The Philippine Commission on Elections has banned Smartmatic Philippines Inc. from the nation’s elections, ending 13 years of the company being the main provider of election technology to the nation.
The decision revolved around allegations of bribery that claim commission chairman Andres Bautista was paid off to ensure Smartmatic won the contract for the 2016 elections, according to the Philippine edition of CNN. Bautista has denied the allegations.
Although Smartmatic argued it has followed the rules, noting that there are nothing but allegations against it, the commission was 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.
According to the Manila Times, a U.S. government request for information that could be linked to possible violation of American laws was a factor in the decision. The Times report said charges being investigated included violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.
“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 commission said the charges cast a cloud over 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 said the combination of potential corruption and elections was a deadly mix in terms of public trust.
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 read as doubting the integrity of the 2016 elections, commission representative John Rex C. Laudiangco said, according to Business World.
“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.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.