[PHOTO -Comelec Commissioner Elias Yusoph inspects one of 900 precinct count optical scan machines stored at the PhilPost-Comelec warehouse in Manila yesterday. JONJON VICENCIO]

MANILA, JUNE 15, 2012 (PHILSTAR) NEWS REPORT - By Edu Punay - Petitioners are preparing to appeal the Supreme Court (SC)’s ruling, which allowed the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to purchase precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines from Smartmatic for the midterm elections in 2013.

“We will file a motion for reconsideration. We strongly believe we are correct on the grounds that we mentioned in our petition,” said Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg) director for policy studies Bobby Tuazon.

CenPeg is part of the Automated Election System Watch, which filed a petition questioning the Comelec-Smartmatic deal. The other petitioner is the Solidarity for Sovereignty.

A lawyer of another group said the SC’s decision may be a validation of former chief justice Renato Corona’s warning that his ouster would have a “chilling effect” on the judiciary.

The observation was raised yesterday by a lawyer of one of the groups opposed to the deal. The machines were used in the 2010 general elections.

“I’m afraid to think that this (decision) could be a result of the chilling effect after the conviction of Corona. I think our justices have lost their courage to stand up for what is right,” said Abraham Espejo, a counsel of a group led by Davao City Archbishop Fernando Capalla, whose petition questioning the P1.8-billion deal between the Comelec and the Netherlands-based Smartmatic was among those dismissed by the high court last Wednesday.

Espejo said the ruling meant “billions being given to a company without proper bidding process” for a poll counting system “that can be hacked.”

He said the Comelec’s stand on the issue – as defended in court by the Office of the Solicitor General – reflected that of the Palace’s.

“We all know the Comelec is an independent body. But we have to remember that its chairman is an appointee of the President,” Espejo said, referring to Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, who was appointed by President Aquino in January to replace Jose Melo.

“Even the solicitor general is a member of the Cabinet,” Espejo said, referring to Francis Jardeleza, who was appointed in February. “So you see, these are all indications that this (SC ruling) was also the position of Malacañang.”

In his impeachment trial, Corona accused Malacañang of conspiring with lawmakers to have him removed so it could control the judiciary.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio laughed off Corona’s claim. Carpio is a nominee to the vacant chief justice post.

Voting 11-3 in a special session last Wednesday, SC justices dismissed the consolidated petitions of various groups seeking to stop the Comelec’s purchase of 82,000 used PCOS machines from Smartmatic.

The petitioners argued the machines were flawed and that their purchase was illegal because the July 2009 contract that provided for an option to buy the used PCOS machines had already expired in December 2010.

In a statement, Tuazon challenged Smartmatic to disclose to the public the “real ownership of their program and all the errors and bugs, major to minor, found in the election system it provided in May 2010 and the corrections supposedly made.”

“The SC decision paves the way for the re-use of Smartmatic’s voting system in the May 2013 midterm elections without public bidding. The petitioners’ main issue is not the system but the vendor who provided the system found to be non-compliant with the technical and legal provisions as well as on real ownership,” he added.

But for Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, it would be very difficult to reverse the justices’ overwhelming vote favoring the Comelec-Smartmatic deal.

Brillantes, for his part, said the poll body is willing to hold a public demonstration of the PCOS machines capabilities “when the right time comes.”

“We may resume inspection of the machines next week. There are still so many things that we have to do. We are willing to show them the machines but not now,” he said.

Brillantes maintained that Comelec’s priority now is to hold a public bidding for other election-related services.

The issuance of a temporary restraining order on the PCOS purchase had stalled Comelec’s other activities, including the holding of public bidding for poll related services.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte in a text message said they welcome “the timeliness of the SC decision, as it now ensures the legal certainty of the automation of the 2013 elections.”

President Aquino earlier said the success of the May 2010 elections was a testament to the effectiveness and credibility of the PCOS machines.

The PCOS machines were first used in the 2010 national elections. Aquino’s overwhelming election victory was known less than 24 hours after the last voters left the polling precincts.

Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta penned the ruling. The other magistrates who voted to uphold the PCOS deal were acting Chief Justice Carpio, Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, Lourdes Sereno and Bienvenido Reyes.

Justices Martin Villarama, Arturo Brion and Estela Perlas-Bernabe dissented.-With Sheila Crisostomo, Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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