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 19, 2013

As a child I had vivid memories of Manila streets turned into huge sea, but many decades later, politicos still playing blame game re floods, when it was the Palace that cancelled Laguna Lake dredging project. AES Watch members sue Smartmatic and Comelec before Ombudsman. Piñol asks disenfranchised voters to forward complaints on PCOS

It seems that the 152nd birth anniversary today of our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was hardly noticed due to one big factor---the floods.

Everyone’s talking about last Monday’s deluge and how myriad folks were caught up in the horrible four-hour traffic on EDSA that night. What was particularly striking in some friends’ stories was how motorists sought to avoid driving into deep pools of floodwaters on EDSA, deliberately stopping at their edge and waiting for traffic to ease up first before moving forward---doubtless to avoid drowning their engines. Ganoon kalalim ang baha.

Such motorists' tactics, however, contributed to the hideously snarled traffic. 


I have vivid memories as a young child watching the flooded street in front of our home along Sta. Mesa Blvd., Manila with my many siblings, our legs dangling from our second-floor ventanillas, as people sailed up in bancas in the converted sea. Over the years since Mayor Antonio Villegas’ time I remember hearing politicians quarrelling over flood control projects, denouncing corruption therein and blaming one another for inefficiency, etc. 

Many decades later they’re still playing the blame game.

Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras sounded truly pissed off in an interview this morning as he sought to deflect the blame from the Cabinet and his boss the President.  Almendras blamed the informal settlers who throw garbage all around, clogging the water docks, the politicos coddling them, etc., etc.

There’s also news that the President ordered sanctions imposed on local executives who would allow informal settlers to once again squat along the esteros and other waterways. But some wise guy on FB argued that P-Noy is to blame, for he raised the hand of those very same local execs in front of their constituents, the informal settlers, in the recent elections. 


Secretary Almendras is not really succeeding in deflecting blame---for a major reason.

As Manila Times’ Rigoberto Tiglao pointed out in his column last Sunday, the Aquino administration threw out the flood control project in Laguna de Bay that could have significantly mitigated this perennial problem.  The P18.7 billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project contracted by the Arroyo administration with the 150-year old Belgian dredging firm Baagerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDZ) involved the dredging of some 4.6 million cubic meters of silt and waste of Laguna de Bay, to enable it to take in floodwaters from Metro Manila, with help from the deepening of the 7-km. Napindan Channel in Taytay.  

What’s more, the project featured a concessional loan, with Brussels providing an outright P7billion grant which, as Bobi pointed out, would have been the biggest development aid that country would ever have given us.  

But five months into his term, President Aquino threw out this contract with little explanation beyond stressing that it was studded with corruption, having been contracted by the Arroyo administration, to the consternation of the Belgian company. Unfortunately the Palace offered no alternative solution to the flooding problem.  


In a previous column I wrote about how the Belgian King was so disturbed by the cancellation and the Belgian Prime Minister tried to seek reconsideration, mainly because it was good for us Filipinos, assuring that everything was above board with this contract.

On the other hand, Tiglao noted that the Bangko Sentral and P-Noy’s Justice Secretary Leila de Lima checked out this project and found it ok, while his officials “have been unable to produce any single evidence of graft involving the project." 

 He also pointed out that the unilateral cancellation of the Belgian project could result in P6 billion of taxpayers’ money lost, as the government has to pay very soon the P420 million penalty for cancellation of the BNP Paribas Fortis bank loan---amid a suit against the government filed by the Belgian company at the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  


This unilateral cancellation in mid-stream is admitted by the foreign chambers of commerce here to be among the reasons (along with the Fraport dispute over NAIA 3 dating from the Erap administration and the cancellation by the Aquino administration as well of the Arroyo contract for steel ports with the French Matiere Co. ) why foreign direct investments have failed to come into our country---unlike the way they’re pouring into Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia and the rest of Asean.

With this dispute that the government is involved with in an international court and the gargantuan fees it will pay foreign law firms, it might have been better if it had just gone ahead with the Laguna Lake dredging.


Individual members of AES Watch, the umbrella organization of IT experts and other professionals that monitored the two recent elections, have urged the Ombudsman to investigate two Comelec administrations under Sec. 40 of the law creating that office. One is the Comelec under former Chair Jose Melo during the 2010 presidential elections and the other under Chair Sixto Brillantes in the recent 2013 elections.

The AES Watch member-complainants, led by former VP Teofisto Guingona, accuse the two Comelec Chiefs and their fellow commissioners of graft and corruption for alleged conspiracy in the approval and use of the “inefficient and highly suspicious” PCOS machines---thereby placing in grave peril the sanctity of the ballot in both elections. As Fr. Joe Dizon, co-convenor of AES Watch, put it, millions of voters were disenfranchised last May mainly because of the 18,000 PCOS machines that malfunctioned.


Former North Cotabato GovEmmanuel “Manny” Piñol
Significantly Smartmatic’s officials, led by its Asia-Pacific President Cesar Flores, were also implicated in the court suit, and rightly so, for it sold lousy equipment to the gullible  Comelec officials.  Former North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol’s testimony against the PCOS machines is only one of legions of complaints against those damned machines;  and the way suits promise to rain on Smartmatic, it would need more than just the ACCRA Law Office to defend it. 

Manny Piñol---who earlier in this election conceded defeat to reelectionist Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, but had second thoughts after complaints from his followers began flooding his campaign HQ, and PCOS cheating became a raging national issue---asserts that “the very essence of the right to vote as protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Philippine Constitution is violated whenever a PCOS machine rejects a ballot filled up by a qualified Filipino voter.” 

In the last elections, he said he almost suffered the fate of thousands of qualified voters whose ballots were rejected outright by the PCOS machines. Pinol said he persisted in feeding his ballot into it and it was only on the third try that the machine accepted it.  


Piñol related that in New Antique, Mlang, North Cotabato one of his supporters whose ballot was rejected three times insisted that the feeding into the machine be continued, until on the 15th try it finally accepted his vote. “But what about those who did not persist in doing so?" 

Manny Piñol asserted:  “There is no law which says that those whose ballots were not accepted by the PCOS machine after three attempts shall be disqualified from voting; that ballots which were shaded beyond the circle opposite the candidate’s names shall not be counted; that voters whose dirty hands smudged their ballots shall be disqualified from voting." 


Yet all of these happened in the 2010 and 2013 automated elections, Piñol stressed---so that it’s now time for citizens whose ballots were rejected and whose votes were not counted to come forward and file their complaints. He said these will all be consolidated into a suit which he intends to refer to legal experts who will take the matter up with the Supreme Court---"so that in the next elections the monster called the PCOS Machine will no longer be used." He asks all complainants to forward their names and addresses to Atty. Rene Alexis Villarente at renealexisvillarente@yahoo.com.

Time for action indeed.

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