Philstar – Comelec commissioner faces complaint over P240-M ‘midnight’ deal

By Elizabeth Marcelo | Philstar 

MANILA, Philippines — Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Christian Robert Lim is facing another complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman over the P240-million “midnight deal” with technology provider Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) for the diagnostics and repair of 80,000 vote counting machines.

In his 19-page complaint filed Monday, former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong urged the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate Lim for administrative offense of serious misconduct and for possible filing of an impeachment complaint.

The complaint stemmed from the Comelec’s awarding of the extended warranty contract with the Smartmatic-TIM in 2015 for the repair and diagnostics of the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines — another name for the VCMs — the poll body earlier purchased from the firm.

The contract was in preparation for the May 9, 2016 national and local elections. It was dubbed a “midnight deal” as it was signed by then Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. on January 30, 2015, three days before he retired from office.

The Supreme Court nullified the deal in April of the same year, siding with petitioners poll watchdog Automated Elections System (AES) Watch and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), that the contract was awarded without public bidding but instead through direct contracting, in violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act.

Chong said Lim, as chairman of the Comelec Steering Committee of the 2016 national and local elections, should be held liable for still pursuing a deal with Smartmatic amid the technical errors of its machines and the SC’s nullification of the “midnight deal”.

“Respondent cannot feign ignorance of the facts and circumstances surrounding the problems and anomalies of the PCOS machines before and after the ‘midnight deal’ in question because he actively took part and even defended Smartmatic-TIM Corporation in the several hearings conducted by the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System on these issues,” the complaint read.

Chong narrated that following the SC ruling, the Comelec proceeded to bid out the lease of 23,000 new PCOS machine units to be used for the 2016 elections.

He said the Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) had disqualified Smartmatic in the bidding for the lease deal due to “legal and technical grounds” but Lim supposedly overturned the BAC ruling.

“Respondent unqualifiedly voted to grant the protest filed by the Smartmatic Joint Venture and overturned the disqualification. The rest of the commission either refrained from voting or qualified their respective concurrences,” the complaint read.

Chong said a certification from the poll body’s Technical Evaluation Committee stating that the VCMs to be leased from Smartmatic were working properly was issued only on April 30, 2016 or just nine days before the elections in violation of Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Elections Act.

Random Manual Audit

Chong said a random manual audit (RMA) conducted after the 2016 elections “showed that Smartmatic’s vote counting machines failed the required accuracy rate” recording erroneous reading of 1.565 million votes as against the allowable reading error of only 68,000 votes.

According to a team consisting of members of the Comelec, National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and Philippine Statistics Authority that conducted the RMA, the count was 99.884-percent accurate.

“Ang question, whether from this accuracy rate, masasabi natin na credible yung machine. I can say it’s almost perfect,” Florante Varona from the PSA said in a CNN Philippines report in June 2016.

“This is the third consecutive automated elections since 2010 in which Smartmatic persistently failed in the required accuracy rate,” Chong’s complaint read.

Lim, Brillantes, Commissioner Al Parreño, as well as retired commissioners Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph were earlier charged with plunder by former former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto “Jing” Paras before the ombudsman in connection with the midnight deal.

The complaint is still pending before the anti-graft body.

Chong challenged the ombudsman to prove that it is handling complaints before it without bias amid criticisms that it is prosecuting cases only against those perceived as enemies of the previous administration.

“Now, I want to give the ombudsman the opportunity to prove that it is not guilty of selective justice. Obviously, commissioner Lim is a lawyer of the Liberal Party before he became a (Comelec) commissioner, so he is ‘yellow.’ Let’s see if the ombudsman will act on this complaint,” Chong said.

Lim was with the Aquino-Roxas Bantay Balota legal team in the May 2010 elections.

Lim was also in a similar team for Vivienne Tan, daughter of business tycoon Lucio Tan, when she ran for a seat in Congress in 2010. Tan ran as an independent candidate.

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