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.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Election fever truly upon us as Maliksi takes over PCSO and Customs Commissioner Sevilla resigns owing to “political pressures.” Corrupt practices of departments run by P-Noy allies exposed by COA in the billions of pesos, hitting most impoverished sector---the farm folks. Lagman proposes combination of manual precinct vote and count, but electronic transmission to Comelec HQ using “official laptops.” PCOS costs P16B while proposed laptops would cost only P4B. No expensive (air-conditioned) warehousing of machines needed.

Various citizens across the nation are all talking about recent fast developments which  seem to impact on the coming elections.

Recently a close ally of President Aquino, former Cavite Gov. Ayong Maliksi, was assigned to head the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), which is considered among the agencies most milked during elections. The problem is that Maliksi had been involved in questionable cases in the past in the same agency, so that this prompted a media commentator to opine that appointing him to the PCSO is like turning the blood bank over to Count Dracula.

The reaction of many citizens to Maliksi’s appointment to PCSO was highly unfavorable, and was read as yet another ill-disguised attempt by the Aquino administration to ignore public opinion--- just to enable its candidates to win the coming elections so that they could  protect P-Noy from prosecution in the post-presidency.


Resigned Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla

Now comes the resignation of Cornell and Princeton University-educated Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla, owing to what he termed “political pressures” at this time, just a year away from the elections; this has hogged headlines anew. Sevilla was quoted in the Inquirer as saying that he had sought “to uphold the time-honored principle that public office is a public trust” and that he took those words seriously, promising that “there will be no politics or/and patronage system in the appointments in the Customs bureau.” . Unfortunately, said Sevilla, ahead of the 2016 elections, “Politics is in the atmosphere. I could feel strongly political factors are moving in the background.”

Appointed in Sevilla’s place is Bert Lina who had held the same post in Customs during the Arroyo years, but who was among top officials, termed the “Hyatt 10” and led by then (as now) Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who resigned in the wake of supposed anomalies implicating President Arroyo in the elections of 2004. The Hyatt 10 group sought to force---unsuccessfully--- President Arroyo to resign in mid-2005.


Ironically, Finance Secretary Purisima had fulsome praises for outgoing Customs Chief John Philip Sevilla, who had been his longtime undersecretary in the Finance Department. The Inquirer cited Purisima’s testimony about how Sevilla had helped the bureau’s collection grow by 21 percent in the past four years, vs. only 5 percent in the pre-reform period, and how he made Customs “one of the most radically open, transparent and efficient agencies in government.”

The question that will doubtless come to mind among citizens who read Purisima’s glowing praises for resigned Customs Chief Sevilla is, what happened, then? As street lingo puts it, “Anyare?”  If Sevilla is efficient, honest, “with uncompromising courage and integrity,” why would he be forced to resign? Thus, Sevilla's outcry that there's just "too much politics" in Customs in the coming election months gains credence.

News reports assert that he was imposed the task of raising P3 billion in campaign funds from Customs which proved just too much for this technocrat. 

It also makes it tough for Bert Lina to come in at this time, for aside from the political demands of the election season, there’s the lingering issue hounding him about conflict of interest. Several former and present politicians have questioned whether Lina has truly divested from his transport and brokerage firm, the LGC Logistics. News reports said that current SEC records indicate that he remains LGC’s board chair.


Five years into its presidency and just a year from the elections,  the Aquino administration is being hounded by accusations of illegal and incompetent disbursements of funds in the billions--- by no less than the Commission on Audit. These accusations appear to be well-grounded on facts and the tragedy is that such gargantuan funds have been released without corresponding proper implementation of major projects that ought to impact on one of the most impoverished sectors of our society: the farming communities. No wonder our rural folk remain so poor that they all flock to Manila seeking life-desperate employment. .

According to COA the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), under Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, has failed to fully implement two major development projects worth PP12.8 billion in several farming communities---despite the release of funds for these programs which included farm-to-market roads and bridges. Some projects have failed to undergo bidding, in violation of government laws, and in many instances were only partially completed. Yet, all funds have been released.


On the other hand, news reports quoted COA as asserting that the Department of Agriculture, headed by Aquino long-time ally and LP partymate Proceso Alcala, squandered more than P14.4 billion in year 2013, in questionable projects implemented despite violations of laws and regulations. If those projects were attempted in 2013, think of how much has been squandered by now---with the elections nearing.

The COA releases of data and documents linking Secretary Alcala, whom P-Noy has been defending all these years, to questionable projects came just a day after the Sandiganbayan convicted Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali, head of the League of Governors and another staunch ally of President Aquino, for up to 10 years in prison owing to graft-ridden projects. Umali is the first League of Governors prexy ever to be convicted.

P-Noy’s stout defenders always like to assert that he is “clean” and “honest,” and in fairness to him, no direct link has been established to involve him. But all these cases of graft and corruption in the billions of public funds involving his closest allies---Alcala, de los Reyes, Umali, etc---show that either P-Noy is incompetent and does not know what is happening around him, or he tolerates all the shenanigans to get his anointed candidates elected. .

By raising funds for the LP war chest, P-Noy could actually be buying insurance for himself against prosecution, owing to many constitutional violations of his administration. But he must also realize that with all the corruption that has gone unabated in his watch being revealed now by a COA that seems to have finally shed its timidity (!), his anointed stands little chance to win---unless of course, they resort to cheating.  


Which brings us directly to this topic and exploration of ways and means to avoid this periodic bane of Philippine elections.  

At a recent TV program hosted by Lynda Jumilla the representative of PPCRV seemed to be defending the Comelec representative, or was simply not tech-savvy. 

Former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman’s proposal---a stand that seems to have been adopted by the entire local IT world---is to have a combination of manual elections and count, but electronic transmission of election results from the precincts. As per the IT people’s proposal, each precinct will be equipped with a big screen where the manual results would be flashed for everyone to see. At the end of the counting,representatives of the various political parties and citizens’ groups---or anyone really----can take photos of the total precinct results.


Gus Lagman proposes that during the counting of votes at the precinct level, an “OFFICIAL LAPTOP COMPUTER” should be designated to simultaneously send each vote to Comelec as it’s counted. Now, PPCRV argued in that same program hosted by Jumilla that this method can be manipulated if the actual vote is not sent through a laptop. This is true, but it can be answered easily by two ways. 

At the end of the counting,  data recorded in the “official Laptop” should be flashed on the screen so that citizens and party reps can check them against their own laptops. These results can then be compared with “Official Laptop” results.

This will make cheating difficult to do, but what’s good is that the system would have all the benefits of electronic counting, but it would be a lot cheaper---Smartmatic’s very flawed system costs P16 billion, whereas Gus Lagman’s proposal costs only P4 billion. Moreover, those government-acquired laptops could be donated to public schools after the elections---no expensive warehousing with air-conditioning, such as the old PCOS machines require, and which the government, not Smartmatic, shoulders. .

Corollary to this proposed system, the citizens’ arm and election watchdog, Namfrel, could be truly activated to devise a parallel system that’s virtually cheating-proof. 

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