Granting P1.2-B deal just before retiring
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 7, 2015 - 12:00am

Only a minority of Filipinos opposes the sneaky fare hike at Metro Manila’s three railways, harrumphs Press Sec. Sonny Coloma. When it comes to hair-splitting, hand it to “Bugoy” — the epithet fellow-youth activists of the ‘70s used for his inability to shed off pettiness and bourgeois-ness. For him, only the million or so daily riders of the LRT-1, LRT-2, and MRT-3 are grumbling. If they each typify a family of five, that makes only five million grumblers — a mere five percent of the 100-million population. They’re nothing compared to Coloma’s three-and-a-half (including one sectoral) admin congressmen who were elected by and so speak for provincials who couldn’t care less about metro fares. Never mind that congressmen lie low these days lest they remind voters of the multibillion-peso pork barrel plunder. Just full-steam ahead with the 50-percent fare raise, Coloma prefers, and damn the dissenters.

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Sneak rate increases were the government trend during the Christmas break. Announced too when nobody could go to court for injunction was the doubling of Mega Manila water bills. That’s courtesy of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System regulatory board. That’s the same agency whose past directors and officers granted themselves houses and lots inside no-build La Mesa reservoir watershed. The Aquino admin in its first month in office in July 2010 had vowed to undo the illegal, un-ecological act. That has gone the way of other big promises then — broken — like no-more-”wang-wang” (power abuse) and “daang matuwid” (straight path).

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Thinking voters of 2010/2013, ask yourselves:

Do you honestly believe your votes were counted? Did the ballot machine acknowledge via detailed receipt your exercise of priceless right to suffrage, the way ATMs do for bank transactions as low as P200, not just a generic congratulatory note that you’ve successfully deposited or withdrawn? Do you accept that just because election results seem faster, they’re accurate too? Would you say that machines sold by a sole supplier from backward Venezuela are better than those made by three freely competing US giants? In the unlikely event that you or your close kin break through the phalanx of political dynasts and run in 2016, would you trust the precinct count optical scanners (PCOS)?

Surely you answered “no” to all five questions. Despite your limited experience with computers, you know they can be hacked. You smell something fishy when five of seven commissioners defy the best judgment of the Comelec legal staff and give without public bidding P1.2 billion for Venezuelan Smartmatic Corp. to repair its PCOS. Fishier yet, that they decided it on no-work Dec. 29, and chairman Sixto Brillantes announced it last no-work Sunday. Shadiest of all, that three of the five, led by Brillantes, are to retire in less than a month, on Feb. 4.

Whatever their intent, it smacks of “pabaon” (going-away present) — hundreds of millions of pesos stolen from the Armed Forces coffers in the early-2000s, handed to departing chiefs of staff. Except that, this Comelec scam is in the billions of pesos: the P1.2 billion is just a starting price; Smartmatic’s final servicing bill could exceed P2 billion, by Brillantes’ own estimate. Smartmatic’s alibi for the negotiated contract is that the 86,000 PCOS units are still under warranty, so only it must service them. The way Filipinos understand “product warranty” is that servicing comes free. So we must all be stupid to not know its new definition in the Comelec-Smartmatic dictionary.

Why would oldies want to make dirty money? Ask Carlo Gambino or Lucky Luciano.

Comelec commissioners act like Mafia dons. Their wish is the law — let no lawmaker defy them, or else watch out next election. Sen. Ralph Recto learned that well in his failed 2007 rerun. Senators Alan Cayetano, Koko Pimentel, and Grace Poe are wary of the ever-yelling Brillantes. The latter abhors dissent. When info-technologists pointed out that Smartmatic had broken the election automation law in not disclosing its mere distributorship in lieu of software developer and not submitting the PCOS source code, he growled that non-lawyers have no right to argue law with him. When he began to argue about hard and software, he told IT experts to just shut up and listen. Reminds us of the movie where Al Capone bashed a defiant mobster to death with a baseball bat.

Brillantes and his gang’s ways were witnessed anew in two anti-PCOS issues tabled before the Senate. First was about the strange digital lines on the 2013 ballot images. IT experts brought this up when no less than official post-election testers from the Dept. of Science & Technology declared that those lines wrongly could have added votes, creating “accidental senators.” Brillantes reluctantly gave in to a scrutiny of random precinct clusters — craftily held last Dec. 12.

Brillantes did not invite the IT experts. The Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election Systems found out only the day before, and was able to alert them less than 24 hours ahead. This was despite the agreement to hold the Comelec review three months prior, in Sept. The IT men scrambled to the venue early the next morning, and only then were given the review rules. To their astonishment, Brillantes had decided that only 383 precinct clusters, or one-half of one percent of them, were to be reviewed. The 383 precincts were selected deliberately, not randomly. The IT men were not to touch any of the ballots, images, PCOS units, or compact flash cards, but only watch from a distance what the Comelec magicians were showing.

The other issue concerns the manual recount in three Nueva Ecija precinct clusters early last year. It showed losing senatorial bet Eddie Villanueva, the world famous televangelist, topping the balloting — not just landing No. 19 as the PCOS had stated. When I first reported it (see Gotcha, 28 July 2014) Brillantes threatened to sue the court judge for abuse in granting a recount to ferret out the truth. He also snarled at the recount petitioners during the consequent Senate hearing. Adamantly they said the PCOS count did not reflect what the ballots showed. Sly Sixto is now turning the tables on them, accusing them of electoral fraud in supposedly tampering with the ballots to not match the digital images.

All these result from the original sin of lease-purchasing the PCOS for P10 billion, then frittering away P5 billion more for add-ons, warehousing, and last-minute debugging.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

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E-mail: jariusbondoc@gmail.com.

AL CAPONE ARMED FORCES ASK CARLO GAMBINO AUTOMATED ELECTION SYSTEMS BRILLANTES COMELEC PCOS SMARTMATIC
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