Smartmatic banned from Philippine elections; gov’t considers blacklisting

Smartmatic banned from Philippine elections; gov’t considers blacklisting

By Jomel R. Paguian

THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) has ruled to ban automated voting provider, Smartmatic, from participating in any election bidding process and endorsed its permanent blacklisting from all government procurement proceedings in the country.

In its 23-page ruling released on Wednesday, the Comelec En Banc said that it is compelled to disallow Smartmatic from participating in the procurement process for automated elections forthwith, citing allegations related to bribery and a compromised procurement process in the 2016 national and local elections (NLE).

“These allegations, not only undermine and cast a shadow over the procurement protocols but also threaten to erode the public’s confidence in the electoral system,” read part of the resolution.

The Commission also said it “finds it imperative to refer the matter to SBAC (special bidding and awards committee) for possible permanent disqualification and blacklisting of Smartmatic from all government procurement proceedings, not just in relation to elections.”

Smartmatic, in an email, said it has not been notified of the decision and has yet to receive the official copy of the resolution.

But in a statement, Smartmatic expressed “profound disappointment” in the Comelec’s decision.

“Over the course of these 15 years, as we contributed technology and services to Comelec, we have consistently adhered to all their procurement processes during biddings and contract execution,” read the statement.

“Our significant role has played a key part in establishing the Philippines as a global model for election integrity,” it added.

The company urged the Commission to conduct an independent search on the indictments against them, citing that “no Smartmatic company has ever been indicted in the United States or any other country in connection with any election or election-related contract” in its 23-year history.

Comelec cited the allegations revolving around former Comelec Chairman Juan Andres D. Bautista who allegedly received bribes in exchange for awarding a contract for Smartmatic during the 2016 national elections.

Mr. Baustista was alleged to have laundered the bribe money through multiple entities and established a foreign shell company which was used to receive bribe payments from Smartmatic.

The resolution read: “The charges against Smartmatic and former Chairman Bautista are of public knowledge and tend to cause speculation and distrust in integrity of the electoral process.”

Comelec said their ruling does not question the integrity of the 2016 elections.

“The decision is on the integrity of the procurement then and not, we repeat, not, the integrity of any automated elections conducted in the Philippines, particularly that of the 2022 NLE,” Comelec spokesperson John Rex C. Laudiangco told reporters through Viber.

The Comelec clarified that the disqualification of Smartmatic has nothing to do with the earlier petitions raised by the group led by former information and communications technology chief, Eliseo M. Rio, Jr., explaining that the commission has already addressed those allegations.

“To be clear, the Commission categorically states that no irregularities attended the conduct of the 2022 NLE. The allegations of petitioners… have been sufficiently addressed by the Commission at length,” Comelec said in its ruling.

Mr. Rio’s group has raised suspicion of rigged 2022 polls because of election returns from different vote-counting machines (VCMs) of Smartmatic that were allegedly transmitted from the same IP address.

In an interview with Mr. Rio, he said that regardless of the reason for the disqualification of Smartmatic, his group is satisfied with Comelec’s decision.

“Whatever the case, we can see that we cannot really trust Smartmatic,” said Mr. Rio, citing the alleged money laundering case against Mr. Bautista.

Mr. Rio said following the disqualification of a foreign entity in the country’s election system, it is time that the Comelec consider sourcing election technology from local technology companies instead.

“We Filipinos can handle that. Why do we rely on foreigners, especially when we now see them involved in anomalies?” he said.

The commission reiterated in their ruling their decision to allow a manual recount and opening of ballot boxes upon the request of Mr. Rio’s group to verify the results of the 2022 NLE.

Mr. Rio said they are keen to discuss with the commission the process of this conduct, aiming to start doing a manual recount before the end of the year.