Government Procurement Reform Act

'Poll automation a black hole'

‘Poll automation a black hole’
By Rainier Allan Ronda
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential candidate Nick Perlas expressed serious concern over the seeming “last minute” changes being done by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on paraphernalia for next month’s polls, saying the automated system is proving to be the “black hole” of the elections.

Perlas told The STAR editors and reporters during a roundtable discussion yesterday that the Comelec slip-ups tended to show that “we are moving towards a failure of elections.”

Perlas stressed that the changes being made by the Comelec were not assuring the electorate of clean and orderly polls.

The Comelec, for its part, said yesterday that preparations for the automated polls are on track.

“We are on track. There may be some delays but I am very confident that everything will be in place in time for the election,” Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said yesterday.

Perlas said that he and his followers were already considering a failure of elections scenario.

“The system is so complex, apparently, there are many mistakes made already,” Perlas said.

“There are so many changes. The things coming out in the papers, it doesn’t give you the kind of confidence that automated elections will give us clean and honest elections,” Perlas noted.

“There are obviously loopholes. I’m not sure if they will be ready for the elections,” Perlas said.

He said they were already discussing possible actions to take if there will be failure of elections, and as election day draws nearer he will be more actively discussing possible actions with his supporters.

“Such a scenario could lead us to be plunged into chaos that is potentially violent,” Perlas said.

He said that while his team was now focused on his campaign, they were scheduling nationwide consultations to discuss a failure of elections scenario.

“Shortly before the elections, we’ll also start to hold nationwide consultations on how they want us to respond in case there will be failure of elections,” Perlas said.

36 million ballots printed – Comelec

Melo said some 36 million ballots have already been printed and they are confident that all 50.7 million ballots will be printed by April 25 so that the Comelec could start delivering them to the hub and sub-hub warehouses across the country.

The government-run National Printing Office is able to print some 900,000 ballots every day since the fifth printer began running last April 5.

“The ballots will be kept there but four to five days before election day, they should have already been delivered to the (city and municipal) Treasurer’s Office,” he said.

Melo also maintained the agency is expecting lesser poll-related violence this year, especially since the Comelec had imposed a total gun ban. “Compared to the previous election, the incidence of violence is lesser. I hope this will be the situation until the election.”

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento noted the training of some 300,000 teachers serving as Board of Election Inspectors had been completed while the training for the Board of Canvassers (BOC) and the voter’s education is still ongoing.

BOC is composed of an election officer who acts as chair, city or municipal treasurer and district school supervisor.

Records showed that of the 77,000 ballot boxes ordered by the Comelec from Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (TIM), 33,432 units are already in the country. Another 12,000 ballot boxes are expected to arrive on April 12.

All of the 82,200 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines have already been delivered by the joint venture and 43,247 of them have already been configured as of April 1.

Everyday, some 2,000 PCOS machines are being configured at the Smartmatic-TIM warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.

So far, 51,799 and 6,548 PCOS technicians and supervisors, respectively, have already been trained.

Asked about the pronouncements of various electoral reform groups that the Comelec is ill-prepared for the election, Melo had reiterated that it’s about time for the country to automate its polls.

“Let us put our shoulders behind this. The Comelec is doing its best,” Melo added.

PPCRV seeks review contract for indelible ink

Meanwhile, a Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) member sought yesterday a review of the Comelec contract for the indelible ink that will be used by voters on election day.

In an interview, PPCRV member Arwin Serrano said that Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) had started the bidding process for the contract amounting to some P77 million.

“There were two bidders. One was disqualified while the other, which is ‘Texas’, passed (the eligibility and financial screenings). Last March 16 or 17, BAC had tested the indelible ink of ‘Texas’ but it failed,” he noted.

Serrano claimed that he was eventually informed that BAC had given “Texas” another chance to increase the silver nitrate content of its product so a “re-testing” was conducted.

“I was told that during the second test, the indelible ink passed. But for me, there should be no second chance. If you fail once, that’s it. We should be strict on this because this ink is very important for our election,” he added.

Serrano maintained that BAC should have instead conducted a re-bidding of the contract.

Asked about this, Comelec Commissioner Sarmiento admitted that it was the full commission who gave the “marching order” to the BAC to re-test after Texas had adjusted its indelible ink.

Sarmiento could not immediately ascertain at what level the bidding is now but he advised Serrano to formalize his proposal so that the Comelec could address it properly.

Indelible ink is applied usually on the index fingers of voters after casting their votes to prevent them from voting again.

OTC files motion for reconsideration with Comelec

Meanwhile, OTC Paper Supply yesterday asked the Comelec to reconsider its decision to cancel the company’s contract to supply some P700-million worth of ballot secrecy folders.

In a motion for reconsideration filed with the Comelec, OTC Paper Supply proprietor Willy Young said that Comelec Resolution 8814 must be reviewed since “it effectively terminated an existing contract of the Commission without the observance of the process, both procedural and substantive, required by law.”

Young noted that a “valid contract exists” between the OTC and the Comelec for the supply of 1.8 million secrecy folders.

The motion showed that OTC received the notice of award from the Comelec last March 16 and it submitted a performance bond to the poll body nine days later.

Under Section 37 of Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Act, OTC has 10 days from receipt of notice within which to formally enter into contract with the Comelec.

“And if no action on the contract is taken by the head of the commission within the aforesaid period, the contract shall be deemed approved,” he added.

Young said that “none of the grounds for termination of a procurement contract enumerated in the law… are present in the instant case.”

“Neither is there a ground to terminate the subject contract for convenience. No condition exists that makes the project implementation economically, financially or technically impractical and/or unnecessary such as fortuitous events or change in the law and national government policies,” he added.

Last April 5, the Comelec issued Resolution 8814 scrapping the contract after finding out that the price of the OTC folder was exorbitant at P380 per piece.

The Comelec just decided to let voters use ordinary folders.

Comelec-Law Department director Ferdinand Rafanan said that he was instructed by Melo “to leave no stone unturned” in investigating the irregular contract.

Rafanan said BAC chair Maria Lea Alarkon, vice chairman Allen Francis Abaya and members Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal, Martin Niedo and Antonio Santella would still be held liable even if they reportedly were planning to resign. With Sheila Crisostomo

Supplier set to appeal scrapping of folder deal

Supplier set to appeal scrapping of folder deal
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – OTC Paper Supply is set to appeal the decision of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to scrap its contract to supply some P700-million worth of ballot secrecy folders to be used in the May 10 polls.

In a telephone interview, OTC Paper Supply manager Henry Young said that he would file a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec to win back the contract.

“We are preparing our MR now. We cannot easily give this up, especially since everything was done aboveboard,” he maintained.

The Comelec cancelled the awarding of contract to OTC after finding out that the secrecy folders cost P380 each.

Young noted that the materials used in the secrecy folders are durable and that its length is enough to enable voters to fill up their ballots in secret.

“Most of the classrooms are using armchairs and considering the length of the ballots, it would be inconvenient for them to merely fill up the ballots. There is risk that the ballots would be crumpled,” he added.

Asked about the price of the secrecy folders, Young claimed that P380 apiece is still cheap compared to the prevailing price of shorter plastic folders being sold in the market.

“Maybe it is better for the public to judge it themselves. They can check the prices of plastic folders – which are much shorter than ours – being sold in the bookstores,” he maintained.

Ironically, OTC Paper Supply submitted the lowest bid of P28 million for the 80,000 ultraviolet lamps needed for the coming polls.

But Maria Lea Alarkon, chair of the Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), said this does not mean that OTC would bag the contract.

“It’s not yet over. There is still the post-qualification,” she said in an interview.

Young, however, revealed that he is consulting his lawyers about his plan to withdraw OTC’s bid offer for the UV lamps to avoid more controversy.

“I’m thinking if it is better to withdraw now or I’ll wait for BAC to decide on the winning bidder,” he said.

The other companies that submitted bid offers for the UV lamps are Embu Integrated and Philand Industry.

Alarkon added that they might be able to recommend to the Comelec a possible bid winner on Monday.

Flawed bidding

Meanwhile, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) called the bidding for the UV lamps flawed.

“As far as I know, the bidding was sort of in haste. Some of the (observers like PPCRV) were informed the day before while others were notified on the day itself,” PPCRV coordinator Arwin Serrano said.

“When I was requested to attend by (PPCRV chair) Ambassador (Henrietta) de Villa, it was already 11 a.m. so I arrived there in the afternoon,” he said in an interview.

“I didn’t see observers from outside the Comelec,” Serrano said. He said there should have been observers from the Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit, among others.

Asked about the PPCRV’s allegation, Alarkon said that the UV lamps fall under the category of “emergency procurement” owing to the need to “deploy” the devices to polling precincts across the country at the soonest time possible.

“Under the law, there is no need to advertise (bid notices for) emergency procurement. But despite this, BAC still found it prudent to have it advertised,” Alarkon added.

“We need the UV lamps. They might not be able to deliver the 80,000 units if not through emergency procurement. We made a canvass and we can get only 3,000 in the market, so you really have to enter it in emergency procurement,” she added.

Special task force

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, for her part, ordered the creation of a special task force that would investigate alleged anomalies in the planned acquisition of ballot secrecy folders.

The task forces will launch a probe even if no complaint has been filed.

“The task force will evaluate the procedure conducted by the Bids and Awards Committee of the Comelec, to determine if it is in accord with RA 9184,” she said, referring to the Government Procurement Reform Act.

She said the body would also look into possible violations by Comelec officials of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

“What is important is that an impartial investigation will be conducted, where all parties will be given the opportunity to present their side so that those who will be found responsible may be prosecuted, otherwise, they should be cleared of all accusations against them,” she said.

Support for Comelec

With the Comelec under fire, Malacañang said the poll body must be given all the support it needs to make the May 10 polls credible.

“You know the Comelec has to be not only supported, but they have to stay very credible also and what is happening with the procurement, it needs really some fast investigation,” Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza said.

He said that the Palace will not interfere in the investigation of the Comelec on the alleged procurement anomalies.

Mendoza said that the Palace believes the Comelec is “doing very well” in handling the controversies.

He declined to comment on the call of some sectors for the resignation of the Comelec officials involved in the alleged scam.

“Let’s just leave it to the Comelec and let’s wait for the completion of their investigation,” he said.

“We continue to support the Comelec and Chairman Melo in its challenging task of delivering credible automated election, which should be everyone’s highest priority,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said.

Mendoza also said an apology from Melo regarding the controversy was not enough.

“I think the apology is always welcome but there should be the investigation because there has to be some reasons why they are procuring this kind of a cover because this is new, this is not the usual cover that the Comelec uses in the previous elections,” Mendoza said.

Separate probe

Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) senatorial candidate Joey de Venecia III said the National Bureau of Investigation should uncover the anomalous relationship between the Comelec and its “favorite supplier,” OTC.

“The manner OTC is projecting its determination to still bag the folder contract indicates that it has back-channel information that the Comelec will reconsider its junking of the deal for being obviously overpriced. We reiterate our call for the NBI to take an active part in investigating this mess,” De Venecia said.  – With Marvin Sy, Michael Punongbayan, Jose Rodel Clapano