Replace Smartmatic? Palace urges Comelec to heed Duterte’s call

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 31 2019 04:17 PM | Updated as of Jun 03 2019 09:49 AM

A malfunctioning vote-counting machine is tested at the Tomas Morato Elementary School in Quezon City, May 13, 2019. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Malacañang on Friday urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to heed President Rodrigo Duterte’s call to replace vote counting machines from technology solutions firm Smartmatic for future polls.

This as the Palace clarified that the President's remarks in Japan Thursday "does not mean that the just concluded elections is not honest [or] credible."

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo explained Friday that Duterte’s suggestion aims to address concerns on the credibility of election results.

“The President is not comfortable with these allegations that produce a whiff of fraud or delay in the announcing of the election results. The President wants that the future elections will not be subjected to the same aforementioned concerns,” he said in a statement.

“The Comelec should take seriously the suggestion of the President, for after all it should be the first one that should be fiercely protective of its image being the constitutional body mandated to safeguard the sanctity of the ballots,” he said.

The Duterte spokesman also clarified that the President’s remarks do not cast doubt on the credibility of election results. 

“The President’s remarks is a response to some concerns raised by both the opposition, the administration supporters as well as civic groups relative to the previous and present elections on certain technical glitches that precipitate questions on the technological competence of Smartmatic,” Panelo said.

Duterte on Thursday night asked the poll body to look for a new technology provider for the elections, saying the use of Smartmatic is “creating an environment of hostile attitude.”

"Dispose of that Smartmatic and look for a new one that is free of fraud," Duterte said in a speech before the Filipino community in Japan.

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

James Jimenez, spokesperson of the poll body, said Friday the Comelec cannot simply exclude Smartmatic from public biddings for future poll-related activities as this would require legal basis.

“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.

The vote counting machines provided by Smartmatic were the same ones used in the 2016 elections, the year Duterte won the presidency.

Comelec has since purchased the machines from Smartmatic and is now in charge of its maintenance. The machines were used again for the May 13 polls.

- with a report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News