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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.

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.

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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. 

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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?

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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.

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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! 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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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