MANILA – The process of stripping the vote counting machines leased from Smartmatic in the May 9 elections is under way, after the Supreme Court rejected a bid by former senator Bongbong Marcos to stop the process and preserve the machines because of his pending poll protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.
In a Supreme Court decision released Thursday (Jan. 5), the court noted the dilemma raised by the Commission on Elections about the risk it will be forced – under its lease contract on the VCMs – to pay over P2 billion in case it fails to return the machines, as scheduled, to supplier Smartmatic.
The SC resolution said that Marcos, who lost by 200,000 votes to Robredo in the VP race, may be required to pay for the cost if the Comelec is compelled to preserve the VCMs to satisfy his petition.
The SC, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, authorized Comelec in a resolution to immediately carry out the automated election system (AES) project closure/stripping activities for all VCMs covered by the election protest.
The Comelec is thus now undertaking the stripping activities for the VCMs and CCS (consolidation and canvassing system) kits along with the external batteries.
The PET stressed, however, that due notice must be given by Comelec on the stripping/closure activities to the protestant (Marcos), protestee (Robredo), the tribunal itself, and other interested persons.
The exact wording of PET’S order goes:Â “authorize the Comelec and Smartmatic to immediately conduct the 2016 automated elections system project closure/stripping activities for all the VCM and CCS kits including the immediate disposal of the VCM external batteries, with prior notice to this tribunal, the protestant and protestee and other interested persons.”
The PET also directed Comelec to allow the parties and representatives of the tribunal to observe and comment on the conduct of the closure/stripping activities.
PET also approved the holding of preliminary discussions between Comelec and counsel/watchers of the parties and the tribunal regarding the protocol and procedures to be followed in the conduct of the closure/stripping and backing-up activities.Â
These include the ocular inspection at the Comelec warehouse in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, where the closure/stripping is being done.
Meanwhile, PET also directed the revision of its earlier precautionary protection order (PPO), toÂ “modify the precautionary protection order such that election materials and paraphernalia used in the May 2016 elections which do not contain election result dated, as listed in the letter of the Comelec dated August 10, 2016, are excluded from the coverage of PPO.”
The PET also allowed the Comelec Election Records and Statistics Department to back-up the contents of the VCMs’ SD [secured digital] cards of the municipalities, cities and provinces covered by the PPO.
Also, the PET ordered Comelec to present the itemized cost that it might be compelled to pay “should the automated election paraphernalia covered by article 6.9 of the AES contract still be in the possession of Comelec by December 1, 2016 on account of the instant election protest.”
Comelec had earlier warned it was at risk of being obliged to pay P2,078,304,225.76 if it fails to return the gear by December 1, 2016, as the contract provides for an “option to purchase” if Comelec does not return the VCMs to Smartmatic.
The Comelec, meanwhile, was also directed by the PET to inform it “within 10 days from notice hereof, of (i) what transpired during the stripping of the 1,356 VCMs on October 26, 2016 and (ii) the status of protestee’s request for decryption.”
The PET resolution was drafted by SC Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, a classmate of former President Benigno Aquino III, Robredo’s partymate.
You can also try: