Crime does not pay for Brillantes, et al
Comelec must explain P3.2B unliquidated cash advances

After a 15-0 defeat in the Supreme Court (SC) voiding its highly-anomalous and scandalous Resolution 9922 and no-bid contract with its favored foreign vendor, Smartmatic, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should now explain to the public the Commission on Audit’s (CoA) report of its whopping P3.214 unliquidated cash advances in 2013 under the watch of its former chairman, Sixto Brillantes, Jr. 

The Automated Election Systems (AES) Watch on April 27, 2015 said that “for these double whammy violations alone, Sixto Brillantes, Jr. and commissioners concerned must go to jail.”  Two other commissioners, Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph retired along with Brillantes last February 2 but not after signing (5-2) the P300M midnight deal with Smartmatic to refurbish 80,000 PCOS machines for the 2016 elections without bidding.  Only four commissioners remain with lawyer Joseph Christian Lim as acting chair. 

In a statement, AES Watch said: “Under Brillantes, the Comelec has been turned into a milking cow for officials and its favored PCOS vendor Smartmatic, making poll automation in the country the most expensive single computerized election project in the world.”

Crime does not pay

Dr. Nelson Celis, AES Watch spokesperson, said “The SC ruling should send a clear message to the officials of Comelec and government agencies entrusted with public funds that crime does not pay and they should not to tinker with the law.”

The high tribunal in an en banc session in Baguio City last April 21 unanimously upheld its earlier TRO on March 24 to nullify Comelec Resolution 9922 and the Extended Warranty Contract Program 1, granting the consolidated petitions filed by AES Watch and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) against the Comelec-Smartmatic deal. The SC also called Comelec to task for grave abuse of discretion and violating the Government Procurement Reform Act and the Commonwealth Act No. 128.

No accounting of funds

CoA named the Comelec as the government agency with the biggest unaccounted cash advances in 2013 – the year of the mid-term automated elections. Comelec failed to account for a third of the total unliquidated cash advances incurred by several government agencies amounting to P10.136B, CoA added.

In yearly audits prior to 2013, the election body also failed to liquidate or account for several hundreds of millions of pesos of unconscionable expenditures.

Evita Jimenez, AES Watch coordinator asked, “Where did the cash advances go?  Why were Brillantes, et al allowed to leave without accounting for the billions of pesos including the P30M intelligence fund they received from Malacanang before the 2013 elections to spy on election critics?” By command responsibility, Brillantes should be hailed to court and made to answer, she added.

The 2013 CoA report also disclosed other cases of no bidding during Brillantes’ stint including the printing of the Voter’s Information and Instruction sheet (VIIS) at P72.3M used for the 2013 automated elections. It criticized the Comelec for its arbitrary decisions because of “lack of planning” as shown in the procurement of items not part of Comelec’s 2013 budget.

Hostage to Smartmatic

Celis noted, “The Comelec under Brillantes virtually placed the government hostage to a dubious foreign company that does not even own and, in fact, was sued by the real technology owner Canadian Dominion Voting System, and liberally awarded contracts left and right even without bidding, for practically all various phases of the election.” 

Despite the well-documented incidents of technical flaws of the PCOS system including the disastrous CF card fiasco (May 3, 2010), transmission failures, miscounting and wrong/erratic displays of numbers in two past elections of 2010 and 2013, Comelec should have exercised great caution in dealing with the vendor, he added.

“For being a party to a dubious deal,” Celis said “Smartmatic should all the more be disqualified from participating in any and in all future poll automation contracts.”

“Not yet off the hook”

Meanwhile, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chair of the Public Affairs Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and lead AES Watch petitioner in the TRO case also called for an investigation into the non-compliances and violations by Smartmatic of the Terms of Reference and the 2009 Contract it signed with the Comelec for the 2010 and 2013 elections.

He said Smartmatic and Comelec “are not yet off the hook.”  Now that the SC has spoken on the need to observe rule of law in procurement, Pabillo said “Comelec and Smartmatic should explain to the public why they did not comply with the minimum system requirements as prescribed in the poll automation law – like the independent source code review, digital signature, etc.”  This is the reason why we are having problems and controversies about the PCOS machines because they do not comply with the minimum requirements of transparency aside from the safeguards that were disabled by the vendor with the consent of the Comelec, he said.

For violating the law, Celis said the old 2009 contract and terms of reference have provided clear penalty clauses corresponding to every non-compliance. “Why don’t we apply it to Smartmatic if we want to instill the rule of law fairly on everyone?”

Celis added that because of the high court’s ruling, the Comelec should now seriously be compelled to comply with the law and standards of the industry since technology is being used. “It’s funny how the Comelec now sings a different tune after the ruling– James Jimenez is now saying Comelec has ‘more than enough time’ to adjust preparations for the elections, when before Brillantes arrogantly rushed the anomalous deal with Smartmatic invoking the shallow lack of time pretext.” CenPEG News

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