ALTHOUGH the Supreme Court nullified the Commission on Elections’ P268.8 million contract with Smartmatic-TIM, the Comelec is not barred from resorting to direct contracting so long as it complies with the government’s procurement law.
In a 56-page decision released yesterday afternoon, the SC held that the Comelec may still directly contract suppliers for the diagnostic and repair of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, but it should comply with Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA).
“The disposition of these cases does not prohibit the Comelec from resorting to direct contracting anew or other alternative method of procurement with any service contractor, subject to compliance with the conditions provided in the GPRA and all the pertinent rules and procedures,” the decision penned by Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe said.
The tribunal stressed that it only voided the earlier contract because it did not meet the requirements for direct contracting under the GPRA.
The SC clarified that in stopping the contract, it “does not stand to thwart the conduct of automated elections; but only steps in to preserve its sanctity.”
“While this Court recognizes that the Comelec should be given sufficient leeway in exercising its constitutional mandate to enforce and administer all election laws, it demands equal recognition that it is the Court’s constitutional duty to see to it that all governmental actions are legally permissible,” the ruling read.
“In so doing, the Court decides not only with pragmatism in mind, but pragmatism within the fair bounds of law,” the court added.
In this ruling, the SC justices voted unanimously to grant the consolidated petitions filed by poll watchdog Automated Elections System Watch, led by Auxiliary Bishop of Manila Broderick Pabillo and Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
The Court agreed with petitioners that the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion in approving the deal, which was signed by Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. before he retired last February.
As a result of the ruling, “all amounts paid to Smartmatic-TIM pursuant to said contract, if any, being public funds should be returned to the government.”
The SC ruling is also “immediately executory” considering the time left for the Comelec to prepare for the polls.