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.

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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