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Manila Standard Today - The cost of vote-counting machines

News & Interviews
8 February 2018

By Danilo Suarez | Manila Standard Today 

The Commission on Elections is buying over 97,000 vote-counting machines from Venezuelan-owned Smartmatic Corporation. This purchase did not go through public bidding as the Commission decided to exercise its “option to purchase” the machines. According to Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez, the Commission is purchasing the VCMs for P2.2 billion. These are exactly the same machines it leased from Smartmatic for P8 billion during the 2016 elections.

The 2016 polls is the most controversial of all elections, in terms of results. Numerous election protests and contests were filed— 14 in the local government units, 28 in the House of Representatives, one in the Senate, and one in the Vice Presidency. In my more than 20 years of public office, this is the highest number of complaints I’ve seen filed. This casts a dark cloud on the integrity of the Commission and of Smartmatic.

Last week, former Senator Bongbong Marcos, a 2016 vice presidential candidate, presented his evidence that the poll results were rigged. He showed several ballot images that had “questionable” marks, which may indicate electoral fraud. As an example, he showed a ballot image that had two shaded circles under the vice president position—Robredo and Trillanes. Instead of voiding the vote for the vice president because of two shaded circles, the machine counted the vote as valid for Robredo. This was a clear evidence of the irregularities of the VCMs from Smartmatic.

Poll results from clustered precincts in Leyte, Basilan, Quezon City, and even in overseas absentee voting precincts such as in South Korea, recorded 0 votes for three out of five presidential candidates, which were a statistical impossibility.

Last year, the Department of Justice ordered the filing of criminal charges against Comelec and Smartmatic for altering the script in the transparency server during the transmission of the 2016 poll results. According to Smartmatic, it was only done for cosmetic purposes, wherein they corrected the character, “ñ” that appeared as “?”, and had no effect on the poll results. Smartmatic insisted that there was no criminal intent in the said action. However, DoJ said that it was a clear violation of RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Protection Act, which does not require any criminal intent.

Despite the irregularities of Smartmatic and their machines, the Comelec still chose to purchase the VCMs used in the 2016 polls. To investigate on this matter, I, together with all the Minority group members, filed House Resolution No. 1647, or “Resolution Calling for an Investigation in Aid of Legislation by the Appropriate Committee of the House of Representatives on the Comelec’s Procurement of Smartmatic Vote Counting Machines for the May 2019 Elections.”

It is the mandate of the Comelec to ensure fair and honest elections. With all the contentions about the 2016 elections, it is only right that we conduct proper investigation, in aid of legislation, to determine whether Comelec and Smartmatic are equal to the task of conducting fair and honest elections.