SAYING the matter was pending before the Supreme Court, retired Commission on Elections chairman Sixto Brillantes dodged talking about the P300-million contract granted to the Smartmatic-TIM consortium and insisted that the deal was above-board.
“I am willing to answer any of your questions regarding the repair and maintenance of the PCOS machines, [but] I am constrained by the sub judice rule to restrict my comments and disclosures,” Brillantes told a joint congressional oversight committee on automated elections.
Brillantes maintained that time constraints and the technical nature of the work to be done justified the awarding of the contract for Smartmatic to repair the voting machines they provided in previous elections.
The former poll body chief also insisted that the conditions for direct contracting specified in the Government Procurement Reform Act were met and the decision was reached by the commission as a whole and not by himself alone.
“It was a decision that five members of the Commission En Banc concurred in... Former Chairman Brillantes did not enter into a contract with Smartmatic-TIM on his own. It was the Commission on Elections, as an institution, which entered into the contract with Smartmatic-TIM,” he said.
Even though the matter of the P300-million itself was not discussed during the hearing, Pimentel said it’s good they conducted the inquiry because they learned of the history of the contract awarded to Smartmatic.
“As explained by former chairman Brillantes, they got a better deal than the original deal terms that they were negotiating on,” Pimentel said.
“As described by Chairman Brillantes, he was able lower the original estimated amount and to get more works to be done by the contractor. So I think through negotiation we got a better deal,” Pimentel added.
Pimentel had earlier questioned the negotiated contract signed by Brillantes with Smartmatic shortly before his retirement, but the senator changed his tune on Thursday and said Brillantes had the right to participate in the decisions of the poll body up to the last minute.
“I thought I heard him say that they were already slowing down, the three retiring commissioners were already slowing down in their participation in the Comelec, but actually it’s really their call. That’s their option. So if they want to participate up to the last minute, that is their right to do so,” he said.
Meanwhile, Smartmatic Philippines president for Asia-Pacific branded as a “nuisance and recycled” mounting criticism that his company should be banned from participating in Philippine elections.
Flores said the Supreme Court should cite Smartmatic critics in contempt of court because their supposed re-filing of cases that had already been dismissed by the court.
Flores noted the SC had ruled with finality that the contracts and the bids Smartmatic earlier won were “fair, legal and advantageous to the country.”
In fact, he said the Comelec bids and awards committee thumbed down calls to disqualify Smartmatic from joining the public bidding for the May 2016 elections’ automated election system.
Flores said the PCOS machines Smartmatic manufactured for Comelec are the same model of machines currently in use in New York state in the USA and several provinces in Canada, with excellent reception from political parties and voters alike.
The Smartmatic official also said they welcome the petitions to disqualify them because they are confident the SC will uphold Comelec’s award to them of the controversial contract.
He claimed their critics were only out to destroy the company’s reputation while serving as fronts for rival firms or groups desperately seeking to corner the Comelec contract while posing as crusaders for clean and honest elections.
He said the same group include critics who have waged a well-funded media “demolition job” against Smartmatic, particularly those who have previously lost in Comelec bidding.
“One can no longer tell whether these media-savvy individuals or groups are advocacy groups or business group because they have gone from calling for a return to manual voting and counting, and then, introducing new technologies,” Flores said.
“They have tried again and again, and have failed to derail automation as they failed to prove beyond speculations their far-fetched accusations. Numerous audits and recounts conducted have thus validated the election results,” he further stated.
Flores likewise strongly denied allegations of “midnight deal and payoffs” and planned rigging in connection with the last December bidding for new voting machines.
“If these unregistered poll watchdogs can prove that there has been a pay-off, Smartmatic will no longer submit quotations even if they are not disqualified,” Flores said.