By: Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.and Maila Ager
Philippine Daily Inquirer, INQUIRER.net
June 30, 2009
MANILA, Philippines—A demand for half a billion pesos made in jest by the head of Total Information Management Corp. from its partner Smartmatic Corp. has been alleged as the “deal breaker” in their joint P7.2-billion automation poll contract bid with the Commission on Elections.
This was revealed Tuesday morning by Makati Representative Teodoro Locsin, chairman of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, who described this demand as “ridiculous” and “tantamount to extortion.”
In an interview with Philippine Daily Inquirer, Locsin said that TIM president and chief executive officer Jose Mari Antunez told Smartmatic’s lawyers in a meeting at a Makati hotel a few days ago that “if you give me a half a billion pesos all of these problems will be solved.”
“Of course they took this as a joke but lawyers do not pass on such things. They took it as a deal breaker. The lawyers thought this was tantamount to extortion,” said Locsin.
A spokesperson of Antunez said she would give her boss’ reaction after she meets with him at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Locsin noted that Smartmatic had repeatedly given in to TIM’s demands since they agreed on a 40-60 joint venture to bid for the Comelec deal except for one last request—“it wanted unilateral power when and how money will be spent.”
Locsin said Antunez made the P500-million demand for up-front money after Smartmatic rejected this demand.
Naturally, Locsin said, Smartmatic balked at the demand because the foreign company wanted this key power over the purse to be shared.
“By putting up all these impossible demands, he (Antunez) is laying the defense against lawsuit to be filed in Singapore,” said Locsin.
Locsin, however, was puzzled on why TIM has not yet formally withdrawn from its joint venture with Smartmatic because the “moment he (Antunez) does so, he will charged for refusing to continue a project after he wins.”
In a related development, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee will convene next week to look into TIM’s sudden withdrawal from the P7.2 billion project to automate the 2010 elections, its chairman, Senator Richard Gordon said on Tuesday.
Gordon said his committee will summon officials of the Commission on Elections and the winning bidder, Smartmatic-TIM, on Monday to shed light on the matter.
“We’re calling an investigation motu proprio. We want to find out, sino ang nakialam sa Comelec (who is getting in the way of)? Malfeasance, misfeasance ito,” he said over the phone.
Gordon said the committee can hold a joint hearing with Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero’s committee on constitutional amendments, which initiated an investigation into the awarding of the poll project to Smartmatic-TIM.
Escudero said the Comelec might have been remiss with its duty if TIM’s pullout was indeed due to lack of funds to meet its P700-million share as a partner.
“Hindi ginawa ng Comelec yung trabaho nila. Dapat chini-check sa bidding process pa lang kung may kakayahan ang isang kompanya o kung baka dummy lang sila. Apparently, hindi nakita yun, nakalusot o pinalusot,” he said
But instead of finger-pointing, Escudero said the Comelec should now concentrate on what it plans to do should the poll automation fail to push through.
“Anong gagawin ng Comelec? Anong legal consequences nito? Anong options?” he said.
“Ayaw ko nang masyadong manisi. Forward looking na dapat tayo. What are we going to do? Rather than point an accusing finger, what are we going to do to ensure clean elections, whether partially automated or manual?” he said.
Under the law, Escudero said the Comelec can conduct a partial automation next year or it could re-align the P11.3-billion poll automation budget to return to the manual elections.
For his part, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said this “botched bidding process” only showed that the government was “inutile” and “incapable of providing urgent reforms.”
“It suggests that our leaders are incapable of seeking solutions and fulfilling the most basic requirement of any democracy, which is clean and honest election process,” Pangilinan said in a text message.
If the government were a private corporation, he said, it would have closed shop a long time ago for failure to meet its bottom line.
“In failing to do so in the private sector, its CEO and its top management team would have been fired,” he said.
Pangilinan urged the Comelec to think out of the box and salvage the situation, saying, “Our country does not deserve the mediocrity, the mess, and the inutility being here displayed by the government in this botched deal.”
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