The Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) today asked President Aquino III to compel the Smartmatic company to refund the money given it due to the failure of some 18,000 PCOS machines to transmit election results, dysfunctional CF cards, and other glitches that transpired during the May 13 mid-term elections.
The amount paid by the government for the questionable purchase of the PCOS machines in March 2012 for at least 23% of the machines that failed to transmit should be refunded. This is on top of costs by machines that broke down, faulty CF cards and modems, and other system failures, AES Watch said.
AES Watch, through acting spokesperson Nelson J. Celis, issued the demand as individual conveners of the citizens’ election watchdog including lawyers and IT professionals filed a second complaint with the Ombudsman against the Comelec this time led by incumbent chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. The complainants, headed by former Vice President Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr., asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate Brillantes, together with Commissioners Lucenito N. Tagle and Elias R. Yusoph on their culpability for impeachment in accordance with Section 22 of the Ombudsman Act.
Aside from Guingona, Jr., the complainants in the Joint Supplemental Request for Investigation and Complaint-Affidavit, are: whistleblower Engr. Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, Fr. Joe Dizon, Mother Superior Mary John Mananzan, CenPEG Fellow for IT Prof. Pablo R. Manalastas, Atty. Greg Fabros, Anna Leah Escresa of We Watch, Evita L. Jimenez, co-convener of AES Watch and CenPEG executive director. The names of more than 40 other members of AES Watch who signed earlier had been deleted because they cannot make a personal appearance before the Ombudsman to swear oath, a required office procedure.
The new complaint-affidavit charged the three incumbent Comelec officials for “supreme betrayal of public trust” by conspiring with Smartmatic executives for the purchase of highly-problematic 80,000 PCOS machines. Commissioners, the complainants said, knew about the highly-questionable performance of the Smartmatic-supplied automated election system (AES) in the 2010 elections and that the Venezuelan company, being a non-owner of the technology, could not correct the program errors in preparation for the 2013 mid-term elections. Conspiring with one another, the respondents removed the safeguards provided by law in implementing the AES “to the extreme prejudice of the electorate” and made the same highly-questionable shortcuts taken by their predecessors thus “placing under serious cloud the sanctity and integrity of the May 13, 2013 mid-term elections,” the complainants averred.
In the recent mid-term elections, some 18,000 PCOS machines failed to transmit election returns. There were also strong indications of program errors as transmitted votes overshot the number of voters forcing the Comelec to stop publicizing the canvassing results with just 40% of the COCs received. “Winning senators” begun to be proclaimed prematurely with just 20% of the COCs with Brillantes saying election results will be decided not by actual votes but by “projected votes.”
Aside from Smartmatic executives led by Cesar Flores, a Venezuelan salesman, other non-impeachable respondents are Comelec executive director Jose M. Tolentino, Jr., among others. The complainants prayed that the non-impeachable Comelec officials be ordered under preventive suspension “to save evidence from irretrievable loss and/or preserve evidence from irreparable damage” referring to faulty PCOS machines, ballots, and rewritable CF cards, among other election paraphernalia.
Atty. Rommel Bagares, volunteer lawyer of AES Watch along with Atty. Harry Roque, said while the incumbent Comelec Commissioners may not be sued in a criminal proceeding, protected as they are by constitutional immunity, they may be subject to an investigation by Ombudsman for purposes of an impeachment proceeding. The complainants invoked the Ombudsman Act (Republic Act № 6770), Section 22:
Section 22. Investigatory Power — The Office of the Ombudsman shall have the power to investigate any serious misconduct in office allegedly committed by officials removable by impeachment, for the purpose of filing a verified complaint for impeachment, if warranted.
Bagares also said the proceedings may also later on be turned into a criminal investigation, once the Comelec officials retire, resign, or are removed from office.
Meantime, Fr Joe Dizon, a convener of AES Watch reiterated the call for an independent fact finding or Truth Commission to look deeper into the irregularities of the poll automation project including the recent May 2013 questionable interference of Smartmatic technicians in the “fixing” of the tabulation which resulted in the highly erroneous counting of votes just a few hours after polls closed.
“Many questions arise because of non disclosure of information and the secrecy with which the foreign technology supplier with the Comelec commissioners operate and run the entire poll automation system,” Fr Dizon explained.