Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 188456 February 10, 2010
H. HARRY L. ROQUE, JR., JOEL R. BUTUYAN, ROMEL R. BAGARES, ALLAN JONES F. LARDIZABAL, GILBERT T. ANDRES, IMMACULADA D. GARCIA, ERLINDA T. MERCADO, FRANCISCO A. ALCUAZ, MA. AZUCENA P. MACEDA, and ALVIN A. PETERS, Petitioners,
COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Represented by HON. CHAIRMAN JOSE MELO, COMELEC SPECIAL BIDS and AWARDS COMMITTEE, represented by its CHAIRMAN HON. FERDINAND RAFANAN, DEPARTMENT OF BUDGET and MANAGEMENT, represented by HON. ROLANDO ANDAYA, TOTAL INFORMATION MANAGEMENT CORPORATION and SMARTMATIC INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION, Respondents.
PETE QUIRINO-QUADRA, Petitioner-in-Intervention.
SENATE OF THE PHILIPPINES, represented by its President, JUAN PONCE ENRILE, Movant-Intervenor.
R E S O L U T I O N
VELASCO, JR., J.:
By Decision dated September 10, 2009, the Court denied the petition of H. Harry L. Roque, Jr., et al. for certiorari, prohibition, and mandamus to nullify the contract-award of the 2010 Election Automation Project to the joint venture of Total Information Management Corporation (TIM) and Smartmatic International Corporation (Smartmatic). The Court also denied the petition-in-intervention of Pete Q. Quadra, praying that the respondents be directed to implement the minimum requirements provided under pars. (f) and (g), Section 6 of Republic Act No. (RA) 8436, or the Election Modernization Act, as amended by RA 9369.
Petitioners Roque, et al. are again before the Court on a motion for reconsideration, as supplemented, praying, as they did earlier, that the contract award be declared null and void on the stated ground that it was made in violation of the Constitution, statutes, and jurisprudence.1 Intervening petitioner also interposed a similar motion, but only to pray that the Board of Election Inspectors be ordered to manually count the ballots after the printing and electronic transmission of the election returns.
To both motions, private respondents TIM and Smartmatic, on the one hand, and public respondents Commission on Elections (Comelec), et al., on the other, have interposed their separate comments and/or oppositions.
As may be recalled, the underlying petition for certiorari, etc. on its face assailed the award by Comelec of the poll automation project to the TIM-Smartmatic joint venture, the challenge basically predicated on the non-compliance of the contract award with the pilot-testing requirements of RA 9369 and the minimum system capabilities of the chosen automated election system (AES), referring to the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) system. The non-submission of documents to show the existence and scope of a valid joint venture agreement between TIM and Smartmatic was also raised as a nullifying ground, albeit later abandoned or at least not earnestly pursued.
The Court, in its September 10, 2009 Decision, dismissed the petition and the petition-in-intervention on the following main grounds: (1) RA 8436, as amended, does not require that the AES procured or, to be used for the 2010 nationwide fully automated elections must, as a condition sine qua non, have been pilot-tested in the 2007 Philippine election, it being sufficient that the capability of the chosen AES has been demonstrated in an electoral exercise in a foreign jurisdiction; (2) Comelec has adopted a rigid technical evaluation mechanism to ensure compliance of the PCOS with the minimum capabilities standards prescribed by RA 8436, as amended, and its determination in this regard must be respected absent grave abuse of discretion; (3) Comelec retains under the automation arrangement its supervision, oversight, and control mandate to ensure a free, orderly, and honest electoral exercise; it did not, by entering into the assailed automation project contract, abdicate its duty to enforce and administer all laws relative to the conduct of elections and decide, at the first instance, all questions affecting elections; and (4) in accordance with contract documents, continuity and back-up plans are in place to be activated in case the PCOS machines falter during the actual election exercise.
Petitioners Roque, et al., as movants herein, seek a reconsideration of the September 10, 2009 Decision on the following issues or grounds:
1. The Comelec’s public pronouncements show that there is a "high probability" that there will be failure of automated elections;
2. Comelec abdicated its constitutional functions in favor of Smartmatic;
3. There is no legal framework to guide the Comelec in appreciating automated ballots in case the PCOS machines fail;
4. Respondents cannot comply with the requirements of RA 8436 for a source code review;
5. Certifications submitted by private respondents as to the successful use of the machines in elections abroad do not fulfill the requirement of Sec. 12 of RA 8436;
6. Private respondents will not be able to provide telecommunications facilities that will assure 100% communications coverage at all times during the conduct of the 2010 elections; and
7. Subcontracting the manufacture of PCOS machines to Quisdi violates the Comelec’s bidding rules.
Both public and private respondents, upon the other hand, insist that petitioners’ motion for reconsideration should be held devoid of merit, because the motion, for the most part, either advances issues or theories not raised in the petition for certiorari, prohibition, and mandamus, and argues along speculative and conjectural lines.
Upon taking a second hard look into the issues in the case at bar and the arguments earnestly pressed in the instant motions, the Court cannot grant the desired reconsideration.
Petitioners’ threshold argument delves on possibilities, on matters that may or may not occur. The conjectural and speculative nature of the first issue raised is reflected in the very manner of its formulation and by statements, such as "the public pronouncements of public respondent COMELEC2 x x x clearly show that there is a high probability that there will be automated failure of elections";3 "there is a high probability that the use of PCOS machines in the May 2010 elections will result in failure of elections";4 "the unaddressed logistical nightmares—and the lack of contingency plans that should have been crafted as a result of a pilot test—make an automated failure of elections very probable";5 and "COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion when it signed x x x the contract for full automation x x x despite the likelihood of a failure of elections."6
Speculations and conjectures are not equivalent to proof; they have little, if any, probative value and, surely, cannot be the basis of a sound judgment.
Petitioners, to support their speculative venture vis-à-vis the possibility of Comelec going manual, have attributed certain statements to respondent Comelec Chairman Melo, citing for the purpose a news item on Inquirer.net, posted September 16, 2009.7
Reacting to the attribution, however, respondents TIM and Smartmatic, in their comment, described the Melo pronouncements as made in the context of Comelec’s contingency plan. Petitioners, however, the same respondents added, put a misleading spin to the Melo pronouncements by reproducing part of the news item, but omitting to make reference to his succeeding statements to arrive at a clearer and true picture.
Private respondents’ observation is well-taken. Indeed, it is easy to selectively cite portions of what has been said, sometimes out of their proper context, in order to assert a misleading conclusion. The effect can be dangerous. Improper meaning may be deliberately attached to innocent views or even occasional crude comments by the simple expediency of lifting them out of context from any publication. At any event, the Court took it upon itself to visit the website, whence petitioners deduced their position on the possible failure of automated elections in problem areas and found the following items:
Allaying fears of failure of elections in 2010, the x x x [Comelec] said it will prepare for manual balloting, especially for areas with problems in electricity and telecommunications network coverage. x x x
"Aside from preparations for poll automation, Comelec is also preparing for manual elections sa mga liblib na lugar [in remote places] x x x, provinces with no electricity and would have issues in electronic transmission. We are ready for manual polls in at least 30 percent or 50 percent of the country as a last contingency measure in case the contingency plans for automation are difficult to implement," said Melo.
The poll chief was reacting to statements expressing the possibility of failure of elections due to the novelty of poll automation.
"The occurrence of nationwide failure of elections as alleged by doomsayers is impossible. Under the laws of probability, all 80,000 PCOS machines nationwide cannot breakdown. Maybe several would but we have standby units for this and we also have preparations for manual elections," he said.8 (Emphasis added.)
Petitioners next maintain that the Comelec abdicated its constitutional mandate9 to decide all questions affecting elections when, under Article 3.310 of the poll automation contract, it surrendered control of the system and technical aspects of the 2010 automated elections to Smartmatic in violation of Sec. 2611 of RA 8436. Comelec, so petitioners suggest, should have stipulated that its Information Technology (IT) Department shall have charge of the technical aspects of the elections.
Petitioners’ above contention, as well as the arguments, citations, and premises holding it together, is a rehash of their previous position articulated in their memorandum12 in support of their petition. They have been considered, squarely addressed, and found to be without merit in the Decision subject hereof. The Court is not inclined to embark on another extended discussion of the same issue again. Suffice it to state that, under the automation contract, Smartmatic is given a specific and limited technical task to assist the Comelec in implementing the AES. But at the end of the day, the Smarmatic-TIM joint venture is merely a service provider and lessor of goods and services to the Comelec, which shall have exclusive supervision and control of the electoral process. Art. 6.7 of the automation contract could not have been more clear:
6.7 Subject to the provisions of the General Instructions to be issued by the Commission En Banc, the entire process of voting, counting, transmission, consolidation and canvassing of votes shall [still] be conducted by COMELEC’s personnel and officials and their performance, completion and final results according to specifications and within specified periods shall be the shared responsibility of COMELEC and the PROVIDER. (Emphasis added.)
The aforequoted provision doubtless preserves Comelec’s constitutional and statutory responsibilities. But at the same time, it realistically recognizes the complexity and the highly technical nature of the automation project and addresses the contingencies that the novelty of election automation brings.
Petitioners’ posture anent the third issue, i.e, there no is legal framework to guide Comelec in the appreciation of automated ballots or to govern manual count should PCOS machines fail, cannot be accorded cogency. First, it glosses over the continuity and back-up plans that would be implemented in case the PCOS machines falter during the 2010 elections.13 The overall fallback strategy and options to address even the worst-case scenario—the wholesale breakdown of the 80,000 needed machines nationwide and of the 2,000 reserved units—have been discussed in some detail in the Decision subject of this recourse. The Court need not belabor them again.
While a motion for reconsideration may tend to dwell on issues already resolved in the decision sought to be reconsidered—and this should not be an obstacle for a reconsideration—the hard reality is that petitioners have failed to raise matters substantially plausible or compellingly persuasive to warrant the desired course of action.
Second, petitioners’ position presupposes that the Comelec is, in the meanwhile, standing idly by, totally unconcerned with that grim eventuality and the scenarios petitioners envision and depict. Comelec, to reiterate, is the constitutional body tasked to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election. In the discharge of this responsibility, Comelec has been afforded enough latitude in devising means and methods that would enable it to accomplish the great objective for which it was created. In the matter of the administration of laws relative to the conduct of elections, the Court—or petitioners for that matter—must not, by any preemptive move or any excessive zeal, take away from Comelec the initiative that by law pertains to it.14 It should not be stymied with restrictions that would perhaps be justified in the case of an organization of lesser responsibility.15
Significantly, petitioners, in support of their position on the lack-of-legal-framework issue, invoke the opinion of Associate, later Chief, Justice Artemio Panganiban in Loong v. Comelec,16 where he made the following observations: "Resort to manual appreciation of the ballots is precluded by the basic features of the automated election system,"17 and "the rules laid down in the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) for the appreciation and counting of ballots cast in a manual election x x x are inappropriate, if not downright useless, to the proper appreciation and reading of the ballots used in the automated system."18 Without delving on its wisdom and validity, the view of Justice Panganiban thus cited came by way of a dissenting opinion. As such, it is without binding effect, a dissenting opinion being a mere expression of the individual view of a member of the Court or other collegial adjudicating body, while disagreeing with the conclusion held by the majority.19
Petitioners insist next that public respondents cannot comply with the requirement of a source code20 review as mandated by Sec. 14 of RA 8436, as amended, which provides:
SEC. 14. Examination and Testing of Equipment or Device of the AES and Opening of the Source Code of Review.—Once an AES Technology is selected for implementation, the Commission shall promptly make the source code of that technology available and open to any interested political party or groups which may conduct their own review thereof.
Pursuing the point, after citing a commentary of an IT expert on the importance of a source code review, petitioners state the observation that "there are strong indications of [the inability] to comply x x x since the source code, which runs the PCOS machines, will effectively be kept secret from the people."21
Again, petitioners engage in an entirely speculative exercise, second- guessing what the Comelec can and will probably do, or what it cannot and probably will not do, with respect to the implementation of a statutory provision. The fact that a source code review is not expressly included in the Comelec schedule of activities is not an indication, as petitioners suggest, that Comelec will not implement such review. Comelec, in its Comment on the Motion for Reconsideration, manifests its intention to make available and open the source code to all political and interested parties, but under a controlled environment to obviate replication and tampering of the source code, thus protecting, in the process, the intellectual proprietary right of Smartmatic to the source code. Absent compelling proof to the contrary, the Court accords the Comelec, which enjoys the presumption of good faith in the performance of its duties in the first place, the benefit of the doubt.
And going to another but recycled issue, petitioners would have the Court invalidate the automation contract on the ground that the certifications submitted by Smartmatic during the bidding, showing that the PCOS technology has been used in elections abroad, do not comply with Sec. 1222 of RA 8436.
We are not convinced.
As stressed in our September 10, 2009 Decision, the AES chosen by Comelec for the 2010 elections has been successfully deployed in previous electoral exercises in foreign countries, such as Ontario, Canada and New York, USA,23 albeit Smartmatic was not necessarily the system provider.
Roque, et al., in their petition, had questioned the certifications to this effect, arguing that these certifications were not issued to respondent TIM-Smartmatic, but to a third party, Dominion Voting Systems. Resolving the challenge, the Court, in effect, said that the system subject of the certifications was the same one procured by Comelec for the 2010 elections. And besides, the Licensing Agreement between Smartmatic and the Dominion Voting Systems indicates that the former is the entity licensed by the latter to use the system in the Philippines.
Presently, petitioners assert that the system certified as having been used in New York was the Dominion Image Cast, a ballot marking device.
Petitioners have obviously inserted, at this stage of the case, an entirely new factual dimension to their cause. This we cannot allow for compelling reasons. For starters, the Court cannot plausibly validate this factual assertion of petitioners. As it is, private respondents have even questioned the reliability of the website24 whence petitioners base their assertion, albeit the former, citing the same website, state that the Image Cast Precinct tabulation device refers to the Dominion’s PCOS machines.
Moreover, as a matter of sound established practice, points of law, theories, issues, and arguments not raised in the original proceedings cannot be brought out on review. Basic considerations of fair play impel this rule. The imperatives of orderly, if not speedy, justice frown on a piecemeal presentation of evidence25 and on the practice of parties of going to trial haphazardly.26
Moving still to another issue, petitioners claim that "there are very strong indications that Private Respondents will not be able to provide for telecommunication facilities for areas without these facilities."27 This argument, being again highly speculative, is without evidentiary value and hardly provides a ground for the Court to nullify the automation contract. Surely, a possible breach of a contractual stipulation is not a legal reason to prematurely rescind, much less annul, the contract.1avvphi1
Finally, petitioners argue that, based on news reports,28 the TIM-Smartmatic joint venture has entered into a new contract with Quisdi, a Shanghai-based company, to manufacture on its behalf the needed PCOS machines to fully automate the 2010 elections.29 This arrangement, petitioners aver, violates the bid rules proscribing sub-contracting of significant components of the automation project.
The argument is untenable, based as it is again on news reports. Surely, petitioners cannot expect the Court to act on unverified reports foisted on it. And, of course, the Court is at a loss to understand how the sub-contract would, in the scheme of things, constitute grave abuse of discretion on the part of Comelec so as to nullify the contract award of the automation project. As petitioners themselves acknowledge, again citing news reports, "Smartmatic has unilaterally made the new subcontract to the Chinese company."30 Petitioners admit too, albeit with qualification, that RA 9184 allows subcontracting of a portion of the automation project.31
The motion of intervenor Quadra deals with the auditability of the results of the automated elections. His concern has already been addressed by the Court in its Decision. As we have said, the AES procured by the Comelec is a paper-based system, which has a provision for system auditability, since the voter would be able, if needed, to verify if the PCOS machine has scanned, recorded, and counted his vote properly. All actions done on the machine can be printed out by the Board of Election Inspectors Chairperson as an audit log.32
On the basis of the arguments, past and present, presented by the petitioners and intervenor, the Court does not find any grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Comelec in awarding the automation contract to the joint venture of private respondents.
In closing, the Court harks back to its parting message embodied in its September 10, 2009 Decision, but this time even more mindful of warnings and apprehensions of well-meaning sectors of society, including some members of the Court, about the possibility of failure of elections. The Court, to repeat, will not venture to say that nothing could go wrong in the conduct of the 2010 nationwide automated elections. Neither will it guarantee, as it is not even equipped with the necessary expertise to guarantee, the effectiveness of the voting machines and the integrity of the counting and consolidation software embedded in them. That difficult and complex undertaking belongs at the first instance to the Comelec as part of its mandate to insure orderly and peaceful elections. The Comelec, as it were, is laboring under a very tight timeline. It would accordingly need the help of all advocates of orderly and honest elections, all men and women of goodwill, to assist Comelec personnel in addressing the fears expressed about the integrity of the system. After all, peaceful, fair, honest, and credible elections is everyone’s concern.
WHEREFORE, the instant separate motions for reconsideration of the main and intervening petitioners are DENIED.
PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
REYNATO S. PUNO
|ANTONIO T. CARPIO
|RENATO C. CORONA
|CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
|ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
|TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
|ARTURO D. BRION
|DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
|LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
|MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
|ROBERTO A. ABAD
|MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
|JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ
JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Resolution had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.
REYNATO S. PUNO
1 Rollo, pp. 2056-2104.
2 Id. at 2061-2062. Attributed to Comelec Chairperson Melo or Jeanie Flororito, Director of Comelec’s IT Department.
3 Id. at 2061.
4 Id. at 2065.
7<http://newsinfo.Inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20090916-225461/Comelec may go manual in problem areas> (visited January 11, 2010).
9 Article IX-C, Sec. 2 of the Constitution provides that the Comelec shall "[e]nforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election … [and] Decide, except those involving the right to vote, all questions affecting elections x x x."
10 Article 3.3. The Provider shall be liable for all its obligations under the Project x x x SMARTMATIC, as the joint partner with the greater track record in automated elections, shall be in charge of the technical aspects of the counting and canvassing software and hardware, including transmission configuration and system integration. SMARTMATIC shall also be primary responsible for preventing and troubleshooting technical problems that may arise during the election. x x x
11 Sec. 26. Supervision and control.—The System shall be under the exclusive supervision and control of the [Comelec]. For this purpose, there is hereby created an information technology department in the Commission to carry out the full administration and implementation of the System. x x x
12 Rollo, pp. 1560-1687.
13 RA 9369, Sec. 11. provides: Section 9 of [RA] 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: Sec. 13. Continuity Plan.—The AES shall be so designed to include a continuity plan in case of a systems breakdown or any such eventuality which shall result in the delay, obstruction or nonperformance of the electoral process. Activation of such continuity and contingency measures shall be undertaken in the presence of representatives of political parties and citizen’s arm of the Commission who shall be notified by the election officer of such activation.
All political parties and party-lists shall be furnished copies of said continuity plan x x x. The list shall be published in at least two newspapers of national circulation and shall be posted at the website of the Commission at least fifteen (15) days prior to the electoral activity concerned.
14 Sumulong v. Comelec, 73 Phil. 288 (1941).
15 Leyaley v. Comelec, G.R. No. 160061, October 11, 2006, 504 SCRA 217.
16 G.R. No. 133676, April 14, 1999, 305 SCRA 832.
17 Id. at 880.
18 Id. at 880-881.
19 Coca-Cola Bottlers, Inc. Sales Force Union-PTGWO-Balais v. Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc., G.R. No. 155651, July 28, 2005, 464 SCRA 507; National Union of Workers in Hotels, Restaurants and Allied Industries v. NLRC, G.R. No. 125561, March 6, 1988, 287 SCRA 192.
20 Defined in Sec. 2 of RA 8436 as "human readable instructions [set of numbers, letters and symbols] that define what the computer equipment will do."
21 Motion for Reconsideration, p. 37.
22 SEC 12. Procurement of Equipment and Materials.—To achieve the purpose of this Act, the Commission is authorized to procure x x x supplies, equipment, materials, software, facilities, and other services, from local or foreign sources x x x. With respect to the May 10, 2010 elections and succeeding electoral exercises, the system procured must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in prior electoral exercise here or abroad. Participation in the 2007 pilot exercise shall not be conclusive of the system’s fitness.
23 Memorandum, Report/Recommendation on the 2010 Automation Election Project Procurement, Annex "9," Comment on Petition of Public Respondents.
25 Jacot v. Dal, G.R. No. 179848 November 27, 2008, 572 SCRA 295.
26 Villanueva v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 143286, April 14, 2004, 427 SCRA 439.
27 Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration, p. 5.
28 By Aries Rufo <abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak>.
29 Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration, p. 11.
30 Id. at 18.
31 Id. at 17.
32 Concurring Opinion of Chief Justice Puno, p. 65.
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