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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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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