Will Smartmatic bag 2016 voting machine deals?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — With less than a year left before the 2016 elections, it's more likely that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will turn to Smartmatic for most voting machine deals. It was the very company that supplied precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to the government during the 2010 and 2013 elections.

Related: COMELEC eyes giving PCOS deal to Smartmatic

A forum held at the Luneta Hotel on Wednesday (August 12) aimed to address two issues: why the company keeps landing supply deals with Comelec, and whether or not automation is the way to go next year.

Smartmatic Asia-Pacific President Cesar Flores said that the reason the company has won practically every bidding to supply vote counting machines is because it has offered the best price.

Flores presented data from Smartmatic's operations in different countries. He pointed out that the sizeable production capacity enables the company to lease or sell the machines at a lower price than most companies.

There were questions about alleged failures and glitches in the 2010 and 2013 polls — but Flores said those were mostly untrue, and are marginal.

Political researcher Dindo Manhit and Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting representative Romulo Guiller pointed out that the past two national elections were largely credible, and the results were acceptable compared with the last manual presidential polls in 2004.

The 2004 polls were fraught with allegations of mass fraud, and cast a shadow of doubt on the Arroyo presidency.

Is automation the best option?

The second and arguably larger issue is whether or not automation is the best system for the country.

Members of the forum's panel said that they are for automation. Likewise, no one from any of the groups who attended the forum were opposed to automation.

Both Manhit and Guiller said that automated polls were a milestone for Philippine democracy, because people trust the results more.

They cited a recent survey in which majority of respondents said they wouldn't want to go back to a manual system.

Smartmatic is poised to be the supplier of machines in 2016. The company said that there has to be an entirely new set of about 93,000 machines. Comelec has not yet decided if existing machines will be refurbished instead.

But Flores said it's just too late for that now.

Flores added that they have been offering to constantly maintain the machines used in the 2010 and 2013 polls, but the government declined.

The poll body now faces the dilemma of getting new machines or reusing old ones.

Still, Smartmatic is willing to agree to refurbish some of the 82,000 machines. But Flores said it would be impossible to refurbish all of them with the time left.

After several delays, Comelec is expected announce its decision on the machines on Thursday (August 13).

CNN Philippines' JC Gotinga contributed to this report.