Comelec’s midnight deal binds us to flawed PCOS

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Questions bug Public Works Sec. Rogelio Singson’s announcement that the EDSA rehab would begin at last this summer.

He said: Metro Manila’s main artery — 23 kilometers long, ten lanes wide —  would undergo overdue asphalt overlaying. Budget: P3.74 billion. The Dept. of Public Works and Highways is to use for the first time “special high-grade asphalt from Singapore.” Technicals and costing had been planned since Apr. 2013; Malacañang finally earmarked the funds this year.

But wait, anti-graft advocates caution. Singson’s P3.74 billion comes out to over P162 million per kilometer. Doesn’t the DPWH normally allot only P10 million per kilometer of two-lane highway re-asphalting? If so, then the EDSA asphalt overlay, for ten lanes, should be only five times more, or P50 million per kilometer. Consider too the savings for economies of scale in a big project with proximate work sites. So why is Singson’s budget more than three times, or 300 percent, higher?

Maybe it’s because of the “special high-grade asphalt.” Then again, does he really need to import such material from Singapore? Perhaps not. For, he said in Feb. 2013 that he could make EDSA as “smooth” as the North and South Luzon Expressways. The constructors of the NLEX and SLEX did not use imported but only local asphalt, and continue to do so for repairs. Cheaper, tested alternatives to asphalt come out to less than half the cost.

The graft-busters conclude: If Singson uses local asphalt, his EDSA re-asphalting of 23 kilometers would cost only P1.15 billion, not P3.74 billion. He would save P2.6 billion, to pave more highways.

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The Comelec’s recent midnight deal with Smartmatic has more serious implications than just the scandalous P2-billion price. For, it also binds the Republic to use the Venezuelan firm’s voting machines in 2016. This is although those machines presently are being questioned for flaws discovered in 2013 by the Dept. of Science and Technology.

By mere negotiation five commissioners led by chairman Sixto Brillantes granted to Smartmatic the minor repair contract of the Precinct Count Optical Scanners. They sneaked it in last Dec. 23, eve of the long Christmas-New Year break, and announced it Jan. 5. This was against the advice of the Comelec’s legal office in Nov. 2014 to hold a public bidding. Three of the five — Brillantes, Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph — are to retire on Feb. 2.

Commissioner Luie Guia demolished the five in his dissent (alternately spelled “decent”; Arthur Lim’s vote was also in dissent). Guia wrote:

• The legal office rightly sought public bidding because other entities are capable of servicing the PCOS, of which Smartmatic is not the proprietary owner. After using the PCOS in the 2010 and 2013 elections, Comelec’s own info-tech department should be able to do the job under the technology transfer provision of the 2009 lease-purchase.

• “Lack of time” does not justify negotiating such huge amount. That the PCOS cleaning and minor repairs may take over a year is but a timeline, an action guide that can be changed.

• The extended warranty proviso in the 2009 contract is not binding, but a mere offer by Smartmatic of parts and service availability. The Comelec bids and awards committee said so as far back as May 2014. Further, the Government Procurement Policy Board has ruled that negotiations may be done only if no comparable service and price exist.

Guia concluded that automated elections must be not only accurate but also credible.

This points up the related issue with the PCOS: its precision and public acceptability are under question. No less than DOST computer experts had found “mysterious digital images” on the 2013 ballots. They did so in the course of inspecting the machines right after the 2013 balloting, as the 2008 Automated Election Systems Act requires.

The lines bisected the balloons beside the names of candidates. In the senatorial race, such bisections could have been counted as unintended votes. Or, they could have nullified real votes if the number of affected balloons exceeded 12. Any which way, the PCOS likely produced “accidental senators,” the state scientists rued.

Independent info-technologists and ex-congressman Glenn Chong brought the matter before the Senate last Sept. Fifty-seven of 607 ballots (9.4 percent) from one precinct alone in Tale, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, were presented. Brillantes readily admitted the mysterious lines, but insisted without basis that only one or two ballots per precinct were affected. Yet the Lapu-Lapu bisections marred 26 percent of the 57 ballots in one precinct alone.

Brillantes promised the Senate to investigate, but took three months to contrive it. At noon of Dec. 11 the Comelec notified the complainants of the test to be done the next morning. Just before the test, they were given the lopsided test rules: only 383 precincts (one-half of one percent of the total) would be examined. Supposedly the precincts randomly were picked, but a computer rerun chose anew the very same precincts.

The PCOS was about to be exposed as a farce. And then, 11 days later, Brillantes et al sprang their sneaky deal. Pre-empted was the truth. In its place came the P2-billion commissioners’ choice.

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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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