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.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fantasizing that among hundreds of bloggers Pope Francis would choose me for briefing, just the two of us, on what ails this Catholic country. One thing I’d tell him---which he’d understand as he's Latino: how citizens’ votes have been manipulated in two recent elections by Comelec/Smartmatic and how their unholy partnership plans to steal 2016 elections again with midnight deal cooked up last Dec. 23, when Pinoys were marking birth of Jesus. This Tuesday, Jan. 20, with the Pope’s wisdom still in our hearts, patriotic citizens from all walks of life will pour into Plaza Roma and Occupy Comelec with one battlecry: No more PCOS! Boycott Smartmatic forever!

Would that this photo of me with a cardboard Pope Francis turn into reality, so I can brief him on Comelec/Smartmatic's unholy and dastardly alliance that threatens to thwart the people's will a third time in 2016.

With all the frenzied excitement about beloved Pope Francis I find myself fantasizing that of the hundreds of bloggers around he’d choose me for a 15-minute dialogue---just the two of us---on what’s ailing this country, one of only two Catholic countries in Asia.  And what would I tell him?  I’d tell him of one thing alone, and this he’ll understand, as he’s from Latin America where turbulent politics, mainly various dictatorships, has prevailed over decades, including in his native Argentina.

I’d tell Pope Francis of our rotten politics, specifically the manipulation by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of our elections, through the foreign company it has become so beholden to, Smartmatic. I'll tell him how renowned IT experts, various professional organizations and plain citizens who care deeply about the future of their beloved country have grown hoarse reciting Comelec’s grievous sins in the 2010 and 2013 elections,  which over the years it has chosen to simply dead-ma (Your Holiness, that’s native slang for ignoring). 

Sadly, I'll tell the Pope how our Congress, which investigates just about every issue especially on the political opposition, has ignored Comelec’s anomalies, as these have involved some very powerful politicians.


I’d tell Pope Francis that the Filipino people’s anger over the continued manipulation of our votes is such now that right after he leaves---on Jan. 20--- many citizens’ organizations, led by the National Transformation Council (NTC) that counts a good number of Francis' Filipino bishops as well as pastors and imams of other faiths, the most prestigious IT organizations, labor groups, urban poor and many others, will gather in a giant protest rally at Plaza Roma in front of the criminally liable Comelec.

Our message to Chairman Sixto Brillantes and his cohorts: enough is enough.  We just won’t take anymore the repeated thwarting of our most sacrosanct democratic right---to vote to choose our leaders.

Who knows, but that Pope Francis, hearing me recite the litany of Comelec’s sins, won’t forgive its commissioners---and instead, he’d just postpone his PAL flight to Rome on the 19th and join us at Plaza Roma on Jan.20.


But just so that His Holiness won’t think that a low-tech protester like me doesn’t know what she’s talking about, let me reprint for him here the open letter of AES Watch, the umbrella group of Filipino IT experts, which patriotic Filipinos like those in Tanggulang Demokrasya (Tandem) and the Faith-led NTC, as well as various Filipino organizations here and abroad, are FULLY SUPPORTING. AES Watch has zeroed in specially on the immoral and unjustified awarding to Smartmatic---just two days before Christmas, when Filipinos were busy marking the Birth of Christ---of the first tranche (A “MIDNIGHT DEAL”) of a P1.2 billion contract for “refurnishing” those wicked PCOS voting machines, now better appreciated as the “Hocus PCOS machines.”


Here, for Pope Francis’ perusal, is today’s Joint Protest Letter on the Comelec-Smartmatic Deal” from the AUTOMATED ELECTION SYSTEM WATCH (AES Watch) and the CITIZENS FOR CLEAN AND CREDIBLE ELECTIONS (C3E), addressed to Chairman Brillantes and the six  commissioners:

“WE, Filipino citizen election advocates from AES Watch and C3E, express in the strongest terms our opposition and grave concerns expressed by a growing number of coalitions of election watch groups, NGOs, Church leaders, academics, IT experts, people’s organizations here and abroad, as well as enlightened sectors in the media who are all legitimate election stakeholders, on Comelec Resolution 9922 of Dec. 23, awarding to Venezuelan reseller and marketing company Smartmatic, the very prohibitive P300M contract of diagnostics and minor repairs on the 82,000 PCOS machines WITHOUT BIDDING!

This rush holiday action by the Comelec led by Chairman Sixto Brillantes, Jr. and Commissioners Elias Yusop and Lucenito Tagle who are all scheduled to retire by law, on February 2, 2015, is HIGHLY SUSPECT AND UTTERLY UNCONSCIONABLE in the face of the many unresolved issues involving the defective PCOS machines provided in the last two elections – 2010 and 2013 -by SMARTMATIC.

We are APPALLED that the Comelec resolution smacks of a “MIDNIGHT DEAL” and cutting corners citing unacceptable reasons (“lack of time”) that compromise the provisions of the procurement as well as election laws. It was, to say the least, in disregard of the urgent concerns raised in the recent Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearing of December 4, 2014 on the AES. This hearing called for thorough reports from Comelec on the latest discoveries and explanations by no less than the Technical Evaluation Committee of the government’S Department of Science and Technology (DOST) on the digital distortions of ballot images from the PCOS machines that, according to the TEC’s  official report, “could have affected the results (counting) of the election” and which “would be difficult to clean.”

We view with suspicion, the treacherous deal between Smartmatic and the COMELEC forged after that last JCOC hearing where Chairman Brillantes again failed to submit the poll body’s official reply regarding the critical TEC-DOST findings on the digital lines on the PCOS election results, and from which top Smartmatic official Cesar Flores had the temerity to excuse himself from appearing because they were “busy working on their bid.”  What refurbishment is being talked about when Comelec’s information is all dependent on Smartmatic’s and no certified report and inventory from independent bodies-–government or private--had been done and submitted on the state of the PCOS machines and the source codes that run the counting of the votes?

Why the COMELEC’s rush to close the deal involving TAXPAYERS’ MONEY of P1.2 billion for the supposed repair of damaged PCOS machines, to be paid exclusively to Smartmatic---when this went AGAINST THE RECOMMENDATION OF COMELEC’S OWN legal department that this contract be subjected, by law, to PUBLIC BIDDING? 

We raise this important question: WHAT POWER HAS SMARTMATIC– a foreign company - have that it CAN THREATEN the Philippines’ own constitutional election body and succeed in compelling it to award the services (amounting to more than PhP1.2Bn) on the basis ONLY OF UNVERIFIED INFORMATION supplied by this marketing company regarding its fictitious “ownership” and “manufacturing” rights to the PCOS system--- when such claims have already been shown to be questionable?

We remain firm that the Comelec should have bidded out the entirety of the refurbishment contract, and that its argument of a lack of time and that Smartmatic has exclusivity over the PCOS is highly arguable and questionable.

In the first place, Smartmatic should have been compelled to do the necessary diagnostics, repair and fixing of its PCOS hardware at the company’s own expense when technical and hardware deficiencies were exposed as early as 2010, worse in 2013; likewise, in early 2014 when the DOST’s TEC acknowledged the digital distortions of ballot images that altered the 2013 vote counting. Why THE HASTE in the Comelec resolution when-–based on the estimates of our own IT experts-–such necessary repairs can be done in 6 months?

As to Smartmatic’s claim of exclusivity, what is clear is that Dominion Voting System (DVS) holds the patent to the manufacturing of the PCOS, including the software. But since the Comelec NOW OWNS those second-hand used machines (bought for the 2013 elections at P1.9 billion---BOC), it can exercise its right by its own IT technicians – or bid out such services in a transparent and public bidding.

Expressing our gravest concern over this “MIDNIGHT DEAL” we ask that the decision to award the negotiated contract with Smartmatic be deferred until after the retirement of the three outgoing officials on February 2 and the appointment of their replacements. The span of time between the retirement and appointment of new Comelec Chair and two Commissioners would not cause grave delays to the election preparation, and also to avoid mistakes and the bad perception that comes with undue haste.

We ask that the retiring commissioners led by Chairman Brillantes, out of a sense of propriety and delicadeza, inhibit themselves from any long term decision-making especially on critical issues involving the questionable counting accuracy of the Smartmatic-provided PCOS technology that remains the property of another foreign company, Dominion Voting System.

Let us give the incoming Chairman and Commissioners the prerogative to exercise their decision over this very critical matter, as they also have the right and duty to review this contract and they are the ones who will be there to see it materialize and be accountable.

We also reiterate our position that Smartmatic Company BE BANNED FROM PARTICIPATING IN CURRENT AND FUTURE ELECTIONS on the basis of numerous accounts – since 2009 – of ownership misrepresentation, non-compliance with election and procurement laws including the E-Commerce Act pertaining to the minimum requirements of a transparent, accountable, accurate and reliable election system.

It is our moral, legal and natural obligation to stop THIS BLATANT MOCKERY OF THE RULE OF LAW in our country and the continued subservience of the COMELEC to Smartmatic and Cesar Flores who is allowed to malign and libel even reputable Filipino experts and legitimate organizations.

Let us allow our own Filipino IT inside Comelec, government agencies and independent experts to participate democratically and help develop appropriate election systems and technology in promoting the right of suffrage and against undue interference of foreign vested interests.

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