POSTSCRIPT / May 2, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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May Comelec throw P2.3-B just like that?

REDUNDANT EXPENSE: Why does the Commission on Elections insist on spending P300 million to duplicate what the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) does for free?

In addition to the official canvassing procedure mandated (also the only procedure authorized) by law, the Comelec wants to do an unofficial quick count through what it calls Electronic Transmission, Consolidation and Dissemination of Results.

The poll body will therefore have an official and an unofficial count.

As early as January 2003 (15 months ago!), in a meeting between Comelec and Namfrel, IT specialist Gus Lagman suggested to the Comelec that if they did two counts and these two counts did not tally, they would have a difficult time explaining the discrepancy because they are both Comelec counts.

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PROHIBITED CHORE: The Constitution prohibits the Comelec from canvassing the results, officially or unofficially, for the presidential and vice presidential contests. Only Congress is authorized to do that.

So what will the P300 million be for? To do a quick count of the senatorial fight? Is that not going to be such a big waste of taxpayer money?

Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos said many times that they would do it because the Namfrel Quick Count has not been successful in preventingdagdag-bawas .

Somebody should remind Abalos that after every election, Namfrel submits a report of its findings in the hope that the Comelec would act on them by filing charges against the erring Comelec officials and candidates.

If dagdag-bawas has not been prevented, the Comelec will have to share the blame.

Is there a hidden agenda behind this consuming desire of the Comelec to do an unnecessary quick count at such great expense?

Such a redundant process has the potential of sowing confusion, and triggering civil unrest, during the counting and canvassing of election results.

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REVALIDATION FAILED: Why did the Comelec embark on that staggering P1-billion Voters’ Validation System (VVS) project last year, presumably to cleanse the voters list of flying voters?

Incidentally, Lagman and his group predicted that the Comelec would not be able to complete the validation of 38 million voters.

News reports now have it that Comelec claims to have captured the validation of only 9 million voters. We recall that sometime in June last year, the supplier of the data capturing machines boasted they could finish the 38 million in 70 days.

Abalos and his commissioners might want to read reports about some of its suppliers’ machines not working as expected and their corrupting government officials. They can visit this site: http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/7772395.htm.

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BETTER, CHEAPER: Last year, Lagman wrote a paper describing how P300 million was all that Comelec needed to do the job and cover all 38 million voters. We understand that even the Comelec’s professional staff agreed that that was not only possible, but, in fact, would be a better system.

Three years ago, Lagman also wrote a paper explaining why the P6.5-billion Voters’ Registration and Information System (VRIS) was unnecessary.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court nullified that contract for the reason that the budget allocation for modernization (not for VRIS) was only P1.2 billion! Despite that ruling, the Comelec still went ahead and implemented the VVS, a subset of VRIS.

That is how the Comelec mind works when billions are involved. Remember how it mightily insisted on pursuing a variation of the P1.3-billion automated counting of ballots despite the Supreme Court’s slapping down the contract as illegal?

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NO CLEAN LIST YET: The Comelec has bragged that because of VVS, they were able to purge the voters’ list of double registrants. Great! But they could have purged bigger numbers from the list using a more effective, but much cheaper, system.

As Lagman said in his paper, “It’s like using a gun to kill a fly; a fly swatter would have done a better job — and much cheaper, too!”

But here is worse news! That VVS project has so messed up the Computerized Voters List (CVL) that until now, almost three months after the deadline of Feb. 10, the Comelec has not made a clean and complete CVL available to the public, the political parties and Namfrel.

What they have made available thus far are lists that are full of errors. You can just imagine such lists sowing confusion, if not stirring up an upheaval, on Election Day.

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COSTLY PROBLEMS: The Comelec spent another P1 billion to create problems for itself — thanks to the insistence of former Commissioner Luz Tancangco.

Why did the Comelec award the supply of Automated Counting Machines to a bidder that was not qualified? The bid specifications required bidders to submit their three-year financial statements. The winning bidder, at the time it submitted a bid, was only 11 days old.

Both the Comelec and the winning bidder claim that this was acceptable (though government procurement rules, and the Supreme Court, say it is not!) because the bidder was a consortium of long-existing companies.

All the authorities we have consulted chorused that this is a lie, yet to this day it is still being propagated.

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NOTHING WRITTEN: During the oral arguments at the Supreme Court, a Comelec commissioner said that there was a consortium agreement among the companies that submitted the bid.

When pressed to produce the document, he admitted that it was only a verbal (meaning oral) agreement!

Justice Jose C. Vitug, who asked the question, was incredulous. He exclaimed, “A P1.3-billion contract and all they had was a verbal agreement?!”

Fortunately, the Supreme Court declared the contract null and void. But the money, to this day, has not been returned, and the charges that the Supreme Court said should be initiated have not been filed.

Think of this: Gawad Kalinga, a most admirable project, has so far built 263 low-cost houses for the poor at a cost of P50,000 each. Their target is to build 7,000 houses by the year 2010. The P2.3 billion that the Comelec has already paid and wasted could have built 46,000 houses for the poor!

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SHE SIGNED FOR IT: One thing a government official should learn early in public life is not to sign for any money received outside the normal course of legitimate business.

Reelectionist Gov. Clotilde Japson Salazar of Eastern Samar must have forgotten this basic lesson when she received P200,000 from a drug firm in exchange, we understand, for her promise to buy medicines from it for the provincial government.

The problem is she failed to buy the medicines as agreed and Pharmazel Inc., a Metro Manila based medical supplier, is now trying to recover what looked like grease money that got sticky.

We have a copy of the acknowledgment receipt dated March 5, 2002, signed by Salazar, attesting that she “received from Pharmazel Inc. the amount of two hundred thousand pesos (P200,000).”

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DEMAND LETTER: We gather from a demand letter signed by Pharmazel executive Chona Varias that in consideration of the P200,000, the Eastern Samar capitol was to regularly procure medicine from the company, with payment to be drawn from the Local Government Social Equalization Fund (LGSEF).

If LGSEF funds are not available, Salazar reportedly promised to pay Pharmazel out of the capitol’s regular funds.

Despite her supposed commitment, the Eastern Samar Governor never bought medicine from Pharmazel. Instead, he has been ordering stocks from another company.

In its demand letter sent in February last year, the company said its “main consideration” is the recovery of the money advanced to Salazar, plus corresponding interests. The company threatens a legal suit, if Salazar does not pay.

Salazar’s big problem is apparently the receipt that she signed.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 2, 2004)

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