Government Procurement Act

SC tells Comelec: Bare all preparations for May 10 polls

SC tells Comelec: Bare all preparations for May 10 polls
By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Citing “alarming developments” concerning the reliability of the automated elections system, including the glitches that have developed in the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines’ software, the Supreme Court Thursday ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to make public the complete details of its preparations for Monday’s polls.

Voting 12 to 3, the high court directed the Comelec to disclose to the public “the nature and security of all equipment devices such as software and hardware components; the source code for review by interested parties; the terms and protocols of the random manual audit; the certification from the technical evaluation committee that the entire automated system is fully functional and continuity plan is already in place; and the certification protocol and the actual certification issued by the Department of Science and Technology that the 240,000 Board of Election Inspectors all over the country are trained to used the automated election system”.

The decision, penned by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, said the Comelec must comply with the requirements that are provided for under Republic Act 9369, or the Amended Automated Elections System Law of 2007.

Civil action

The high court was acting on a special civil action for mandamus filed last April 23 by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., Protestant Bishop Leo Soriano Jr., Quintin Doromal, Fe Maria Arriola, Isagani Serrano and Rodolfo Lozada Jr.

The justices said they were granting only the specific reliefs asked for in the petition because of the proximity of the elections. The petitioners can press the Comelec for other reliefs after the May 10 polls, they said.

The resolution cited news reports on Tuesday that with just six days to go before the May 10 elections, the Comelec has recalled 76,000 compact flash cards because of the widespread failure of the PCOS machines to read and tally votes during the testing conducted by the Comelec and Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp., the systems supplier.

In its comment submitted on May 4, the Comelec said the petitioners had no legal standing to file the petition and that there was no proof that they had requested the release of the information contained in the documents mentioned in their petition.

The justices said the petitions had “overwhelming support” in the Constitution, citing in particular the provisions on the right to information and the state’s corresponding duty of full disclosure of all transactions involving public interest.

The court also cited the provisions in the Omnibus Election Code, requiring the Comelec to carry out a continuing and systematic campaign to educate the public about elections laws, procedures, decisions and other matters related to its duties; the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards, which mandates all public documents to be made accessible to, and readily available for inspection, by the public; and the Government Procurement Reform Act and RA 9525 (which appropriated P11.3 billion for the automated election), that required transparency in the procurement process and in the implementation of procurement contracts.

Democracy’s last bulwark

“[The] Comelec cannot shirk its constitutional duty to disclose fully to the public complete details of all information relating to its preparations for the May 10, 2010 elections without violating the Constitution and relevant laws. No less than the Constitution mandates it to enforce and administer election laws. The Comelec chair and the six commissioners are beholden and accountable to the people they have sworn to serve,” it said.

Calling itself “the last bulwark of democracy in this country,” the high court said it would spare nothing to ensure that the people’s right to information on matters affecting democratic processes is “fully guaranteed, protected and implemented”.

Concurring with the resolution were Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Portugal Perez and Jose Mendoza.

Dissenting were Associate Justices Renato Corona, Roberto Abad and Presbitero Velasco Jr.