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, April 18, 2013

Brillantes should make good his threat to quit. Ateneo Computer Chief Manalastas warns of massive voter disenfranchisement due to rejection by PCOS of defective paper ballots in HK, but 50 million ballots already printed. One minute of campaign ad in ABS-CBN now costs one million pesos, but it reportedly will cost even more: P1 million per half minute in homestretch!

The Boston Marathon is one of this historic peaceful eastern US city’s biggest and most beloved events and many thousands participate in it from all over the world yearly. But last Monday, as the marathoners sped to the finish line, two deadly bombs exploded, turning the event into a massive carnage that killed three people, including an eight-year old boy, and injured about 200 others (as I was writing this blog, a deadly explosion ripped through a Texas fertilizer factory, followed by a fire, which authorities fear could cause casualties and injuries in the hundreds.  But terror attack is not being eyed).
The London Marathon which I was privileged to witness from the sidewalks with my two young sons in 1989, is scheduled to be staged very soon and of course many are worried and scared about participating there. But the organizers say the London Marathon will pull through. This is pure grit.
What I found particularly disturbing and terribly saddening in the Boston Marathon bombings is that, as reports put it, the bombers “sought to maximize the suffering," through the use of innumerable pellets and nails (including “carpenter-type nails”) packed into pressure cookers, that dug mercilessly into hundreds of  human bodies. A man was quoted saying that his friend's leg was torn by 70 nails. 

This inhumanity of man against man boggles the mind, demonstrating how deeply disturbed some could be to think up such devilish schemes.
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes is being dared in many quarters to make good his threat to resign after the Supreme Court gave him his fourth reversal in two weeks.  After all the fiascos that the automated election system (AES) has displayed and continues to display (such as the PCOS’ refusal to accept ballots during the recent Hongkong Overseas Absentee Voting) and the slaps from the High Court, the only decent option left to Brillantes is to resign.
But wouldn’t such act jeopardize the coming elections? In the minds of many people fed up with the bunglings, things couldn’t get any worse. In fact, many are now seriously considering participating in the elections as useless.
But the problem is that Brillantes has compromised even President Aquino when he was quoted after his fourth SC set-back that he will have a talk with P-Noy on “whether he wants me to still stick around or maybe leave now.”  Brillantes, a former longtime election lawyer, knows that Comelec is a constitutional body and that while he was appointed by P-Noy, his tenure is not up to P-Noy as his post can only be vacated by death, resignation or impeachment. Consulting P-Noy about his future only reinforces the impression in people’s minds that the poll body is a stooge of the administration.
Regarding the SC’s decision to slap a TRO (not a status quo ante, as SC spokesman Teddy Te had earlier announced) on Comelec’s petition to regulate exposure of candidates on radio-TV, I must confess that I’m siding with Chair Brillantes on this issue. The SC argues that such regulation would curtail the individual candidate’s freedom of expression as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. But there’s also the over-spending by candidates who seem to have UNLI campaign funds---to the detriment of those who don’t have this kind of money to throw .  
There’s also a serious moral consequence of heavy spending---such candidates would seek to recover their spending through their pork barrel and other public and private funds. It’s a vicious cycle that makes politicos and their clan cling to their posts come what may---the EVIL of DYNASTIC POLITICS which the civic group “Mad Against Dynasties” is ardently fighting.   
Even in the US, candidates and political parties have to abide by stiff spending ceilings dictated by election laws and they dare not exceed these limits, even if they have raised many many millions of dollars in campaign funds.


UNA senatorial candidate Mitos Magsaysay
Many are shocked to know that ONE MINUTE of campaign exposure in ABS-CBN costs ONE MILLION PESOS, and in fact, as the campaign season swings into the homestretch, it will cost a million bucks for JUST HALF A MINUTE!  Thus, what chances for such TV exposure would Mitos Magsaysay (whom DBM Secretary Butch Abad candidly admitted recently was denied her pork barrel all these years because she was critical of P-Noy) have, or even Dick Gordon? 
UNA senatorial candidate Dick Gordon
I recently ran into Dick’s most ardent campaigner, his wife Kate Gordon, and she admitted that the manipulated surveys showing him trailing hurts him, in that  it makes donors’ contributions slacken.

Their lack of exposure on TV should all the more prod us who believe in these candidates to campaign for Mitos Magsaysay and Dick Gordon---let’s make them win despite their lack of TV ads.  Mitos is articulate, intelligent and courageous;  I’ve observed her for a long while now in the House and I’ve always found her a serious student of issues, not given to stupid flippant remarks like many of her glamour-puss colleagues. 
 As for Gordon, he has a long track record as a doer and visionary for the country.
The recent HK overseas voting by our OFWs was witnessed personally by Chair Brillantes (the various commissioners fanned out to different overseas posts for the absentee voting to be participated in by 737, 759 registered overseas voters), but a new AES problem has cropped up which could be a foreboding of MASS DISENFRANCHISEMENT of Filipino voters.
What happened in HK was that PCOS machines flown to HK rejected the ballots because of “bleeding”---the ink from shading pens spilled out of the ovals in front of candidates’ names and on to the back, and as a result the machines rejected the ballots. After a substitute machine again rejected the votes, an embarrassed Brillantes ordered head office to fly in additional PCOS machines from Manila.  He tried to make light of the fiasco by saying these were “minor glitches” owing to  “long storage.”
But Mr. Comelec Chief, all of the 82,000 PCOS machines have been stored for long, and despite your claimed repairs they keep malfunctioning.  What’s tough is that in addition to the thousands of clustered precincts all over the country, there are 227 voting centers in PH overseas posts. How can we keep flying in PCOS machines to them in case of malfunction?

Dr. Pablo Manalastas
Morever---and this is the more serious aspect of the problem---according to Dr. Pablo Manalastas, chief of the Ateneo University IT Dept., the root of this problem lies in the quality of the paper ballots and that “proper thickness and quality could solve the ‘bleeding problem.’ But apparently this was not followed, hence the overflow of the ink.
Manalastas points out that Sec. 19.3 of the Comelec Terms of Reference for 2009-2010 specifies that “The ballot paper shall be of such quality as to prevent markings on one side of ballot to bleed through the other side.” He asserted that if same paper thickness and property quality used in the HK ballots were used to print the rest of the  50 million ballots for May 13, 2013, “WE JUST MIGHT HAVE THE SAME BALLOT BLEED-THROUGH PROBLEM NATIONWIDE."(emphasis BOC’s).
What Dr. Manalastas is saying we just might have a whole nation of Filipinos here and overseas deprived of our sovereign right to vote because of wrong specs used in the paper for ballots, causing massive rejection by the PCOS machines. The unfortunate thing is that, as Brillantes has bragged, everything is already in place, including printed ballots---so that the Commissioners could afford to now fan out to various overseas voting centers to just watch proceedings.
I seem to recall there was a controversy about the ballot paper supplied, with one bidder complaining about how the bidding went. It could have been that this bidder was just sour-graping, but then, given the paper ballot deficiencies in HK, is it possible that money changed hands so that proper specs were not followed?

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