By Stephanie Sevillano

PROCUREMENT PROCESS. Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairperson George Erwin Garcia says it will look into the money laundering and rigged bidding allegations against former Comelec chief Andres Bautista to check on the possible room for improvement for its procurement process during a media interview on Thursday (Oct. 5, 2023). He said the poll body shall assess whether its current bidding system has loopholes for manipulation or irregularity. (PNA photo by Yancy Lim)

MANILA — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday said the probe on the money laundering and rigged bidding allegations of the United States (US) government against former Comelec chief Andres Bautista is beneficial for the poll body’s procurement process.

Comelec chairperson George Erwin Garcia said the Office of the Chairman’s newly-formed task force is in charge of looking into the allegations against Bautista.

“Malaking tulong (ito para) tingnan aling parte ng procurement process na mayroon ang Comelec ang vulnerable sa manipulation, irregularity, kung mayroon man upang maayos namin (This is a huge help to assess which part of the Comelec’s procurement process is vulnerable for manipulation or irregularity if there is so that we can fix it),” he said in an ambush interview.

He made the remark following his confirmation of their full cooperation with the US after it sought assistance from the Comelec last year.

The US requested copies of documents and testimonies from several Comelec personnel related to Bautista’s alleged receiving of bribe money from an unnamed elections technology firm to secure contracts for the 2016 polls.

Garcia, meanwhile, said having a separate probe may help determine whether other involved persons are still in the Comelec.

“Syempre po hindi naman po pwedeng matutulog lang ang Comelec o naghihintay sa development niyan sa US. Kailangan kami mismo kikilos diligence po ang tawag dun, alamin ang lalim at puno’t dulo ng alegasyon (Of course, we shouldn’t be sleeping nor waiting for its development in the US. We have to act m, that’s due diligence, to know the root cause of these allegations),” he said.

Garcia said the poll body now eyes information sharing with the US to verify the “authenticity, due execution, and integrity” of documents or statements used in the case.

For now, he said the poll body sees no need to contact Bautista in relation to their investigation.

Garcia also said the former Comelec chief has not reached out to them on any platform available.

Earlier, Bautista insisted on his innocence and readiness to face allegations in the proper venue, in a statement via X, formerly known as Twitter.

Smartmatic hearing

Garcia, meanwhile, said it targets to hear the petition to disqualify Smartmatic from participating in the 2025 Automated Election System bidding on Oct.17 or 18.

“Gusto naming malaman ano ba iyong extent ng reason or ground para sabihing dapat disqualified iyong mismong kumpanya (We want to know the extent of reason or grounds to declare the company disqualified),” he said.

Garcia added that the Comelec also wants to hear the side of Smartmatic to come up with a fair assessment before the procurement for the 2025 polls.

Earlier, former Information and Communications Technology Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr., former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman, Franklin Ysaac, and Leonardo Odono asked for a review of the qualification of Smartmatic as a participating bidder, or if warranted, disqualify it from joining.

They cited the prospective bidder’s alleged failure to “comply with certain minimum system capabilities” in 2022 polls which resulted in alleged “serious and grave irregularities in the transmission and receipt of election returns.” (PNA)