"This is outright disinformation."
In our December 16 column, we exposed as complete disinformation the reported "insertion" of a provision in the 2021 GAA which would have "given the Comelec carte blanche authority to waive/disregard all the requirements and safeguards in Section 12 of the automated election law (RA8436 as amended by RA 9369)." This so-called "dangerous insertion" was tweeted by lawyer Emil Maranon who used to be the chief of staff of then Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, Jr.
As it turned out, there was no intention to do away with the requirements under the procurement law, including whatever safeguards are necessary to ensure that the 2022 elections will be undertaken with full integrity and transparency. In fact, the budgetary provision called for the procurement of new equipment, materials and software to be used in the conduct of the forthcoming national elections. That was meant to open up the procurement process to providers other than the well-entrenched and well-connected sole provider in the last five automated elections (four national and the ARMM experiment) – Smartmatic — which has brought harm and ruin to our processes and disgraced our country no end.
The "safeguard" touted by Maranon and his principals is the phrase: "the system to be procured must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise, here and abroad." That would have ensured that Smartmatic would be the sole "qualified" provider. Of course, Maranon and his principals including those high officials in the Senate and elsewhere who used Maranon's non-expose to demonize Senator Imee Marcos who sponsored the passage of the hybrid election system (HES) bill authored no less than Senate President Tito Sotto, did not disclose that. Why should they, when they have benefited and will continue to benefit from the status quo?
Maranon and his principals did not also disclose that the law, as in all procurement undertakings, has a more direct and compelling safeguard outside of that highly problematic clause in Section 12 meant to "safeguard" Smartmatic. As reiterated in the 2021 GAA, the law authorizes the Comelec to "procure election supplies, equipment, materials, software, facilities, and other services subject to accounting and auditing rules and procedures.". In a word, even as Comelec opens up the bidding to do away with Smartmatic's stranglehold, it will have to do so under the strictest "accounting and auditing" requirements.
Having been exposed as a malicious Smartmatic operations, the “kuryente” cabal using Maranon proceeded to disparage the Sotto HES bill which is on course to be approved by the Senate after Senator Marcos sponsored it for plenary deliberation last Monday.
First, Maranon and his principals claim that a return to manual vote counting will result in massive cheating as the votes will be manually counted first, then the results encoded into a computed and transmitted through text messaging. That is outright disinformation. For his and his cohorts' information, under the Sotto bill, each ballot with the electronic tally sheet will be displayed via an LCD projectors while the chairman of the electoral board reads the ballot in full view of authorized party representatives and observers and the poll clerk records the vote using a computer.
After the last ballot has been counted, the votes will be tallied and the election return generated and signed digitally by the members of the electoral board. Once signed, the electronic election returns will be transmitted through a secure communications channel to the municipality/city, province and national servers. This method ensures transparency and easy verification as party representatives and observers can record the ongoing proceedings and secure a signed copy of the election returns per precinct. There is an actual paper trail unlike in previous elections where the votes got lost in the belly of the vote-counting machines (VCM) which can be re-manipulated at the consolidation and canvassing machine then re-re-manipulated in transmission without any paper trail, without any trace.
Second, Maranon and his principals talk about delays in manual vote counting. That it is time-consuming. This system actually hastens counting as the ballots will be read and the vote projected and tallied. Before the delay was caused by challenges in vote appreciation raised by the parties. Under an HES system, the candidates are assigned numbers which the voters will write along with the candidate's name. This will do away with any challenge as well as the infinitely problematic marking system we are using under the Smartmatic operation.
Finally, Maranon and his principals claim that the HES system will be costlier than the present one. Well, he has to be reminded that we have lost billions of pesos using this SMARTMATIC PCOS/VCM system; first, when we leased these at exorbitant cost; warehoused these at our own cost; then bought them despite cries of obsolescence and then refurbishing them again before warehousing them at our own cost. In fact, we are told that the Comelec just allocated some P600 million to refurbish the old machines sitting at the poll body's warehouse in Sta. Rosa at our own cost.
If, by any miracle, the Comelec gets to massage as it did in the previous elections the upcoming procurement of new equipment and materials using the P14 billion or so allocated under the 2021 GAA to favor the “safeguarded sole bidder” – Smartmatic – expect us to pay P100,000 for a PCOS/VCM machine. On the other hand, the complete HES system with all the safeguards, that is the real ones, will cost only P40,000 per set. With 120,000 clustered precincts nationwide, we are talking P12 billion for the Smartmatic system versus P4.8 billion for the HES set.
Now you have a clear idea why Maranon and his principals are fighting like hell to get the HES system waylaid before it gets any kind of traction at all. And that is just one of the many other things, material or otherwise, which these people stand to lose if their claimed "safeguard" is scratched and buried for keeps.