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Daily Tribune - Slick operators

News & Interviews
19 May 2019

By TDT | Daily Tribune

Past elections that used the Automated Elections System (AES) of Smartmatic have proven disastrous with its almost predictable malfunctioning machines and server glitches.

Whenever the slightest slip-up happens on election day and the recent problems with the Smartmatic technology can’t be termed as slight, the credibility of elections is always put at stake.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) tried to explain that Smartmatic has a minimal involvement in the past exercise which is unbelievable since like before, the machines and the whole tallying system was through Smartmatic.

Comelec fully contracted the Venezuelan firm in 2009 for the 2010 presidential elections and the AES was also used in the polls held in 2013, 2016 and this year.

The question among many is what motivates the Comelec to keep Smartmatic when all the elections which used the AES were fraught with credibility issues.

In the recent midterm polls, glitches and problems affected more vote counting machines (VCM) as compared to the election in 2016.

After the 2010 polls, the Comelec leased the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines and ended up buying these from Smartmatic for P1.8 billion.

By the next presidential elections, most of the machines have shown defects and the Comelec said it would be more costly to repair the PCOS units compared to again going into a lease agreement with Smartmatic for the new VCM.

The Comelec, under the guise of public interest, leased some 97,000 VCM from Smartmatic.

Later on, after the lease expired, the Comelec again bought the VCM for P2.2 billion.

Also significantly, the Comelec transaction happened during the Christmas season when most Filipinos are busy with their holidays.

The debate over PCOS were over the same issues that bugged the VCM and put the credibility of the national elections at risk.

When a new Smartmatic gadget will be offered for lease, of course, with a purchase option, the same cycle would likely happen in the coming exercises.

Comelec made an assurance prior to the contract for the VCM that the PCOS machines will be refurbished and used for the 2019 and 2022 elections but since the VCM was bought, why use the PCOS.

Nothing has been heard of regarding the fate of the old machines which should still be in the Comelec warehouse since these were also purchased from Smartmatic.

Legislators asked Comelec to submit an accounting of the costs cited on the use of the poll machines, both for PCOS and VCM, including the comparison on leasing the machines or outright purchase but nothing has been produced thus far.

The Comelec even kept the oversight committee of Congress in the dark on the purchase of the VCM until Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim told the committee that the purchase has been completed 12 January 2018 and the Comelec en banc made the decision to go with the purchase option 18 December 2017.

Under the Comelec en banc decision, the poll body exercised the option-to-purchase clause in their lease contract with Smartmatic for 97,517 VCM to be reused in the midterm polls.

Instead of rehabilitating 81,986 PCOS machines for the 2016 polls, purchased for P1.8 billion, the Comelec opted to lease the VCM for what it claimed then was “lack of time to refurbish the purchased PCOS machines” while adding it would be costlier to repair than lease the VCM.

Smartmatic is reportedly offering a new system in the 2022 presidential polls which will again cost the Comelec dearly.

Deplorable is that Smartmatic has consistently evaded demands for accountability on fraud while cornering all the lucrative contracts related to the automated elections as they are outside the purview of government audit.

Smartmatic always getting the better end of the bargain with the government should already raise questions about the propriety of the poll contracts it continue to snap up.

There is even no rationale for keeping the disputable system for so long since the integrity of the electoral process is at stake.

Since the Comelec has been throwing away money at Smartmatic, it would be ideal that the next billion peso it spends should be on erasing public doubt on the balloting process.