House Minority wants probe of Comelec-Smartmatic deal for purchase of vote-counting machines

February 7, 2018 - 2:53 PM
Comelec Bldg with logo inset
The Commission on Elections recently moved to purchase the vote-counting machines it leased from Smartmatic in the 2016 polls, prompting calls from the House Minority for an investigation. NEWS5GRAB

MANILA, Philippines – The minority bloc at the House of Representatives wants an investigation into the contract newly signed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) with Smartmatic Inc. for the supply of vote counting machines for the May 2019 midterm elections.

“These machines are not entirely free from any possible vote tampering as seen from the previous election,” House Resolution No. 1647 filed by Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and co-authored by minority lawmakers.

“The use of these machines will not help in clearing and promoting the integrity of our national and local elections, which have been clouded with fraud and manipulation for the past years,” the resolution added.

Among those who supported the resolution were Reps. Lito Atienza of Buhay partylist, Alfredo Garbin Jr. of Ako Bicol, John Bertiz of ACTS-OFW and Anthony Bravo of Coop-Natcco.

The Comelec confirmed last week that it decided to renew the contract of the Venezuela-based firm to supply the vote counting machines (VCM) for next year’s election.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez was quoted in a Philippine Star report as saying that the poll body made a unanimous decision to exercise its “option to purchase (OTP)” the VCMs because the budget approved by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for next year’s elections was not enough.

OTP is a clause in the contract when Comelec leased the 97,517 VCM units for the 2016 presidential elections for P8.1 billion. This means that the Comelec could buy the units for a lesser amount.

“We’re being made the milking cow. Why buy these machines which are nearing obsolescence,” Suarez said in a news conference.

Atienza said the Philippine government should have chosen another provider, preferably a Filipino firm. In 2010, Atienza filed an election protest when he ran for Manila mayor questioning the credibility of the machines.

“I believe I was cheated in 2010, that’s why I am pushing for this investigation,” he said.
Garbin said, “There was no economic sense that we will procure the machines when they are almost obsolete and requires high maintenance.”

Smartmatic has been providing the machines used for the country’s automated elections since 2010. For the 2010 elections, the government entered into a lease with option to buy arrangement for the Precinct Count Optical Scanner PPCOS) machines with Smartmatic for P7.9 billion.

For the 2013 midterm elections, the 82,000 PCOS machines were eventually purchased, amounting to P1.8 billion. In the 2016 elections, the old PCOS machines were not used. Instead, Comeled leased approximately 97,000 new vote-counting machines for P2.1 billion.