Comelec to study Duterte call to cut ties with Smartmatic

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The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will tackle the call of President Rodrigo Duterte to end ties with Smartmatic in its next en banc session, an official said Friday.

“And we have a lot of aspects from the statement of the President that needs to be studied. So, definitely, over the next few days, this will really be a major discussion in the Commission,” said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez in a media forum in Manila.

Jimenez, however, clarified that Smartmatic, the service provider of the automated election system (AES) during the last four nationwide electoral exercises, has no hold on the poll body.

“It is clear to us that Smartmatic has no hold on the Comelec except for the fact that they always win the bidding. There is always that chance that we can have a different provider because we undergo public bidding. So there is always a chance for that,” the poll body official said.

Jimenez was also asked on the possibility that Smartmatic will be blacklisted from participating in future biddings of the agency.

“What we will need is a legal basis to ban any supplier. We will have to look into that,” he said.

Jimenez added that they do not have any idea yet as to who can be their new technology partner.

“It will really depend on who will respond to our request for proposal. As of now, we are not yet actively looking because our focus is still in the last elections,” he said.

Smartmatic has been the Comelec’s partner and had supplied the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines, which were used in the 2010 and 2013 elections; and the vote counting machines (VCMs) for the 2016 and 2019 polls.

For this year’s elections, the only participation of the Venezuela-based company is to provide technical support to the poll body.

In his meeting with the Filipino community in Tokyo, Japan on Thursday, Duterte urged Comelec to end its deal with the multinational technology company amid several issues that marred the recently-concluded mid-term polls.

These included glitches such as malfunctioning VCMs and more than 1,000 corrupted Secure Digital (SD) cards. The poll body was able to resolve the problem by replacing the machines and cards.

While acknowledge the agency’s independence as a constitutional commission, the President also called on Comelec to get rid of the VCMs and look for a new service provider that can guarantee a fraud-free system.

More than 97,000 VCMs have been acquired by the poll body thru its option-to-purchase at PHP2.7 billion in 2017.

Meanwhile, an election watchdog group supported President Duterte’s advice as a step in the right direction.

“The President’s remark acknowledges the problems not only with the company in particular but also with the conduct of the automated elections in general,” said Kontra Daya in a statement.

“For now, the Comelec should heed Duterte’s advice and take the necessary steps toward a foreign intervention-free and fraud-free election system,” the group said. (PNA)

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