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Court orders Comelec to explain deal

THE Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the Commission on Elections and Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. to comment on the petitions filed by civil society groups seeking to nullify the contract earlier awarded by the Comelec to the controversial firm.

The contract is for the “diagnostics, repair and refurbishment” of 80,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan machines, but the petitioners want to  prevent Smartmatic-TIM from participating in the bidding of multi-million-peso contracts for the 2016 polls.

The high court also resolved to consolidate the petitions against the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM.

“Respondents in both cases are directed to submit their comment to the petitions and the application for temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction within a non-extendable period of 10 days from receipt of notice,” Public Information Office chief Theodore Te told reporters.

He made his statement even as Malacañang urged the groups questioning the so-called midnight deal between the Comelec and Smartmatic to show proof to back up their claims.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the allegations might cast doubt on the outcome of the 2016 elections.

“It is important to protect and ensure the integrity of our elections, and we expect the Comelec to do their mandate as stated under the Constitution,” Coloma said.

“Those are serious allegations, and those must be backed up by concrete proof.”

The Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections of C3E said the last act of retired Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes officially awarding the contract to Smartmatic was unforgiveable.

C3E co-convenor Melchor Magdamo claimed that by doing so, Brillantes only proved that the contract he signed was a “midnight deal.”

Revolting as it is, Brillantes’ unconscionable act merely confirmed what we have all along suspected: that the refurbishment contract was a midnight deal sealed on the 11th hour of his final days in office,” Magdamo said.

“The shameless manner by which it was signed has stripped of the transaction of all trappings of legality making the Comelec-Smartmatic contract purely a sweetheart deal.”

Rep. Terry Ridon slammed the Comelec-Smartmatic deal, saying the Comelec failed to address several issues surrounding it.

“Pushing through with the controversial Smartmatic contract puts the integrity of the coming elections in jeopardy,” Ridon said.

“The deal is not only controversial because there was no public bidding, but because it again involves Smartmatic-TIM, a company that has been tagged in various reports of election rigging.”

Nevertheless, Brillantes said Smartmatic will start to diagnose the 82,000 PCOS machines this week.

He said the Barbados-owned technical provider will start checking all the machines in its warehouse in Laguna after he signed the P268-million contract days before his official retirement.

The high court’s order came after the election watchdog Automated Election System Watch or AES asked  it to annul the P1.2-billion contract for the repair of the vote-counting machines, saying it violated the 1987 Constitution and Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Law.

 “The Commission on Elections en banc gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, warranting the exercise by this Honorable Court of its expanded certiorari jurisdiction under Article VIII, Section 1 in relation to Section 5 (1) of the 1987 Constitution,” AES said.

“It bears emphasizing that the aforesaid resolution clearly contravened Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act of 2003 as it brushed aside the requirement of a competitive bidding, not to mention that it dangerously set the stage for Comelec to resort to direct contracting with Smartmatic-TIM to the detriment of public interest,” AES said.

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