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, December 4, 2014

COA Chief Grace Pulido Tan should uphold the constitutionally guaranteed independence of her office and not allow herself to be used as tool by the administration. What’s the true state of Malampaya Fund now? How much is left? A pity that SC allowed Smartmatic, with its checkered record, to participate in Comelec bidding. Returning it to tally our future elections insults our people and renders us all as fools. Why do we allow this?

COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan

It’s truly tragic that constitutional bodies, guaranteed by the Constitution independence in the form of fixed tenure in office and salaries, are allowing themselves to be manipulated and used by the powers that be. The recent testimony of COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the Malampaya Fund shows where her loyalty lies---not to the nation and the people, but to the President who appointed her, which is truly sad.  This servile attitude has long been true of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, but never mind her as she serves at the pleasure of the appointing power;  but Pulido Tan is shielded by the Constitution and should display fierce independence, but does not.   

Pulido Tan was  a protégé of Arroyo/Aquino Finance Chief Cesar Purisima. As Finance Undersecretary in the GMA administration, she resigned with her boss Purisima and the Hyatt 10 in July 2007 in a futile effort to bring  down Arroyo government. At the Senate hearing a few days ago, she opened up on the P900 million Malampaya Fund said to have been siphoned off during the Arroyo Administration to NGOs of Janet Napoles;  she admitted finishing investigations into the Department of Agrarian Reform under former Secretary Nasser Pangandaman but has little else on other departments also alleged to have been involved in scams in the previous administration. 


But more alarming, Pulido Tan has nothing on years 2010 to 2014 of the Aquino administration. In an unguarded moment perhaps, months ago she admitted that her petitions to Secretary Abad for data on DAP were simply being ignored. But it's a quandary she brought on herself, for Palace officials know that she's not ready to exercise true independence, even though her office maintains some 72 resident auditors in major government offices.

At this point what’s becoming horribly evident is that no one really knows how much of the P170 billion Malampaya Fund remains in Bangko Sentral vaults. Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, a former UP student regent before he ran for the House, estimates the Fund to be in the vicinity of at least P38 billion, and labels it "P-Noy's pork." The problem is, what's the truth about this fund? 

If you recall, a few months back the admission by Finance Chief Purisima and DBM Secretary Florencio Abad that nothing was left of the Fund was bannered by a major daily. Star columnist Ernie Maceda’s suggestion is sensible and logical: summon the National Treasurer to testify before the Senate under oath on the true state of the Malampaya Fund.


I can understand why Sen. Nancy Binay lost her cool when Pulido Tan refused to furnish more information on the Malampaya scams, stressing that all COA had at the moment were “red flag” investigations, i.e., mere signals that things have gone wrong but nothing yet definitive. Nancy snapped back that the COA Chief seemed to have no compunction divulging preliminary findings on the Makati City Hall corruption, as brought out in the Blue Ribbon committee; but now she’s invoking another standard in clamming up on administration scams in Malampaya, obviously to protect P-Noy's allies. 

Pulido Tan’s testimony is reminiscent of that of Justice Secretary de Lima who stopped at nailing down the three opposition senators last year for pork barrel scams in years 2007-2009, but until now nothing has come out of De Lima's promise to reveal investigations into administration allied-senators and Aquino officials. 

At the recent anti-corruption ceremony in Malacanang, President Aquino, doubtless feeling the public heat over his selective justice that had pinned down Vice President Jojo Binay in the same Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, promised to come up with names of other officials involved in anomalies, regardless of party affiliations---but we can’t hold our breath on this one, given the selective track record of his anti-corruption team.

The Palace’s selective justice to protect its allies is fast losing points for P-Noy and even though people do not condone allegations of corruption of the Binay dynasty, the administration's inquisitorial attitude is gaining sympathy for the VP.


A group of IT experts, led by Automated Election System Watch (AESWatch) and the Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3Coalition) under IT practitioner Hermenigildo Estrella, has filed a case before the Supreme Court to stop Comelec from directly awarding contracts to Smartmatic. One of the petitioners is lawyer and former Assemblyman Homobono Adaza, who has asked the SC to stop participation of Smartmatic in the bidding of some 23,000 new PCOS machines until all issues involving this monster machine have been resolved. Unfortunately the SC has allowed the bidding for the two billion peso contract to go on, and deferred ruling on Adaza’s specific plea, on the argument of first seeking answers from Comelec/Smartmatic on this suit.   

But it’s easy to conclude that the real reason is that the Court will go on a holiday break from Dec. 15 to Jan. 9 next year, to resume session next Jan. 13---no more time this year to deliberate on the Adaza petititon. But the SC must realize that this is a matter of extreme urgency as obviously the fate of the presidential elections in 2016 is at stake.


In addition, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes bows out of office this February and it’s obvious that he wants to keep Smartmatic in the loop at all cost. Interestingly, there is now in fact objection FROM WITHIN Comelec itself to a negotiated bid between the poll body and Smartmatic. It's Comelec lawyers themselves who are demanding that there be open and competitive bidding among several providers---not just a negotiated "midnight deal" Smartmatic. We citizens ought to support this demand.  Next, we should ask Brillantes: what's the hurry? Why not let your successor (will it be former Defense Chief Avelino "Nonong" Cruz?) handle this bidding? 

To various citizens’ groups such as the National Transformation Council, which have been fighting for systems change and meaningful reforms the seeming collusion between Comelec and Smartmatic for the coming elections is yet another argument on the urgent need to shift to a better system of government and true reforms.  


Returning the Smartmatic’s PCOS machines to undertake the 2016 election exercises will already be an insult to the Filipino people, for that machine provider has piled up a number of sins. As the half-page ad last Tuesday in several papers stressed, Smartmatic has misrepresented itself as the manufacturers of the machines when in reality it is really only the middle-man/re-seller of machines manufactured by a China-based firm; then too, the software it has peddled turned out to be the property of Dominion Voting Systems which has a running lawsuit vs. Smartmatic in a Delaware court (but here the better question is, why did Comelec allow itself to be duped in two elections?).

Moreover, simple logic states that our country shouldn’t pay P336 million for services already indicated in the warranty. Right now, of P16.4 billion allocated by Comelec for preparations for the 2016 elections, a part is supposed to go into buying 40,000 new PCOS units to replace worn-out ones, while the rest of this fund will go to to “refurbishing” some 40,000 other machines deemed still usable.

The problem is that no one knows for sure just how many of those 40,000 machines "still usable” are really still good. NO MEANINGFUL INVENTORY has been done by Comelec of its machines stock, for as insiders assert, there are still many machines used in 2013 around the country THAT REMAIN UNACCOUNTED FOR (perhaps local warlords AIM TO USE THEM AGAIN in 2016?).


But the biggest problem is the avalanche of defects and errors exhibited by those PCOS machines in the past two elections---so that recruiting them for future elections would already be cruel political self-flagellation. As former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, who has presented before the Joint Committee on Oversight in Congress the best-documented cases of PCOS cheating, as well as the theft of  votes of Bro. Eddie Villanueva in Nueva Ecija show, the many unresolved issues against Smartmatic include disabling of digital signatures of machines and Comelec personnel which has made cheating open season; the disappearance of machine receipts confirming one’s votes;  digital lines and smudges in ballots, questionable vote tallies,  etc.  

But as far as IT experts are concerned, Smartmatic’s biggest sin was not to present the source code as required by the AES Law (again, bakit pumayag ang Comelec?).

Australia is only the latest in the increasingly long line of countries rejecting automated elections because of their unreliability. Our IT experts are advocating a combination of manual vote and count at precinct level, where the various political parties can monitor results that cannot be monkeyed around with at the national level, and automated transmission. I wholeheartedly support this combination, and citizens' groups have to lobby with Congress to amend the AES Law of 2009 that dictated full automation. Should this be rejected by Comelec and Congress, I suspect that there are enough citizens' groups so sore with all the cheating and machinations in the two past elections that they just wouldn't take these any longer. 

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