(From Manila Bulletin)
The Commission on Election (Comelec) in Philippines is making sure that the automated elections will push through without any incident in 2016 and will not in anyway be held hostage by events related to the current territorial dispute with China.
Briefing the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim said the maritime row with China is the reason why they decided to have the 93,000 optical mark readers (OMRs) be manufactured in Taiwan instead of China after receiving intelligence reports that China may attempt to sabotage the May 2016 polls.
“I also want to emphasize that the move to Taiwan was a product of the contract negotiations because we have received intelligence reports that there may be an attempt to sabotage the elections by China,” he told the panel chaired by Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro.
They reportedly received the information from a military source sometime in June or July.
“The commission made it non-negotiable that the provider would have to transfer the facilities to Taiwan at their expense,” he added.
During the hearing, Comelec chairman Andres Bautista said they made such decision “because of current conditions,” referring to the Philippines’ ongoing arbitration case which the Philippines filed before the Arbitral Tribunal in the Hague against China’s nine-dash line claim that has encroached on Philippine territory.
The Tribunal is expected to hand down its decision whether it has jurisdiction over the dispute by the end of 2015.
“Initially as per contract negotiations, we made it a point to discuss with Smartmatic that we didn’t want the factory in China although we announced that it was going to be in Suzhou… we made a condition in the contract negotiations that they will do it outside China. We don’t want the complications,” Lim said.
“Also one reason why we want all deliveries of machines by January is because we are anticipating the release of the arbitration decision by then so … we want to avoid complications,” he pointed out.
Lim said they just wanted to take precautions after receiving the intelligence report.
“It’s not only sabotage in the machine itself. There might be other issues like trade embargo. If that happens, how will you get your machines? There could be restrictions on visiting the site. How can we inspect the machines? We wanted to take less precaution,” he said.
The Comelec commissioner said they did not raise the issue with Malacanang since they already hammered out the issue with Smartmatic which will manufacture the vote-counting machines.
He said they have been assured by Smartmatic that there is no additional cost for the transfer of the factory.
China rejected the Comelec allegation that it might try to sabotage the elections, saying it was “sheer fabrication,” The Philippine Star said.
The spokesman at China‘s embassy denied any such plan.
“The so-called attempt by China to sabotage the 2016 elections is totally groundless and a sheer fabrication,” embassy spokesman Li Lingxao, said in a statement.
“China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference into other countries’ internal affairs,” Li added.
Philippine voters will elect a president, vice president and more than 18,000 legislators and local government executives next May.
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