Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

National politics heats up early with break-away of Koko Pimentel, who very likely would run with LP. Migz Zubiri’s surprising strength among UNA Big Guns. Early filing of candidacies (Oct. 1-5) owing to the printing of automated election ballots. The moment of truth for both political power groups, LP and UNA.

Koko pimentel III

With the elections of 2013 only eleven months away, national politics is fast heating up. The pull-out of Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, president of PDP-Laban, from the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), as he recently announced, has far-reaching repercussions on our political scene---especially on the rivalry for supremacy between the ruling LP and UNA.

For one thing, its quite odd that Koko did not wait for the arrival of Vice President Jejomar Binay, currently in Europe, before making that decision to bolt UNA. VP Binay, who founded and chairs UNA, is also the chair of the PDP-Laban. One would think that young Pimentel would have squared out first with his party chair his problem with former Sen. Migz Zubiri’s being in the UNA senatorial line-up, before firming up his plan to quit it. 

Instead Pimentel went to the residence of former President Joseph Estrada (accompanied by his spiritual adviser, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz) last Thursday morning to talk things over with Estrada. But it seemed that his mind was already made up about bolting UNA and obviously all Erap could do was to wish him luck. 


The reason Koko offered in media for leaving UNA is that he cannot see himself standing in the same campaign platform as Zubiri, whom he accuses of having cheated him of four years in the Senate and participating in the Arroyo administration’s alleged electoral machinations that benefited him.  Koko insists it’s a matter of principles and he’s being congratulated in various quarters for it; there are critics, however, who feel he's trying to catch up on headlines he missed bagging in the past four years.

One media report carried intimations that Koko plans to run as an independent; but in this country no one would ever win as independent unless it's Miriam. The likelihood, however, is that pragmatism would get the better of Koko and he’ll join the Liberal Party as “guest candidate.” But such move would likely take away much of the burnish from his principled stand.  In fact, some would consider it as rank opportunism.

The thing about the Pimentels is that they'll always be pere et fils---a package deal. You readers will recall that many weeks ago I foresaw this problem of the Pimentels peeling away from UNA. I wrote that former Sen. Nene had quit the University of Makati, where VP Binay had last year inaugurated a local governance foundation in Nene’s honor, that the latter would run.


Migz Zubiri

What surprises me at this juncture is the strength of Migz Zubiri. What just happened was that Koko Pimentel made UNA choose between him and Migz and the three Big Guns of UNA--- namely, VP Binay, former President Erap and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile---obviously chose Migz who had months ago joined the Partido ng Masang Pilipino of which Erap is president and JPE is chair, over Koko. 

Recall that JPE didn’t want Migz to resign his Senate seat last year, as he seems quite fond of the young senator.  JPE's sentiment is understandable, for Migz can be quite disarming. 

On the other hand, it’s evident that Estrada doesn’t have much love lost for  former Sen. Nene, owing perhaps to the fact that Nene presided at the Senate impeachment trial of Erap and in the latter's perception, he didn’t lift a finger to save him (though it was the second people power that actually ousted Erap).


Recall that when Zubiri joined the PMP at Erap’s invitation, with full backing of JPE, Koko registered his protest, but it appeared to have been salved---for the sake of unity between the two sons of Mindanao. Soon the names of five early birds were floated for the UNA senatorial line-up, namely, JV Ejercito, Jack Enrile, Joey de Venecia, Gringo Honasan and Koko. So far it was ok. 

But when Migz’ name was mentioned as additional candidate at the oath-taking of Gwen Garcia of Cebu and Mitos Magsaysay of Zambales, Koko began to kick harder. After last June 11's executive-committee meeting of UNA, where Gwen, Mitos and Migz were finally announced as senatorial candidates, Koko wrote a letter to the coalition’s Big Guns which was coursed through the media. Then Sen. Nene came in to protest for his son. 

All hell broke loose.  


There’s a report that young Pimentel would take a leave of absence from PDP-Laban where he’s president, while sorting out his political plans, but  this is being denied by party members. But with his announcement that he's quitting UNA, the doors of the LP, which is quite starved for winnable senatorial candidates, not surprisingly swung opened and its leaders quickly welcomed Pimentel to the fold. 

 Actually leaders of UNA are expecting him to sign up in the LP, as that would be a matter of necessity for him now---survival.  It would open Koko up to the funds the LP would be awash with (using the gargantuan CCT funds of nearly P50 billion, as House Minority leaders fear)---and of course, the PCOS machines that Comelec is relentlessly pushing, and generally perceived to favor administration candidates. 


But how does one resolve the fact that the head of the PDP-Laban---which is one of the three legs on which the UNA stool rests---is joining the LP and campaigning for the P-Noy administration that’s backing it up? The popular perception is that VP Binay, now still in collaboration with P-Noy, would end up at cross-purposes with him as the 2013 elections approach. Binay has to capture the Senate then, if he's going to bag the presidency in 2016.

Some PDP-Laban members I spoke to are unhappy over the split within their party, but they’re confident that the day after the May 13, 2012 elections, Koko, by then re-elected, would return to the party as if nothing had happened.

Only in da Pilipins?


With Koko’s impending alliance with the LPs, the race to capture the big senatorial stars into the parties' respective firmaments has heated up. The prize catch of both sides, because they are topping the surveys, are Chiz Escudero and Loren Legarda. In fact, there’s talk that the LPs are ready to endorse all the reelectionist senators, which include also Alan Peter Cayetano, Gregorio Honasan, Antonio Trillanes and Koko, as “common candidates.” 

This would be a great convenience to the reelectionists, but mighty unfair to the new candidates.  


Toby Tiangco as witness for CJ Corona
But this concept of “common candidates” may not work in the end, for as Rep. Toby Tiangco of Navotas-Malabon, the Secretary-General of UNA, points out, the time to firm up the respective line-ups is fast approaching---due to the re-adoption by Comelec of the PCOS-run automated election system for 2013.  As Rep. Tiangco, who has been with the PMP since 2001, explains it, voting by means of shading of names in the AES necessitates the early printing of candidates’ names in the ballots---unlike in the old manual system, where one writes out the names of his candidates.

Because of this need for early printing, the filing of candidacies will be done from Oct. 1-5 this year, unlike in past elections when filing would be around February.  

The moment of truth for everyone.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

UP Alumni Association rocks with Serafin Cuevas, who bagged its “Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award.” Ph lends IMF $1 billion with its left hand, but continues to borrow with its right hand from IMF’s twin, the World Bank, especially for discredited CCT. That loan a political time-bomb for LPs in 2013.

Some pockets of the University of the Philippines, such as the UP College of Law, are dominated by the yellows. But last Saturday at the 2012 General Alumni-Faculty Homecoming and Reunion at the Bahay ng Alumni in the UP Diliman campus, attendees went wild over Serafin Cuevas, whose major lifetime achievement perhaps was that he was the illustrious lead defense counsel of Chief Justice Renato Corona in the celebrated Senate impeachment trial concluded a month ago.  The lion of the 2012 impeachment trial became the undisputed rock-star of the UPAA Alumni Homecoming.

Cuevas was one of five awardees of the coveted “UP Alumni Association (UPAA) Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Awards” and as he was called, tumultuous cheering erupted from the alumni. Afterwards everyone seemed eager to grasp the hand of the balding legal eagle, a shy smile pasted on his face, and the alumni began pulling him here and there for picture-taking.    


The UPAA Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Awards are extended to senior individuals who, “in the course of a career that is completed or nearly so, must have consistently rendered illustrious and meritorious service and achieved distinction in her/his areas of endeavor, which altogether clearly made the nominee a credit to her/his profession and to the University. The nominee, furthermore, should be an outstanding citizen who has led an exemplary life.”

The 83-year old Cuevas, a graduate of the UP College of Law class ’52, boasts of long public service as former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Secretary of Justice in the Estrada administration, distinguished trial lawyer and criminal law professor.  But this “Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award,” for which he was nominated by the UPAA Search and Awards committee in late February this year and affirmed by the UPAA Board of Directors in April, was undoubtedly rendered to him in recognition of his brilliant leadership of Corona's defense team.   


In an interview last Sunday over GNN by former Sen. Kit Tatad, the former SC Chief Justice, in his first TV interview since his Senate conviction, publicly paid tribute to his defense team led by Cuevas. He termed them “heroic” as they fought against all odds and the massive marshalling of powers by the administration. Corona said his defense team “gave much more than I expected of them.” 

Ironically, however, despite the fact that Corona’s formidable defense team was able to demolish the prosecution’s evidence at every turn, such as the alleged “45 properties" and the "82 dollar accounts” irresponsibly presented by Ombudsman Conchita Morales, CJ was convicted just the same by the Senate---indisputable indication that outside forces had factored into that convict-decision. 

Obviously the UPAA “Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award” to Serafin Cuevas was recognition not only of his legal prowess in a career spanning over 40 years, but also of his brilliant leadership of Corona's defense team as it heroically battled those "outside forces" against all odds. 


An interesting sidelight was that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who presided at that Senate impeachment trial and led the 20 who convicted Corona, was also earlier considered by the UPAA Search and Awards Committee for the “Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award." But the 88-year old veteran politician failed to make it to the finals.

Thus, in a real sense, the UPAA's "Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award" may also be regarded as a referendum among the UP alumni on the conduct of the Senate impeachment trial of 2012, as well as on the rule of law.


As cited earlier, the warmth accorded Cuevas is like the rock-star treatment of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago who is mobbed everywhere she goes and unexpectedly got a standing ovation at a Lisa Macuja performance recently. In her native Iloilo, fellow Ilonggos Neil Tupas and "senator-prosecutor" Franklin Drilon are nowhere near her celebrity status. Incidentally, Tupas reportedly wants to run for the Senate in 2013 under the LP, but President Noynoy apparently is not impressed with his handling of the prosecution and has nipped Tupas’ senatorial ambition.

On the other hand, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, one of the three senators, along with Miriam and Joker Arroyo, who doggedly went against the conviction tsunami despite tremendous pressures and inducements, has been besieged with speaking invitations from all over the country.  So is Joker Arroyo warmly received everywhere, except that unlike his two ebullient colleagues who obviously relish celebrity, Joker remains reclusive.


For Cuevas and the three pro-acquittal senators, the adulation they continue to receive a full month since Corona’s ouster is obviously part of the continuing sympathy for the former magistrate over the grave injustice and grave abuse of discretion done to him by the “Sanctimonious 20,” and the unscrupulous prosecutors, who resorted to all kinds of dirty tactics and the most ruthless trial by publicity an official has ever been subjected to.   

Interestingly, the Palace propaganda machinery recently published supposed an SWS survey result that 70 percent of the people approved the conviction of Corona. Yet the same survey also said that an overwhelming majority disapproved of the conduct of the Senate trial.

So which is which? Obviously the warm reception to Cuevas and the three acquittal senators is not fake.


The P-Noy administration is reaping enormous criticism for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' decision to lend a whopping $1 billion to the IMF, purportedly to help shore up the distressed economies of Europe and forestall a new world recession. The offer was made by the Philippines at the recent “Group of 20” meeting in Lagos, Mexico. A staunch LP ally of P-Noy, Sen. Ralph Recto, questions how that loan could have been done without the approval of Congress or at the very least, an appropriation cover from it. We’re as surprised as you are, Mr. Senator. 

Recto's LP colleagues, notably Sen. Drilon, are seeking to justify the $1 billion loan as an independent decision of the BSP---wala daw pakialam ang national government dito. Perhaps strictly speaking, this is so. But it's such an unwise decision from the political standpoint, especially with the 2013 elections less than a year away. Can you imagine the impact of this loan on the jobless and hungry masses attending the UNA's rallies?


The respected Prof. Leonor Magtolis-Briones, former National Treasurer in the Estrada administration, points out that Ph has no obligation to lend this $1 billion as we are not even a member of the Group of 20 where the appeal for loans was aired.  Briones argues that the obvious motive of the administration is to impress the foreign community that we are no longer a debtor (having exited from the bitter IMF prescription program in 2006, DURING THE GMA ERA, as Star columnist Dick Pascual pointed out), but a creditor-nation. Briones stressed, however, that in so doing we’re impressing no one---for the fact is that we are still a big borrower from the World Bank, the US, Japan, etc.


I know for a fact that an enormous portion of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of P-Noy, which is expected to balloon from P35 billion to P49 billion next year, is borrowed from the WB. This, even if the CCT has not been fully audited and serious doubts about its efficacy has been aired by many leaders since the incidence of poverty has been going up despite this two-year program. 

Thus, we will lend $1 billion to the IMF with our left hand, but continue to borrow heavily with our right hand from the WB which is IMF’s twin-institution.  Note that WB-IMF, always referred to as hyphenated, are known as the “Bretton Woods Twins,” having been “born the same time” in July 1944 in the tiny New Hampshire village of that name. They serve as twin inter-governmental pillars supporting the structure of the world’s economic and financial order.  Thus, we really fool nobody with that $1 billion loan facility to the IMF. 


Instead of lending out that gargantuan amount, the P-Noy administration should invite the BSP to invest more in poverty alleviation schemes that REALLY WORK. In an earlier blog I wrote about a scheme devised by the DSWD as a variation of the CCT, whereby women from very poor families were chosen, “seminar-ed” and primed for a project that would capitalize them with small loans, to help them set up small businesses. 

These could involve little neighborhood sari-sari stores where the women-borrowers can repack charcoal into small P30 bags or a tin of lard into tiny packs, etc., or to set up little center sewing rugs and mops out of basahan. Trust our industrious women to get into such small businesses to generate daily sustainable incomes.   

What happened to that scheme?  In the neighborhood I’m in touch with, after the women completed all documentary requirements at a big sacrifice, using their scant resources, the small livelihood loans never materialized (were they channeled into the pockets of the CCT administrators?). 

That $1 billion BSP loan to IMF is certain to be a political time-bomb in the 2013 elections. 

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Search for new CJ getting more ridiculous. Was Judge Mupas promised coveted Court of Appeals seat if he hangs tough on bail and permit to leave for GMA? P-Noy should not strain quality of mercy further, and instead heed JPE’s warning about possible adverse repercussions of lack of compassion.

We live in a time when good hearty laughs are getting quite rare, owing to the many problems our country faces and the rudderless leadership we have.  But I must admit that I was never more amused than at reports that among the most recent applicants for the recently vacated post of Chief Justice of the Philippines was a former RTC judge who was sacked by the Supreme Court in 2006 for admitting that he had been consulting dwarfs in deciding cases.

The judge, who calls himself the “Chief Justice of the Universe,” was reported to have personally submitted his 45-page application to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). Among the documents he submitted reportedly were pictures and names of individuals who had witnessed “mystic divine lights” in the judge’s “2 palm eyes.”


Instantly I recalled Sen. Joker Arroyo’s commentary about how the search for the new CJ has become “ridiculous” and how we seem to have all kinds parading before the Judicial and Bar Council, the constitutional body tasked to sift through the applications and nominations now numbering over 50 already. As Joker put it, “Now every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to be Chief Justice.” Indeed, once upon a time, as he noted, every lawyer dreamed of landing in the SC, with the CA as stepping-stone. But now they want to go straight to the very top without earning the proper credentials---including those who claim jurisdiction over the entire universe.  

I agree about how ridiculous the search for the next CJ has become. And it's easy to see that this demeaning of the top judiciary post is the direct result of the unprecedented ruthless demonizing of CJ Renato Corona in the media in the past six months, and the thwarting of the law by the the conscience-less prosecutors and the self-righteous senator-judges at the impeachment trial.


But while the search for CJ seems to be getting funnier, the laugh may be on the country. The reality is that the parade of candidates for the top magistrate’s post--- with many actively lobbying for it and a good number of them are tainted with scandals or hounded by controversy---is actually a sad commentary on the state of the nation. 

Recall that the “Sanctimonious 20,” in looking for a ground last month to oust CJ Corona as per the script of Malacanang, settled for his  non-impeachable "offense" of failing to declare his bank assets in his SALN; this, even as the  senators themselves are the first to admit that there is rectification for such a failing in the law.  


After CJ was ousted, however, the senators themselves started to stonewall the public clamor to open their SALNs in the aftermath of the trial’s verdict, and declare their bank assets. It's outright hypocrisy, giving a face to the time-honored adage, “Do not accuse in others what you excuse in yourselves.”

Now that we are confronted with the ridiculous charade of over-eager applicants and nominees to Corona’s vacated post, some of us are led to wonder, was this what the reviewer of French writer Emile Zola’s classic “J”Accuse” meant when he said, “When you break the law to correct flaws in a nation, you break the nation.” 

Certainly the charade before the JBC appears to be a breakdown in propriety and perhaps ethical standards of professional behavior at the very least.


We citizens are left to wonder now whether the “Sanctimonious 20” feel happy over these developments in the search for CJ Corona’s replacement. Do the senators feel some pangs of conscience in seeing how, in their effort to please Malacanang, they ousted a man who believed that the law is his best defense. How do they feel now that the country is witnessing, to borrow a term from columnist Rigoberto Tiglao, a bastusan never before seen in the selection of a CJ---a ridiculous spectacle that only manages to bring tears to those watching from the sidelines, who are deeply concerned about the direction our country has been taking.   


On the other hand, the chorus of voices from high and low pleading for more mercy and compassion for hospital-detained former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is increasing as her health continues to deteriorate. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who doubtless seeks to redeem his image that was affected by the conviction of Corona by the Sanctimonious 20 that he led, is the latest to plead for allowing GMA to seek immediate treatment either here or abroad, or at the very least, to grant her bail so she could be under house arrest---instead of moving her to a regular jail as the administration reportedly is mulling.

In this plea JPE is joined by Sen. Pia Cayetano, who may be feeling some pang of guilt as well over her harsh conviction vote for CJ Corona and may also be looking for a way to improve her image.


Enrile warns of possible adverse political repercussions should anything happen to GMA now, with the seeming nonchalance of the administration to her very critical health problem. He recalled how the Marcos administration where he was a key official allowed Ninoy Aquino to leave at the height of martial law for a heart operation abroad.  

JPE also recalled how the adverse fate of prominent leaders in the past had triggered national crises, such as the assassination of Ninoy which began all the agitation for democratic space since 1983, and finally, the assassination of the Antique hero for democracy, the late Gov. Evelio Javier, in February 1986. Evelio's death became the immediate trigger of the EDSA Revolution later that month.


Other political leaders such as former President Estrada, as well as Church leaders such as Archbishops Oscar Cruz and Ramon Arguelles are all pleading for more leniency in the handling of GMA.  Their plea has acquired an urgent tenor inasmuch as the electoral sabotage case vs. GMA is considered quite weak as it banks only on the hearsay testimony of the lone witness against her and her co-accused---former Maguindanao provincial administrator Norie Unas. He’s perceived as merely inventing tales to escape implication in the Maguindanao Massacre.

Publicly the Palace has been quoted as saying that it’s leaving the decision to act on the plea of Senate President Enrile for more compassion for GMA entirely to Pasay City RTC Judge Jesus Mupas. Meaning, the Palace is hands-off on this issue. Which is a good thing---if it’s true?


Recall that this judge became the speed-reader of the century when finished perusing in one or two hours all the voluminous documents accompanying the Comelec petition to implicate GMA on electoral sabotage. Recall that Mupas  that same afternoon slapped the prima facie case that enabled Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to maintain the TRO against GMA. 

Mupas  has not been heard from in relation to the Palace stand regarding GMA's treatment abroad or bail, but there’s persistent rumor that a coveted position in the Court of Appeals---the stepping-stone to the SC---is being dangled to this judge, in exchange for keeping GMA in jail.

Let’s hope this is not true, for from what we gather, the former President truly needs medical attention. Senate President JPE was quoted as having heard from sources that GMA is said to be unable to take any solids and that no doctor wishes to take her delicate medical case). President Noynoy has everything to gain by not straining further the quality of mercy shown to his predecessor.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gibo predictably declines his nomination as CJ; Senate buzz on vote on CJ Corona: “worry not about INC, we have PCOS”

Of course it was thoroughly predictable that Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. would decline his nomination by a law group to the post of Chief Justice. By next month President Aquino will be presented a list of three nominees from the 45 or so who will be screened for that post, so that he could appoint one of the three as CJ. Gibo naturally knows that his second cousin, the President, is looking for a stooge for that post, after P-Noy engineered and pushed for the ouster of CJ Renato Corona by the Senate impeachment court last May 29.

The ostensible reason cited to justify P-Noy’s move against Corona is that he is corrupt and too pro-GMA, but actually the popular belief is that Corona proved too independent-minded when he led the SC in ruling 14-0 on the distribution of Hacienda Luisita’s lands to its farmer-tenants last Nov. 22.  While that decision was ruled with finality, the issue of how much the Cojuangcos would get from the farmer-beneficiaries as payment for those lands---P196 million as CJ Corona fought for, or P5 billion as Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno insists---is still on appeal.

This is the biggest issue that the new CJ-appointee would have to wrestle with, testing his or her and the Judiciary’s independence. Doubtless Gibo, who’s a Cojuangco from another branch of the clan, was well-aware of the power play between Malacanang and the SC and wisely rejected being reduced to an unwitting pawn. He declined his nomination as soon as it was proposed.  


The SC’s recent decision to lift the TRO on the petition of four different organizations to junk the P1.8 billion contract between Comelec and Smartmatic is being offered by some quarters as immediate evidence of the “chilling effect” on the SC of the ouster of Corona. That view is totally justified.

Recall that the contract wherein Comelec was to purchase some 82,000 PCOS machines that were used in the 2010 elections, was slapped a TRO in a tight 8-7 vote by the magistrates, led by CJ Corona, last May. But early last week---less than three weeks after he was ousted by the Senate---that SC 8-7 decision became 11-3 for the lifting of this TRO and upholding the validity of the contract that opposition groups said was done without proper bidding. Four justices had moved from being against to pro-contract.


The three SC justices who remained against the contract with Smartmatic---namely, Arturo Brion, Martin Villarama and Estela Perlas-Bernabe---are being lauded for standing firm, despite P-Noy’s naked interference when he expressed strong public preference for it the day before the SC decision’s promulgation. Bernabe, the most recent of three P-Noy SC appointees, is thought of as a “deodorizer,” so that it wouldn’t be said that his appointees went solid for the PCOS contract.

I attended the first SC hearing on this issue late last April and Justice Arturo Brion impressed me with his well-thought out questions to the petitioners’ lawyers. Brion, valedictorian of his Ateneo law class and a bar-topnotcher, has a reputation for being quite independent-minded and would actually make a good CJ; but I doubt if he’d ever come close to an appointment, given P-Noy’s tuta requirement.  


As mentioned in this blog earlier, the lawyers for the anti-contract petitioners who were led by Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla were contemplating whether to file a motion for reconsideration (MR) of the SC decision on the PCOS. An MR at this point seems like a "suntok sa buwan," to quote Tandem lawyer Demosthenes Donato, given the massive 11-3 decision. But now the lawyers have agreed to file that MR, and I think it's a laudable course of action   

The MR will tell the Filipino people---with the help of media that care---about the dangers to the 2013 elections of using those machines once again. It should record for history the people's protest of Comelec’s cavalier attitude towards the requisites for clean and honest elections.


What the four citizens’ groups that filed that petition vs. the PCOS contract feel terrible about is that the Carpio-led High Court chose to zero in on the validity of the contract and ignored the defects of the automated election system (AES) peddled by Smartmatic and of those 82,000 PCOS machines. The petitioners’ lawyers argue that unlike the claim of Smartmatic that there were just “glitches” in the AES system that have already been “corrected,” the system actually has “major fundamental defects” that have not been attended to.


Three of the most serious defects, maintain the petitioners’ lawyers, are:

 1). the failure of Smartmatic’s AES to meet the 99.995 percent accuracy level of the PCOS machines, as demanded in its original contract with Comelec. This was despite the attestation to this level by the PPCRV, which is being ridiculed as “Smartmatic’s ‘unofficial’ spokesperson; 

2). The lack of functional digital signatures of the machines, owing to Comelec’s unexplained and baffling Resolution No. 8786 in May, 2010, which ordered all the board of election inspectors (BEI) nationwide to disregard these signatures’ use. As a result, the electronic election returns pouring into Comelec’s system couldn’t be traced accurately, and 

3). The thorough vulnerability of the PCOS machines to hacking, as shown in the May 2010 elections.


On the issue of the lack of “digital signatures” on all the electronic election returns nationwide, Tandem asserts that “it necessarily follows that the constitutional mandate to secure the ‘sanctity of the ballot’ has been grossly violated during the May 2010 national and local elections."

On the other hand, with regard to the ease of hacking these machines, it will be recalled that many unauthorized PCOS machines were recovered from various areas, the most notorious of which were the 60 found in Antipolo. Who were operating them? Will these operators be active again in 2013?


Prodded by well-meaning citizens’ groups such as the “Consumer Watch” of Raul Concepcion for Comelec to start implementing the AES for the 2013 elections, the petitioners led by Archbishop Capalla and Tandem are not buying the proposal of Smartmatic to conduct random tests on the viability of the "repaired" PCOS machines. 

To oppose such random tests is a valid posture. For just like the P39 billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the P-Noy administration for 2012 (which will balloon to P49 billion in 2013!)---which likes to show off its supposed efficacy by selecting “pilot areas” where all factors are under its control---the Smartmatic demo will surely show one or two machines “working” in say, its Cabuyao HQ and perhaps in one or two more places.  But what about the rest of the 82,000 across the archipelago?


Many political pundits have noted that during the vote on CJ Corona’s fate following his Senate impeachment trial, the “Sanctimonious 20” senators appeared to have ignored the plea of the powerful Iglesia ni Cristo to vote for his acquittal. The question on many minds was, how could this have happened, when in the past politicians assiduously courted the INC’s solid vote?

Some pundits have sought to explain this mystery by focusing on the PCOS machines. which now seem to have now been given free rein to determine the outcome of our 2013 elections. Talk in the Senate in the final days of the Corona trial was that there was the reported admonition from the President’s allies:  Ignore the INC. Worry not, dear senators, we have PCOS.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Miriam mobbed in supermarkets and gets standing ovation at Lisa Macuja’s performance. To National Artist F. Sionil Jose: the moral cannot be detached from the ‘legal,’ as otherwise anarchy would reign. Rule of law is bedrock of democracy.

News reports said Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, who celebrated her 67th birthday this week, was “thrilled to the skin” when she was given a standing ovation when she arrived at the performance of the "World Stars of Ballet," featuring prima ballerina Lisa Macuja at the Aliw Theater in Pasay City.  Miriam was also reported by media as being mobbed in supermarkets, so much so that she couldn't do any shopping.

These reactions  to the feisty senadora from Metro Manilans are not surprising, and the astute observer should link them to the sharp drop in President Noynoy's acceptance rating in MM as shown in the SWS survery taken late last month---about the time the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona was winding up. The survey taken from May 24-27 showed that slightly less than half of the population in MM (48%) disapproved of P-Noy, representing a sharp 24 percent drop in his net satisfaction rating from just last March.  


The link between the ovation and mobbing of Miriam and P-Noy's steep ratings drop in MM, I submit, is the disgust MM folks felt over the persecution of CJ Corona and the ruthless way the administration mobilized all agencies of government in the process.  People are really not as dumb as the Palace's propagandists think they are, especially in MM where they have better access to information than just from controlled yellow media.

Unfortunately, 20 senators were unmoved and led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, they overwhelmingly voted to convict Corona. But they had their own reasons which didn't fool the people one bit. By contrast, the people idolize Miriam, who led the lonely trio of pro-Corona senators with Joker Arroyo and Bongbong Marcos. These three senators were lauded---and continue to reap praise for their independence and integrity.  


Star columnist Carmen “Chit” Pedrosa answered her fellow columnist, the respected National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose who, in his June 3, 2012 column titled “What we have learned from the Impeachment Trial,”  chose to see the Corona impeachment as a “morality play and the triumph not so much of justice but of good against evil.” 

Mr. Sionil Jose, zeroing in on Miriam in one part of his column, accused her of “apparent moral metastasis” because leaders like her, he said, “are hobbled by their tremendous self-esteem, their encyclopedic legal knowledge, they forget that the basis of law is moral.” He asserts that “Were (Miriam) cognizant of this she would have joined the majority vote in the Senate.”


The National Artist obviously swallowed the line peddled by the administration that the impeachment of Corona was the fight of good vs. evil. Chit Pedrosa, however, couldn’t be swayed from arguing the path of the rule of law.

She cited unforgettable aberrations of the prosecution in the nearly six months of hearings that thwarted this gold standard of a democratic society--- such as brown envelops c/o a little lady or left on a congressman's gate on a rainy night, the myths of the 45 properties churned out by a search engine and offered by the chief of the Land Registration Administration and US properties which turned out to be hoaxes, the $10 to $12 million in 82 bank accounts cited by an Ombudsman who irresponsibly didn’t verify computer-generated data from the AMLC, etc. etc.

Chit argued eloquently that “using shortcuts such as unfair trials ends up not correcting society but in fascism.” As she stressed, this is a “greater evil we will all regret” for as a reviewer of Emile Zola’s “J’Accuse” said, “When you break the law to correct flaws in a nation, you break the nation.”


Interestingly, a number of President Aquino's critics are raising the alarm about the drift of the administration toward strongman rule. Chit cites fascism.  Hector “Chito” Villanueva, who served in the Ramos and Arroyo administrations, a normally mild-mannered man and opinion columnist, deplored in his June 15 column in the Manila Bulletin “the total mobilization of the State’s vast resources without inhibition to doggedly hound and pursue perceived political enemies in the name of democratic reforms and crusade against corruption.”

By resorting to defiance of revered democratic practices, argued Chito, P-Noy “is not only a game-changer, but may be on his way to becoming a strongman, and extending his term by lifting the term limits through constitutional amendments, with his control of the Senate, the House and the Judiciary.”  When all is said and done, he stressed, “it is hoped that the hubris and bravado that President Aquino is displaying will not bring the country to the brink and abyss of political chaos.”


Since the esteemed F. Sionil Jose argues from the morality issue, let me tackle this through examples in the recent impeachment trial. He argues that “the basis of law is moral,” but I submit that in this issue of CJ’s impeachment, the moral issue is very much tied to the legal issue.

No matter how distasteful the resort to legalese may be for some, including Mr. Sionil Jose, CJ's trial still was a legal exercise that should have been governed by rules under the law---never mind if the senator-judges tried to portray it first and foremost as a political exercise. Now we know why they did---conviction would never have been possible if they had conformed to the law.


CJ Corona stressed in his first appearance before the Senate Court that he did not declare his $2.4 million foreign deposit in his SALN as he sincerely believed this was covered fully by RA 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposits Act (FCDA), which guarantees absolute confidentiality of such deposits. Senate President Enrile, however, in his explanation of his vote last May 29, disagreed with Corona’s stand, arguing that the constitutional provision on total disclosure by public officials is superior to the FCDA.

There is a lot of disagreement about this point. In fact CJ’s lawyer, the respected former Ateneo Dean Eduardo “Dindo” de los Angeles, argued in his closing remarks on May 28 that even granting, without conceding, that CJ had erred on this point, the law governing SALNs, RA 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, DOES ALLOW RECTIFICATION of SALN errors borne out of misconception and not malice.

Sen. Ralph Recto of the LP was the one who raised this crucial point of possible rectification early at the Senate trial.   


Interestingly, last May 19, 2012 in the Philippine Star, Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque III admitted that the law governing FCDs is “a gray area” and the issue on whether dollar deposits should be disclosed in one's SALN is NOT CLEAR under the law. Duque has tasked a technical working committee to review and study the SALN form in order to make it “a more effective tool of transparency.”

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago commented during the trial that Corona should not be punished for what she termed the “ambiguities” of the law on foreign accounts in relation to the SALN.


Senate President Enrile was very emphatic in his vote explanation in stressing that “the Chief Justice does not stand accused of having amassed any ill-gotten wealth before this impeachment court.”  In other words, the court is not saying he stole the money he failed to disclose.  JPE’s beef, which majority of the senators bought, was that CJ stands accused ONLY of failing to declare his assets in his SALN. Corona, however, cited in his defense RA 6426, which protected their confidentiality.

It’s a question of interpretation for which, I maintain, Corona couldn’t be faulted---as perhaps to a man, all public officials have hidden their dollar assets, also invoking RA 6426. But now, after the senators have ousted him, they themselves, save for three senators, have chosen to stonewall public demand that they apply the same strict standard of accountability they had imposed on Corona. The senators, especially the three richest ones (namely, JPE, Edgardo Angara and Franklin Drilon), simply refuse to disclose their SALNs.


In addition, except for a few party-list representatives, all the 188 who impeached him in indecent haste, without verifying the complaint as the Constitution requires, have refused to disclose their own SALNs. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte was quoted as saying this clamor is “just a passing phase.”

President Aquino and his entire Cabinet, led by Budget Secretary Butch Abad, who also used “acquisition cost” vs. “fair market value” of his properties in his SALN, just like Corona, have also stonewalled this public outcry.

Mr. Sionil Jose, isn’t this hypocrisy on the part of our public officials the height of immorality?  What kind of bogus morality play are we in?

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Consider these recent developments and be unhappy---and worried: SC approved P1.8 billion Comelec contract to buy used PCOS, despite lack of public bidding and 236 glaring defects; candidates for CJ openly campaigning while politicians squabble over 2013 elections. Meanwhile, who’s doing anything about the all-time record poverty and hunger stats?

President Noynoy and his Palace advisers are worrying about his plunging trust and popularity ratings especially in Metro Manila where, as Manila Times columnist Tony Lopez noted, the dissatisfaction with P-Noy is “very deep.” As Tony pointed out, the trust and job approval ratings of P-Noy nosedived to their lowest levels in his two-year presidency, as shown by the SWS survey taken toward the end of last month. The statistics showed that nearly half of Metro Manila’s population---or 48 percent---are unhappy with P-Noy’s performance:  a decline of 24 percentage points from just last March 2012 of 72 percent, and 26 points from December 2011’s 74 percent.


P-Noy and his advisers are plainly unhappy about his careening popularity, but we citizens are not only unhappy. Two days after we celebrated the 114th anniversary of our Independence and two weeks after the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona that rent the nation apart drew to a close with his conviction, many of us are plainly worried about where our country is going.

Consider the recent developments and weep: 

Yesterday the Supreme Court, obviously acting under the chilling effect of CJ Corona’s conviction, lifted its April 22 TRO that was slapped on the P1.8 billion Comelec contract to purchase the second-hand, highly defective PCOS machines from Smartmatic-TIM. No one can discount the fact that President Noynoy’s public endorsement of these machines---on the eve of the SC 's promulgation of its decision---had a forceful influence on the Court's overwhelming 11-3 vote.  No subtleties or delicadeza from P-Noy---just naked interference with a co-equal branch, thank you. 


Take a look, too, at the way some candidates for the freshly-vacated CJ post are fighting it out in the media, after they worked frantically to oust Corona. Where is the delicadeza here? Recall that P-Noy ordered Corona’s impeachment on the ground that he was the stooge of GMA, but can the current crop of “leading candidates” convince us they are any better?

BIR Chief Kim Henares claims she has the edge because she knows the injustice of fighting a big opponent, the Dutch bank ING Barings, and the powerful law office that back-channelled for her firing.  Kim does not bother to explain to the people why this bank terminated her---an action affirmed by the National Labor Relations Commission. A reader says that since the BIR Chief stonewalls this obligation to be transparent in the post-Corona era, ING should speak out and explain this row with Henares. But can that bank risk it?

DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima says she has to consult P-Noy first before indicating her willingness to join the CJ race (despite three pending disbarment petitions against her!). But wouldn’t such admission from this feisty official, who had brazenly defied the SC’s TRO on her hold-order vs. GMA last November, immediately jeopardize her independence?

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio says he does not feel the “chilling effect” of Corona’s conviction. But why would he be “chilled” when the law firm he founded has nourished the reputation for coddling its own stable of journalists and mowing down rivals standing in his path?


Take a look at how our politicians are now squabbling in the media over the elections next year, when their more patriotic duty at the moment is to find ways to lessen the hunger, poverty and unemployment statistics plaguing our people. About 23.8 percent or P4.8 million families in our midst claim to have been really hungry at least once in the past three months, and about 55 percent rate themselves poor. Moreover, unemployment is at record high of 13.8 million of the work force---stats that may not even be accurate.

On the other hand, this administration will appropriate P10 billion more for its “conditional cash transfer” (CCT) program to supposedly alleviate poverty---a jump to nearly P50 billion in 2013 from P39 billion this year. This, despite the crescendo of objections from bishops, economists, academics and other concerned citizens, who see this gargantuan outlay as sheer waste of badly needed finances and a major source of corruption for top officials down to the ground cadre implementing the CCT.

Above all, rival political groups view the CCT as nothing but a tool for political dominance by the Liberal Party now bent on gaining lost ground.


The P1.8 billion purchase contract for PCOS machines between Comelec and Smartmatic was signed without going through public bidding, in violation of the E-Commerce Law and the Automated Election System Law, and against the recommendation of the Comelec Advisory Council. It also JEOPARDIZES the 2013 elections.

Former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman's interim appointment was not renewed by P-Noy after some trapos objected to the first time that an IT expert got into the Comelec board. Last April Lagman testified at the SC hearing that the PCOS machines have been found by the local IT community  to be studded with 236 defects! 


In subsequent oral arguments before the SC to air the Comelec's side, Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza, now a nominated candidate for CJ, strove hard to make the Filipino people believe that these “glitches, malfunctions, bugs and defects of (the) PCOS machines and related paraphernalia” noted by the CAC during the May 2010 elections "have already been fixed.” Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes, who vigorously pushed for this contract with Smartmatic, now wants the civic organizations that had valiantly fought against it to just accept Smartmatic’s assurances about the corrected glitches and “unite with us” for the coming elections.

Ganoon lang ba iyon?  Why does Brillantes trust Cesar Flores implicitly, when the reputation of Smartmatic in other parts of the world, notably in Latin and Central America, has been quite unsavory?


The four civic organizations that fought against the contract are divided on whether to file a motion for reconsideration with the SC or not.  Lawyer Abraham Espejo, who represents the staunch anti-PCOS advocate, Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, is for filing the MR even though he realizes it may be a “suntok sa buwan.”  Atty. Demosthenes Donato of Tanggulang Demokrasya wants to weigh things first, given the “landslide vote” in the SC. 

Indeed their efforts may seem like vainglory at the moment, but the citizens should support the petitioners' MR if it’s filed, as the future of our democracy is at stake here.


Lagman and other IT experts like Jun Estrella, Edmundo Casino and Maricor Akol are not convinced that those machines will work well----in fact, they fear widespread cheating in the coming  elections with their use. It’s also heart-breaking that the SC magistrates chose to put so much weight on a technical aspect: that the security deposit has not yet been returned to Smartmatic by Comelec. Hence the SC saw a PALUSOT to adjudge that the rights of the two parties to amend the 2010 contract can still be exercised. 

Smartmatic, being smart, readily “extended” Comelec’s option to purchase and the poll body signed the contract one day before it expired.

Sadly the SC did not seem to give much credence to the vast possibilities for a repeat of the 2010 poll frauds, as exposed by “Koala Boy.”  Thus, it’s conceivable that the fraud operators in and outside the Comelec are now busy perfecting their hocus-pcos schemes and would be selling these to the highest bidders again in  2013. 

It could be the death-knell of democracy indeed.


There’s opinion in some quarters that the Corona conviction’s chilling effect on the SC justices was such that an overwhelming majority of them merely swam with the tide---to lift the TRO slapped on the Comelec contract in the last few weeks of Corona’s incumbency. One is left to wonder how the vote would have been had he still headed the SC (would it have been as decisive as the 14-0 vote on Hacienda Luisita that he led last November?). Corona's conviction may well be tied to the  grand plan for massive cheating next year.

 But it’s also a fact that what pushed some SC justices to vote for the contract is that they have political relatives who could reap revenge from an offended Comelec, if they voted otherwise. One justice has a son in the House, while another's cousin is also a politician. Such is the low state of Comelec’s reputation these days that a political tit for tat is entirely believable.

A young idealistic Ateneo-trained lawyer sums it up thus: “If there’s anything good that will come out of this SC dismissal at 11-3, it would be to serve as a wake-up call to the advocates and voters at large as to what kind of regime we now find ourselves in.”

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