SC reverses Comelec ruling that barred Smartmatic from bidding

sc reverses comelec ruling that barred smartmatic from bidding

SC reverses Comelec ruling that barred Smartmatic from bidding

BAGUIO CITY — Automated poll provider Smartmatic has scored a legal victory against the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that came a little too late.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion when it disqualified Smartmatic from participating in the bidding for the automated election system (AES) to be used in the midterm polls next year.

In an en banc decision on Tuesday, the high tribunal unanimously granted the petition filed by Smartmatic TIM Corp. and Smartmatic Philippines Inc. and reversed the Nov. 29, 2023, resolution of the Comelec en banc.

READ: Comelec won’t accept Smartmatic bid unless told by SC

However, citing considerations of equity, justice and practicality, as well as the doctrine of operative fact, the court said its finding was not a sufficient basis to nullify the public bidding conducted by the Comelec special bids and awards committee or the award of contract to Miru Systems of South Korea.

“The court recognized that to require the Comelec to conduct another round of public bidding would seriously disrupt its preparations for the 2025 National and Local Elections (NLE) and potentially jeopardize the very conduct of the NLE,” the Supreme Court said in a statement on Wednesday.

READ: Comelec awards P18-B poll deal to Korean-led group

Comelec allegations

In issuing its 2023 decision to disqualify Smartmatic, the Comelec cited its constitutional mandate to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall under Section 2(1), Article IX-C of the Constitution.

The commission also cited the information it received from the US Department of Justice about an ongoing criminal probe on former Comelec Chair Juan Andres Bautista in relation to procurement activities for the 2016 NLE.

In particular, in its comment submitted to the Supreme Court, the Comelec said US court documents showed that Smartmatic executives used “slush funds” and “fake contracts” to facilitate alleged bribes and hid their actions with “phony email accounts” to transfer funds to a dummy bank account allegedly owned by Bautista.

Following the resolution that banned Smartmatic or its related entities from participating in the public bidding for the 2025 AES, the Comelec special bids and awards committee proceeded to conduct the bidding, the award of which was given to Miru Systems Co. Ltd.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said the Comelec disregarded the procedures prescribed by the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA) and its implementing rules and regulations and disqualified Smartmatic before it had submitted any bid.

“Without any reference to the applicable eligibility requirements and non-discretionary pass/fail criteria prescribed by the Special Bids and Awards Committee, the Comelec en banc implemented a discretionary prequalification regime antithetical to the very essence of the GPRA—a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction,” the high tribunal pointed out.

Vindication

Smartmatic on Wednesday lauded the high court ruling overturning its disqualification.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s ruling in our favor, which restores justice and sends a clear message to those at the helm of Comelec that due process matters,” Smartmatic legal counsel and spokesperson Christian Robert Lim said in a statement.

“By rectifying Comelec’s questionable decision, the Court not only vindicated Smartmatic but also set a crucial precedent for upholding transparency and accountability in public procurement processes,” added Lim, a former Comelec commissioner.

Comelec Chair George Erwin Garcia said the commission en banc met to discuss the Supreme Court decision on Wednesday morning and would issue a statement soon. The poll body may still file a motion for reconsideration before the high court.

Having been vindicated by the court’s ruling, Smartmatic said it “stands ready to explore further opportunities to contribute to the ongoing modernization of Philippine elections—a transformative journey it began over a decade ago.”

“The ruling does justice to the 90 percent of Filipinos who support automated elections, and who believe that Smartmatic’s work since 2010 has resulted in a stronger democracy and unquestioned legitimacy of our leaders,” added Lim.

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