Comelec defends price tag on folders
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – The Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday defended its price recommendation for the planned purchase of ballot secrecy folders, saying P380 apiece was “reasonable.”
In an interview, BAC director Maria Lea Alarkon said the proposed price per folder is acceptable, based on the price of the binders used for the Book of Voters in the 2004 national elections. The Comelec purchased the binders for P320 each.
“Considering that the (ballot secrecy) folders are twice the size of the binders we usually buy, we considered it reasonable. And also, some of the canvass prices submitted to us were P500, P400,” Alarkon explained.
Alarkon said it was the full Comelec that ordered them to purchase the folders and provided the product specifications last Feb. 17.
“The Feb. 17 order to procure the ballot secrecy folders include the requirements (and) specifications… BAC will buy based on what is required of us by the Commission,” she said.
The product specifications are covered by the application for patent filed by private firm OTC Paper Supply before the Intellectual Property Office last Feb. 10, a week before the Comelec approved the specifications for the folders.
On Feb. 27, OTC Paper sent a notice to the Comelec that they have a pending patent application for a design that matches the Comelec’s product specification requirements.
The firm was then contracted directly.
“What arrived here (BAC) was the notice that they have a patent application over that specific folder. Considering the Comelec approved the specifications, you have to apply the law,” Alarkon said.
She explained that under the law, a product provider that has a patent on a specific product may be engaged through direct contracting.
Aside from Alarkon, the BAC is composed of vice chairman Allen Francis Abaya and members Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal, Martin Niedo and Antonio Santella.
OTC Paper supply is owned by a certain Willy Kwok Young, according to a registration certificate issued by the Department of Trade and Industry in June 2006. It holds office at 451 M. dela Cruz St., Sta. Quiteria, Kalookan City and has 12 employees.
Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said the commission was mistaken in approving the purchase of P700-million worth of plastic ballot secrecy folders.
“There was some sort of bad judgment on the Comelec BAC and a measure of error on the part of the Commission,” Melo said. “It should have occurred to me earlier that the cost of the folder is 10 percent of the automated machines. It’s really a bit luxurious.”
He said instead of buying special ballot secrecy folders worth P380 each, the Comelec will just provide ordinary long folders to shield the ballots that will be used in the May 10 elections.
“We will just use an ordinary long folder, anyway the law does not require a folder. The law merely stated the need for secrecy,” Melo said.
Melo maintained there was no overpricing that occurred in the negotiation.
“I think it was purely poor staff work and there was no overpricing,” he claimed.
He said there had been no bidding for the purchase of the ballot secrecy folders because only OTC Paper Supply meets the product specifications.
The ballot secrecy folder specified is 28 inches long and 9.5 inches wide with an expandable spine. It is made of polypropylene, the same kind of plastic used to make the ballot boxes.
Melo has ordered Comelec legal director Ferdinand Rafanan to investigate the irregularity and submit a report by April 20.
Other pressing matters
Malacañang expects the Comelec to address the current problems that surfaced in the thick of preparations for the country’s first automated elections.
Deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan said the Comelec still has enough time to rectify the problems before the elections.
Aside from the alleged overpricing of the ballot secrecy folders, the Comelec will now have to buy 70,000 hand-held ultraviolet lamps after the UV ink readers of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines were disabled after failing to read the UV ink used in the ballots as security marking.
Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said public bidding had already started for the purchase of the UV lamps.
Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino senatorial candidate Joey de Venecia III proposed the creation of a pre-qualification panel by the Commission on Audit to work with the Comelec in all the pending and future logistics contracts for the upcoming elections.
He said the Comelec has been flip-flopping in its explanation on the disabling of the UV reader of the PCOS machines.
“First it was claimed that Smartmatic supplied the wrong type of ink. Then the other day, Larrazabal said the UV security mark printing was misaligned because of the digital high speed printers of the National Printing Office,” De Venecia said.
The Comelec has also temporarily suspended the transfer of 50 million printed ballots from the National Printing Office (NPO) to the Philippine Postal Office in Tondo because the trans-city transfer would cost P92 million.
“The initial cost of transfer was P92 million and was lowered to P52 million, but just the same it is still too excessive so we look for another place,” Melo said. “They (NPO) would have to hold everything until we have a place where we can store the ballots.”
Aside from logistics trouble, the Comelec is also struggling with public distrust in connection with the alleged massive vote rigging during the 2004 presidential elections to favor President Arroyo.
To reduce suspicions of electoral fraud in the coming elections, the Comelec has ordered the reshuffling of 10 of its regional directors allegedly involved in the “Hello, Garci” controversy.
Topping the list is Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao director Ray Somalipao.
“The Comelec already signed a resolution on the reassignment of 10 regional directors, primarily director Ray Somalipao,” Melo said. “We are not saying that he (Somalipao) is guilty of anything, but the public’s perception is that he was involved in the irregularity, so as administrator we have to transfer him and he agreed.” – With Mayen Jaymalin, Marvin Sy, Eva Visperaz, Jose Rodel Clapano