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Tribune Editorial

Smartmatic’s continuing ripoffs

Wednesday, 07 February 2018 00:00 Published in Editorial

Something is out of place in the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) handling of the Smartmatic counting machines since the polls became automated in 2010.
The past national elections saw the Comelec initially leasing the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines and ending up buying these from Smartmatic for P1.8 billion after the 2010 polls.
By the next presidential elections, most of the machines will have shown defects and the Comelec said it would be more costly to repair the PCOS units compared to leasing the then new Vote Counting Machines (VCM).
The Comelec, under the guise of acting in favor of what best benefits there are for the public, proceeded to lease 97,000 or so VCMs from Smartmatic.
A House member, said the Comelec had also availed of the purchase option on the VCM at a cost of P2.2 billion.
Citizens Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna, chairman of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, now said that despite the purchase, the VCM may not be, after all, the machines to be used in next year’s midterm polls.
The Comelec transaction with Smartmatic happened during the Christmas season at a time when most Filipinos were busy with the holiday season.
The debate over PCOS had not ended and it seems that the VCM had gone the same way as the earlier generation Smartmatic machines which way is that the costly machines turn out to be good for just one national election, with billions spent for machines that are highly vulnerable to automated fraud.
The same cycle would likely happen in the exercise next year when a new Smartmatic gadget will be offered for lease anew with another purchase option to boot.
The Comelec made an assurance prior to the lease of the VCM that the PCOS machines will be refurbished and used for the 2019 and 2022 elections but the VCM purchase made the PCOS obsolete.
Tugna said that the Comelec is now being asked to submit an accounting of the costs cited on the use of the poll machines, both for PCOS and VCM including the comparison on leasing the machines or outright purchase.
Hard to swallow was that the oversight committee of Congress was kept in the dark on the purchase of the VCMs until Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim told the committee, in a matter of fact way, that the purchase was completed last January 12 and the Comelec en banc made the decision to go with the purchase option last December 18.
Under the Comelec en banc decision, the poll body exercised the option-to-purchase clause in their lease contract with Smartmatic for the 97, 517 VCMs for P2.1 billion for them to be reused in the May 2019 polls.
Before the 2013 polls, the Comelec also exercised its option-to-purchase clause and acquired all 81,896 units of PCOS machines, which were leased for the 2010 elections, for P1.8 billion.
Instead of reusing the PCOS machines in the 2016 polls, the Comelec opted to lease the 97,000 plus VCMs from Smartmatic due to lack of time to refurbish the earlier purchased machines and due to the claim that repair is costlier than leasing the new machines.
The Comelec should also be made to come up with a schedule on the reuse of the PCOS and VCM machines since it seems, based on Tugna’s findings, that another Smartmatic equipment is being lined up either for the elections next year or in the 2022 presidential polls.
Deplorable is that Smartmatic has consistently evaded demands for accountability on fraud while cornering all the lucrative contracts related to the automated elections.
The fact that Smartmatic always gets the better end of the bargain should already raise questions about the propriety of the poll contracts it continues to reap.
Both Smartmatic and Comelec officials should tell the public what’s behind the seemingly disposable poll machines.

Endless spins

Tuesday, 06 February 2018 00:00 Published in Editorial

The US government’s recent statement that it has recognized improvements in Rody’s war on drugs and saying it was cautiously optimistic in the developments of the flagship campaign of the administration, apparently rattled the yellow liberal fraternity of the world that it necessitated the New York Times (NYT) to make a rebuttal.
A few days after the conference call of James Walsh, a State Department official overseeing American policy on international narcotics and law enforcement, who said that the US government was “cautiously optimistic in the trends when it comes to the appropriate way for a drug campaign” on the Duterte administration anti-narcotics drive, the NYT reactivated its extrajudicial killings (EJK) scorecard.
In a report, it said “nearly 50 people suspected of using and selling drugs were killed by officers in the past two months” quoting the Philippine National Police (PNP).
It said the figures contradicted earlier pronouncements that the government’s war on drugs would become less deadly.
NYT said between Dec. 5, 2017 when the police took part in an operation named Double Barrels Reloaded and last Feb. 1, officers conducted 3,253 raids, leading to the arrests of an unnamed number of “high-value targets” and the deaths of 46 people.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), however, is now in charge of the drugs war since last year and not the PNP unlike the previous version of the campaign.
The PNP provides the manpower in the drive while conducting its own persuasion campaign on drug offenders called tokhang.
Rody’s opponents then spinned tokhang as the EJK vehicle of the police force which they claim is being done under government orders.
Of course, the NYT story would not be complete without mention of the bloated death figures associated with the war on drugs.
It reported that the exact number of people killed since Mr. Duterte’s drug war took effect in 2017 is unknown.
“The government says fewer than 4,000 suspects have been killed, but Human Rights Watch last week estimated the figure at more than 12,000,” it added.
It suggested the discrepancy existed since “the police do not count among the dead the hundreds of victims killed nightly, in attacks the government attributes to vigilante groups.”
“Those victims are often found with cardboard signs around their necks indicating that they were drug users or dealers,” it said.
The US official in stating the encouraging development in the war on drugs, attributed the improvements to the “human rights training” the US government provided local police officers.
The yellow opponents of Rody, however, are not interested in any improvement in the conduct of the anti-narcotics campaign since it goes against the grain of their depiction of a brutal administration.
The EJK allegations are also a misnomer since Presidential spokesman and human rights lawyer Harry Roque said there is none contrary to what is being alleged.
Despite the NYT scorecard, the PNP said the renewed anti-drugs campaign did not result in any killings but instead resulted in the surrender of more than 800 drug dealers and users.
“No casualties were reported as on the fourth day of (Operation) Tokhang activities in 17 regions around the country,” Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, the new PNP spokesman, told a media briefing.
The PNP relaunched the campaign last Feb.5. Operation “tokhang” is a fusion of Visayan words knock and persuade and in the campaign, policemen knock on the doors of drug suspects and convince them to surrender.
Majority of those who surrendered were recorded in Northern Mindanao with 424 and the Zamboanga Peninsula with 318, Bulalacao said.
Prior to the Tokhang relaunch, police killed at least 46 drug suspects who reportedly resisted arrest and instead fought it out from Dec. 5, 2017 to Feb.1, 2018 which was the figure that the NYT used.
During the same period, close to 5,000 suspects were arrested based on PNP figures.
The PNP said public cooperation is a major factor for the success of the campaign less the blood.
The NYT will keep chalking up the numbers in the war on drugs and it will always be on the account of Rody.

Necessity of obstruction clearing

Monday, 05 February 2018 00:00 Published in Editorial

The Executive-Ombudsman showdown over the suspension of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang is out of place in the realm of an administration seeking to purge the government of politics and corruption.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has stubbornly stonewalled against the Duterte administration’s actions, the latest of which was the disciplinary action against Carandang.
Morales had made it known that cooperation can’t be expected from her on moves coming from Rody or his allies that made it necessary for cases filed on mostly officials of the previous administration to bypass the Ombudsman and filed them either through the courts or the Department of Justice (DoJ).
Morales is using a Supreme Court entry of judgment in a 2014 final decision of the SC in the case of former deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales III who was embroiled in the tragic 2010 bus hostage tragedy that cost the lives of eight Hong Kong tourists and police officer Rolando Mendoza, the hostage taker.
Mendoza tagged Gonzales as having tried to extort from him P150,000 to dismiss a criminal case against him that Mendoza claimed was a set up.
Among the actions taken by the Palace as a result of the outcome of the probe on the incident was the dismissal of Gonzales.
The SC, in an 8-7 vote, ruled afterwards that the administrative authority exercised by the Office of the President over the position of deputy ombudsman was unconstitutional.
The SC specifically voided Section 8 (2) of the Ombudsman Act of 1989, which granted the president the power to remove a deputy ombudsman.
It held that of the appointed officials in the Office of the Ombudsman, only the special prosecutor was covered by the Palace’s power of discipline.
Morales said the Palace suspension order on Carandang was “unconstitutional” and an “impairment” of the Office of the Ombudsman’s constitutionally enshrined independence and that she would not enforce it.
“The Ombudsman cannot, therefore, seriously place at risk the independence of the very Office which she has pledged to protect on the strength of the constitutional guarantees which the High Court has upheld,” she said.
Carandang’s suspension was for administrative offenses of grave misconduct and grave dishonesty for allegedly disclosing false information about the bank transactions of Duterte and his family.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the suspension order is “immediately executory.”
The suspension stemmed from a complaint filed by lawyers Manolito Luna and Elijio Mallari, who had accused Carandang of “falsely and maliciously claiming” that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) had released a report on Duterte’s alleged bank deposits.
The AMLC, however, denied releasing a report on Mr. Duterte’s bank accounts. The AMLC added it has yet to evaluate if there is ground to initiate an investigation on Duterte’s bank transactions.
Carandang had said that Morales had authorized him to probe Duterte’s bank transactions when the latter was still mayor of Davao City.
He claimed that his office had obtained bank documents from AMLC showing Duterte’s and his family’s over P1 billion worth of transactions in several banks from 2006 to 2016.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, however, pointed out that an accountability vacuum will exist if Morales stands pat on her position.
Morales had inhibited from the investigation on the president’s supposed bank records and now “cannot also discipline (Carandang) for acts committed in a case where she inhibited herself as she will contradict herself.”
“Neither can (Carandang) be disciplined by the other deputy Ombudsmen due to lack of legal basis,” he said.
“(W)ho will now discipline Carandang who was acting under Ombudsman Morales’ fiat?” he asked.
Section 2, Article 11 of the 1987 Constitution did not include the deputy ombudsman as among the public officials who may be unseated only through an impeachment.
Calida also cited Section 20, Chapter 7, Title 1, Book III, of the Charter: “Unless Congress provides otherwise, the President shall exercise such other powers and functions vested in the President which are provided for under the laws and which are not specifically enumerated above, or which are not delegated by the President in accordance with law. “
Calida said the president, whose duty is to execute the laws, exercised his residual authority to “discipline officials” under the executive department.
Morales in her actions had only strengthened the argument for her removal from office through impeachment.






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