Manila Standard : Comelec urged to look into bidding ‘anomaly’

News & Interviews
16 May 2021

By Rey E. Requejo | Manila Standard

Pivot International Inc. and Power Serve, Inc. Joint Venture has filed an administrative complaint before the Commission on Elections against the end-user, chairman and members of the special bids and awards committee and technical working group of the COMELEC for alleged conspiracy to commit irregularities when it conducted the bidding for the procurement of the Vote Counting Machines Refurbishment with Consumables intended for use in the May 2022 elections.

In a 19-page manifestation and verified complaint, the PII and PSI Joint Venture asked the Comelec to stop the award of the contract for the procurement of VCMs Refurbishment with Consumables due to the alleged anomaly during the bidding.
The Joint Venture pleaded the Comelec’s SBAC-Automated Elections System to exercise its power under Section 41 of the revised Implement Rules and Regulation of Republic Act No. 9184 otherwise known as “the Government Procurement Reform Act” to order its Special Bids and Awards Committee “to declare a failure of bidding, reject the bid and/or not to award the contract for the procurement of (VCMs) Refurbishment with Consumables – 2nd Bidding – SBAC Ref. No. 01-2020VCMRM.”

The joint venture also filed an administrative complaint for grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service against Jeannie Flororita (end - user), Director IV of COMELEC’s Information Technology Department; Allen Francis Abaya, SBAC chairman; John Rex Laudiangco, SBAC vice – chairman; SBAC members -- Jovencio Balinguit, Divina Blas Perez and Abigail Claire Carbero Llacuna -- for their alleged violation of Section 7 of Republic Act 8436 as amended by RA 9369 or the law governing the Automated Election System that began in May 11,1998 until subsequent elections.

While the TWG members were included in the case, their names were not identified.

The filing of the complaint against Flororita, Balinguit, Laudiangco and members of the SBAC and TWG raised suspicions of another conspiracy to rig the conduct of elections in 2022.
Apart from the the Joint Venture, the other company that participated in the VCMRC project was the Smartmatic.

This came after the Comelec awarded last week the contract for the procurement of software for the systems to be used in the May 9, 2022 polls worth P400 million to the joint venture of SMMT-TIM 2016 Inc. and Smartmatic USA Corp.

“On behalf of the Commission en banc, the undersigned hereby awards to Joint Venture of SMMT-TIM 2016, Inc. and Smartmatic USA Corp., the contract for the Procurement of Automated Election System (AES) Software for the Election Management System (EMS), Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) and Consolidation and Canvassing System (CCS) to be used in the 2022 National and Local Elections,” Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas, said in the notice of award.

The EMS compiles the number and profile of registered voters, their geographic locations, polling precinct information, among others.

These pieces of information are necessary for the design of official ballots for the polls.

The CCS conducts the automated tallying and monitoring of data received from polling precincts and lower levels of the board of canvassers.

“We respectfully pray . . . to treat this manifestation as an Administrative Complaint against the end user representative and members of the Comelec SBAC and the Technical Working Group for serious dishonesty, grave misconduct and/or conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service,” the complainant said.

The Joint Venture claimed that they have evidence showing and proving that Flororita, Abaya, Laudiangco, Balinguit, Blas Perez and Carbero Llacuna were directly involved in the planning and bidding of the vote counting machines (VCMs) Refurbishment with Consumables, referring to the 2nd bidding SBAC Ref. No. 012020VCRM.

The manifestation said the PII-PSI Joint Venture representatives received evidence of “collusion” by the concerned Comelec officials on March 29 of this year.

When the complainant’s representatives received the evidence of collusion, “we were discouraged to further file a protest and to submit price quotations for additional VCMs.”

However, during the Joint Venture technical conference, “it was decided that in order to stop graft and corruption in Comelec, an administrative complaint must be filed to bring to the attention of the Chairman and the Honorable Commissioners of Comelec and other concerned offices of the government the irregularities in procurement processes in Comelec from Procurement Planning up to the Procurement processes and contract execution and to discipline their erring officials.”

According to the complainant, the end-user representative and the chairman and members of the SBAC and the SBAC Technical Working Group violated Section 3 (e) of RA No. 3019 which penalizes public employees for “causing any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”

“All the elements of the crime punished under Section 3 (e) are present in the instant case. All the members of the BAC are public officers and they have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence in the discharge of the duties as end-user/implementing units and members of the SBAC; they are guilty of “giving a private party with unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference,” it said.

The Joint Venture said it has participated in the bidding because they expected the process to be fair for all the private companies interested in getting the Comelec’s VCM project.

The Joint Venture stated in its manifestation that on March 5, 2021, it participated in the bidding for the VCMs Refurbishment with Consumables, and consequently it was declared as the bidder with the lowest price bid.
“Accordingly, the Joint Venture was subjected to post qualification evaluation pursuant to the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 9184, otherwise known as the Government Procurement Reform Act,” it said,

Since the Joint Venture won the bidding for VCMs project, it was automatically subjected to “post - qualification evaluation” which included the testing of its Secured Digital (SD) Cards (Main) and Write Once Read Many (WORM) SD Cards, which was scheduled on March 12.

Two of the five sets of Main and WORM SD Cards were taken by SBAC-AES, while three sets were sent to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to be subjected to study and evaluation.

After the SBAC-AES TWG adjourned the testing, on March 31, 2021, the Joint Venture received an email a copy of the Notice of Disqualification dated March 30, 2021 and a SBAC-AES Resolution No. 3 dated March 30, 2021 declaring the Joint Venture’s bid “failed to comply with, and be responsive to, the requirements and conditions specified in the Bidding Documents and its Supplemental/Bid Bulletin” on various grounds and issues with its SD Cards, such as incompatibility with the VCM; lower capacity of the wormable SD cards from the required 16 gigabytes (GB); and the SD Cards are not compliant with SD specification V.2.0.

Notwithstanding the DOST-EPDC favorable report on sample SD Cards, the SBAC-AES declared the Joint Venture as post disqualified.

“The Joint Venture disagrees with its disqualification and respectfully request for reconsideration of the Subject Notice and Subject Resolution,” the PII-PSI Joint Venture pleaded.