Watch out: Comelec to retain Smartmatic
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2015 - 10:00am

Is Press Sec. Herminio Coloma fit to be chairman for Civil Service? Many say no, and beg Malacañang to rethink placing him in that seven-year tenure.

Having Coloma oversee the bureaucracy would ruin it, critics aver. His record in public office is stained. He testified against the Republic in the international lawsuit of the German briber Fraport. That’s betrayal of the national interest.

To recount, the state in 2003 expropriated the Manila International Airport Terminal-3, for sleazy contracting and construction. Lacking capital, the Filipino build-operate-transfer awardee Piatco ceded 61.44-percent equity to Fraport for funding. This broke the Anti-Dummy Law, which enforces the constitutional limit of foreigner ownership to only 40-percent in utilities, like airports. Piatco-Fraport also laundered money in the British Virgin Islands for high officials. Cabinet men were paid off to alter four times the original 1996 contract, and transport heads to issue permits for works finally to start in 1999. Building was sloppy, as Piatco-Fraport execs took kickbacks from subcontractors. (Still being finished today, Terminal-3 already is falling apart.) The Supreme Court voided the deal, and upheld the expropriation.

Unrepentant Fraport sued the Republic at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, Washington DC. Piatco ran to the International Chamber of Commerce, Singapore. The Philippines had to hire costly American and Singaporean lawyers licensed to practice there. Piatco-Fraport got Coloma, a former transport U-Sec, as “expert witness.” Though not a lawyer, he boldly disputed the state’s ruling of dummying, money laundering, and bribery. The testimony was behind closed doors, but the Office of the Solicitor General has official copies.

As press secretary, Coloma publicly lied countless times. The latest were on the Mamasapano fiasco, unfair hike in commuter train fares, food price spikes, and election machines.

Coloma sets a bad example to the civil service. Infidelity breaches the Constitution (Art. XI, Accountability of Public Officers, Sec. 1: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

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The maligning of critics of the flawed voting machines may have earned a few headlines. But those were mere sideshows of Comelec ex-chief Sixto Brillantes and the confessed ballot thief he is coddling (Gotcha, 23, 25, 27 Mar. 2015). The main event is by master puppeteer Smartmatic. The shady Venezuelan is aiming to wangle four major contracts for the 2016 election -- all without public bidding. These are:

• P270 million to service 82,000 old precinct count optical scanners,

• P2.5 billion to lease out additional 23,000 PCOS,

• P400 million for result transmission, and

• P730 million for the voter verification system (VVS).

The props have been set at Smartmatic’s center stage. First was the P270-million midnight deal for it to inspect the 82,000 PCOS it supplied for the 2010 and 2013 polls. Brillantes and two commissioners brazenly granted it in closed-door brokering, instead of open auction, three days before retiring last Feb. 2. Two more commissioners colluded.

The Supreme Court temporarily has restrained the Comelec from executing the midnight deal. But that’s of no concern to the poll body and its Smartmatic master. Both broadcast that the SC order would delay automation preparations for the 2016 balloting. Meaning, the High Tribunal had better lift its restraining order.

Quickly followed a Comelec declaration of failed bidding for the P2.5-billion lease of the additional PCOS. Along with it was scuttled the direct-reading electronic (touch-screen) machines from a rival seller. Smartmatic hastily protested that declaration of failure. Whereupon, the Comelec last Friday reversed itself, hailing the Venezuelan as the lone eligible bidder.

This suits Smartmatic just fine. As the only bidder left, and only PCOS being considered, it need not make a public bid. Another closed-door talk, and it would bag the P2.5-billion lease.

Declared failed too was a separate bidding for P400-million tally transmission. Only one firm bought bid papers: Smartmatic. But it did not make a bid because the Comelec allegedly was yet unsure if only the 82,000 old units would be used, or include the 23,000 more in 2016.

This again fits into Smartmatic’s scheme. After leasing the 23,000 more PCOS, the Comelec would declare -- as it did in 2013 -- no more time for tedious public bidding. Smartmatic as sole bidder would be awarded the transmission contract. In 2013 Smartmatic got the deal too; it had not joined the public bidding that subsequently failed, yet was granted the hundred-million-peso work. For 2016 a trade grouping of local telcos is offering to replace Smartmatic; expect Comelec to ignore it.

Lastly being cooked is the P730-million VVS, by a newcomer suspected to be a Smartmatic front. That bidder has no track record in Philippine elections; hence, ineligible under the Automated Election Law of 2008. Yet the Comelec is bending over backwards to accommodate it.

Add it up:

• P270-M PCOS servicing,

• P2.5-B new PCOS lease,

• P400-M transmission,

• P730-M voter verification

EQUALS P3.9 billion to a foreign firm that has yet to show that its voting machines truly functioned in 2010 and 2013. To think that the Comelec already has wasted P15 billion to purchase and warehouse the first PCOS units and its accessories.

Meanwhile, the poll body refuses to heed the Transparent Credible Election System that the critics, mostly info-technologists, are present as alternative. To cost only P800 million, the TCrES would entail manual voting and counting at the precinct, and automated public canvassing and transmission. Materials would be acquired from computer shops in major cities, to eliminate the logistics nightmare of installing exclusive PCOS per precinct. There’s no kickback there, though.

*   *   *

Composer-filmmaker Josefino Cenizal passed away Friday morning from complications of old age. He was 98.

Uncle Pepe was noted for his love songs, especially “Hindi Kita Malimot.” He was a big-band leader in the roaring 30s and popularizer of the Swing in the ‘40s, before becoming a movie director in the 1950s and 1960s. He was married to the late movie star Olivia Cenizal. Uncle Pepe also composed the lively Christmas carol “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit,” which he always chuckled to have written at first as a “ponebre” (dirge).

He is survived by daughter Moppet and son-in-law Eckie Gonzalez; grandchildren Ziggie, Kayelle, Cibbie, Muriel, and Lyriel; and centenarian sister Dr. Lily Cenizal Fojas.

His remains will be transferred this Monday morning to the ancestral house in his Tanza, Cavite, hometown. Interment tomorrow, Tuesday, is at the Sta. Cruz Memorial Park, after a 3 p.m. Mass.

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

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