By Chloe Mari A. Hufana

THE PHILIPPINE Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) committed grave abuse of discretion when it disqualified Smartmatic Philippines from bidding for the 2025 election automation project before it had even submitted a bid.

In a decision penned by Justice Jose Midas P. Marquez, the SC en banc stated that the Comelec’s disqualification of Smartmatic “without any reference to the eligibility requirements prescribed” by its own Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) was unjustified and contrary to the Government Procurement Reform Act.

“The Court recognized that requiring Comelec to conduct another round of public bidding would disrupt preparations for the 2025 National and Local Elections (NLE) and could jeopardize the elections themselves,” the SC said in a statement.

The ruling also cited “considerations of equity, justice, practicality, and the doctrine of operative fact,” which recognizes the legality of a law before it became illegal.

SC Spokesperson Camille Sue Mae L. Ting in a media forum said the decision will not affect the award given to Miru Systems for the upcoming automated elections.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s ruling in our favor, which restores justice and sends a clear message to those at the helm of COMELEC that due process matters,” Smartmatic legal counsel Christian Robert S. Lim said in a statement.

Smartmatic said the decision of some COMELEC commissioners to declare voting counting machines as unserviceable despite several more years of functionality and ongoing warranty was “questionable”.”

It said the continued use of the machines could have saved billions of pesos for Filipinos.

The COMELEC en banc disqualified Smartmatic citing its “constitutional mandate to enforce and administer all laws & regulations relative to the conduct of elections under the Constitution.”

Ms. Ting said Smartmatic — the provider of automation services for elections in the Philippines since 2010 — could sue COMELEC for civil damages.

“The COMELEC being part of the government and an independent constitutional body, cannot be sued without consent (under the principle of state immunity from suit), and this, according to the SC extends to government officials who acted in the performance of their duties and functions,” National Union of Peoples‘ Lawyers Ephraim B. Cortez said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld.

“COMELEC will now be cautious and ensure that at the very least a bidder has already submitted its bid documents. It means disqualification should be made after it reviewed the documents submitted by the bidder,” Mr. Cortez added.

Comelec Spokesperson John Rex C. Laudiangco told BusinessWorld in a Viber message that they have yet to receive a copy of the decision and told other media outlets that preparations for the 2025 elections remained on track.

Later, Comelec Chairman George Erwin M. Garcia sent BusinessWorld a Viber message that they have decided to file a motion for reconsideration.