Maria Lea Alarkon

Folder supplier bags new poll deal

Folder supplier bags new poll deal
By Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The controversial winning bidder of the botched and overpriced secrecy folder deal has bagged a new contract with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The Comelec has awarded OTC Paper Supply a P5.7-million contract for the supply and delivery of stamp pads to be used in the May polls.

A notice of award released by the Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) yesterday showed that the poll body awarded the contract for the supply and delivery of 350,000 pieces of thumbprint and fingerprint taker or stamp pads to OTC at P16 each.

OTC gained notoriety for its recent involvement in the Comelec’s planned procurement of a specially designed ballot secrecy folder at a price of P380 each.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo earlier admitted lapses on the part of the commission and ordered the cancellation of the approved P689.7-million ballot secrecy folder contract with OTC Paper Supply.

Although the Comelec decided to cancel the contract for the ballot secrecy folder, Melo maintained that OTC had a good track record based on deals with the Comelec in past elections.

Smartmatic bags another contract

In another development, the supplier of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the May polls has bagged a P499-million contract with the Comelec.

The Comelec yesterday reported that it had awarded Smartmatic International Corp. the contract for the tracking and delivery services of official ballots.

In its website, Comelec’s BAC chair Maria Lea Alarkon reported the Comelec has approved the resolution awarding the contract for the tracking and delivery services of official ballots amounting to P499,180,327.87.

Comelec sources said there was no bidding held for the contract because it was an emergency procurement.

Aside from supplying the P7.2-billion PCOS machines, Comelec also awarded to Smartmatic the P519-million contract for the procurement of ballot boxes and transportation of PCOS machines to all polling centers nationwide.

Smartmatic, which has organized elections using electronic voting solutions in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States, was one of seven bidders for the 2010 election automation project.

After passing the eligibility, technical and financial requirements, the Comelec awarded the poll automation contract to Smartmatic in June last year.

Meanwhile, the Comelec has officially awarded the contract for the procurement of 720,000 bottles of indelible ink to Texas Resources Corp.

Comelec said the indelible ink shall contain at least seven percent silver nitrate with blue dye with not more than 1.75 percent additives and solvents.

The Comelec initially ordered a re-bidding for the purchase of indelible ink but immediately backtracked from its decision allegedly due to lack of time.

Comelec adjusts delivery procedures

In an interview, Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said the ballots would no longer be sent to the offices of provincial treasurers as has been done in the previous polls.

Instead, the ballots would be sent directly to the city and municipal treasurers’ offices, prior to their distribution to the polling precincts. With Sheila Crisostomo

'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

Charge culprits in P700-M overprice, bishop urges

Charge culprits in P700-M overprice, bishop urges
By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—“That’s a mortal sin.” And there have been reportedly others before that.

A Catholic bishop called for the filing of charges against the people behind the scuttled purchase by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of ballot secrecy folders for the May elections because of the huge amount that would have cost taxpayers.

“P700 million! Wow! Prosecute the culprits. That’s a mortal sin,” said Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan called for the resignation of Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino, who reportedly endorsed the award of the contract to OTC Paper Supply for the purchase of the secrecy folders at P380 each.

The senator said Tolentino should step down for the latter’s alleged “continued involvement in different electoral anomalies.”

It was the Comelec’s bids and awards committee (BAC) that recommended the awarding of the contract to OTC.

BAC chair Maria Lea Alarkon said the recommendation was based on the specifications approved by the poll body’s en banc.

The BAC members are Allen Francis Abaya, Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal, Martin Niedo and Antonio Santella.

The Comelec had initially planned to buy 1.8 million ballot secrecy folders worth P380 each, a contract worth nearly P700 million.

But on Monday the Comelec en banc scrapped the purchase of the folders after finding the price of each folder to be extravagant.

The Comelec has decided that it would just use the less expensive regular folders to help voters shield their ballots from prying eyes.

It has ordered an investigation of the case.

In a statement, Pangilinan cited two other controversial cases in which Tolentino had alleged involvement—the “scandalous” Mega-Pacific consortium and his “puzzling refusal to purge zombie registrants.”

“And his name figures prominently in this recent fiasco regarding the P700 million folders,” the senator said.

Mega-Pacific won the P1.2-billion contract to supply counting machines for the 2004 elections. The Supreme Court nullified the contract, but the Comelec had already paid the company a huge amount for the machines which remain unused.

Pangilinan said it was a wonder why Tolentino was still with the Comelec.

“Too much is at stake for our country to entrust its hope for a better future in inept leadership within the Comelec. This is precisely the kind of corruption that we’d like to put an end to after the elections. Let’s start now. Tolentino should resign. Our people deserve better,” Pangilinan said.

He said the Comelec could not afford to have lapses of judgment “this late and crucial part in the ball game.”

“The Comelec’s handling of the country’s first ever automated election leaves a lot to be desired based on what we’ve seen and heard. The last thing the Commission needs is to be embroiled in a graft and corruption controversy,” Pangilinan said.

The Comelec should also disclose the amount it had paid for other election paraphernalia, according to Renato Reyes of the election watchdog group Kontra Daya.

Reyes said the poll body might have bought overpriced items in the past based on the reasons that one of its officials gave for the initial approval of the purchase of the secrecy folders.

Reyes said the statement of the BAC chair that the P380 price tag was “reasonable,” because the Comelec had bought P320 binders in the past, just exposed its penchant for buying costly items.

Alarkon had noted that the binders were half the size of the ballot secrecy folders, and that P380 was the median price.

“This shows that the overpricing of paraphernalia has been going on for a long time under the nose of the Comelec,” Reyes said.

In the interest of transparency, the Comelec should also disclose how much it is paying or will be paying for other election paraphernalia, such as the indelible ink, ballots and ballot boxes, Reyes said.

The Comelec’s citizens’ arm, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said there should be a thorough probe of the processes that led to the initial decision to buy the expensive secrecy folders.

“Each resolution and each recommendation of the different departments must be examined very well because it could have been an oversight, but still the fact is it will cost the government so much,” PPCRV chair Henrietta de Villa said in an interview over Radio Veritas.

De Villa also said reports that there was incomplete staff work on the documents for the purchase of the folders should also be looked into.

“Any kind of staff work must always be efficient and complete. The commissioners, they rely on the work of the staff that when it’s presented to them it has already been fully prepared and scrutinized,” she said.

Malacañang said it would monitor the result of the investigation by the Comelec.

“Let us not distrust the Comelec just because of this issue. There are bigger issues that the Comelec is attending to and I think they’re doing very well,” Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza told reporters. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

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

Folder supplier may get ultraviolet lamp contract

Folder supplier may get ultraviolet lamp contract
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The company that nearly bagged a P689-million contract to supply ballot secrecy folders to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) could end up winning the contract to supply ultraviolet lamps.

OTC Paper Supply submitted the lowest bid of P28 million to supply the lamps that will be used to scan security markings in the ballots, besting two other companies, GMA 7 News reported last night.

Manager Henry Young of OTC Paper said the company might withdraw its bid for the UV lamps if the Comelec would allow it to do so without slapping the company with a fine. He said he had not yet been notified by the Comelec Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) that his company had won the lamp deal.

The bid for the lamps will have to be approved by the Comelec commissioners. As of yesterday, the commissioners said they had not yet been notified about OTC’s bid.

Young also told GMA 7 that he would insist on the Comelec pushing through with the folder contract, saying he had put nearly P500 million of his assets in hock to fulfill his commitment.

Through a negotiated contract, OTC was initially awarded the deal to provide over 1.8 million ballot secrecy folders made of polypropylene at a cost of P380 each.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo deemed the price “too luxurious and exorbitant” and scrapped the deal.

Young also maintained that his ballot secrecy folders are not expensive, and said they would exhaust “all administrative and legal remedies” to regain the contract, which the Comelec has cancelled.

“We are filing a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec on Friday,” he said.” If nothing happens, we’ll take all administrative and legal remedies. We are very devastated and disappointed because there was nothing irregular in our offer.”

Last Monday, the Comelec cancelled the notice of award to OTC to supply the secrecy folders to be used in the May 10 polls after finding the P380 for each folder “exorbitant.”

OTC has a pending application for patent for the folders before the Intellectual Property Office since Feb. 10, seven days before the Comelec came up with specifications of the folders.

However, Young said he has been conceptualizing the design of the folders since the Comelec held mock elections in various schools last February.

“The folders are made of hard plastic so voters don’t have to worry that their ballots would be crumpled,” he said.

He noticed during the mock polls that the ballots were 25 inches long and were not convenient for voters, he added.

Young said he would fight to the end since they have already spent so much for the project.

“The P34-million bond that we paid is refundable but we already spent a lot for the materials,” he said.

“We can never give up. In the first place, everything was above board. We did nothing irregular.”

BAC might be revamped

The Comelec’s BAC might be reorganized following the controversial approval of a multi-million contract for the purchase of ballot secrecy folders.

“That’s always a possibility,” said Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.

“The BAC is not really a permanent body. Sometimes the composition changes. That’s definitely one of the possibilities.”

The BAC is comprised of Maria Lea Alarkon as chair, with vice chair Allen Francis Abaya and members Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal, Martin Niedo and Antonio Santella.

Melo has admitted lapses on the part of the commission when they approved the awarding of the folder project to OTC Paper Supply.

Rafanan and two other members of a special panel will conduct an investigation and submit their recommendation within two weeks.

Meanwhile, Jimenez said all other procurements by the Comelec in connection with the May 10 elections are in order and need not be reviewed.

“At this stage, all of the other procurements have not raised any red flag so we can presume that everything has been in order,” he said.

The Comelec is prepared to face possible cases that might be filed by OTC Paper Supply after the Commission discontinued the deal, Jimenez said.

Ballots sent to voters abroad

Official ballots have been mailed to 138,598 Filipino voters in 104 countries for the start of the one-month overseas absentee voting (OAV) on Saturday, according to the Philippine Postal Corp.

Reynaldo Malacapo Jr., Philpost-National Capital Region operations director, said they distributed the 138,598 official ballots two weeks before the deadline.

“We have finished with all the OAVs,” he said.

“The letters were sent to the addresses provided for by the Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“It is the Comelec who could say if all the voters under the OAV received their ballots.”

Malacapo said their target was to mail all the official ballots by March 10, but that they completed the distribution by the middle of February.

“We worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week and arranged three shifts for work.”

Malacapo said compared to the 2007 senatorial elections, they had more official ballots to mail this year.

Three years ago, the Philpost was tasked to pack and prepare 128,821 official ballots to 43 countries, he added.

Malacapo said while they had less ballots to mail in 2007, it was more time consuming because the Comelec at that time preferred to send the ballots by registered mail, unlike this year, when they used ordinary mail.

Malacapo said the Comelec was charged P7 million for the ordinary mail service.

In 2007, the poll body had to pay P17 million for the registered mail service, he added.

Malacapo said each yellow envelop they had mailed to voters contained the return mailing address, the serial number of the ballot, the instruction to the voters, list of candidates, and the official ballot.

Voters based in other countries would be given a blank official ballot, similar to the ballots used in previous elections, he added.

They would only be asked to vote for the positions of president, vice president, 12 senators and party-list.   – With Mayen Jaymalin, Evelyn Macairan

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

Comelec defends price tag on folders

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