Requirements for purchase of poll machines waived?

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    SENATORS yesterday slammed an alleged move to insert a provision in the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) that will exempt the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from complying with the requirements in the acquisition of automated election equipment.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III, in a post in his Twitter account, vowed to block the supposed attempt, and was immediately backed by Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

    The senators were reacting to a Twitter post of election lawyer Emil Marañon that “someone at the Senate” wanted to give the Comelec a “carte blanche authority” to waive all the requirements and safeguards in Section 12 of the Automated Election Law.

    “With this, Comelec can now adopt an untested new system or it can waive all safeguards, mandatory tests, certifications, review by political parties, and election watchdogs, among others. If this happen, the upcoming election can no longer be trusted,” said Marañon in his post.

    Section 12 of the law provides that the system procured must have “demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad.”

    Sotto, in a Twitter comment, said he asked Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, to look into the matter.

    “Cannot allow. I’m looking into it already!… Easy to shoot down the proposal: Provision of a general law cannot amend the provision of a special law. RA 8436 as amended by (RA) 9369 is a special law while (the) GAA is a general law,” Sotto said.

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said he, too, received information of the alleged attempt to insert the provision in the final version of the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) but said he was not sure if that was included in the budget measure that the Senate approved on third and final reading last week.

    “If it is there, I do not know who authored that amendment. In any case, I brought it to the attention of (Angara), advising him that if true, the provision could be unconstitutional as a rider, since it had nothing to do with the budget. Moreover, if true, it will amend the Procurement Law, which cannot be amended by inserting that clause in the General Appropriations Act. Sen Angara committed that he will not allow the insertion of that provision,” Drilon said.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the GAA can only contain provisions consistent with appropriations of funds and cannot amend a special law.

    Angara said: “We are checking on that but the SP’s (Senate President’s) directive is clear on that matter not to allow any such attempt.”

    Elections Commission Rowena Guanzon warned the government against allowing the election body to waive particular safeguards in selecting the automated election system (AES) to be used in future poll exercises.

    In her Twitter account, Guanzon said it would be dangerous for the Comelec to be allowed to tap untested AES as it could result to more questions on the credibility of the elections.

    “If you waive bidding requirement of prior track record, it is very risky,” said Guanzon, adding: “Worst scenario: Chaos nationwide, allegations of fraud, no credible elections.”

    The alleged attempt in the Senate comes amid the Comelec’s bidding process for the refurbishment project of the old vote counting machines (VCMs), which were used in the 2016 and 2019 elections. A total of 97,345 units of VCMs are set to be reused in the May 2022 national and local polls.

    The Senate passed on third and final reading the P4.506-trillion proposed national budget on Thursday last week which was focused on strengthening the government’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Representatives of the Senate and House of Representatives who will comprise the bicameral conference committee will convene today (Dec. 1) to reconcile the disagreeing provisions in each other’s version of the budget bill. – With Gerard Naval