Melo admits lapse in judgment on P700M folders

Melo admits lapse in judgment on P700M folders
By Kristine L. Alave, Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The ordinary will now do the job of its extraordinary counterpart.

Because the specially designed secrecy folders are so expensive, the Commission on Elections has decided to use regular ones instead to allow voters to shield from prying eyes whom they are selecting when they vote on May 10.

In a press briefing, Comelec Chair Jose Melo admitted a “lapse” in judgment when the poll agency awarded to OTC Paper Supply the nearly P700-million contract to supply 1.81 million secrecy folders.

On Monday, the Comelec en banc scrapped the contract, which had not been signed.

Melo said the poll body had relied too much on the recommendations of its bids and awards committee (BAC), which had given the contract to OTC Paper Supply even though the price was an “extraordinary” P380 per folder.

“We admit that there was some sort of lapse on the part of the BAC and the Comelec en banc. We relied so much on information from the people below,” Melo explained. “The good thing here is that when we saw the error, we corrected it,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who first divulged the alleged anomalous transaction in a radio interview Sunday, called Melo’s action “a laudable move.”

“We will just use ordinary folders, not the long one. It will hide the ballot as well,” Melo said.

Although he has no official price on the regular folders, Melo said it would certainly be cheaper than the OTC folders.

He noted that the election laws did not require the Comelec to use secrecy folders on Election Day. “The law only says that there must be secrecy.”

Last month, the Comelec unveiled the secrecy folder, which was 28 inches long and 9.5 inches wide. Blue in color with an expandable spine, it almost matches the 25 x 8.5 inches machine-readable ballots and is made of polypropylene, a kind of plastic used in food containers, toothbrushes and surgical fabrics.

An investigation is under way to check irregularities in the negotiated bidding for the folders, Melo said.

He said it was too early to say if there was a deliberate attempt to hoodwink the commission. “I won’t say if it was intentional, but you will be misled if you don’t look into it,” he said.

Panel defends deal

BAC chair Maria Lea Alarkon yesterday defended the committee’s recommendation to buy the secrecy folders. She said the price was acceptable based on the Comelec’s previous purchases.

She said that since 2004, the Comelec had bought binders worth P320 each for the storage of the voters’ registration records. These binders were half the size of the ballot secrecy folders to be purchased.

Alarkon added that P380 was just a median price compared to the other quotations.

She said that she did not know who set the folder specifications, which were later approved by the en banc.

“When the en banc resolution was approved, I was not present so you take it at face value that it is the specification required by the en banc,” she said.

OTC is operated by businessman Willy Kwok Young and is based in Caloocan City. It has 12 employees and is a manufacturer and importer of paper supplies.

Warehousing woes

Melo also announced yesterday that the Comelec had decided against using the Philippine Postal (Philpost) Office warehouse in Manila to store the ballots printed at the National Printing Office (NPO) in Quezon City.

The Comelec started to transfer some ballot packages to the Philpost office last week. Because of the decision, it will halt the transfer until the Comelec can find a suitable facility.

Melo said that the overall costs of transporting the ballots to Philpost, at P56 million, is too high.

He said that the Comelec was looking for a cheaper warehouse near the NPO plant, fearing that it will not have enough space to store the large volume of printed ballots.

Melo said the NPO had printed 33 million ballots as of yesterday and would hit the 50-million target by April 25.

Palace satisfied

Malacañang expressed satisfaction at the Comelec’s handling of the controversy.

“We respect not only the decisions or the steps that they have taken but we know too well that the concern of the Palace is also the concern of the entire Comelec,” said Rogelio Peyuan, deputy presidential spokesperson.

Senatorial candidate Jose De Venecia III said that the National Bureau of Investigation should look into the botched folder deal, describing it as “corruption of the highest order.” With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Norman Bordadora

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.