I do. If he feels that’s a good solution, it deserves a lot of serious consideration,” Jimenez told the media during a forum in Manila organized by the National Press Club.

“Under tayo ng COA (Commission on Audit) rules, under tayo ng rules na nagre-require ng public bidding. Kung magagawan natin ng paraan diyan, bakit hindi?”

(We are under COA rules, we are under rules that require public bidding. If we can do something about that, why not?)

Jimenez said he is not aware of information the President may have that led to his statements but said Smartmatic won the bidding that’s why it became Comelec’s supplier for the vote counting machines (VCMs) for the 2016 elections, the same election year Duterte won the presidency. 

These VCMs were purchased by Comelec and it is the poll body that is now maintaining the machines. It was used in this year's midterm polls.

But Jimenez discounted the possibility of excluding Smartmatic from future bidding activities.

“Kakailanganin natin ng legal bases to ban any supplier,” he said, explaining that Comelec also has no power to limit the bidding to local suppliers.

(We need legal bases to ban any supplier.)

“We are not averse to inviting local suppliers but the problem that we encountered over the past 9 years is that local suppliers simply do not have the required experience,” Jimenez said.

“There’s nothing preventing local suppliers from joining the bidding but to limit the options to just local suppliers might not be the best solution nor might it be legal.”

Asked if the President’s comments indicated that he believes there was fraud in the recent elections, Jimenez said the poll body is taking the chief executive's statements at face value for now.

“We’re taking the statement on its face as a statement of the President. Any further reading into it might be premature at this time. Is it a critique? Yes,” he said.

“He was responding directly to a citizen’s sentiment. If the sentiment of the citizen was in that direction saying that we are not satisfied with the elections because we feel that there’s fraud, then that could be where the President is coming from.”

In a statement Friday, poll watchdog Kontra Daya said blacklisting Smartmatic is a step towards an election system that is free from fraud and foreign intervention.

“It is not enough, however, for Smartmatic to just simply be blacklisted in the Philippines. Duterte and the Comelec should state categorically, as a matter of national policy, that there shall be no foreign intervention in the country’s election system from now on,” the group said.

“They should also demand a full reimbursement of the billions of pesos of taxpayers’ money paid to Smartmatic for the damage it has done in the four automated election cycles in the country from 2010 to 2019,” it added.

Comelec faced criticism during the midterm polls after hundreds of vote-counting machines encountered glitches and real-time elections results were delayed for 7 hours due to technical difficulty.