Melo’s nightmare: No-election scenario

15 05 2009

By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:20:00 05/15/2009

Filed Under: Computing & Information Technology, Eleksyon 2010, Elections

MANILA, Philippines—Past blunders are giving Jose Melo, chair of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), nightmares that the current attempt to computerize balloting next year might lead to a no-election (No-el) scenario.

Melo said losing bidders or partisan groups who wanted to stop the elections could use as template the 2003 procurement anomaly case against the Comelec that torpedoed its plan to automate polling the following year.

He said a similar case could be filed against Comelec’s P11.3-billion automation contract for next year’s election.

While he noted that anyone had the right to bring a case against the Comelec, Melo expressed fears that the bidding could be used to stop the elections.

Describing this as a worst-case scenario, Melo said in a press briefing Thursday: “That is what we are afraid of. That is sabotage. That is a no-election scenario. That would be chaos.”

Melo said the court challenge could be timed a few months before the balloting and if a temporary restraining order (TRO) were ordered, it would be too late for the Comelec to prepare for manual elections.

“Let’s say by February, March or April, a TRO is suddenly issued, we will not have time to go manual,” he explained. “It keeps me up at night. That is my nightmare.”

Melo cited the case against the Comelec and the Mega Pacific consortium over the bidding for the P1.3-billion contract in 2003.

The Supreme Court, he noted, voided the contract because of irregularities in the bidding in January, four months before the balloting. The Comelec then had to rush everything to proceed with manual polls.

Armor is transparency

Melo said the possibility of a replay of the 2004 election controversy was in the back of the poll body’s mind since the start of the bidding.

The best way to avoid doubts on the procurement process is to make it “as transparent as possible,” he said. “That is our armor.”

Melo said the Comelec was bracing itself for controversies over the bidding, noting that P11.3 billion is at stake.

Losing bidders, he said, would certainly assail the winning bidder and the Comelec after the process. “They would really kill for that amount,” he said.

Already, signs of cutthroat competition have appeared.

A film on the hugely popular video-sharing website YouTube purportedly showing a bidder signing documents in the Comelec toilet last week insinuated that Ferdinand Rafanan, head of Comelec’s Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC), was favoring him.

Probe called

Rafanan has denied the charge, but Melo said he had referred the case to the National Bureau of Investigation and the Ombudsman. He also defended Rafanan, noting that he was not on the video and that it was unclear what those documents were.

“It could be any other documents concerning his other business,” he said, adding that it could be part of the bidders’ “warfare.”

Of the seven original companies who submitted bid documents last week, only four hurdled the eligibility screening following motions for reconsideration.

On Wednesday night, the SBAC granted the appeals of Indra Sistemas S.A. (Strategic Holdings, Inc./Hart Intercivic); Smartmatic/Total Information Management Corp.; AMA Group of Companies/Election System and Software; and Gilat/F.F. Cruz and Company Inc./Filipinas Systems Inc.

The four firms, along with three others, were declared ineligible last week, after the SBAC ruled that they failed to submit necessary documents in the first part of the procurement process.

The three rejected firms can still file a protest before the commission en banc. But Melo said he doubted that they would do so because of the exorbitant filing fee.

Bid results at weekend

The Comelec said it expected to know the company with the lowest bid for the poll 2010 automation contract at the weekend.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the procurement committee would open the technical and financial bids starting on Friday.

“Hopefully, we can be finished by Saturday and they can demonstrate the machines on Monday,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri Thursday urged the Comelec to ensure that the automation would push through.

“The ball now is in the hands of the Comelec. It is time that they do their job to make sure that poll automation happens in 2010,” Zubiri said.

Based on the Comelec’s calendar, the automated machines must be delivered between Oct. 1 and Dec. 30 to give time for machine testing scheduled on Nov. 12, 2009 to Feb. 12, 2010. With a report from Michael Lim Ubac

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

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