The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has started the process of returning the vote counting machines (VCM) to Smartmatic as the Supreme Court, sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), ignored the plea of former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to preserve these in his protest case against Vice President Leni Robredo.
In a resolution finalized on Nov. 8 but issued only recently, the PET said: “Authorize the Comelec and Smartmatic to immediately conduct the 2016 Automated Elections System Project closure/stripping activities for all the VCM and CCS (consolidation and canvassing system) 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 mandated the Comelec’s election records and statistics department to back up the contents of the VCM SD cards of all municipalities, cities and provinces covered by the Precautionary Protective Order.
The PET also ordered the Comelec to allow PET members and the parties concerned to observe the conduct of the stripping activities, establish a protocol on the stripping procedures and conduct an ocular inspection of the Comelec’s warehouse in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, where over 1,000 VCMs covered by Marcos’ protest would be stripped of data.
Comelec Chair Andres Bautista said the poll body has started the process of shutting down the VCMs and returning these to Smartmatic, including the VCMs covered by Marcos’ election protest.
Bautista said it would take months before they could fully strip down and return all the 92,509 VCMs used in the May 2016 elections. Bautista said he was satisfied with the resolution of the issue as any delay would have forced the government to pay for the rented VCMs.
The PET asked the Comelec to give an itemized cost of the fees due to be paid to Smartmatic for the delay in the return of election equipment due to the Marcos’ protest. The Comelec claimed it would spend P2.078 billion due to the election protest.
In the electoral protest, the Marcos camp opposed the return of more than 1,000 VCMs because the unused SD cards from these machines were stripped of data during a 14-hour activity at the Comelec warehouse in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
“There was undue haste seen as erasing possible evidence. We find it extremely incredible why Comelec could openly defy such a lawful order of the highest court of the land just to accommodate Smartmatic and appeared to be [in] a rush to turn over the VCMs to Smartmatic,” said Marcos’ lawyer Jose Amor Amorado.
In its resolution, the PET asked the Comelec to inform the body of “what transpired during the stripping of the 1,356 VCMs on Oct. 26, 2016 and the status of protestee’s request for decryption.”
Robredo won over Marcos by only 263,473 votes and the former senator claimed this was due to massive electoral fraud.
By: Gil Cabacungan, INQ