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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, April 25, 2013

T’is the season for pikunan---napikon si Brillantes ki Gus Lagman, at napikon si P-Noy ki Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Balisacan. CCT a failure in addressing poverty. Recto puts thumb on problem: the poor barely finish grade school. From FB: “What’s the opposite of progress? Congress!”



Former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes backed out of his daring dare to Gus Lagman, his former Commissioner whom President Aquino did not reappoint after politicians ganged up on him in the Commission on Appointments and refused to confirm him. Brillantes challenged Lagman to debate the necessity of the source code, after the latter had criticized the poll chief for claiming that the source code (the human readable instructions to the PCOS machines), is not necessary to conduct the automated May elections. 

Napikon si poll chief and accusing Lagman of spreading false criticisms of him, challenged him to debate this issue. The IT guy, founder of the STI Computer School, readily accepted, merely asking for a few days to clear his schedule. Brillantes must have realized that Lagman was serious and he backed out, inviting him instead to a “dialog.”

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Brillantes insists that the “binary code’ would suffice for use in this May AES, but as IT expert Jun Estrella asserts, the binary code is for the computer while the source code is the instruction for the humans, the programmers. In case of errors in the machine the Comelec would still fall back on the source code. But this won’t be available since Dominion Voting Systems, which owns the technology, has refused for some time now to yield it---and in fact never yielded it to Smartmatic even for the 2010 elections.
Smartmatic had told the Locsin committee in 2010 that the source code was deposited in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, as the AES Law mandated; but this was never done, as the law suit eventually filed by Smartmatic against Dominion in the US last year showed.  Binobola lang tayo all along ng Smartmatic.

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The Filipino electorate is now at the crossroads. Should we go ahead with the May 13 exercise when, as the experts say, the absence of a source code would not guarantee genuine and honest elections---or should we boycott them as useless?

 All security measures for the coming elections seem to have been pulled out by Comelec in resolution after resolution---no digital signatures of the machines, discarding of UV lamps that would certify genuine ballots, no verification of voters' choice. In the Hongkong advance overseas voting, paper ballots blotted and were rejected by the PCOS machines. OFWs noted that the ballot boxes no longer had padlocks.

Then too, the critical random manual audit (RMA) of at least one clustered precinct per congressional district, as the AES law provides---which is to serve as  counter-check to the veracity of automated poll results---was entrusted once again to the same person who botched this same job in 2010, obviously because she is close to the poll body---PPCRV Chair Henrietta De Villa.

The list of factors for anticipated failure of elections seems to be getting longer and longer and many of the electorate are increasingly re-thinking their options for May 13.  There’s enough reasons to be apprehensive.

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Napikon din si President Aquino ki Socio Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan when, on the eve of P-Noy’s departure for the Asean Summit in Brunei, the Secretary ordered the release of statistics from the National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) that said that poverty statistics had remained virtually the same from 2006 to the first half of 2012. Nothing has improved.

For his candor Balisacan was bumped off the passengers' list to Brunei by his piqued boss.

P-Noy assumed the presidency on July 1, 2010, but the NSCB statistics showed that in the first two years of his administration there was hardly any dent in poverty---28 out of every 100 Filipinos still lived below the poverty line, with 10% in extreme poverty.  Worst off was Mindanao, topped by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with poverty at 46.9%, followed by Region  12 at 37.5%, Region 8 at 37.2% and Region 9 at 36.9%. . 

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These depressing stats from NSCB robbed the glow from euphoric data from various international agencies such as Fitch, Moody’s Analytics and Standard and Poor’s, that show the economy growing and promising to be the “rising star” and the next tiger economy of Asia. Independent senatorial candidate Teddy Casino aptly opined that all the glowing testimonials from rating agencies do not amount to much if the poverty stats continue to be appalling.

Because the rural areas are gripped in poverty, rural folk flock to the aleady bursting cities where there's some hope for finding work; the grinding poverty is a rich mine for the NPAs. And the vicious cycle goes on.

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The problem is that, as Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a staunch ally of P-Noy and widely rumored to be the next DILG Secretary, put it, his everyday trips around the metropolis validate the NSCB findings. The poor appear to have even grown in numbers.

Yesterday I was going down Pasong Tamo Extension in Makati and I passed by a totally naked little boy, perhaps no older than three years, washing himself off in a basin with water. I thought where are his parents? They probably were eking out a living in the teeming city. My heart went out to the boy.

Recently I took my family to Roxas Blvd. to watch the famed sunset and I was shocked to see a number of families lying around in the patches of grass next to the sidewalks, with children half-naked and mothers begging for food. This wasn't the same place where my future husband and I would sit around and munch peanuts after office many decades ago.

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Campaigning politicos offer various analyses of the dismal findings and solutions. I found Senate ways and means committee chair Ralph Recto’s analysis simple but direct to the point. He opined that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, and the gap between them wider and wider. Recto batted for more investments in educating poor families and creating more jobs for the poor, for as he observed rightly, a great majority of those living below the poverty line have not finished even grade school.

Indeed, one has only to look at the long line of tricycles parked everywhere to realize this.

The tragedy is that the budgets of state colleges and universities were even cut last year. Our economic gains have benefitted the rich and the middle class, but the great masses remain poor because they have inadequate education and skills-training to qualify for the few jobs available, especially in the countryside where agriculture barely survives owing to the lack of capital for small tillers and rampant smuggling of food commodities from abroad. 

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The Palace said P-Noy needs more help from Congress to tackle the poverty problem. It should be noted, though, that he already got the Conditional Cash Transfer in bigger and bigger volumes over the past three years---from P21 million in 2011, to P35 million in 2012 and a whopping P45 million this year. Every year Congress goes through the motions of questioning the huge jump in the CCT, but it still passes untouched despite so many complaints from COA.

 I’m reminded of a Facebook entry: "If the opposite of pro is con, what’s the opposite of progress? Congress!"

UNA senatorial candidate Ernesto Maceda correctly observed that the dismal NSCB poverty statistics show that the CCT has been a failure. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo recalled in an interview some time back that during her time she hesitated to push the CCT program that aggressively because she realized it had to have the proper infrastructure and support system first.

By contrast, the P-Noy administration pushed the CCT too fast in three years’ time. The result, as COA has repeatedly noted, is that there's a lot of anomalies on the ground, e.g., gross expenditures that cannot be accounted for properly. In this election season too, it has become a political tool for the administration.

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The yaya of my sister’s grandson recounted to me recently about how she lined up with hundreds of other women from sunrise to sunset in a Metro Manila barangay, so that they could finally get their CCT, known locally as "Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program" or “4-Ps.” After four months of spending their own money and getting leave from already-irritated  employers to attend interminable seminars run by DSWD, finally,the women received notice to show up in their locality.

This yaya  was supposed to get P500 as a mother and an extra P300 per child, but at that awarding she only got two months of P500 each, and no explanation as to what happened to the children’s stipend.  

The CCT handlers warned them first thing not to complain to anyone about what they would receive, and "to just be thankful that at least you have your ATM now.” The handlers promised to deposit regularly into their ATM---but the recipients are not too hopeful after waiting for four months, only to get incomplete amounts. This is the problem: who among the poor could complain? Where does the rest of the CCT funds go?



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