Comelec standing pat on poll machine deal

Posted on May 08, 2012 09:29:40 PM | BREAKING NEWS

THERE WAS no grave abuse of discretion in the purchase of poll machines without a public bidding, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) told the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, noting this was the best deal for the government.

"[The criticisms] against the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machines are anecdotal… [and] based on opinions," Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza, counsel for the Comelec, said during oral arguments on the case.

As "there is no such thing as a false opinion," he said that the international certification on the PCOS machine accuracy and efficiency "is not just a matter of opinion."

Mr. Jardeleza further said that "moving the deadline [to exercise the option to purchase] is not substantial change," adding that extending the deadline from Dec. 31, 2010 to March 31, 2012 meant additional costs on the part of Smartmatic, the Venezuelan firm that provided the units.

"Our best estimate is P158 million cost for moving the deadline," he said.

The solicitor general also noted that the Comelec's decision to exercise its option to purchase is advantageous, considering the limited budget approved by Congress for the 2013 midterm elections.

The Comelec was was given a budget of P7 billion for the polls, broken down into P4.8 billion for fixed costs such as services related to the operation of the automated system, and the remaining P2.2 billion for counting machine acquisition.

"What can P2.2 billion buy?… Under the circumstances, the Comelec had to exercise the option to purchase," said Mr. Jardeleza.

The issue on the validity of the deed of sale signed by Smartmatic and Comelec last March 30 stemmed from three petitions seeking its nullification on the grounds that the Comelec allegedly violated the National Government Procurement Act by not conducting a public bidding for the poll machine purchase. -- A. E. Barrameda