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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.

Monday, January 28, 2013

P-Noy’s bail for Acosta once again puts Sandiganbayan in awkward position. Bishops expected to confront PCOS issue, which could force Comelec to be more transparent. In failing to scrutinize Congress’ expenditures, COA abdicates constitutional mandate. Due to fear of its appropriation being frozen?



President Aquino has once again offered to bail out a close associate, just like what he did with new Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca, whose P70,000 bail that P-Noy paid has doubtless caused her arrest order from Sandiganbayan for graft to remain unserved.  Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection Nereus Acosta, together with his mother, former Rep. Soccoro Acosta, has a standing order for arrest by the graft court on perjury charges, but from Davos P-Noy was quoted as making the offer to finance the P6,000 bail for him.

The problem with P-Noy’s rescuing via bail of people close to him is that he is in reality interfering with the justice system and placing the graft court in a most awkward position. In Padaca’s case, as she now brags, she is beyond the reach of the Sandiganbayan as she is already a Comelec Commissioner with a fixed term of seven years and can only be removed by impeachment. To this day Padaca’s appointment leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many citizens.

A bail for Acosta would achieve the same result, for how can the graft court push his case if it’s no less than the President coming to his rescue. As in a number of other cases, he should be the first to demonstrate a healthier respect for the law and the separation of powers.

XXX

The Comelec reported last weekend that except for the slow transmission in some areas, field tests it ran on the PCOS machines in ten different areas in the country was “successful,” and spokesperson James Jimenez was quoted as saying, “We are satisfied with the test.” He said majority of the PCOS machines transmitted test results 100%, and that those exhibiting failures are no cause for worry, for the Comelec can implement “contingency measures” and “improve the system.”

The problem is that as the Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) complained to media, Comelec allowed no outsiders, including media, to witness its field testings---treating the tests as “an internal matter.” AES Wastch asserted that it’s important for the public to observe the critical process of testing the machines’ reliability in transmission, especially since the public is already quite suspicious of Comelec following the fraud-marred 2010 elections. 

XXX

In response Jimenez was quoted as saying that Comelec restricted public participation inasmuch as it’s currently involved in a lot of processes “internal to the system” but that the public, including media and the IT experts, would be invited to the mock elections it will conduct next week.

Comelec’s response to the AES complaint is a welcome development and we look forward to the mock elections. But as former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, whom this blogger contacted for his reaction, noted, it’s not so much the transmission of election results that’s the problem as it’s what goes into the PCOS machines and out to the Comelec server.

I agree, and the cases in a number of places across the country in the 2010 elections amply demonstrated the havoc of marred elections. For instance, how can an entire line-up of candidates led by those for national office as well as some 25 or 26 mayors lose wholesale? This is just too statistically impossible to happen.

Would the cheating be perfected in the coming elections?

XXX

There are disturbing talks that this early some syndicates have already opened the “bidding” in some places for posts in the mid-term elections. For instance, in northern Mindanao, there are reports that bidding starts from P20million upwards.  Let’s hope that if there are indeed such evil schemes cooking to thwart the democratic will of the people, they could be pre-empted, the syndicates busted and its members jailed.

The Catholic bishops who close their three-day annual general assembly today are expected to press for a resolution of the PCOS issue, among other issues. Lending their collective voice to this issue of cheating via the PCOS machines should compel the Comelec to be more open and sensitive to public outcry for safe-guarding the electoral system in May, practice more transparency in its processes of setting up the AES and crack down on corruption in its ranks.

The alternative could be a revolution.

XXX

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate accounts committee, was quoted as saying that in scrutinizing the records of his colleague Miriam Defensor Santiago, he wanted to find out if indeed she has “moral ascendancy” in her posturings against Senate President Enrile. Lacson does not mention Santiago but there’s little doubt that the senator he refers to who allotted part of her MOOE to pay the P840, 000 annual rentals for an extension office in her family-owned building is the Ilongga firebrand.

On the other hand, Sen. Pia Cayetano wonders aloud why JPE is so mad at her when all she did, according to her, was to stand firmly for the RH bill which he had staunchly opposed. As I see it, the quarrel with the Cayetanos cut deep within the aging Senate leader after her sibling Alan Peter blew out in the open l’affaire Gigi; this, in turn, provoke JPE to raise the P37million debt allegedly incurred from him by their father, the late Sen. Rene Cayetano, when he was starting his public career.

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What the whole Senate mess shows is that with almost no exception no one there has any moral ascendancy alright---and how this practice of helping themselves to public funds sans accounting began from the mid-‘90s and through various Senate leaderships. The P250,000-check mess just blew off the lid.

I remember how a senator was heard at the height of the Corona impeachment telling a colleague how he felt queazy that the senators are probing into all the lurid details of the water-damaged (and hence sold at huge discount) condo unit in Global City the Coronas had acquired---when the senators were buying far plushier condos left and right.  Yet they had the gall to convict him.

The issue of the Senate’s and the House’s lack of moral ascendancy came to a head earlier last week when it was disclosed by COA Chief Grace Pulido-Tan herself that in both chambers members only file certifications of expenditures, and not actual receipts. 

This means that in actual practice, members of Congress are not being held to account by COA--- despite the fact that in Article IX on “Constitutional Commissions,” specifically on “D. The Commission on Audit,” the Constitution gives COA in Sec. 2. (1) “the power, authority, and duty to examine, audit,  and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property, owned or held in trust by, or pertaining to, the Government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities…”  

XXX

 In other words, COA has the power and duty to scrutinize expenditures by Congress, BUT HAS ABDICATED IT.  I spoke about this predicament even to members of Congress themselves and it reinforced my suspicion that COA’s timidity in dealing with Congress stems from its FEAR that its budget could be jeopardized if it goes hammer and tongs at its members.

As per the Constitution, COA, like the Comelec and the Civil Service Commission, “shall enjoy fiscal autonomy. Their approved annual appropriations shall be automatically and regularly released.” So, you readers might ask, if this is the case, why can't COA act more independently? The devil is in the word “appropriations.”

XXX

Former Com. Chair Hermilando Mandanas
As former House ways and means committee chair Hermilando Mandanas, who’s finishing his three terms---and who was ousted from this committee for refusing to sign the Corona impeachment complaint without first reading it---explained, unlike local governments which are guaranteed their own budgets from various sources of revenues as defined by law, COA has to go through budget hearings and Congress has to APPROVE ITS ANNUAL APPROPRIATION.



Rep. Mandanas stressed to me that over the past three congresses, he filed bills seeking to grant COA, along with the two other constitutional commissions, the Supreme Court and the Office of the Ombudsman, their own budget reflecting a fixed sharing of national revenues and other sources. But unfortunately these bills didn’t sail past filing---for obvious reasons.



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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Queries P-Noy should answer at Davos Forum this week and at parliamentarians’ anti-corruption meet here next week, where he’s expected to raise GMA and CJ Corona as Exhibits A and B. P-Noy admin’s checkered record on KKK friends, however, belies this campaign. But no issue more serious than collusion between Comelec and Smartmatic, as it undermines people’s faith in our electoral system.


President Benigno Aquino III


President Aquino leaves tonight for Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum (WEF) where, medi reports say, he’ll deliver the keynote address in the anti-corruption forum, a small side event at that annual gathering of world business and political leaders. Upon his return Aquino is also expected to keynote the opening of the 5th Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) meeting in Manila, to be attended by around 500 parliamentarians from around the world.

These are two big forums where P-Noy will have the chance to speak about his “Daang Matuwid” campaign and he’s expected to drag at both world stages detained former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and impeached  Chief Justice Renato Corona as Exhibits A and B.

XXX

But P-Noy should be careful in his accusations in the Davos and Manila meetings.  For one thing, former President Arroyo is well-known to world leaders, for she used to attend the gathering at the plush Swiss ski resort town regularly in her nine-year watch. They knew her record of economic achievements, such as the nearly 40 quarters of continued growth of the Philippines, despite enveloping world recession.
Judging from attestations of various foreign diplomats here, they held GMA in healthy respect for her handling of the economy---something US President Obama couldn’t do for his country’s economy, judging from the continuing crisis over the “fiscal cliff.”

XXX

As to accusations of plunder and corruption against GMA, these have received high profile treatment here and abroad. But foreign leaders have embassies here and they are surely aware that the case of electoral fraud against GMA, which has succeeded in summoning only a solitary discredited witness, has not prospered beyond preliminary investigation;  in fact the lower court granted her motion for bail, indicating that it’s not strong.

The embassies here would surely have reported to their principals that just weeks after that bail was granted, Ombudsman Conchita Morales, specially handpicked by P-Noy, again slapped GMA with plunder before the Sandiganbayan over her alleged misuse of intelligence funds in PCSO.  In so doing Morales threw out the investigation and recommendation of HER OWN DEPUTY to file the lower charge of malversation which is bailable.

 Morales charged plunder despite the attestation by the COA itself---by, significantly, another P-Noy favorite, Commissioner Heidi Mendoza---that GMA’s office had complied with all the requirements for the release of the questioned funds.

XXX

The Ombudsman’s new charge is obviously aimed to deprive GMA of the right to bail and keep her detained, albeit in hospital surroundings. As Atty. Raul Lambino, one of her lawyers, stressed, they have already filed before the Supreme Court two or three reiterative motions to dismiss, on the ground of the Ombudsman’s grave abuse of authority; but another P-Noy favorite, new SC Justice Marvic Leonen, has been sitting on them.

This is the same Ombudsman who finagled the figures on CJ Corona’s wealth during his trial, by portraying each of his foreign deposits, all protected by the Foreign Currency Deposit Act, as a new account---obviously to shock the nation and influence the Senate impeachment court to convict him.  In that first-ever impeachment of a Chief Magistrate, the Palace showed its excessively heavy hand---beginning with obtaining 188 signatures of members of the House of Representatives under scandalously flawed and intimidating processes.

P-Noy's media agents launched a merciless trial by publicity in the yellow media vs. Corona, using predominantly fictitious and illegally-obtained data. On the other hand,  senators identified with the Palace converted the process into an unabashed political exercise whose high point was the accusation by Corona's lawyers that "guilty votes" were being purchased for P100 million each.

XXX

What these cases against officials of the past administration, including trumped-up charges vs. former PCSO director Manuel Morato, showed is that there’s one set of standards for them and another for the KKK friends of the incumbent.

This was evident in the unstill unexplained disappearance in the high seas of 2,000 container vans carrying dutiable goods, the failure to pursue the case against LTO Chief Virginia Torres and Pagcor Chair and CEO Celestino Naguiat, and allegations of corruption in the current PCSO board and in the P45-billion conditional cash transfer program of the DSWD. All these have not been explained.

XXX

A prominent columnist noted earlier that one drawback to the President’s debut in Davos is that it may still be fresh in the memory of the world business community how he UNILATERALLY cancelled earlier in his administration several multi-billion peso foreign contracts closed in the past era. It’s easy to surmise that despite the economy’s encouraging growth in the last quarter of 2012 and the touted credit-rating upgrade to a notch below investment grade, sudden cancellations of valid foreign contracts could be the reason Ph remains the laggard in Asean in bagging foreign direct investments, and why the vaunted Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) has failed to take off.  

Cancelled was the contract with French company Eiffel-Matiere SAS that involved building of 72 steel roll on-roll off ports here, despite the P1.5 billion downpayment from Philippine Ports Authority and parts already here.  Also cancelled were Belgian company Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoow’s contract to dredge Laguna Lake---actually a concessional loan of P18.7 billion---and the Chinese National Machineries and Equipment Co. contract to build the North Rail project.

These cancellations drew loud protests from foreign chambers, especially the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, coming as they did in the wake of the P1.5 billion row over the NAIA 3 contract with German company Fraport.

XXX

These may not be good times for President Aquino to address Davos, for the nation he leads appears in huge disarray.

There’s the brutal slaying of 13 people in Atimonan which P-Noy’s Justice Secretary has ruled, ahead of the NBI, as a rubout of police and military officials and personnel securing a jueteng lord, carried out by police and military personnel ostensibly on the side of the law. The popular thinking is that the law enforcers were protecting a rival syndicate, but because Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa is also the Anti-Crime Czar, on his shoulders should fall the command responsibility.

But apart from celebrated crime cases, even yellow media abound in daily recitations of crimes vs. the man in the street.

XXX

There’s the on-going squabble in the Senate over discriminatory Christmas gifts from Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, that brought to light malpractices through various leaderships in that chamber involving the abuse of taxpayers’ funds---how the senators have been excessively helping themselves to public funds sans scrutiny by the COA, as admitted by Chair Grace Pulido Tan herself.

There’s the big fight over the Reproductive Health bill in the House, where accusation by a party-list representative of the Palace’s purchase of yes-for-RH votes for P280 million per voting solon was NEVER DENIED by the accuser--- especially since Cabinet members had staked out in the chamber during two crucial votings. The RH law has pleased the leftist elements as it was their major agenda, but it aggrieved the bishops and bitterly divided the nation---a totally unnecessary squander of political capital by P-Noy.

XXX

But no issue today is more seriously damaging to  “Daang Matuwid” or more dangerous to our democratic system than the Palace’s seeming approval (to checkmate its political party rivals?) of what media term the collusion between Comelec and Smartmatic, the Venezuelan company that undertook the automated elections in 2010. In the past 2 ½ years since, innumerable charges were raised by various politicians across the nation about how the PCOS machines Smartmatic had leased to Comelec were manipulated by syndicates, in collusion with personnel within the poll body, to favor politicians who paid the right price.

The Comelec, however, has ignored all these charges even from the country’s top IT experts. In fact, in a show of defiance perhaps, it even awarded ALL THE FACETS of this May’s mid-term elections to Smartmatic---including the contract for the compact flash cards (CF cards) that were frightfully defective in 2010. Losing CF card bidder LDLA Marketing exposed Smartmatic’s higher price through negotiated contract and has asked the SC to void it.

Comelec has also discarded the use of padlocks on ballot boxes and instead substituted plastic seals that are inutile vs. fraud. But more important, COMELEC HAS DISCARDED THE USE OF THUMB MARKS  OF VOTERS in the coming elections, substituting instead mere signatures, which, of course, can be phony.

XXX

On the other hand, while the P-Noy administration recently awarded Comelec  nearly P5 billion for additional election budget, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad has said there’s “zero-budget” for the random manual audit (RMA). This is the critical task that will pre-select certain clustered precincts across the country---in order to conduct manual audit within 12 hours after precincts close, to check out whether results on the ground tally with those transmitted to the Comelec server.

A concerned citizens’ group called “Government Watch,” headed by prominent businessman Raul Concepcion, has recommended that Namfrel, and not PPCRV, conduct the RMA, which is very sensible. But how far can Namfrel go if Abad says there’s no funds for RMA?

To top it all, Smartmatic may resort to “pirated” technology for the automated elections, since the real owner, Dominion Voting Systems of Canada, has stated that its licensing contract with Smartmatic was terminated in 2011. The latter has sued Dominion for this in a US court.  

These are only the latest moves of Palace cohorts that raise alarm among citizens about what may be the total delivery of our election system to an UNSCRUPULOUS partnership this May.

Daang Matuwid, huh, members of the Davos Forum and the GOPAC?



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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Gwen Garcia’s brinkmanship as she dances in Sinulog. Doc robbed of belongings by bystanders in jeepney side-swiping accident, instead of being helped back to hospital---another case of “What’s happening to our country?” Recalling Paris finale of 2007 Tour de France and Fr. Reuter belting out Ethel Merman at 1990 Catholic Authors Awards.


Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia


Brinkmanship. That’s what suspended Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia engaged in today, when she left the provincial capitol to dance in the Sinulog, as she had been doing for the past eight years. The decision didn’t come easy and in fact, I understand from mutual friends, Gwen labored over it for a whole week. One consideration was that the gates of the Capitol could shut down on her once she left it---ending her month-and a-day protest stakeout there. 



But apparently acting Governor Agnes Almendras Magpale and her LP bosses realized that to lock Gwen out of the Capitol when she returns tonight from dancing in the Sinulog, right on the Feast of Senor Sto. Nino, would be a battle from which they couldn’t win---especially after the morale-boosting visit to Gwen by UNA big-wigs VP Jojo Binay and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, with senatorial aspirants Dick Gordon and Ernesto Maceda in tow. 

If tension is to be reduced in Cebu and further crisis averted, the Court of Appeals’ 12th Division should speedily resolve Gwen’s urgent motion for TRO, even though Presiding Justice Vicente Veloso has insinuated tremendous pressure on the court not to act on it.  Veloso should also engage in brinkmanship---on the side of right.

XXX

Last night a former QC neighbor I hadn't heard from for a long time suddenly sent me a query via Facebook: “Bel, what’s happening to our country?” Instantly I was reminded of the same question popped by the late Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez, my boss in the early ‘60s, to then QC Police Chief Tomas Karingal, in the hospital where Pelaez was confined after being wounded in an assassination attempt on his life. “General, what’s happening to our country?”

Our former neighbor Ronnie narrated that his nephew (let’s call him Dr. L.), who had just passed the medical board and is a resident in a big government hospital, crossed the busy street in front of the hospital, to buy sutures for a charity patient he was treating. Suddenly Dr. L., who was in his doctor’s white gown, was sideswiped by a passing jeepney and knocked out for a while. But the bystanders, instead of aiding him and carrying him back to the hospital, robbed him of his two cell phones, wallet, college ring and one or two more belongings.  

XXX

Later Dr. L., son of two well-known doctors, managed to struggle back to the hospital by himself, and after initial check-up he was taken by hospital authorities to another hospital for further check-up. Luckily there were no serious injuries, but questions remain.

This robbery episode happened in the heart of the city on a busy hour, not in some remote isolated highway in the wee hours. To Ronnie’s query as to what’s happening to our country, I admit being at a loss for an explanation. Is it the terrible poverty around us or is it the degeneration of our values system as a people? Or both as cause and effect?

Whatever it is, it’s indeed a very sad commentary on our times.

XXX

There’s another degeneration that should bring a lot of sadness too, even though it’s not new. This is the practice of athletes of using drug-enhancers --- termed by a writer as “a function of the moral degeneracy of athletes.”

The world is agog with the admission by seven-times cycling champ Lance Armstrong to US TV personality Oprah Winfrey that he resorted to doping to obtain the incredible strength he had displayed in those years of participating in the Tour de France, the century-old sports competition considered the most grueling in the world. What made Armstrong’s amazing feat doubly incredible year after year was that he is a stage 4-cancer survivor.

XXX

Doping has surfaced in various sports competitions in the world, and doubtless the International Cycling Union would conduct an investigation into the Armstrong case. But for this online columnist, I can still recall how exciting it was to watch in 2007 the end stage of the three-week Tour de France in the heart of Paris, which had begun weeks back in the French Alps.

The final leg was when perhaps 200 cyclists raced the long loop between the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysees and the Louvre Museum on the Rue de Rivoli at the other end---at such breakneck speed and so close to one another.  Watching the race that morning on the Champs Elysees in perhaps twelve-deep crowds (a foreign media guy who had brought a ladder allowed me to climb up for one round), I felt my breath tightening---if even just one cyclist tripped, the whole caboodle would fall like a deck of cards and hurt themselves.

Sadly now Armstrong just tripped himself with his doping admission to Oprah. Down falls another icon.

XXX


Dr. Luis Esteban Latorre
Dr. Luis Esteban Latorre, who used to be executive director of the Asian Catholic Publishers, Inc. (ACP), wrote to note that the late, beloved Fr. James Reuter, who passed away at age 96 last New Year’s Eve, was among the awardees of the prestigious “Catholic Authors Awards” established by the ACP, with the late Jaime Cardinal Sin as chair. The Awards program recognized Catholic lay or religious leaders whose lifework represents “a continuing contribution to the propagation of the Christian faith through the print media.”


Fr. Reuter was recognized by the ACP in 1990 for “Drama and Social Communications,” and among his achievements in this corner was founding the Philippine Federation of Catholic Broadcasters. This became  the training ground for future media luminaries such as ace commentator and senior VP for radio operations of GMA-Channel 7 Mike Enriquez (who was once a seminarian).

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Fr. James B. Reuter
Dr. Latorre, who now serves as Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas’ chief of staff, recalls that moment of Reuter’s award from Cardinal Sin: “I will never forget his acceptance speech. Instead of going to the mike and delivering a speech like the other awardees, Fr. Reuter went to the nearest piano keyboard and saying, ‘the real reason they’re giving me this award is…’ he then belted out the famous Ethel Merman song: ‘There’s no business like show business…’ How funny, how human, how divine, how Reuter!”


Latorre quoted Reuter writing in another piece: “Every life is a drama. Every soul is filled with love or sorrow, with beauty or pain. Every grey surface is camouflage and deceives the dull. Each child, each man, each old woman is worth our full and prolonged attention, even God’s attention. He does not make us wholesale. He thinks of eternity and then creates each of us separately. And he creates in color. Even you. You are a walking romance or a wheel-chair romance or a bed-ridden romance. You can’t help it. God made you that way. He likes drama.”

Those were beautiful words, clearly showing that Reuter was pro-life, respectful of creation which God does not make “wholesale,” but instead separately, one from the next. Note, pro-RH people.




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Thursday, January 17, 2013

If Delaware lawsuit is not settled and Smartmatic has no source code, it would have to pirate a technology, possibly dragging Comelec in an int'l suit. Gov't. Watch Chair Raul Concepcion recommends Namfrel conduct random manual audit (RMA) in 2013 elections. Excellent idea, but DBM has "zero-budget" for RMA. PAOCC chair Paquito Ochoa's command responsibility in Oplan Armado.




Patriotic netizens are going ballistic again over another un-brilliant remark by Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes today on a news channel. Brillantes was quoted saying that Smartmatic, which bagged from Comelec all the multi-billion contracts for the ENTIRE Automated Election System (AES) in our May 2013 mid-term elections, has assured that “it can provide what government needs for the automated polls even without source code owner Dominion Voting Systems.”

Netizens have reason to be angry. We all know that last year Smartmatic sued Dominion, the real owner of the AES technology used in the May 2010 elections, in the Delaware Chancery Court in the US for breach of contract. Among its eye-popping complaints against Dominion (which Filipino experts had been pointing out as Smartmatic’s failings, but which it had refused to acknowledge all along, until that suit) is that Dominion failed to provide it with the source code, which is the operations bible of the AES. Smartmatic had repeatedly claimed in House of Representatives hearings in June 2010 and afterwards that it had deposited that source code with our Bangko Sentral for the 2010 elections---when in fact it never had it.

Dominion, in its counter-suit before the US Court, has asserted that its contract with Smartmatic had lapsed and therefore the former is under no obligation to submit anything.

XXX

Without this source code, as Filipino IT experts have repeatedly stated in public forums, the AES could be haphazardly operated---a presage perhaps of what looms large in the coming elections. The experts have asserted that in view of the continuing refusal of Dominion to provide this source code, Smartmatic would have to PIRATE another technology just to fulfill Comelec’s requirements.  

But it’s also easy to see that barring a settlement between the two warring parties in Delaware soon, Smartmatic could be sued in an international court for intellectual piracy---and Comelec which has contracted all its services for the elections in many billions of pesos---could end up an accomplice, an enormous shame to our country. Why Comelec has come to believe Cesar Flores so much is beyond us all.

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GW Chair Raul Conception
Government Watch (GW) Chair Raul Concepcion ran 3/4s ads in two newspapers recently, featuring “An Urgent Appeal to P-Noy” to put in place as his “greatest legacy” an “unquestionably credible electoral system.” It’s a timely message especially since the bishops are convening their general assembly on Jan. 25-27, and one of the issues they'll take up is the problem with the automated elections.

GW rightly stated that barely four months before the 2013 elections there remain “many doubts” about the AES, the PCOS machines and Smartmatic’s role in the elections. While the Comelec has already made assurances, “we cannot blame the voting public for remaining unconvinced,” said GW.  Indeed.

XXX

GW then asserted that “the best way to prove credibility is through a Random Manual Audit (RMA) of the automated elections,” which, besides being mandated by law, must be undertaken “to demonstrate that the perceived weaknesses in our existing AES have all been properly corrected.”  It stressed that an RMA must be done immediately after the closing of all polls “in randomly chosen precincts” whose selection must be transparent and complies with proper sampling techniques.

GW asserted that RMA must be conducted at every transmission point in those random precincts until final canvass, and should discrepancies be encountered, “the root cause must be identified” and documented, with an audit trail readily available.

XXX

GW asserted that this all-important task of RMA must be entrusted to Namfrel, being Comelec’s accredited partner organization. This is an EXCELLENT  suggestion, as Namfrel has a long track record of achievement---unlike the PPCRV, which chaired the triumvirate that undertook the RMA---WITHOUT SUCCESS---in the 2010 elections. 

 The failure of this triumvirate---called the Technical Working-Group-RMA (TWG-RMA) and composed of PPCRV as chair, the Comelec’s Internal Audit Office and the National Statistics Office---to properly conduct the RMA may unwittingly have contributed to the manipulations of the PCOS machines in 2010, that resulted in the massive defeat of a good number of national and local candidates at that time. WE CANNOT AFFORD TO FAIL THIS TIME!

XXX

As a newspaper columnist I had covered the 2010 elections assiduously,  including post-mortem hearings conducted by the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms chaired by former Makati Rep. TeddyBoy Locsin. I had written then about the failures of the TWG-RMA. 

One was its inability to draw up a more scientific sampling of precincts nationwide for RMA, doubtless because the statistics expert in the group, NSO’s Carmelita Ericta, was reported to have been brought into the picture only five days before the elections.  And whereas the law provided that RMA be finished in 12 hours  after precincts closed, it took TWG-RMA 22 days after the elections to submit the audit tallies of only 76 percent of the 1,145 clustered precincts selected; the rest were either incomplete tallies or no tallies at all.

One rationale for the failed RMA could be that it was the first time this was ever attempted. These coming elections Namfrel should be better prepared, especially given the nightmarish deficiencies exhibited by Smartmatic, and Comelec in a state of consistent denial about them. Otherwise the 2013 elections could be a national calamity.

The sad thing, however, is that according to GW chair Raul Concepcion, Comelec, which has already paid so many billions of pesos for Smartmatic's multi-faceted contracts, has "ZERO-BUDGET" for RMA, as per attestation of the Department of Budget and Management (baka naubos na sa mga suhol sa pro-RH representatives ni Secretary Abad!). Because of RMA's critical role, Namfrel may have to raise funds for it among the more enlightened businessmen, not the "yellow" ones subservient to P-Noy.

XXX

Testimonies of various police officers involved in the Atimonan encounter that killed 13 people, including an alleged jueteng operator, police and AFP personnel last Jan 6 (was it an ambush, rubout or shootout? Nobody knows at this time of writing) tend to point out that contrary to Malacanang’s continuing denial, the Palace was quite aware of “Coplan Armado” and in fact had released initial funding for it. 

But while the question of how much funding it needed was the initial issue between the planners and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) top brass, eventually there were efforts to distance its chair, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, from the heinous massacre. This was understandable---as otherwise he would have to take the blame for it under the principle of command responsibility, as Malaya columnist Rey O. Arcilla argued last Jan. 15.    

XXX

While PAOCC executive director Reginald Villasanta argued that the anti-crime body had disapproved the Coplan on the issue of funding, sacked former Calabarzon police chief James Melad insisted that it had PAOCC’s approval.  As early as Jan. 12, Supt. Glenn Dumlao, Coplan’s “supervisor” (the Tribune refers to him as its “architect”) insisted to media that Coplan was “planned to push through with or without the approval of the PAOCC,” because this was the job of crime busters.  

Police Supt. Hansel Marantan, who actually carried out the operation and sustained leg and arm injuries in this encounter (again, were they caused by counter fire or self-inflicted?), earlier was quoted as saying the same thing: Coplan had the knowledge and approval of PAOCC.

XXX

Efforts by PAOCC’s underlings to distance Secretary Ochoa from the operation, however, causes an even greater worry among citizens. For if an operation of this magnitude can be carried out by the above police officers without the top-brass approving it, the logical question is, who’s to control these guys?  There’s a related query aired in media: how come officers with such controversial backgrounds are given such huge tasks.

For instance, media have noted that Police Supt. Glenn Dumlao was linked to the double murders of publicist Bubby Dacer and his driver, which were allegedly carried out by the Presidential Anti-Organized Task Force (PAOCTF) then headed by Panfilo Lacson, and that his testimony got now Sen. Lacson off the hook, throwing out the testimony of Michael Ray Aquino.  Then suddenly Dumlao re-surfaces as deputy chief of the Regional Public Safety Battalion and commander of its 1st Battalion in Antipolo, and Armado’s “architect.”

XXX

Media reports also say that Police Supt. Marantan has allegedly been linked to jueteng and to the crackdown by his unit of a number of controversial, high-profile cases that had dragged his name in the past. But he turns up as chief officer of the Calabarzon’s Anti-Organizer Crime Task Force and in charge of Armado’s operation at the checkpoint.

Of course it could be argued that as the saying goes; it takes a thief to catch another thief, as the Alfred Hitchcock thriller showed many decades ago. But still it leaves an unsettling feeling in many citizens about how crime can be eradicated when crime-busters have such controversial records themselves.  


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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Wranglings in Senate over unequal “X’mas gifts” demoralizing to gov't clerks ordered to return bonuses. Huge committee outlays make for “more fun” in Senate, but hurting to citizens mired in poverty. CA Justice Veloso says Court in “real bind” over Gwen’s urgent TRO plea.

Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile
The big fight in the Senate between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and the four senators whom he discriminated against in his Christmas gift-giving is obviously all about pera-pera lang. 

JPE gave only P250,000 each to Senators Miriam Santiago, Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes, with whom he has had differences in past weeks. On the other hand, he gave to the other 18 senators who didn't give him much trouble not only the same P250,000 check each from his office's savings, he also gave them P1.6 million each from the chamber's savings (a first tranche of P600, 000 in November, and the other P1 million before the Christmas break) supposedly as "additional MOOE entitlements."

Interestingly, the four non-favorites also got the P600,000 first tranche, but apparently trouble for JPE started when he failed to release to them the second tranche. Sen. Miriam raised hell and divulged to media the discrepancy between those received by JPE’s “friends” and those outside the kulambo, but COA upheld his authority to dispense those savings as he saw fit.

These pera-pera issues further strained relations among the already disputing  senators---part of the continuing tragic-comedy in Congress. But to the ordinary citizens it’s not funny---for with the open quarrel over Senate funds emerged the picture---though doubtless incomplete---about how staggering are the funds our legislators generously partake of from the Senate’s estimated P2 billion annual budget.
As Miriam put it with reason, “it’s really more fun to be in the Senate.”

XXX

From all appearances, the practice of huge windfalls for the legislators at the close of each year from the Senate Chief had been going on in various leaderships. As JPE put it, why didn’t the current complainers who are upset over his  P1.6 million entitlements to the 18 others object in December 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 (when he first assumed the leadership of the Senate)? Good question.

The funds that senators derive from chairing committees emerged to boggle the mind. As Sen. Miriam stated in a broadsheet, aside from their annual pork barrel of P200 million, senators each receive P2.2 million monthly for staff salaries and office expenses, half a million pesos annual travel allowance and an honorarium ranging from P30, 000 to P60, 000 a month for chairing a Senate committee (committee chairmanships have annual budgets of  reportedly anywhere from P10 million to P15 million each).

XXX

With the exception of Sen. Joker Arroyo who, said JPE, has consistently refused to chair a committee, whether regular or oversight, all the senators get to chair at least one each, and many chair several.

For instance, as JPE was quoted in a newspaper, Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, being an officer of the Senate, has a far bigger budget than the other senators. In addition, he enjoys a budget as a member of the Commission on Appointments, as chair of the E-Commerce Oversight committee with an annual budget of P6 million, and as new oversight committee chair of BCDA, which, said JPE, the senator himself requested to be created with an annual budget of P10 million.

His sister Sen. Pia, said JPE, is not far behind inthe largesse, and neither has Miriam, supposedly a minority member, any ground to complain about majority entitlements.

But it’s not only the senators who enjoy the perks. An insider noted to me that the Senate rank and file employees are very happy each year-end. Last 2011, for instance, they all received P40,000 each from the Senate as Christmas package, and from what I gather, it was bigger last year.   

XXX

In the House of Representatives reports say the 286 solons were each gifted by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte with P500,000, for a staggering P143 million for the whole chamber. Reports said this half a million peso-gift could be used for additional bonuses of each solon’s employees, but who’s going to check that?

Let's not forget that during the RH bill deliberations, a news item in a broadsheet in early December quoted ACT party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio as alleging that each House solon was being bribed with a package totaling about P280 million, in exchange for his/her pro-RH vote.

Each package allegedly contained the regular pork barrel per solon of P70 million, plus PW projects, proceeds of the road user’s tax, and a P97,000 gift bonus from the Speaker representing one month’s salary. That story was never denied by Tinio (so the pro-RH bloc that passed this law cannot hold their heads high---nabili pala ang kanilang mga boto), but it gave us an idea of just how much funds were being talked about then.

XXX

All these mind-boggling figures that line solons’ pockets are regarded by the citizenry as unconscionable extravagances, when there’s so much poverty around and budgets of government hospitals and state universities and colleges are being drastically cut. The open wranglings over “gifts” in the Senate also came after ordinary government employees saw their annual Christmas bonuses cut by the fund-starved government last year.

Last Friday a front-page story spoke of how government clerks in various offices are being ordered to return bonuses they had received in the past. Let's also not forget that majority of those displaced by typhoon Pablo in Compostela Valley still live in tents and do not know where their next meal would be coming from. Moreover, the banana industry in that area needs P8 billion to resuscitate.

The fabled largesse enjoyed by Congress is heart-breaking, to say the least.

XXX

At last Friday’s hearing of the Court of Appeals' 12th Division, headed by Associate Justice Vicente Veloso, which took up the urgent petition for 60-dayTRO filed by suspended Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia, the latter was ably represented by a battery of young lawyers led by Atty. Tranquil Salvador, former spokesperson for the Corona panel in the Senate impeachment trial.

Gov. Gwen’s daughter, Atty. Christina Garcia-Frasco filed an affidavit stating facts on her embattled mother's case.

Ateneo-trained Justice Veloso sought to impress upon the lawyers and the crowd how tough it is for the CA to find a balance between its rules principally on procedure, as laid down by the Supreme Court, and a petitioner's right to speedy trial as enshrined in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. “The Court is really caught in a bind here,” he kept saying.

XXX

Veloso took refuge in the “very restrictive” nature of the CA’s Rule 43, which lawyer Salvador invoked in pleading for TRO. The justice stressed that under Rule 43, a TRO could be granted only if there was “irreparable damage” to the accused and he kept asking Salvador just what “irreparable damage” Garcia has undergone when after all, she could get back her lost salaries. At that point, I asked myself, is this Justice serious?

Salvador replied that Garcia’s reputation was besmirched by all the accusations against her and her desire to continue serving her mandate from the Cebuanos was being impaired. But the Justice did not seem impressed.

XXX

Of course everyone knows that the biggest harm to Garcia was that she was ousted six months before the May 2013 elections in order to cripple her family’s pre-eminence in Cebu politics and strengthen the LP line-up led by gubernatorial candidate Hilario Davide III, whom Gwen had trounced in 2010.

It seemed that Veloso was baiting Tranquil Salvador to spell out this biggest damage to Gwen, and the lawyer must have been tempted to do this. But of course he desisted, as these things are not said in open court. He only managed to put in a one-liner that “there is a political color to all this,” but that was a mouthful.

XXX

I could sense Veloso was trying to impress on his listeners the tremendous pressures he and his colleagues felt, especially since it was the President who suspended Garcia (the DILG only implemented his order). Moreover, the morning the CA hearing opened P-Noy was quoted stressing how "solid" the case is against her.  

P-Noy, however, shouldn't have weighed in on this case at that point;  instead he should have shown more respect for the independence of the judiciary. It reminded me of how he also kept publicly badgering the senators conducting the trial of CJ Renato Corona in the first half of last year, about CJ's "guilt."

XXX

I am normally an optimistic person, but I must confess that I’m not too hopeful about the CA’s grant of a TRO for Gwen.  One reason was that yesterday a newspaper carried a story quoting P-Noy as saying he would just let Gwen Garcia be---i.e., leave her to continue camping out in the Provincial Capitol---as anyway acting Gov. Agnes Magpale is already conducting services for the Cebuanos.

I interpret P-Noy’s change of attitude from the outright ouster of Gwen by the police in earlier days of her stake-out, to mean that P-Noy anticipates the CA’s prolonging the deliberations and ignoring her urgent plea for TRO.

Let’s pray that the CA justices would not be intimidated, but instead rule for what is right and just.



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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

P-Noy should give up his gun passion---at least while he’s President. Differing with Kaka Bag-Ao on third point---lousy timing of pork releases for Dinagat, just as she forsakes Akbayan and signs up as LP. Bishops support investigation of PCOS anomalies. Do they realize that 11% of 76,000 clustered precincts across the country in 2010---or 8,360 clustered precincts--- had no transmissions, and that 5% or 3,500 such precincts registered only 10 voters each? Who really won the 2010 elections?


Stephanie Nicole Ella
The heart-wrenching death of Stephanie Nicole Ella and the wounding of many people by stray bullets on New Year’s Eve, the slaying or wounding of a dozen people by a drug-crazed man in Cavite, and the horrible shootout between lawmen and alleged members of a jueteng syndicate in Quezon have thrown the nation into deep soul-searching about loose firearms.


This reality becomes even more frightening with the election period for the 2013 elections commencing this Sunday, Jan. 13---when politicos’ heavily-armed bodyguards and private armies would be running around.

All these have triggered calls for various manner of controlling loose firearms---from passing a tougher gun-control law for private citizens all the way to a total ban on firearms except to those duly authorized.    

XXX

Naturally any talk of tougher gun control would focus on President Aquino, who has the reputation for being an avid gun-enthusiast and expert shooter (he’s known to go target-shooting every weekend and beats military and police top brass at competitions). Various quarters, including an opposition congressman, have called on P-Noy to show an example of detachment by forsaking his gun passion---at least while he’s President.

Deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte resents this tendency to “pigeon-hole” the President on this issue or to prejudge his stand on it. She cited how critics prejudged him as going easy on smokers, being a heavy smoker himself, but he still pushed hard for the sin tax bill. The same on gun control, she said.

XXX

But Malacanang should realize that P-Noy is expected to be the role model on behavior, be it on smoking or on gun-control. The sin tax bill was pushed despite resistance from the Ilocos and liquor companies in order to safeguard people’s health from the hazards of smoking and drinking, and to raise P35 billion annually in taxes for the fund-starved government.

But how tough it is to coax especially the young people to quit smoking when their President is addicted to it. In the same manner, how tough it is to preach tighter gun-control or to abandon a gun-mentality when he’s photographed with his barkada firing away as a weekly hobby.

XXX

Today the Star carried a front-page story about how four boys aged 15 to 16 were arrested in the New Bilibid Prison area, for allegedly trying to rob motorists using handmade guns. Police were quoted as saying the youngsters would force motorists to stop by throwing rocks at them, and then rob them, armed with the makeshift weapons.

The President is the father of the nation, and he’s being asked to junk two habits that he relishes con gusto, to set the example. Could anyone imagine the impact on those four erring teenagers, for instance, if P-Noy were to tell them, "Ok., I'll put away my guns, but so should you. Deal or no deal?" 

XXX

Like hundreds of anti-RH folks I staked out in the “red” gallery in the House for weeks, monitoring the debates.  One day Akbayan party-list Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-Ao passed by and we chatted. I told this Ateneo-trained lawyer that I considered her perhaps the most competent of the House prosecutors in the Corona impeachment trial (most of them were lousy, necessitating hiring of private lawyers), and that it was too bad she was on the “other side.” Kaka smiled and said, “Now here again on the RH bill, we’re on opposite sides.” Of course, I replied.  

Now I differ on a third issue with Bag-Ao---or rather, with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. The House Chief appointed Bag-Ao “caretaker” of the new island province of Dinagat, following the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Sandiganbayan’s guilty verdict on Rep. Ruben Ecleo for corruption. Ecleo was stricken off the House roster, but not only was Bag-Ao appointed in his place---she also worked for and immediately received P140 million representing Ecleo’s withheld two-year pork barrel, even before the ink of her LP sign-up had dried.

XXX

Reports said Bag-Ao,  a native of Dinagat, has resigned from that most privileged "party of the poor," Akbayan, and joined LP to run for Dinagat's lone district in 2013. She was quoted as vowing she will not use the P140 million pork barrel in aid of her election; but reports said she immediately went to construct a road, bridges and water projects, and bought 77 multi-cabs, ambulances and even six SUVs. 

The Palace justified Bag-Ao's appointment as "entirely a legislative prerogative." But obviously it's a reward for her participation in the Corona impeachment and unflinching support for the RH bill. 

Rep. Mitos Magsaysay
What rankles most in her case is that the LP once again gives another example of riding roughshod on public opinion. As in the Gwen Garcia case in Cebu, the party in power doesn’t seem to give a hoot if people view the special treatment of Bag-Ao---and the immediate release of Ecleo's withheld P140 million to her to jumpstart her campaign for her House seat in Dinagat--- as another power muscle-flexing.

This is in sharp contrast to the shabby treatment of opposition reps like Mitos Magsaysay and Dato Arroyo who have been deprived of their pork barrel funds for the third year now.  Other leftist groups such as Bayan Muna, Anakbayan, Gabriela, ACT and Anakpawis are also roaring mad, for they all got collectively only P670 million. Snorted Anakbayan: Bag-Ao's P140 million is "slush fund for the 2013 elections." 

XXX

I’m glad CBCP President and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma has affirmed the CBCP's support to investigate allegations of manipulative fraud with the use of the PCOS machines. I understand this is one of the issues CBCP will be looking at in its General Assembly on Jan.25-27.  

The bishops realize that with the mid-term elections five months away, many of us citizens are frightfully concerned that Comelec appears to be surrendering---once again---the elections to possible manipulation through those PCOS machines with their horrible track record.

XXX

For instance, the bishops should know that out of the 76,000 “clustered” precincts across the country in the May 2010 elections 11% had NO transmissions to the Comelec server, while another 5% projected only 10 voters each.

On the other hand, Filipino IT experts note that last July 24-25, mock elections conducted at the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms clearly showed that the PCOS machines being tested failed to meet the required accuracy rate of 99.995%---attaining only 97.215% accuracy.

This discrepancy meant, according to IT experts, that there are 557 errors in 20,000 marks---contrary to the project’s terms of reference that allowed  PCOS only 1 error in 20,000 marks. Thus, said the IT experts, “This 557 error rate can make or unmake mayors, governors, congressmen, and the bottom half of councilors, provincial board members, and senators!”

XXX

Then too, recall that the weekend before the May 10, 2010 elections, there was a loud howl across the nation when it was discovered that many of the compact flash cards (CF cards) were found to be defective. Smartmatic went through the motions of replacing kuno all the CF-cards in the 76,000 clustered precincts, but we all know that was not humanly possible in our islands.

Now Comelec has contracted Smartmatic to devise those CF cards once again for the tidy sum of P531 million. This is like banging our heads a second time against the wall. As one FB contributor put it, “There must be many millions of reasons why Comelec would do this.”

These and many more failings clearly left the automated elections of 2010 open to manipulation by unscrupulous elements. In fact, query being raised now is: WHO REALLY WON THE  2010 ELECTIONS?

XXX

The best evidence that things went wrong with the PCOS machines in 2010 is the complaint Smartmatic itself filed vs. Dominion Voting Systems, the real owner of the automated election system (AES) technology, last May 2012 in the Delaware Chancery Court, USA for alleged breach of contract. In that complaint Smartmatic incredibly admitted all the sins that Filipino IT experts have accused it of committing in 2010---but this time it blamed Dominion for all those sins!

The biggest sin in that complaint was that Dominion WITHHELD the SOURCE CODE, the operating bible of the AES. Until that detail surfaced in its complaint vs. Dominion, Smartmatic had been claiming that the source code was deposited in Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. This was why, despite the order of the Supreme Court itself upon petition of the IT experts, Smartmatic couldn't produce the source code. Wala pala sa kanila!

Smartmatic, it seems, had been lying all along to the Comelec, the SC and the Filipino people.



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