Goodbye, Smartmatic? COMELEC says legal basis needed to ban poll technology provider

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 31) — The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) on Friday said it cannot instantly blacklist Smartmatic as advised by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Smartmatic has been the poll technology provider since the country first held automated elections in 2010, but Duterte on Thursday said COMELEC should "dispose of Smartmatic and look for a new one that is free of fraud." He wants to do away with the public bidding which has consistently been won by the Venezuelan company.

"Anything that promotes cheating huwag ka. Why are you insisting sa Smartmatic because bidding? Kaya ‘yang bidding... alisin talaga ninyo ‘yan," Duterte said.

COMELEC Spokesperson James Jimenez said laws require public bidding, but added that the President's suggestion will be carefully studied.

"The President speaks from a place of greater knowledge than I do. If he thinks that's a good decision, again as I said it deserves a lot of serious consideration," Jimenez added.

When asked if it is possible to ban Smartmatic following the President's pronouncement, Jimenez said "Kakailanganin natin ng (We would need) legal basis to ban any supplier."

According to the Government Procurement Policy Board, a company may be barred from bidding for up to two years over the submission of false information and falsified documents, unauthorized use of a name, withdrawal of a bid or refusal to do business with the government without justifiable cause, and other violations to the rules of bidding.

The May 13 election was marred by malfunctioning vote-counting machines (VCMs) which were provided by Smartmatic. The government continued to use its services despite allegations it had altered the source code of VCMs in the 2013 national elections, and fed a suspicious new script or computer command to the Comelec's transparency server during the transmission and counting of election returns in 2016.

Jimenez said the COMELEC will study whether to buy a completely new set of VCMs or use the existing machines and procure additional ones for the 2022 presidential elections. COMELEC bought the machines for over ₱2.2 billion for the 2019 polls after leasing them for around ₱8 billion in 2016.

He stressed that Smartmatic has no hold on COMELEC and that any other company is welcome to compete in a public bidding.