Manila Standard : Stealing our future

By Charlie V. Manalo | Manila Standard

"The future is ours only to decide."

The 2016 polls was one peculiar election. In my recollection of every election I can remember, it was only in 2016 when candidates had accused their partymates of cheating their way into victory at the expense of their own teammates.

One candidate who wasn’t supposed to land Number 1 in the Senate race, suddenly saw himself leading the pack, thus, according to insiders, a veteran lawmaker was prompted to call party leaders arrest the situation and ensure he (the veteran solon) would emerge on top, which eventually happened and the erstwhile leader copping second place.

Another senatorial candidate accused his partymate of maneuvering the tabulation, shaving his votes and padding hers, resulting in the latter entering the Magic 12, at the expense of the former. This actually prospered into a protest but was later withdrawn to pave the way for the protestee’s run in the 2019 senatorial elections.

But of course, the biggest issue of cheating in the 2016 elections was that of the vice-presidential race when Leni Robredo overcame former Senator Bongbong Marcos’ almost one million lead while the country was sleeping. And this has yet to be resolved.

Not surprisingly, all accusing fingers point to the electronic voting technology and service provider – Smartmatic, as the culprit. Who could forget the infamous Smartmatic’s executive’s altering of the script which saw Marcos’ lead disappear in a matter of four hours?

And 2016 was not the first time Smartmatic had been dragged into allegations of being used as an instrument for election cheating.

In 2010, local candidates then complained of an unusual result of the tally of the different voting precincts in a polling center which gave them an identical number of votes per precinct. Too much of a coincidence.

In 2013, interviews on the ground by media practitioners, including this writer, gave a very much different impression from the election results provided for by Smartmatic.

When President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, we were expecting him to finally get rid of Smartmatic as his camp also claims his votes were shaved by at least five million to favor another candidate although the number of votes added to that particular candidate reportedly did not sufficed to overcome Duterte’s massive lead.

Unfortunately, we were wrong. Just like the jet ski promise (Although I knew right then it was simply a campaign stunt), Duterte reneged on his vow to kick Smartmatic out. In fact, it seems it is here to stay forever, as a few days back, the Commission on Elections awarded the contract for the procurement of Vote Counting Machines Refurbishment with Consumables for use in the 2022 elections to Smartmatic.

This, despite allegations of conspiracy to commit irregularities committed by the end user, the chairman and members of the Comelec – Special Bids and Awards Committee, and the technical working group.

In a 19-page manifestation and verified complaint filed by Pivot International Inc. and Power Serve, Inc. Joint Venture, the Comelec is being asked 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 the end user, the director of Comelec’s Information Technology Department; the SBAC chairman, vice – chairman and members – 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.

According to the Joint Venture, they have evidence showing and proving that the Comelec officials were directly involved in the planning and bidding of the vote counting machines Refurbishment with Consumables, referring to the 2nd bidding SBAC Ref. No. 012020VCRM, and they have even received evidence of “collusion” by the concerned Comelec officials as early as March 29 of this year.

Having submitted the lowest bid for the VCM projects, the Joint Venture won the bidding, and it was automatically subjected to “post – qualification evaluation” which included the testing of its Secured Digital Cards (Main) and Write Once Read Many or WORM SD Cards, which was scheduled on March 12.

Two of the five sets of Main and WORM SD Cards were taken by SBAC-Automated Election Systems, while three sets were sent to the Department of Science and Technology 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.

So why commission the DOST if its findings would not even be considered? Isn’t the DOST supposed to be the authority on this matter?

Actually, according to the complainants, the SD cards were formatted by the Comelec-SBAC-AES TWG despite being reminded by Alfred Cayton, a representative of the Joint Venture “such act will be considered tampering with the WORM SD Cards.”

This thus explains why the different findings of the SBAC-AES TWG and the DOST.

If indeed the allegations against Smartmatic since it first started operations here in the country in 2010 are true, then it has committed the biggest crime against Filipinos for it has been stealing our lives ever since. It started with local elections results in 2010, with the senatorial election results in 2013, the vice presidential and senatorial results in 2016. It has stolen our future from us.

And now, the presidential elections in 2022 could be on the line. We could no longer afford to allow this. The future is only for us to decide.