Jittery Comelec decides to junk Chinese PCOS

THE Commission on Elections has moved the manufacturing of precinct count optical scan machines from Suzhou, China, to Taiwan, after receiving “intelligence reports” that China would sabotage the 2016 national elections.

At a hearing of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim told lawmakers the “biggest threat to the 2016 elections is China.”

“We want to emphasize that the move to Taiwan was a product of the contract negotiations because we have received intelligence reports that there may be an attempt to sabotage the elections by China,” Lim told lawmakers as Comelec officials briefed Congress on the poll body’s preparations for 2016 elections.

Lim said “a Comelec commissioner with military contacts” relayed this information to the Comelec en banc.

A spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy dismissed the allegation as “groundless and a sheer fabrication.”

“China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs,” said Li Lingxiao, and embassy spokesperson. “The deal on vote-counting machines is between Comelec and Smartmatic.”

In the House, Lim said the Comelec was also concerned about the ongoing arbitration case between China and the Philippines.

He said the transfer of manufacturing to Taiwan was non-negotiable and would be done at its service provider’s expense.

In August, the Comelec announced that the voting machines would be made in Suzhou, China.

The Philippines expects the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands to rule on territorial dispute over the West Philippine Sea before the 2016 elections.

The poll body has already signed the P1.7-billion contract with technology provider Smartmatic-TIM for the lease of 23,000 PCOS.

Under the contract, the Smartmatic-TIM must deliver five machines by September, 200 by October, and 6,000 in both November and December. The remaining machines must be delivered by January.

Reacting to Lim’s remarks, former Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman said fears of electoral sabotage were a good reason not to use PCOS machines.

In a text message, Lagman said insiders can easily tamper with PCOs machines and manipulate their result.

Citizen for Clean and Credible Elections co-convenor Melchor Magdamo said that in 2009, the PCOS factory was originally located in Jarltech Taiwan.

But when Smartmatic-Total Information Management won the bid, they transferred the manufacturing of the machines to China to cut manufacturing costs.

“The Chinese factory has no ISO [International Standards Organization] certification… Jarltech in Taiwan has ISO,” he said in a separate interview.

“Some of the court cases versus Smartmatic cite the failure to manufacture under ISO quality. Comelec must go back to a factory with ISO certification. Most of them are in Taiwan,” he said.

Magdamo said he does not believe there are plans from China to sabotage the election process next year. Instead, the transfer is being done to appease critics who sued Smartmatic for violation of the obligation to comply with ISO certification.

“The transfer is a simple face-saving move with no connection to the Chinese bullying in the West Philippine Sea. China can sabotage the Philippines by doing nothing,” Magdamo said.

Smartmatic president Cesar Flores confirmed that the Comelec received a formal request from Comelec to transfer the manufacturing of the machines from China to Taiwan.

Flores said they have agreed to the Comelec’s request despite the higher cost, but said both factories were certified to manufacture according to international standards.

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