The prohibition of Smartmatic Philippines Inc. from participating in Philippine elections by the Philippine Commission on Elections puts an end to the company’s thirteen-year tenure as the primary provider of election technology to the country.
CNN’s Philippine edition reports that the decision was centered on bribery allegations that commission chairman Andres Bautista was bribed to ensure Smartmatic obtained the contract for the 2016 elections. It has been denied by Bautista that the allegations are true.
Despite Smartmatic’s assertion that it has complied with the regulations and that the allegations leveled against it are without merit, the commission remained unmoved.
“Although these allegations, stemming from incidents potentially spanning at least three election cycles, have not been conclusively proven, their gravity and potential to damage public trust warrant the Commission (En banc’s) proactive measures to safeguard the integrity of elections and democratic institutions,” the commission said in a published decision.
The decision was reportedly influenced by a request for information from the U.S. government that may have been associated with a potential violation of American statutes, as reported by the Manila Times. The Times reported that violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, conspiracy, wire fraud, and money trafficking were among the offenses under investigation.
“It is noteworthy that Bautista, who served as the Chairman of the Commission, was formally charged in September 2023, in connection with allegations of receiving bribes in exchange for awarding a contract for election machines to Smartmatic Corp,” the commission wrote.
The allegations, according to the commission, tainted the voting process.
“Bautista and others are alleged to have laundered the bribe money through multiple entities. It was revealed that Bautista established a foreign shell company, which was used to receive bribe payments from Smartmatic,” the commission wrote.
“The charges against Smartmatic and former Chairman Bautista are of public knowledge and tend to cause speculation and distrust of the electoral process,” it said in its resolution ousting Smartmatic.
“Given the gravity of allegations related to bribery and compromised procurement processes, as independently determined by foreign bodies, the Commission recognizes the imminent threat to the strength and integrity of our democratic processes,” it wrote.
“In the light of these findings the Commission acknowledges the imminent peril to the integrity and robustness of our democratic institutions,” it further said.
The panel stated that prospective election corruption and electoral fraud constituted a lethal combination in terms of public confidence.
It said that “the allegations not only undermine and cast a shadow over the procurement protocols but also threaten to erode the public’s confidence in the electoral system.”
The elections commission wants the nation’s Special Bids and Awards Committee to review the case for “possible permanent disqualification and blacklisting from all government procurement proceedings, not just in relation to elections,” the commission wrote.
The decision should not be interpreted as a questioning of the integrity of the 2016 elections, according to Business World, which cites commission representative John Rex C. Laudiangco.
“The decision is on the integrity of the procurement then and not, we repeat, not, the integrity of any automated elections conducted in the Philippines, particularly that of the 2022 NLE,” Laudiangco said, using an acronym for national and local elections.