Comelec to probe 2016 poll contract bidding

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday announced that it has created a “chairman’s task force” to look into the procurement of the automated election system for the 2016 elections to determine whether it has been rigged.

Comelec Chairman George Erwin Garcia said on Tuesday the 12 handpicked members of the fact-finding team were given orders to complete the probe before the end of the year.

Comelec Chairman George Erwin Garcia

Comelec Chairman George Erwin Garcia

The task force was created over allegations by the United States government against former Comelec chairman Andres Bautista that he received bribes from an elections company in connection with the 2016 polls.

Bautista was charged with money laundering and conspiracy by the US Justice Department for receiving bribes from Florida-based company Smartmatic and its subsidiaries in exchange for assistance in securing multimillion-dollar contracts.

The report said the former Comelec chief awarded Smartmatic a $199-million contract to supply 94,000 vote counting machines (VCMs) used for the presidential elections in 2016.

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Four executives from Smartmatic subsidiaries have reportedly been implicated in the scheme involving Bautista.

The Smartmatic executives, who were not identified by name in the charge sheet, allegedly “caused or attempted” to funnel $4 million to Bautista in violation of US money laundering laws.

Based on court documents, the four executives used “slush funds” and “fake contracts” to facilitate the bribes and then hid everything using fake email accounts. They also used codewords like “salsa” to refer to “money.”

Bautista maintained his innocence in social media posts.

“But let me be very clear. I did not ask for nor receive any bribe money from Smartmatic or any other entity,” he posted on his official X account.

Smartmatic, on the other hand, said it has never won a project through any illegal means, adding that the claims in the Bautista case are not related to Smartmatic election security or integrity.

The company also said “winning a bid in the Philippines is never solely one individual’s preference or decision” and that the company has “both won and lost bids in the Philippines” over the years.

Smartmatic has provided election-related machines since the first automated polls were conducted in the country.

“We created a task force to investigate whatever happened that year. We want to know the root cause. Are the accusations true?” Garcia said in a news conference on Monday.

“If [the public bidding] was rigged, it could not be that only one person was involved. We are not saying the allegations are true, but it’s better that the Comelec be prepared,” he added.

Garcia said he had ordered all departments of the Comelec to provide all the documents and records related to the procurement of the automated election system in 2016.

“The task force shall review all the documents and be done before the year ends,” he added.

Garcia said the 12 members of the fact-finding task force were chosen for their “credibility and involvement in the past [procurement] process.”

In case the task force recommends filing charges in court, Garcia said this would be done by the seven-member board of the Comelec.

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