POSTSCRIPT / November 4, 2003 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why is Abalos insisting on P300-M quick count?

STRANGE BEHAVIOR: There’s something strange going on in the Commission on Elections. Or in the minds of Comelec chairman Ben Abalos and his fellow commissioners.

We could have had a Citizens’ Quick Count done by professionals at no cost to the government, but Abalos et al. want to conduct their own Comelec Quick Count for the May 2004 elections at a cost of P300 million.

The Comelec is already duty-bound to count and report the vote, so why are the poll officials rubbing their hands in excitement over the prospects of conducting a separate Quick Count? Btw, why are they called commissioners?

Also, what happens when the figures in the Comelec Quick Count do not tally with those in its own official count?

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COSTLY FAILURE: But P300 million is peanuts for big-time operators. The Comelec is actually set to spend a staggering P5 billion for the (partly) computerized 2004 elections and continuing registration.

Aside from the P2 billion for the regular holding of the national elections, the Comelec has earmarked P1 billion for the validation of voters’ registration (a big embarrassment so far), P1.3 billion for counting machines (many of which do not count but conk out), and P300 million for the electronic transfer of municipal and provincial canvass to the main Comelec office in Manila.

Assuming this tubercular country can cough up enough money to spit out, isn’t it profligacy, if not lunacy, to experiment in computerized confusion leading to a failure of election from which this nation may not be able to recover?

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FLAWED BIDDING?: Along the same line, reader Isko Katibayan III of the Maypagasa Movement said in an email:

“The Lower House has the wrong guy in Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. He is not corrupt and the issue is only technical malversation which is not a high crime calling for impeachment.

“What our honorable congressmen should investigate and eventually impeach is the Comelec en banc led by Chairman Abalos for gross incompetence, betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption, plunder and subversion of the people’s will or treason!

“From our careful research, the P3-billion Election Modernization Plan is a mega-scam! It will be a big disaster in May 2004. Consider the following:

“1. Registration of new voters is a total failure! Only 550,000 new voters have registered out of 12 million. These new voters have to line up hours just to register. That is incompetence. The Comelec spent P1 billion of taxpayers’ money for the registration of new voters when it could have been done with only P100 million. This is according to information technology expert Gus Lagman*.

“This is wholesale graft and corruption and plunder. This computerized registration is not backed by any law and is, therefore, illegal.

“2. Purchase of P1.7 billion worth of counting computers is flawed. This phase is legal, but the bidding process was very flawed.

“A favored supplier won even if it was registered only 10 days before the bid documents were given out. That must have been the reason why it could not submit a three-year financial statement as required by the bid rules.

“The two firms that were allowed to bid both failed many aspects of the tests by the Department of Science and Technology, yet one of them (Mega Pacific) was awarded the contract.

“The Comelec, realizing that many of the computers will not work, downscaled the implementation from nationwide to only 30 percent of the country. This is not backed by any law and is, therefore, illegal. Such gross incompetence!

“The counting machines are not stand-alone units as required by law and, therefore, prone to widescale fraud and cheating. In fact, they do not satisfy the bid requirement that they have been in production for five years.

“3. The P300-million third phase, or the electronic consolidation of votes, in a main computer is also illegal and prone to massive cheating.”

(*The Gus Lagman that Katibayan quotes is a Certified Computing Professional, awarded by the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP), Des Moines, Illinois. With more than 41 years’ experience in IT, he has headed the Systems Group of Namfrel’s Operation Quick Count (OQC) since the beginning, from the Batasan elections in 1984 to the senatorial elections in 2001. –fpj)

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MORE ON JDF: Anent our discussion last Sunday on the second impeachment complaint initiated against Chief Justice Davide for alleged mishandling of the Judiciary Development Fund, we elaborate on some points:

The JDF is not a regular appropriation that requires congressional oversight or monitoring. Created by PD 1949, it is derived from the increase in court fees since 1984, and from other sources. If a certain legal fee was one peso as of 1984, and it was increased to P1.50, the 50-centavo portion goes to the JDF and the one peso to the national treasury.

By resolution of the Court en banc, not by congressional act, other JDF sources include rentals of facilities, interests on deposits of its income, bar examination fees, and publications of the Supreme Court printing press.

Though a co-equal branch of government, the Judiciary is consistently given less than one percent of the national budget. For 2000 to 2001, no cash allocation was released by the budget department for capital outlay. The Court had to rely on the JDF for equipment and facilities.

Recognizing the meager funds provided by Congress to the Judiciary, Section 1 of PD 1949 provides that “[t]he Fund shall be used to augment the allowances of members and personnel of the Judiciary and to finance the acquisition, maintenance, and repair of office equipment and facilities.”

It provides that at least 80 percent of the JDF be used for cost of living allowances (COLA) of court personnel while not more than 20 percent is for office equipment and facilities of the courts.

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HOW IT’S COMPUTED: There is a misunderstanding of how the 80 percent for workers’ COLA is determined and disbursed.

The JDF consists of collections deposited with the Land Bank by accountable officers of the courts. As shown in the bank statement as of a given date, the COLA share of workers is computed by multiplying the total deposits by 80 percent.

The COLA is distributed in proportion to the basic salaries of court workers. Those receiving lower salaries are granted bigger allowances, and personnel receiving higher salaries are granted lower allowances.

Employees receive their COLA monthly, the amount depending on the deposits shown in the bank statement as of a given date. The amount distributed is in round figures, hence the undistributed balance that is carried over to the next distribution period.

No part of the 80 percent reserved for workers goes to the 20 percent for equipment and facilities. The 20-percent fund is deposited in a separate savings account and the two accounts do not mix.

The Commission on Audit, which is the constitutional body monitoring the fund, has declared as legal and above-board the allocation and disbursement of the JDF by the Davide court.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 4, 2003)

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