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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.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

PH and US elections in the same boat, as accusations of hacking bedevil both. Object lesson in case of Comelec Chief Andy Bautista. Deputy Speaker Macapagal-Arroyo files bill protecting Veterans Hospital, her “prison” for four years. In a visit to her hospital suite one evening, I found her alone but cheerful despite the deafening silence---such tremendous inner resources.


Comelec Chair Andres Bautrista

Comelec Chair Andres Bautista, two commissioners and five directors of the poll body are being charged by the National Privacy Commission (NPC) with dereliction of duty in connection with the alleged hacking last March 20-27, 2016 of private information on some 76.6 million registered voters, quickly termed by media the "Comeleak." The NPC, chaired by Raymund Liboro, has asserted that the cyber-security breach was a violation of the Data Privacy Act of 2012 and “the worst recorded breach on a government-held personal database in the world” last March.

The NPC scored Comelec Chief Bautista’s alleged “lack of appreciation of data protection” and “gross negligence” of his duties as poll body head---asserting that the Comelec data-base may have been tampered with and compromised due to his failure to appreciate the gravity of the situation. 

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I feel sorry for Andy Bautista as he is a decent guy. The fault, however, seems to be that he may have been the wrong man for the job. This is because his post calls for a high level of technical savvy and cyber-security know-how which this lawyer---who came directly from the PCGG top post and prior to that, a lucrative law practice and as longtime head of the FEU Law School---may not possess. 

This hacking episode should be an object lesson for future Presidents (Bautista was a P-Noy appointee). The job of Comelec Chair apparently calls for more-than-above-average comprehension of its technical aspects, in addition to the imperative understanding of election laws and how to implement them. On the other hand, it's also worth considering that had a more techie guy been appointed, perhaps he would be lost in the legalistic maze of the almost thankless job of administering our highly controversial elections.  

What’s also evident through the many years of electoral complaints about the Comelec is that whoever heads this constitutional office with its seven-year fixed tenure, the syndicates operating within would still be there and all the decent elements would still appear helpless. So deep-rooted are the operators, the syndicates. It is these that should be decapitated. 

Andy Bautista claims in his defense that he trusted the advice from the experts, but he has to come up with a better explanation about the "Comeleak."

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It’s interesting that even as poll chief Bautista is accused of being technically non-savvy in the recent elections, to the point where he may have left the data-base of millions of Filipino voters at the mercy of home-grown computer manipulators, in the US, up to now---with the inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th US president less than two weeks away---allegation that the US presidential elections may have been compromised by Russian intelligence has refused to go away.

This morning CNN came out with the following breaking news: 




US President-elect Donald Trump
The US intelligence community concluded in a declassified report released Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an "influence campaign" aimed at hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
The report was the first official, full and public accounting by the US intelligence community of its assessment of Russian hacking activities during the 2016 campaign.

"We assess that Russian President Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess (that) Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report said.
Trump earlier Friday downplayed Russia's role in the election after what he called a “constructive meeting” with top US intelligence officials.
Trump tried to defuse controversy over his criticism of the intelligence community and said he will appoint a team within 90 days to figure out ways to stop foreign hacking.”

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Even as bipartisan members of the US Congress have called for thorough investigation of the alleged Russian hacking, the uncertainty about the TRUE AND UN-MANIPULATED results of the US elections would doubtless weaken and undermine Trump’s presidency----even as his severest critics assert that in this regard he doesn’t need any help, as he is himself his worst enemy with his oft-zany pronouncements (sounds like someone we know, ain’t it?).

This issue of election data base---and other sensitive data, for that matter, such as vital security and defense information---being tampered or hacked by outside forces would doubtless be raised again and again, not just here and in the US, but in other parts of the world, as our planet succumbs to increasingly advance cyber know-how and technology, especially in the sciences. Sadly, however, the world's dependence has also become so vulnerable to manipulation.

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Former President and now House Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
   (ABS-CBN photo)

Former President and now House Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has filed House Bill No. 1240, seeking to return to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) some of the benefits she derived from her four years of hospital arrest there. The Pampanga representative was freed on July 21, 2016 after the Supreme Court dismissed plunder cases filed against her by the vindictive P-Noy administration for lack of evidence. This was GMA's third legal victory since July, even as some of her former Cabinet members were indicted on the pork barrel issue.

The SC decision on GMA was upheld by the Ombudsman in recent weeks for the same lack of evidence, so that last Christmas season was a real blessing for her and her family. It was the first time in four years that GMA enjoyed being on NON-FURLOUGH in her La Vista residence.

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IN HB 1240, Deputy Speaker Macapagal Arroyo seeks to protect and preserve the VMMC following reports that Ayala Corporation is eyeing the 55-hectare hospital property as future site of the North Integrated Transport System Terminal. Arroyo sought “to protect the hospital from sale or disposition” and instead argued that it be given its own juridical personality for greater flexibility and independence in its operations. Her bill supports VMMC with a bigger budget and places it directly under the Department of Defense.

I feel that it’s only right that VMMC be protected from sale AND disposition, if only, as GMA stated in HB 1240, "to recognize the invaluable sacrifices and services of our veterans and military retirees and their dependents.” Her bill will help ensure that “stability, viability and ample resources” would be there to entitle them to "quality medical and health services.”

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There is a lot of sentimentality, too, in GMA’s filing of that bill protecting and enhancing the services of VMMC.  I recall being in the vicinity one early evening perhaps a year and a half ago, and I decided to drop in on her. Monday was no-visitors day and the police guards didn’t want to let me in, but I requested to be allowed even for just some minutes. One of them recognized me as a former military wife.

The hospital suite was cold and empty except for her and a care-giver and I found the silence deafening and depressing---no TV nor radio nor computer around. I don't think she even had a mobile phone. I thought to myself how, under such circumstances, through four years of imprisonment albeit in a hospital, it must be quite tough to retain one’s sanity and stay out of depression. 

GMA, however, was cheerful and we sat around for a while exchanging stories. Such inner resources, such strength this diminutive woman displayed. 

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