MANILA, JUNE 15, 2012 (TRIBUNE) Many are shaking their heads after the Noynoy Supreme Court (SC) upheld, apparently against all odds, the Commission on Elections (Comelec)’s option to purchase Smartmatic’s precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the 2010 presidential polls and acquired through a lease agreement.

One of them surely was Gus Lagman, who is against the purchase deal and who was unceremoniously booted out by Noynoy as commissioner of Comelec supposedly since he was unacceptable to the members of the Commission on Appointments (CA) but likely as a result of his steadfast objection against Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes’ insistence to resurrect an already dead option for the purchase of the machines, the reliability of which in the elections won by Noynoy remains highly in doubt.

The machines were those used in the first automated elections of the country where Noynoy supposedly won overwhelmingly obtaining 15 million votes in the 2010 elections. Questions were raised about certain irregularities in the machines but these were all drowned out by the whipped up euphoria about Noynoy taking the helm of the government to institute reforms, which is nowhere to be found until now.

The circumstances in the approval of the purchase option for the PCOS machines were very dubious after Noynoy indicated preference for the use of the machines again in the 2013 elections and the Supreme Court now led by acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio acting with dispatch in dismissing all complaints raised against the purchase of the machines.

Evidently, Noynoy already considers the machines “tried and tested” to deliver the preferred results during elections.

Last March, Lagman obtained an opinion from the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) that the Comelec’s purchase option for the Smartmatic PCOS machines had long lapsed and cannot be binding anymore between the two parties, in effect saying that a new auction should be held if Comelec wanted to purchase an automated electoral system.

Lagman indicated that a local canvassing system has already been developed by the Comelec, apparently through his efforts and with assistance from local technicians affiliated with the Department of Science and Technology, and was completed last December.

He, however, indicated that the Comelec decided to set aside the proposed voting machine development component of the project to make room for the purchase option with Smartmatic.

Lagman thus decided to question the Comelec’s move with the government body which oversees the purchases of government assets since the option was contained in the Automated Election System (AES) lease contract between the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM for the 2010 elections. The contract provided an option to purchase but was not taken up by the Comelec despite a series of extensions offered by Smartmatic that lasted until December last year or a year after the original deadline for Comelec to call the option.

The Comelec, however, still did not exercise the option, that is until Aquino took over the government and Smartmatic yet again extended the option until last May 31. According to the GPPB, that provision in the AES contract had expired when the government ignored it the first time this was offered and that was Dec. 31, 2010.

The GPPB indicated clearly that the contractual relation between Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM, specifically on the exercise of the option was deemed automatically terminated upon the expiration of the option on Dec. 31, 2010, when the option first expired.

“There was nothing more to extend thereafter because the existing offer that served as basis of the option to purchase had already ceased to exist particularly when Comelec did not accept the unilateral and voluntary extension made by Smartmatic-TIM on Dec. 18. Consequently, the subsequent extensions have no leg to stand on, so to speak,” the GPPB stated.

It added that by accepting the option after it expired under the provisions of the AES contract, Comelec accepted a new offer that needed to “comply with existing laws, rules and regulations on government contracting before it may be accepted legally.”

What it amounted to was a circumvention of the procurement law on bidding, which the Noynoy Supreme Court readily disregarded and speedily gave the green light for the awarding to Smartmatic of a P1.8-billion deal for the purchase of the 82,000 PCOS machines.

The machines were the same ones leased in 2010 for P8 billion.

The Noynoy Court saw things differently, of course in line with Noynoy’s view.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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