The Philippine Star : Against Duterte’s advice, Comelec grants Smartmatic P1.04 billion – so far

By Jarius Bondoc | The Philippine Star

The Comelec has awarded P1.04 billion in new contracts to controversial Smartmatic Inc. for the 2022 elections. This is despite President Rody Duterte’s repeated advice to the poll body to replace the electronic systems provider due to fraud allegations.

On May 5, 2021, the Venezuelan Smartmatic was given the software deal for election management system, vote-counting machines and consolidation-canvassing system. Price: P402,725,549.70.

In December 2020 it was granted the refurbishment of 97,345 VCMs. As well, the supply of 109,745 SD (secure digital) main cards, the same number of SD WORM (write once-read many) cards and 250,000 cleaning sheets. Price: P637,443,308.45.

The Comelec has yet to award multibillion-peso contracts to accessorize the VCMs for result transmission and to organize and manage Election Day call centers. Ongoing is a separate warehousing contract, about half-billion pesos a year.

Smartmatic has won all the main hardware, software and service deals for national and local balloting in 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019. Competitors’ complaints of bidding irregularities have been quashed. Information-technology experts’ findings of result tampering have been rejected.

Despite his 2016 presidential victory on Smartmatic systems and VCMs, Duterte prefers switching to other suppliers and modes. Smartmatic’s precinct count optical scanners had been criticized as “hocus-PCOS”. The Comelec and Smartmatic shifted from PCOS to the term vote counting machines, VCMs, to refer to the same 97,345 units. Smartmatic and partners have been accused of result rigging in US and other countries’ elections.

Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas signed the P402.7-million software contract. Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said they “did not choose Smartmatic; it joined the competitive bidding. Who won it was beyond our control.” The special bids and awards committee (SBAC) selected Smartmatic based on lowest calculated bid. Observers from the Government Procurement Policy Board were present.

Rival bidder Pivot International Inc.-Power Serve Inc. is contesting the earlier P637.4-million win of Smartmatic. Documents show that Pivot Group had bid P490 million – P170,741,660.47 lower than the Comelec ceiling price of P660,741,660.47. It is also P147,443,308.45 lower than Smartmatic’s winning bid of P637,443,308.45.

The Comelec SBAC disqualified Pivot on Dec. 11 on two grounds: failure to indicate a “zero” or “dash” in one annex item, and to specify the price of the cleaning sheets and SD cards. Smartmatic submitted a single calculated bid for all items, the SBAC said.

Pivot, three days later, sought reconsideration. It said the SBAC misinterpreted the rule requiring the zero or dash “as the price if the item is being offered for free.” The SBAC’s rule amendments in two bidding bulletins also no longer required separate pricing for the cleaning sheets and SD cards, it added. Reconsideration was denied.

On May 5, Pivot accused the SBAC members of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. Administratively charged were Jeannie Flororita, Information Technology Department head; Allen Francis Abaya, SBAC chairman; John Rex Laudiangco, vice chairman; and members Jovencio Balinguit, Divina Blas Perez and Abigail Clare Carbero Llacuna. Mentioned too but not identified were members of the technical working group (TWG).

Pivot alleged that the officials conspired to commit irregularities during the bidding. Supposedly the TWG tampered its SD card to malfunction, leading to its disqualification.

Pivot also denied that its SD cards had only 15 gigabytes capacity, short of the required 16 GB. A small portion of the card’s capacity is taken up by built-in solutions like file allocation, block management, error management and other internal functions.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told The STAR yesterday that the bidding called for “WORM-able” SD cards. Meaning, capable of being reformatted, which is what the TWG did. Pivot should have protested the bidding award, instead of filing an administrative complaint. The complaint has yet to be resolved.