The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has disqualified Smartmatic Philippines Inc. from “participating’’ in all its procurement, Chair George Erwin Garcia announced on Wednesday, Nov. 29, months after four of its executives were implicated in a bribery case against a former Comelec chief in the United States.
The UK-based Smartmatic, which racked up major deals worth at least P25 billion since becoming the country’s top provider of voting technology in 2010, expressed “profound disappointment’’ over the Comelec move.
In its en banc resolution, Comelec said it was “compelled to take decisive action’’ against the technology provider due to the “gravity of allegations related to bribery and compromised procurement processes.”
“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,” it said.
The US Department of Justice filed money laundering charges against former Comelec chair Andres Bautista in September. Four executives from Smartmatic subsidiaries were implicated as uncharged co-conspirators, according to news reports.
The Smartmatic executives reportedly tried to transfer $4 million to Bautista in violation of US money-laundering laws.
Bautista, who awarded Smartmatic a $199-million contract to supply 94,000 voting machines for the 2016 presidential elections in the Philippines, has denied accepting any bribe money from Smartmatic.
While the allegations stemmed from incidents in the past, Comelec said it was taking “proactive measures to safeguard the integrity of elections and democratic institutions.”
It referred the matter of possible permanent disqualification and blacklisting of Smartmatic from all government procurement proceedings to the Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC).
The elections body maintained that there were no irregularities in the 2022 national elections.
In a statement, Smartmatic urged Comelec officials “to conduct this search independently, and to show the public any indictment against Smartmatic.”
The firm said it has “consistently adhered to all [Comelec’s] procurement processes during biddings and contract execution.”
“Our significant role has played a key part in establishing the Philippines as a global model for election integrity,” it said.
The company can move for a reconsideration of the Comelec resolution.
The announcement came two weeks before the Dec. 12 deadline for the submission of bidding documents and the official opening of bids for the country’s automated elections system (AES) in the 2025 midterm poll.
Smartmatic has consistently bagged major Comelec contracts since 2010 when it supplied precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines in the country’s first automated elections. The same technology was used in the 2013 midterms before being replaced by vote-counting machines (VCMs).
Smartmatic’s election contracts from 2010 to 2022 amounted to at least P25 billion, according to data culled from news reports. These included VCMs, AES softwares, transmission services, and technical support.
But this amount could be higher. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has yet to receive procurement records it requested from the Comelec.
Petitions vs Smartmatic
Petitions have been filed with the Comelec to disqualify Smartmatic. The elections body had said that there was not much it could do if the firm met its requirements and as long as the procurement laws favored the lowest calculated bid.
The petitioners against Smartmatic included former Comelec commissioner Augusto Lagman, former Information and Communications Technology Secretary Eliseo Rio, retired Col. Leonardo Odoño, and former Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines president Franklin Ysaac.
They alleged that the 2022 automated elections system (AES) was marred with “serious and material irregularities” and moved that the firm be disqualified from bidding for the 2025 AES.
They also cited alleged irregularities between the transmission logs and reception logs from the precinct level to Comelec’s transparency server during the vote.
While random audits of previous elections showed an accuracy rate of close to 100 percent, Smartmatic has largely been criticized for machine breakdowns that led to long queues and delays.
The elections in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela — also clients of Smartmatic’s voting systems — were also hounded by controversies related to vote-counting delays, technical manipulation, and defective machines.
Bidding for 2025 elections
Smartmatic is one of three firms that purchased bidding documents for the P18.8-billion Full Automation System with Transparency Audit/Count (FASTrAC) project in October.
The two other firms were Pivot International, Inc. and Miru Systems Co. Ltd.
The FASTrAC project contract included the lease of 110,000 automated counting machines (ACMs) with technical support and education materials; over 104,000 ballot boxes; 2,200 consolidated canvassing system (CCS) servers, hardware, and software; and 73.9 million pieces of ballot paper, ballot verification, and ballot printing.
The bundling of election-related items is one of the reforms being pushed by Comelec ahead of the 2025 midterms.
The terms of reference (TOR) for FASTrAC were approved in July. The ACMs come with a 12-inch detachable touchscreen, a ballot entry slot with an auto-aligned function, and a printer for voter’s receipts and election returns with auto-cut function, among others.
Compared to vote-counting machines (VCMs), which were used in the three previous elections, ACMs are designed to have a faster ballot-scanning speed and to transmit results to several servers — central, majority, minority, media, and citizens’ arms — omitting the controversial transparency server. END