POSTSCRIPT / July 2, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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My forecast: GMA not running for Congress seat

PURE FANTASY: No, President Gloria Arroyo will not run for a congressional seat in the second district of Pampanga in 2010. Talk of her planning to join Congress in anticipation of becoming Prime Minster in a parliamentary setup is pure fantasy.

It won’t happen. But her not running is not because she doesn’t want to risk losing to UP professor Randy David, who is being pushed to contest her imagined bid. She has nothing to fear in a David vs Gloriath showdown, since he would lose anyway.

The ballyhooed battle royal is just a fantasy of the same theoreticians outside Pampanga who have been egging on Gov. Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio to run for president.

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WORST SCENARIO: As I write this, lawyers of Smartmatic Corp. and Filipino-owned Total Information Management Corp. are reconciling their differences so as not to lose their P7.2-billion contract for the full automation of the 2010 elections.

The worst scenario that could result from the withdrawal of TIM from the joint venture is the scrapping of fully automated elections and the fallback to manual elections.

Full automation involves the use of computerized equipment nationwide in the voting, counting, consolidating and the reporting of the final results. Nobody — no voter or poll inspector — will have to write a word on paper.

If they abandon their P7.2-billion winning bid and their contract, Smartmatic and TIM could lose their P113 million bond (or one percent of the original P11.3-billion project cost estimate). In addition, some of their officials could go to jail.

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FIGHT FOR CONTROL: Chairman Jose Melo of the Commission on Elections said the quarrel of Smartmatic and TIM boils down to money, presumably referring to how they intend to manage expenses and divide the profits.

Pointing to money as the core issue is not only facile but also logical considering the high stakes involved in installing and managing a computerized network of 82,000 vote counting centers nationwide.

But my information is that TIM recoiled from perceived efforts of Smartmatic to control virtually everything, except the responsibility if anything goes wrong.

Although TIM, as the Filipino partner, is putting in 60 percent of the equity (to the 40 percent of Smartmatic), the foreign investor reportedly wants to control the key decisions on technical, financial and administrative matters.

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MONEY ISSUES: Emerging from a mediation meeting the other day between the two partners, Melo said:

“I told them in a joking manner that they will be the one to decide on what type of marriage will they have — a marriage of convenience, a shotgun marriage or a real marriage.”

In the meeting were TIM president Jose Mari Antuñez, senior vice president Salvador Aque and lawyer Boy de Borja, and Smartmatic international sales director and project manager Juan Villa.

The meeting was set after Antuñez told Melo that TIM was withdrawing from its partnership with Smartmatic, citing “irreconcilable differences” and “loss of confidence.”

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JOINT LIABILITY: We learned that TIM officials are afraid that if anything goes wrong under the fickle political weather, they would be left to face the consequences while their foreigner partners could just fly out scot-free.

They said they want an arrangement making both Smartmatic and TIM jointly liable for any problem that may arise. Not that they expect any trouble, they added, but that they want joint responsibility under any situation.

They dismissed as ridiculous the speculations that Malacañang has pressured TIM to back out to foment confusion leading to an emergency situation that would keep President Arroyo in power.

“No less than the fate of the nation is at stake here,” a TIM official who declined to be identified said. “More than profits, love of country rules in the conduct of democratic elections.”

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HYBRID SETUP: One alternative being mentioned is a combination of the manual voting-counting at precinct level and the electronic consolidation-transmission of the precinct results to the provincial and national tabulation centers.

This preserves the Filipino’s direct participation in the voting and counting at the grassroots while speeding up the consolidation and protecting the results from manipulation.

It is important that Filipinos feel they have not been left out of the voting process, that they have not been replaced by computers, especially in their own neighborhood.

There has been election cheating all over, but the more massive and serious fraud is in the consolidation of the count at the provincial and national levels where Certificates of Canvass are manufactured for the highest bidder.

The fake CoCs do not reflect the true precinct count. Tracing back the count is tedious, expensive and is eventually given up by protesters. Cheating in CoC reporting can be minimized by computerizing that part.

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ERASING THE CRIME?: An alternative being pushed by election lawyer Romy Macalintal is a fallback to the automated counting machines that Megapacific Consortium tried to supply Comelec for the 2004 elections.

The Supreme Court struck down the for P1.3 billion deal as illegal. It ordered the Comelec to return the machines and not to pay for them if delivered.

But a defiant Comelec, then under chairman Benjamin Abalos, accepted delivery, refused to recover payments made, and stored the machines at a cost to the government of P4 million a year.

One danger in dusting off the Megapacific computers for next year’s polls is that the government could be deemed to have abandoned the criminal and other cases filed against Abalos et al. on the anomalous transaction.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 2, 2009)

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