LAWMAKERS from the independent minority bloc in the House questioned Sunday the government’s reasons for awarding contracts worth P40 billion for the printing of sensitive official documents—including 60-million ballots for the 2016 elections—to private contractors with links to the Palace.
“This is very dangerous,” said Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, a member of the independent bloc. “We demand that Malacañang explain the security measures… considering it is not the government but a private contractor that will print such sensitive papers.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, the leader of the bloc, said it was incumbent upon the government to ensure clean, fair and honest elections.
“We have to assure the public that the government will do its best to protect the integrity of the ballot,” he added.
Romualdez also demanded that the Palace account first for the spoiled and the surplus ballots in the 2013 midterm polls.
Other members of the bloc, including Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado Revilla and Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz, said the Palace was depriving its own state-run National Printing Office (NPO) of the P40-billion income.
There must really be a curse on all major initiatives in contracts during the ghost months as the Aquino administration is committing or has already committed to enter into three major contracts destined to further burden the Filipino people like the questionable multibillion secretly negotiated contract for the MRT3 and on the takeover of the Asian Production Unit and its subcontractors of the messy passport system and now its takeover together with Smartmatic of the printing of the ballots for the 2016 elections,” Dela Cruz said.
“This is a virtual repeat of the 2010 and 2013 elections, which critics have denounced as highly flawed and vulnerable to outside intervention,” he said.
The NPO union has sought the intervention by Congress after the government awarded a contract to Smartmatic to print 60-million ballots at P20 per ballot for 2016.
“That’s P1.2 billion off government coffers that would benefit the private contractor. It was the NPO that printed the ballots in 2013 at P5 per ballot, that suited the PCOS machines operated by Smartmatic,” said Rosa Muñoz, NPO Workers’ Association president.
Muñoz said even the P38-billion six-year e-Passport contract that the NPO was mandated to print was awarded to a private contractor, Asian Production Unit, which has been linked to Malacañang.
“The government has deprived us the exclusive rights to print the ballots and the passports. While these major contracts had been subjected to public bidding, the NPO was barred from joining the bidding. We were relegated [to being] an observer,” Muñoz said.
Some officials of the Presidential Communications Operations Office headed by Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., were assigned to oversee the operations of the APU, Muñoz said.
On July 25, 1987, the late President Corazon Aquino issued Executive Order 285 mandating the NPO to print all government documents—official gazettes, tax receipts, the General Appropriations Act, ballots and election paraphernalia.
But EO 285 was amended by EO 378 issued by former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which removed the exclusive jurisdiction of the NPO over printing requirements of government agencies, she said.
Muñoz said the NPO union petitioned the Supreme Court questioning the amendment, prompting Arroyo to restore the law by issuing Memorandum Circular 180 signed on Aug. 13, 2009.
“But the Aquino government, particularly Coloma’s PCOO and Secretary Florencio Abad’s Department of Budget and Management, chose to conveniently use Arroyo’s flawed EO 378 but not her reversal to restore the Cory law,” Muñoz said, in a letter addressed to Revilla.
Muñoz said the 420-member union was restive as they felt Coloma and Abad were trying to abolish them without basis of law.
“The NPO budget is gradually being reduced from P156 million in 2010 when they assumed power, down to P78 million this year and P19 million for next year,” Muñoz told The Standard.
She said Coloma and Abad claimed the NPO had to learn to operate on its own generated income.
“But how can we possibly generate income when [they are giving away] all the major projects that we were supposed to have... to private contractors?” Muñoz said.
Muñoz said the NPO was reduced to printing comics and brochures for national government agencies.
“From our own income, we were able to purchase new printing machines to be able to upgrade and compete with private printing firms. We were able to print the ballots in 2013 elections that were fed in PCOS machines,” Muñoz said.
She said the Smartmatic was required by the Commission on Elections and Coloma to bring its printing machines to the NPO warehouse.
“Smarmatic will be bringing in their machines and the NPO’s own machines will be relegated to one corner to make room for them. And the Smartmatic machines will have full control of the printing of the ballots. All that we can do is watch them but we have no powers over them. [We cannot] even audit how many ballots are they printing,” Muñoz said.
Romualdez said the independent minority bloc would compel Coloma and Abad to explain the violation of Memorandum Circular 180 and the awarding of major printing projects to private entities.
“We have to guard against any attempt to undermine the results of the 2016 presidential elections,” Romualdez said.
Replying to the allegations, Coloma issued a statement to The Standard saying that Malacañang has “no official confirmation” from Comelec regarding the reported award of the ballot printing contract to automation provider Smartmatic.
“From unofficial reports, we gathered that the 2010 election scenario will be adopted. Printing of ballots will be bundled with the supply of optical mark readers or PCOS machines. In 2010, the PCOS machines were supplied by Smartmatic and then Smartmatic brought printing machines to the National Printing Office for the printing of ballots,” Coloma said.
Regarding the NPO’s performance, Coloma said that under the Aquino administration, NPO “has been transformed into a well-performing organization.” “This was attained through sound management as demonstrated in the printing of ballots for the 2013 elections in record time,” he said.
On APO Production Unit as a recognized government printer, Coloma said the company is a government corporation “as stipulated in Republic Act 10149 that created the Governance Commission for Government Owned and Controlled Corporations.” “The GCG has given APO the highest marks for good management pracices,” he said.
“From operating in the red for more than a decade, APO has been posting positive net income results since 2011 and has remitted dividends to the government,” Coloma added.
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