The Philippine Star – Comelec studying sale of VCMs

By Sheila Crisostomo | The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — After President Duterte’s criticism of Smartmatic, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is now looking at the possibility of selling the vote counting machines (VCMs) used twice in the country’s automated polls.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said they would be figuring out how to recover the value of the 92,000 VCMs, first used in the 2016 elections on a lease contract with Smartmatic.

For the May 13 midterm polls, the Comelec had to buy the machines for a lesser price as the budget allocated by Congress for the elections was not enough to either rent or buy new units.

“We are exploring various avenues for that. Maraming pwedeng paglaanan yong mga ginamit nating makina (There are many other ways those machines can be utilized),” he told reporters.

He said any countries, especially in Asia, have been inquiring about the experience of the Comelec in conducting automated polls.

“I am not saying there are already buyers but definitely, many are interested in automation as an election solution and maybe we can go that way,” he said.

Jimenez, however, admitted that the VCMs may have lost much of their value as they had been thoroughly used in two elections.

“The commission will be studying our options and we also have to consult the Comelec Advisory Council which will do an evaluation and then make recommends on which machines to use,” he added.

On calls for Comelec to tap Filipino-made automation technology, the Legal Network for Free Elections (Lente) said this may not be possible unless the poll automation law is amended.

In an interview, Lente executive director Rona Caritos said the law provides that a supplier must have the required capital and “previous experience” on automated polls.

“A Filipino company may not be able to meet the requirements. I don’t think there is a Filipino company that is already specializing on automated elections,” she maintained.

Caritos added that election is too important an aspect of democracy just to be experimented on.

Election lawyer Emilio Maranon III, meanwhile, said Duterte’s call to ban Smartmatic is premature and lacks basis.

For one, he said, Random Manual Audit to validate the accuracy of the VCMs “has yet to be concluded” by Lente and no “third-party study of the 2019 elections has been released as yet.”

Maranon added the Comelec has not even submitted its mandatory post-election report to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Elections and no ballot boxes in recent polls have been opened and recounted.

“The President should speak with caution as he himself was elected using the same exact machines by Smartmatic and so are the 12 new senators, who are mostly his allies,” he said.

Furthermore, none of the election cases assailing the accuracy of the VCMs in courts, Comelec, House of Representative Electoral Tribual and Senate Electoral Tribunal “has been sustained.”

“Now, one learning the past three years is that the President’s public statements like this are purposive, often intended to lay foundations for future actions. Should we anticipate a new supplier popping out of nowhere? How will this impact the 2022 elections?”

Meanwhile, outgoing Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and his Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) party said they are preparing a petition to ban Smartmatic from the country’s automated elections.

In a telephone interview with The STAR, Estrada said he fully supports the call of President Duterte for banning Smartmatic.

“I fully support President Duterte’s call to ban Smartmatic. I am all out support to end the services of Smartmatic in our country’s elections,” Estrada said.

“I will not take that sitting down. Vox Populi, vox deis. The voice of the people is the voice of God. But what happened in the May midterm elections is not the voice of the people, not the voice of God. But the voice of Smartmatic and the voice of the machines,” Estrada said.

He said he couldn’t imagine losing the Manila mayoralty race as he had supposedly been leading in various surveys before the election.

“But what happened during the elections? The machines had been manipulated and the voice of Smartmatic and the voice of the machines had prevailed,” Estrada said.

“JV, who is doing well in the Senate and was seeking his second term, landed on the 13th place while Jinggoy, who was seeking a comeback, finished 15th place. I cannot figure out how it happened. Only the machines and the people behind it can explain that,” Estrada said referring to his sons JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada.

He added daughter Jerika ended at the eight spot in the elections for councilor despite her topping pre-election surveys. – Jose Rodel Clapano

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