Ombudsman asked to probe Comelec-Smartmatic ‘midnight deal’

COMELEC_SealMANILA, Apr 1 (Mabuhay) — A former attorney for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has asked the Ombudsman to investigate the poll body for the alleged illegality of a “midnight deal” with Smartmatic for the repair, refurbishment and diagnostics of 82,000 vote-counting machines.

Atty. Melchor Magamo on Wednesday filed an affidavit of a request for assistance before the Office of the Ombudsman to probe the allegedly “illegal” and “unjust” P268.8-million deal to extend the warranty of the 82,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines which the Comelec purchased from manufacturer Smartmatic.

Magdamo said he has yet to file the complaint against the Comelec officials, and instead he asked the Ombudsman for assistance in the investigation.

The Ombudsman has the mandate to investigate on its own a public official or agency and request any government agency for assistance.

The P268.8-million contract that is subject of the requested investigation was awarded to Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. for the diagnostics, repair and refurbishment of the 82,000 vote-counting machines used in previous elections.

The Comelec entered into direct negotiation with Smarmatic for the deal and thereby foregoing public bidding. Then Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said this was because Smartmatic was the manufacturer of the machines.

But the deal was signed three days before Brillantes and senior commissioners Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph retired Feb. 2. Election watchdog hit the contract as a “midnight deal.”

In an interview before the filing, Magdamo said they are requesting assistance from Ombudsman not to destroy the reputation of any personalities but only to save the Comelec as an institution.

“In-a-accuse kami ni Brillantes na attack dogs daw kami. We don’t destroy people. We want to save the institution with minimal damage to other people,” Magdamo said.

Another affiant, David Diwa, President of the National Labor Union, alleged that the contract may as well be Brillantes, Tagle and Yusoph’s “retirement pabaon (gift).”

In their affidavit, Magdamo, Diwa and Leon Peralta, all convenors of the Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections, said the repair contract is an “upside down warranty masquerading as refurbishment under the veil of a warranty extension.”

The affiants said Smartmatic should be paying Comelec for the warranty in the first place and not the other way around.

“We submit that the upside down warranty is a grand scale of mismanagement… because the very essence of a warranty is that it must be free of charge… Extending the warranty can only mean extending the warrantor’s obligation to repair or replace PCOS defects for free,” the affiants said.

“We the affiants are not vindictive. In fact, we deliberately intend to file this affidavit as a ‘request for assistance’ to save an institution rather than as a ‘complaint’ that derogates a person,” the affiants added.

The affidavit was endorsed by Retired Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, Judicial Vicar of the National Tribunal of Appeals under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“My one and only interest (in) this matter is the concern of truth and justice ultimately for the common welfare of the people and the public good…” Cruz said in a cover letter to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.

Brillantes has called the poll watchdog members as noisy critics who only want to spoil the elections preparations. He denied that there was any midnight deal, saying Smartmatic is most capable of conducting the repair, refurbishment and diagnostics of its own machines.

The same extended warranty contract was the subject of a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court pending its decision on separate petitions by the Automated Elections Systems Watch and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

While the stoppage of the PCOS diagnostics, repair and refurbishment affected the preparations for the 2016 polls, the Comelec has said it will map out strategies to ensure the elections next year will push through, including the possibility of going back to the manual system. (MNS)

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