POSTSCRIPT / October 5, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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What? Nobody's to blame for that sordid mega-deal?

EDSA BULLY: Whoever was the swell-head riding that heavily tinted van weaving in and out of traffic on EDSA yesterday afternoon with the help of two motorcycle cops and a security backup may want to step forward and explain his obnoxious behavior.

Sometimes such traffic bullies remove their license plates to hide their identity. But yesterday, I got the plate number: ZCG 441. The arrogant display of power and privilege was at around 2 p.m. in the Greenhills portion of southbound EDSA.

If he did not want to be late for something, all he had to do was move out earlier so he would not have to push everybody aside as he rushed to his appointment. And why the bodyguards? Why is he so afraid for his life?

This is a sample of daily abuse of privilege that generates resentment among ordinary folk. This builds up and manifests itself later in civil disobedience and open defiance of authority.

If the President cannot stop such abusive antics of her subordinates, how can she manage bigger problems of state?

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RESIGN. NOW NA!: Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez should not only resign. She should also turn in her license as lawyer for giving the bar and the prosecution service a bad name.

The issues involved in the P1.3-billion contract between the Commission on Elections and the supplier of automated counting machines (ACMs) are so simple that it is strange, if not suspicious, that Gutierrez failed to comprehend them.

Even to us non-lawyers, the contract is clearly illegal as the Supreme Court had ruled and then affirmed with finality in 2004.

One is tempted to ask who or what prompted the newly installed Ombudsman (she was presidential chief legal counsel and a classmate of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo) to absolve all the parties to a patently illegal contract.

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FOUL DEAL: Ms Gutierrez could not have missed these salient points of the ACM mega-deal, but we will repeat them for her perusal:

  1. The Comelec awarded the contract for almost 2,000 ACMs to a firm that did not even bid! The deal was given to Mega Pacific eSolutions Inc., which is different from the Mega Pacific Consortium that had won the bid.

(Mega Pacific eSolutions has no track record in computerized elections and was organized only 11 days before the bidding. Its key officials are reportedly close friends of Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos and are suki paper suppliers of the Comelec.)

  1. The Supreme Court voided the contract for having been entered into in violation of law and the bidding rules of the Comelec itself. This means that there is no contract to serve as legal basis for the transaction, the delivery of the ACMs and the payment of close to P1 billion.
  2. Not only was the contract illegal. The ACMs delivered had been found to be not according to the specifications announced before the bidding. They were susceptible to poll fraud and did not have the promised software that would make them work. The trial software that was belatedly submitted was still subject to testing.
  3. Yet the supplier, probably sensing the legal tsunami coming, rushed delivery of the machines. The Comelec, its partner in the foul deal, rushed initial payments of at least P850 million. Later reports had payments running to more than P1 billion.

No wonder there are charges of collusion and manifest haste and bad faith in an apparent bid to consummate the deal and thereby frustrate any return of merchandise and refund of payment. But all that rushing had no legal value because the basic contract was void. There is no valid contract.

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BODEGA EXPENSE: The Supreme Court ordered the Comelec to return the goods procured under the illegal contract and which were, in the first place, delivered in bad order. The tribunal also directed the poll body to get back the public funds it had paid the supplier.

The Comelec defied the high court, and seems to be getting away with it.

In fact, the poll body explored several opportunities to use the ACMs — such as in the last elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao — presumably to make their delivery a fait accompli and render their return more difficult. At one time, it wanted to “rent” them.

Meantime, the Comelec is reportedly paying P3.9 million annually with taxpayers’ money for the warehousing of the equipment that it, or the government, does not own. That questionable disbursement of public funds for rent could mean another case coming up.

Talking of new charges, divide the P1-billion contract price by the number (2,000) of computers delivered — and you get a unit price of P500,000!

As somebody who assembles desktop computers, I can say that this is a gross overprice, unless the metallic parts are made of gold. Okay, I know there is the dedicated software to pay for also. But even with that, the overprice is appalling.

Btw, all this time, WHERE WAS THE AUDITOR who was supposed to inspect the goods and approve delivery and payment? How come the auditor has managed, so far, to hide from the legal tempest?

* * *

SIGNATORIES INNOCENT?: We always go back to the basic question: Who approved and signed the illegal mega-contract with the non-bidder?

The records show clearly who approved the Comelec resolution and who signed the contract — and who signed on the part of the supplier. By affixing their signatures did they not become party to, and co-responsible for, the illegal transaction?

Yet the Ombudsman absolved the two parties (the consenting officials of the Comelec and Mega Pacific) of any administrative, civil or criminal liability. In short, nobody is to blame for the sordid crime? There was wrong-doing, but no wrong-doer?

Even Commissioner Resurreccion Borra, who was earlier singled out by the Ombudsman as probably liable for prosecution, was cleared in the sweeping absolution.

It is so incredible! What kind of guardians of the law has President Gloria Arroyo installed at the Office of the Ombudsman? (And elsewhere in the bureaucracy, you might add.)

If Ms Gutierrez, new as she is on the job, could not stand the pressures brought to bear on her as Ombudsman, she should have resigned rather than sully her good name and the reputation of government lawyers in general.

* * *

CHEAPER DRUGS: Sen. Mar Roxas, who is pushing for the easing of patent laws on critical medicines, may want to attend a Multi-Stakeholder Symposium tomorrow at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati.

A bill he has sponsored seeks to amend the Intellectual Property Code to allow local production of patented drugs before their patent expires. The objective must be to reduce expenses associated with drugs and improve delivery of public health services.

To balance the discussion, Roxas may want to listen to and maybe react to some of the papers prepared for the symposium arguing that cheaper medicines do not necessarily redound to better health care.

Some of the speakers are AIM Prof. Emmanuel Leyco, Philip Stevens, director for health program of International Policy Network, and Barun Mitra, founder and director of the Liberty Institute.

* * *

INDIA STATS: Mitra, I was told, will focus on the pharmaceutical sector in India, and try to debunk the popular belief that relaxing the drug patents in that country had paved the way for cheaper medicines and better health.

Statistics show that 90 percent of medicines in India are produced locally; that it accounts for eight percent of the world’s medicine production by volume and 1.5 percent by value, that India is among the top five pharmaceutical producers worldwide, and exports to around 175 countries.

Yet, according to Mitra’s paper, despite affordability of medicines, the health care situation in India is no better than in other countries. His paper prepared for delivery has it that only 30 percent of the Indian population has access to modern medicines.

Indian government outlay for health care is merely 0.9 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Doctor-patient ratio is still low, and there is acute lack of hospitals.

Mitra is expected to stress that there is a health crisis in India whose population had crept past the one-billion mark way back in March 2001.

That populous country lists 80 million cardiac patients, 80 million afflicted with mental illness, 60 million diabetics, 50 million asthmatics, and 50 million Hepatitis B cases. One in three Indians is a latent carrier of tuberculosis, and it is estimated that by 2015, about half of all AIDS cases in the world are going to be Indians.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 5, 2006)

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