SC: Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion in barring Smartmatic

By Ferdinand Patinio and Benjamin Pulta

April 17, 2024, 1:39 pm Updated on April 17, 2024, 4:53 pm

<p>Vote-counting machine (File photo)</p>

Vote-counting machine (File photo)

MANILA – The Supreme Court has granted the petition of service provider Smartmatic questioning its disqualification by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in bidding for its poll projects.

"The SC granted the petition. It held that Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion when it disqualified Smartmatic before it had submitted any bid, without any reference to the eligibility requirements prescribed by its BAC (Bids and Awards Committee). It implemented a discretionary pre-qualification regime antithetical to the Government Procurement and Reform Act," SC spokesperson Camille Sue Mae L. Ting announced in a press briefing on Wednesday.

However, the high court explained that “this finding is not sufficient to nullify the public bidding or award of the contract” for the vote-counting machines for the 2025 mid-term elections to a joint venture, Miru Systems.

The ruling written by Associate Justice Jose Midas Marquez was issued by the SC en banc on Tuesday, the court said.

In November 2023, the Comelec disqualified Smartmatic from joining public bidding processes in relation to electoral exercises in the country due to allegations of irregularities hurled against the company and former Comelec chairperson Andres Bautista, which include bribery payments.

The Comelec then proceeded to conduct public bidding for the 2025 automated election system, and the contract was awarded to Miru.

In December, Smartmatic filed a petition before the SC, challenging its disqualification by Comelec.

With the decision granting Smartmatic’s petition against its disqualification, the court said Smartmatic is now eligible to participate in future elections.

Ruling respected

While it has yet to receive a copy of the High Court's decision, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it would abide by the ruling.

“Ang desisyon naman ng Comelec sa Smartmatic ay para naman sa bayan. Tiningnan namin ano makakabuti sa bayan. Base sa decision ng SC, sinasabi na parang premature pa. Nag exercise ng grave abuse of discretion. Sa lahat ng ito, natututo ang Comelec (The Comelec's decision on Smartmatic is for the country. We just look into what would be in the country's best interest. Based on the SC's decision, it's still premature. There was a grave abuse of discretion. In all of these things, the Comelec learns)," Comelec spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco said in an interview.

He noted that the decision of the High Court will not affect the ongoing preparations for the May 2025 midterm elections.

“Ngunit nagpapasalamat kami na hindi makakaapekto ito sa na conduct na public bidding, sa awarded na contract. Nang sa gayon, walang pag hahadlang sa paghahanda ng Comelec sa automation sa 2025 (We are thankful that this would not affect the holding of public biddings and the contracts that were already awarded. This means there would be no hindrances to the Comelec's preparations for poll automation in 2025),” Laudiangco said.

Laudiangco said the Comelec en banc has yet to make its next move.

“Hintayin ang decision ng Comelec en banc sa bagay na ito. Sila lang makakapag decide kung kami po ay aapela, motion for reconsideration, or tatanggapin na lang (We wait for the Comelec en banc's decision on this matter. They are the ones who would decide whether we would appeal, we would file a motion for reconsideration or would just accept it),” Laudiangco said.

Meanwhile, he said the manufacturing of the automated counting machines (ACMs) by South Korean joint venture firm Miru System will start on April 19 in South Korea.

Laudiangco said 20 ACMs that would be used for demonstration procedures would be manufactured.

All procedures to be undertaken by Miru would be live streamed for transparency, he added.

Meanwhile, Smartmatic welcomed the High Court's decision.

Smartmatic representative Christian Robert Lim, in a statement, said the decision "restores justice and sends a clear message to those at the helm of Comelec that due process matters."

"The ruling does justice to the 90 percent of Filipinos who support automated elections, and who believe that Smartmatic’s work since 2010 has resulted in a stronger democracy and unquestioned legitimacy of our leaders,” he added.

Since 2010, Smartmatic has provided automation services used by the Comelec in various national polls, the latest of which was the May 2022 elections. (PNA)