MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been contracting Smartmatic since the 2010 elections, but seems like officials do not exactly know who really owns the company.
This was revealed during Monday’s budget debate for the Comelec’s proposed 2024 budget amounting to P27.34 billion, which originally, was P44.772 billion.
Grilled by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Comelec budget sponsor, Senator Imee Marcos named a certain Cesar Flores as the one known to be representing Smartmatic.
Pimentel’s query was about a story that trended last year, regarding a “camp” of a 2022 candidate who allegedly met with the owner of Smartmatic.
“There have been allegations that a certain camp of a certain candidate met with the owner of Smartmatic during the election period of 2022. Has this report reached the Comelec? And has the Comelec investigated this report?” Pimentel asked.
“There is a certain disqualification case against Smartmatic from bidding in any Comelec exercises, and therefore, they are keen to investigate the allegations during that opportunity,” Marcos said.
“Kung tayo kasi nakaupo sa Comelec, if our supplier who practically ran the election, in-admit naman na Mr. President na halos na-delegate na sa Smartmatic yung ano eh (electoral exercise) and then the owner of Smartmatic is meeting with interested parties, candidate’s camp, medyo, bawal dapat yun,” Pimentel explained.
The case against Smartmatic also involves other allegations, which also include the one involving former elections chairman Andres Bautista, Marcos said.
The reported meeting, Marcos added, is now under Comelec investigation, thus, asking if such an allegation was factual may still be premature she said.
Marcos however, committed that a result of the investigation will be out by next month.
“Before the end of December, there should be a result or a finding by the 12-man investigative panel that’s been constituted by the Chairman (George Garcia) to look into all these different allegations. Both on 2022 as well as other elections,” Marcos said.
“Don’t make it open-ended by assigning to the 12-man committee so many things to investigate. Kahit yun munang tanong nay un if this really happened as a matter of fact,” Pimentel countered.
Pimentel later asked Comelec if it has information that the Smartmatic owner visited the Philippines in 2022, to which the agency replied in the negative.
“Do you know the name of the owner of Smartmatic?” Pimentel then asked.
The question was met with silence from the Comelec’s side, prompting Pimentel to remark: “Pati 'yun hindi nila alam.”
“Ang laging pinapangalan yung Cesar Flores but we are not aware of the corporate structure, the sister-companies and the overall organization,” Marcos said.
“Your main partner in running the organization, you do not know the personalities behind that?” a visibly bewildered Pimentel said.
“Ang record lagi Cesar Flores ang naga-apply sa Comelec... he was the president as of the records of Comelec. Siya yung presidente ng Smartmatic kapag naga-apply dito sa Piipinas,” Marcos said.
Pimentel later said that his gathered information was that the camp of an unnamed candidate met with the owner of the “mother company of Smartmatic Philippines.”
REMINDER TO COMELEC
Before ending his interpellation, Pimentel reminded Comelec officials to be “objective” and not be swayed by political pressure or influence.
Pimentel opted not to mention party PDP-Laban which later had two factions that ended up in a legal battle with its adopted candidate Rodrigo Duterte, whose group later snatched the party from its founding members.
“Tingnan niyo yung political party na dedesisyunan ninyo. Magiging banana republic tayo nyan kung ang mga political party binibigay ninyo sa non-ideologs. Wala na, nagtalunan na. Yung faction na ipinanalo ng Comelec ay nagtalunan na. Sinabi ko naman sa inyo, the ideology is here,” Pimentel, son of PDP-Laban founder and former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr., pointed out.
“We will become a banana republic Mr President kung pati ang decisions natin sa Comelec , nakatingin kasi sa personalities. I mean, you should be like your vote counting machines na hindi alam kung sinong bumoboto na personalities,” he added.
The Comelec sided with the Duterte faction, prompting the camp of Pimentel to elevate the case before the Supreme Court.
But even Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, who leads the CIBAC Party-list, also shared Pimentel’s views when it comes to the situation of the party-list system.
“Especially in scrutinizing political parties, particularly, the party-list system, Mr. President. I think you and I are aware of what’s happening there,” Villanueva remarked.
2025 ELECTIONS SCENARIO
For the 2025 elections, the Comelec is looking at having 800 voters per polling precinct according to Marcos.
There will be 71 million polling precincts in the next elections.
For this, Comelec is eyeing to rent 116,000 automated counting machines to be supported by a P19.9 billion budget.
Meanwhile, part of the Comelec’s committed electoral reform is to also purge the nuisance candidates from the list of wannabes by February, or three months before the elections, Marcos said.
The Senate later closed the period of interpellation and considered Comelec’s proposed budget as “deemed submitted” in the chamber.
Aside from Comelec, also deemed submitted are the P64.2 billion proposed budget of the Optical Media Board (OMB) and the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) budget of P140 million, which were both sponsored by Senator JV Ejercito.
No senators interpellated the OMB and FAB budgets.