President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday urged the Commission on Elections to end its partnership with Venezuelan-owned poll technology provider Smartmatic amid numerous complaints about its efficiency, and find instead a “fraud-free” partner.
In his speech during a gathering of the Filipino community in Japan, the President said the countless complaints and allegations in recent midterm elections created a “hostile attitude” toward Smartmatic.
“I would like to advise Comelec, now, I wouldn’t wait anymore, dispose of Smartmatic and look for a new one that is free of fraud,” Duterte said.
“Because the Liberal [party] said they were cheated. They also told me I was cheated. And you know it’s creating an environment of hostile attitude against that Smartmatic. You have three years. The election was just done. You should replace that because it is no longer acceptable to me, to the people, and even to the congressmen who are here,” he added.
Duterte wondered why the Comelec, an independent commission, still insists on dealing with Smartmatic despite allegations that it promotes cheating.
“Why are you insisting to Smartmatic? Because [of the] bidding? You should remove that f*ck*ng bidding... The Filipinos’ votes are not being counted truthfully,” he said.
“And if you use that in the next election three years from now, I don’t know what will happen. Something has got to give. Improve on the system. Stop using Smartmatic because many don’t want it. I don’t like to attribute corruption, but the problems are going back and forth, I just don’t know why Smartmatic continues when they cannot even count the votes, and then their machines malfunction when you use [them],” he continued.
“Kindly, I am now asking you as a co-equal body. It’s just promoting turmoil please do not use it,” Duterte added.
Duterte said he was planning to make the point during his 4th State of the Nation Address in July.
“I was reserving that for the SONA. I will tell the Comelec, that’s an independent body, but I will really tell them,” he said.
“I will assure you, I will bring this matter before the nation. And I will them tell to stop it because you are creating a problem that will blow up.”
In the recently concluded midterm elections, both the Smartmatic and Comelec came under fire for the seven-hour delay in the release of election results from the poll body’s transparency server. At least 400 vote counting machines also experienced technical difficulties on Election Day, leading people to question the integrity of the election results.
In a statement on Friday, Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez said that the President’s suggestion cannot be easily dismissed, a legal basis is still required to finally exclude Smartmatic in future
public biddings for poll-related activities.
“The President speaks from a place of greater knowledge than I do. If he feels that’s a good solution, it deserves a lot of serious consideration,” Jimenez told the media during a forum.
“We are under the rules of COA [Commission on Audit)], we are under rules that require public bidding. If we can do something about that, why not?” he added.
But he said the Comelec needs a legal basis to ban any supplier.
“We are not averse to inviting local suppliers but the problem that we encountered over the past nine years is that local suppliers simply do not have the required experience,” Jimenez said.
“There’s nothing preventing local suppliers from joining the bidding but to limit the options to just local suppliers might not be the best solution nor might it be legal,” he added.
The May 13 polls were dominated by Duterte-backed bets, with nine out of 12 candidates he endorsed winning.
In the Palace, Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said the midterm elections were still credible despite the President’s advice on Smartmatic.
“The President’s remarks is a response to some concerns raised by both the opposition, the administration supporters as well as civic groups relative to the previous and present elections on certain technical glitches that precipitate questions on the technological competence of Smartmatic,” Panelo said.
“The President is not comfortable with these allegations that produce a whiff of fraud or delay in the announcing of the election results,” he added.
“The Comelec should take seriously the suggestion of the President, for after all it should be the first one that should be fiercely protective of its image being the constitutional body mandated to safeguard the sanctity of the ballots,” he added.
The Venezuela-based Smartmatic supplied 85,000 VCMs for the May 13 midterm elections, several hundreds of which malfunctioned on Election Day.
The Comelec spokesperson said that the poll body is also studying the possibility of procuring a completely new set of VCMs or use the existing machines and procure additional ones for the 2022 presidential elections.
He said the Comelec bought the machines to Smartmatic for over ₱2.2 billion for the 2019 polls after leasing them for about ₱8 billion in 2016.
“Smartmatic has no hold on Comelec and any other company is welcome to compete in a public bidding,” he added.
Liberal Party president Senator Francis Pangilinan supported the call of the President to drop Smartmatic.
He said the Comelec has not given the opposition the complete list of precincts and areas where there were reported defective VCMs and corrupted SD cards even though they requested for them several times already during the canvassing of votes.
“We hope for electoral reforms, as well as for those responsible be held to account also for the administration allies’ barefaced violation of election laws on billboards, posters, and use of government resources and facilities during the campaign,” Pangilinan said.
At the same time, Pangilinan also rebuked the Comelec for denying their request that it conduct a debate during the campaign period so that voters are able to know more about all candidates’ qualifications.
Furthermore, he said the Comelec named a party allied with the majority as the “dominant minority.”
“This is contrary to our laws, common sense, and the spirit of democracy,” said the opposition leader.
READ: Udenna denies buying into SmartmaticREAD: Poll machines malfunction: Koko seeks probeREAD: Group calls for transparency
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