Duterte tasks DICT to find Smartmatic replacement

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 4) — After President Rodrigo Duterte's order, the search for the replacement of poll technology provider Smartmatic is now in the hands of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr. said on Tuesday.

"The President, in Tokyo, actually directed DICT to come up with options that can be used in future elections. Of course we all know na 'Huwag na 'yang Smartmatic' was one of his (directives)," he said during the during the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System's hearing.

Rio said DICT will make the recommendations to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), which is an independent body. He said the options will be presented to the poll body as early as end of June. Comelec Chair Sheriff Abas confirmed they have started to meet with DICT regarding Duterte's directive.

Duterte, in his speech in Japan on May 30, advised COMELEC to stop its partnership with Smartmatic over allegations of election cheating and fraud.

Smartmatic and COMELEC have been in hot water for snags during the 2019 midterm polls, including a seven-hour delay in the release of election results in the transparency server and glitches in secure digital cards used to store encrypted images of the ballots. This led to questions regarding the election results' integrity. The poll body said there were 1,051 malfunctioning vote-counting machines and 2,246 corrupted SD cards during the May 13 polls.

Smartmatic, however, said it had “no hand” in the maintenance and operations of the vote-counting machines in the latest elections.

The technology provider claimed the machines were already owned by COMELEC since 2018.

“In the 2019 elections, our role was restricted to playing the transmission solution provider. The VCM machines are already owned by COMELEC since 2018 already. So they are the owners,” said Smartmatic project director Pravir Dahiya.

“Whenever they need maintenance or technical support, Smartmatic provides it,” he added.

Smartmatic has been the poll technology provider since the country first held automated elections in 2010.

Following Duterte's pronouncement, COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez said there should be a legal basis to ban Smartmatic. According to the Government Procurement Policy Board, a company may be barred from bidding for up to two years for 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.