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‘Ban all future deals similar to Comelec’s’

OUTRAGED by the “shameless act” of retired Commission on Elections chairman Sixto Brillantes to sign a P268 million deal with Smartmatic on the eve of his retirement, former national treasurer and UP professor Leonor Briones urged lawmakers Monday to pass a law making “midnight deals” in the government a crime.

In a statement, Briones said retirement seemed to embolden some government officials to commit acts of corruption before they leave office.

“We should really initiate more ways to maintain transparency, and remove public doubt brought about by these kinds of last-minute deals by preventing them in the first place,” Briones said.

“Let this serve at least as some form of discouragement and deterrent against the commission of such abhorrent misdeeds among public officials,” she added.

Briones branded Brillantes’ as unethical.

“Officials often go out with the highest of honors upon retirement, but Chairman Brillantes sure found a way to infamy,” she said.

On the day of his retirement, Brillantes announced during the agency’s weekly flag ceremony that he signed a contract with Smartmatic after the technology provider agreed to reduce the price of its repair and refurbishing contract from P300 million to P268 million.

“Last Jan. 30... I signed the contract with Smartmatic despite all the criticisms. Despite all of the attacks, I still signed the contract with Smartmatic,” Brillantes said.

The contract means there will be no public bidding for the second phase of the project to repair and refurbish the vote counting machines to be used in the 2016 elections.

In a phone interview, Brillanes slammed Briones’ remarks and defended the approval of the contract, saying that the other commissioners also signed off on it.

“It’s natural that I should be the one to sign the contract because I was the one who had been negotiating to lower the price,” Brillantes said in Filipino.

Brillantes advised Briones not to simply rely on news reports and call him instead for an explanation.

“She should not be talking on the basis of what a [news] report is saying... you can call me so I can explain it to you,” Brillantes said.

He added that even if he did not sign the deal, acting Comelec chairman Christian Robert Lim would have.

Brillantes added that during last week’s meeting of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections (JCOC-AES) Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the Comelec had a reason to sign the contract immediately.

Earlier, Brillantes denied that the contract was a last-minute deal, saying the commission had been discussing it since February 2014.

Also on Monday, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez vouched for the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines of Smartmatic-Total Information Management for the 2016 polls, saying they have been tried and tested in previous elections.

A member of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal during the 15th Congress, Rodriguez said using the PCOS machines would facilitate credible elections next year.

The Comelec is now bidding out its requirement for 23,000 additional vote counting machines to augment the existing 82,000 PCOS machines in its inventory for the 2016 polls.

“I am recommending Smartmatic over Indra Sistemas because their PCOS are tried and tested in the last two national elections,” he added, referring to the other bidder for the contract. With Maricel V. Cruz

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