Senate to investigate pullout of TIM from poll automation project

June 30, 2009 9:11 am 

By Jelly F. Musico

MANILA, June 30 –- Alarmed by the looming manual 2010 elections, the Senate has scheduled an investigation on Monday to find out what prompted the Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) to break tie with Venezuela-based Smartmatic from a consortium that won the bidding for poll automation.

The Senate Blue Ribbon committee under Senator Richard Gordon will spearhead the Senate probe as to why the company withdrew from the P7.3-billion contract to computerize the national and local elections next year.

Gordon told the gmanews.tv report that his committee has already been preparing the guest list for the hearing.

Gordon, who is the principal author of the amended Automated Election System Law, said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) must do everything in its capacity to push through with the automation of the May 2010 elections.

Gordon made his statement after Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said that there is a slim chance of having automated elections next year following TIM’s pullout from a joint venture with Smartmatic to supply the poll body with the voting machines.

"The country cannot be held hostage by just one bidder. We have fought long and worked hard for the passage of this law. And now that we are about to have it, the Comelec cannot just give up too quick and surrender the fate of the whole country to one entity," he added.

Gordon has said TIM should be punished for its sudden decision to withdraw as the Filipino partner of foreign technology provider Smartmatic.

Amid the TIM’s withdrawal, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also pushed for the computerization of the elections, calling for support to modernize the conduct of the 2010 elections.

"It would be very unfortunate if the Commission on Elections would return to manual counting simply because the winner in the bidding for automated elections backed out. Let us support the Comelec's bid to modernize and automate our polls. Any criticism of the automated program is nothing more than exaggerated and unfounded,” Zubiri said.

"Let us move forward with the system that will ensure credibility to our elections. Let us automate our polls," he added.

Senator Manuel A. Roxas II likened the potential collapse of the election automation project as an attack on the country's democracy as it would deny Filipinos their eagerly-awaited chance to elect new leaders in an automated election.

"Our people have long awaited this chance to elect their leaders in clean and honest elections, and automation was seen as a way to break away from the tradition of cheating. Now, even that chance is denied us," Roxas said.

Senator Loren Legarda agreed with Roxas that the Comelec should do its best to push the poll automation project.

”Without any honest-to-goodness effort by the Comelec to push poll automation, the people may be justified in thinking that they had been taken for a ride by some parties whose interests would be served by the status quo — that of holding a manual election which is more vulnerable to fraud,” Legarda said.

”There may be merit in allowing the other bidders in the Comelec's poll automation project to complete their deficiencies so that they may contend for the project, a possibility pointed out by Comelec Chairman Jose Melo,” Legarda added.

Another lady lawmaker, Senator Pia Cayetano said the Comelec should not allow TIM to abdicate its obligations and walk away that easily.

”It (Comelec) should file criminal, civil, and administrative cases against TIM officials for all the trouble they have caused. But Comelec itself has some explaining to do. It could have been more discerning in order to prevent the possibility of a consortium partner pulling out, after the bidding has been won," Cayetano said.

Senator Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan urged the Comelec to salvage the effort to modernize the elections to avoid massive cheating and other election-related controversies.

"We urge the Comelec to be creative, think out of the box, and salvage the situation…," Pangilinan said.

Meanwhile, Senator Francis Escudero cautioned the Comelec from teaming up with Smartmatic in implementing the automation of the 2010 elections.

"The Comelec is treading on dangerous ground. This option is fraught with possible legal and technical problems," he said.

"It is very clear that if there is no joint venture, then no one will sign the contract," said Escudero, who co-chairs the Congressional oversight committee on poll automation.

Melo has suggested the Comelec could work with the Smartmatic in conducting the machine count after its local partner TIM withdrew from the joint venture.

Escudero said the Comelec still has time to implement poll automation in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao as mandated by RA 8436 or the amended poll automation law.

"That is what is mandated by the poll automation law. If they had done this in the first place, then we won't be faced with all these problems. What is important, as I have always stressed, is that the elections – manual or automated – are clean, honest, transparent, and accurately reflect the will of the people," Escudero said.

Gordon said there are still options for the Comelec after the TIM withdrew from the contract.

First, it can disqualify Smartmatic-TIM and undertake and reconsider the submission of the other bidders under the post-qualification procedure to get the next lowest calculated bid (LCB), until an award is made.

Second, in the interest of efficiency and considering that automating the 2010 elections is a matter of paramount national importance, the Comelec can resort to limited source bidding.

For limited source bidding, the Comelec shall directly invite a set of pre-selected suppliers or consultants with known experience and proven capability relative to the requirements of supplying an automated elections system, to bid for the contract. (PNA)

scs/jfm

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