For years, our poll authorities have been celebrating the “success” of our automated electoral system. Now they are trying to convince us the vendor who supplied the technology that made “successful” automated elections possible should be barred from participating in forthcoming biddings.
There is a lot of dissonance here that the Comelec must clear. The more we examine its decision to ban the sole supplier of our automated elections system, the more the decision appears rash.
Comelec’s decision to ban technology supplier Smartmatic happens only two weeks before bidding. For the 2025 elections, the poll body has a budget of P18.8 billion. That is a lot of money. It will be the largest contract in Philippine history, possibly the biggest election automation budget in all of Asia.
Large contracts, we know, have a way of distorting judgments.
The Comelec chairman has been trying to link the ban on Smartmatic with the money laundering case filed against former poll chairman Andres Bautista in the US. But Smartmatic is not named as a respondent in the case. Any suggestion that Bautista’s money laundering involved bribes from the technology supplier is at best speculative.
The technology supplier denied having anything to do with the monies the former Comelec chairman tried to squirrel away. Those funds could have been raised from a host of other shadowy transactions he was involved in.
It could even be that the money is legitimately his. The allegations have yet to be proven in a US court.
One Comelec commissioner submitted a Separate Opinion dissenting from the ban on Smartmatic’s participation in the bid. The commissioner argues that the poll body’s power to enforce election laws is not a blank check for blacklisting technology providers without legal basis. This Separate Opinion finds the ban whimsical and arbitrary.
The Comelec’s own Legal Department shares that opinion. In the view of the poll body’s lawyers, there are “no legal bases to review the eligibility of Smartmatic or prohibit it from participating in the procurement process of the Comelec.”
The chair of the poll body is a lawyer. More than any other, he should understand the maxim that a respondent is