Bishop Roderick S. Pabillo et al., v. Commission on Elections En Banc, G.R. No. 216098, 21 April 2015

Constitutional Law; Requisites for Judicial Review; Public Interest Exception – Indeed, the conduct of the upcoming 2016 Elections is dependent on the functional state of the existing PCOS machines purchased by the COMELEC. PCOS means “a technology wherein an optical ballot scanner, into which optical scan paper ballots marked by hand by the voter are inserted to be counted, is located in every precinct.” As the AES’s groundwork mechanism, it is imperative that the PCOS machines, come election day, are of optimal utility. Following the CAC’s recommendation to re-use the existing technology for the said elections, the COMELEC proceeded to procure services for the repair and refurbishment  of the PCOS machines. The COMELEC, however, through its Resolution No. 9922, decided to pursue a direct contracting arrangement with Smartmatic-TIM, which has now resulted in the execution of the Extended Warranty Contract (Program 1). Petitioners assail the validity of the foregoing courses of action mainly for violating the GPRA. Thus, if only to ensure that the upcoming elections is not mired with illegality at this basic, initial front, this Court, pursuant to its unyielding duty as final arbiter of the laws, deems it proper to thresh out the above-stated substantive issues, reasonably unfettered by the rigors of procedure.

Administrative Law; Government Procurement; Alternative Procurement Methods; Requisites – [T]he Manual of Procedures for the Procurement of Goods and Services of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB Manual) explains that the GPRA allows the use of alternative methods of procurement in some exceptional instances, provided: (a) there is prior approval of the Head of the Procuring Entity on the use of alternative methods of procurement, as recommended by the BAC; and (b) the conditions required by law for the use of alternative methods are present. As additional requisites, (c) the Procuring Entity must ensure that the method chosen promotes economy and efficiency, and (d) that the most advantageous price for the government is obtained.

Words and Phrases; Proprietary Nature – Goods are considered to be of “proprietary nature” when they are owned by a person who has a protectable interest in them or an interest protected by intellectual property laws.

Administrative Law; Government Procurement; Services for Repair and Refurbishment Are Covered By Public Bidding Requirement – However, it is at once apparent that the “goods” subject of these cases neither pertain to the PCOS machines nor the software program aforementioned, but rather to the services for the machines’ repair and refurbishment, which in itself constitutes a distinct contract object that is susceptible to government procurement through competitive public bidding. As defined in Section 5 (h), Article I of the GPRA, “services such as the repair and maintenance of equipment” are included within the ambit of the term “goods” as applied within the context of the procurement law.

Intellectual Property Law; Scope of License to Use – At any rate, even if it is assumed that Smartmatic-TIM is the proprietary source of the services or that the intended repair and refurbishment would necessarily entail a modification of the PCOS hardware and software of which its existing intellectual property rights cover, the COMELEC is still not bound to engage Smartmatic-TIM on an exclusive basis. Based on the 2009 AES Contract, Smartmatic-TIM would grant the COMELEC a perpetual, but non-exclusive license to use, modify, and customize the PCOS systems and software, including the right to alter and modify the source code itself, for all future elections, when the latter exercises its option to purchase (which it eventually did), with certain limitations as hereunder stated:

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Indeed, the license granted is but a natural incident of the COMELEC’s exercise of the OTP, by which it had acquired ownership over the PCOS machines; hence, the COMELEC should already be able to freely exploit them for the purpose that they were purchased. The only limitations, as may be above-gleaned, are on their commercialization as such would be clearly foreign to the contract’s objective. It would be both absurd and unfair if the COMELEC’s ability to effectively operate the machines would remain solely dependent on Smartmatic-TIM notwithstanding its acquired ownership over the same. While the intellectual property rights of Smartmatic-TIM were acknowledged by the COMELEC, by no means was it precluded – as it should not be precluded – from the complete utilization of the machines as long as it advances election-related purposes: XXX

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