POSTSCRIPT / February 11, 2014 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Destroy the evidence while making millions

SMART MERCHANTS: The businessmen operating at the Commission on Elections must be a bunch of smart, lucky people.

Having earned millions when the Comelec leased the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines in 2010 and then earned more millions when it purchased the same old equipment in 2013, now the smart operators want to resell them – presumably to make more millions.

We are talking of some 80,000 four-year-old ballot scanning-counting equipment that gave this nation President Noynoy Aquino in 2010 and an administration majority in the Senate in 2013 through a 60-30-10 hocus-pocus formula.

A Comelec spokesman said the ageing PCOS bought for P1.8 billion in 2013 would be sold if the inter-agency Comelec Advisory Council recommended it. Of course the tired machines will be sold or disposed of, if a voice is heard from up high ordering it.

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TOSS OUT EVIDENCE: Selling the PCOS, preferably to a buyer who will attempt to use them overseas, is a neat way of finally getting rid of part of the evidence of alleged massive automated manipulation of elections.

The machines have actually been tinkered or tampered with after their use in May 2013, compromising their value as evidence of electoral fraud. That should not have been allowed.

But the Comelec, using P30 million in “intelligence” funds from Malacañang, was always several steps ahead of technical sleuths and poll watchdogs questioning the integrity of the 2013 elections.

Passing on the PCOS to foreign users will complete the destruction of whatever evidence may have resided in them after being stripped of their coded software, flash drives containing precinct count instructions, and safeguards mandated by law.

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SELL POR KILO?: In 2013, many of us were frantically urging the Comelec to just lease, and not buy, the machines. But the poll body went ahead and bought them from the Smartmatic merchants peddling hardware with a Source Code they did not even own.

The Comelec should have listened to Commissioner Gus Lagman, the only member well-versed in the technical aspects of computerized elections but who was removed for advising caution and respect for the automated election law.

The Comelec then fell captive to Smartmatic – resulting in the anomaly of a foreign firm managing national elections for the poll agency in violation of the Constitution.

So now the Comelec is stuck with 80,000 machines overtaken by dust and obsolescence while paying a multimillion-peso bill for security, warehousing and air-conditioning. It could have avoided this financial burden by just leasing, not buying, the equipment.

If Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. cannot find antique buyers, he can try or junkmen buying discards por kilo.

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HGC IN DISTRESS: The cash-strapped and graft-ridden Home Guaranty Corp. may be bleeding taxpayers dry due to alleged mismanagement.

The firm’s president Manuel Sanchez will have to explain a Commission on Audit report that HGC’s financial problem has ballooned to more than P13 billion and show that its leadership is acting to stem the hemorrhage.

The financial distress of the government-owned corporation that guarantees state mass housing projects has prompted Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz to call for an investigation on its losses.

He pushed a resolution directing the committees on good government and public accountability, housing and urban development and government enterprises and privatization to investigate the reported HGC mismanagement and refusal to heed CoA warnings.

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ZERO COUPON BONDS: The HGC provides risk coverage or guarantees and fiscal incentives to banks and financial institutions to grant housing development loans and home financing to qualified Filipinos.

Supervising Auditor Teodora Lacerna of CoA noted in a report that HGC’s deficit operations began when it floated zero coupon bonds in 2002. She said that HGC continues the flotation to the present.

It first floated bonds in 2002 worth P7 billion, sold debt papers worth P3 billion in 2004 and, finally, P12 billion in 2006 supposed to have been used to fund its socialized and low-cost housing guaranty servicing.

The CoA said that the HGC’s investing P5 billion in fixed rate bonds in Ayala Corp. ran counter to the rule that idle government funds should only be invested in government securities or obligations guaranteed by the state.

It advised that the HGC should refrain from turning to bond flotation since it would lose money and generate deficits because of the enormous financial charges that bonds carry.

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DEFICITS DEPLORED: The House resolution noted reports that past and present HGC officials, including past president Gonzalo Bongolan and the incumbent president resorted to bond flotation, among other financial practices, despite the risks involved.

De la Cruz said the HGC officials may have committed irregular transactions causing dire financial consequences to the corporation.

He cited a CoA report that despite the bond flotation, the HGC continued to incur deficits annually. In two years, it said, the deficits stood at P12 billion in 2011 and P12.456 billion in 2012.

The CoA advised that “HGC’s financial profile needs to be improved to meet its currently maturing obligations and sustain its capability to provide guarantee for loans supporting a viable shelter program.”

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OBLIGATIONS: The CoA noted that HGC’s liabilities of P16.855 billion exceeded its assets of P3.430 billion, or a working capital deficiency of P13.425 billion, resulting in its inability to meet maturing obligations.

Despite its losses, some HGC officials provided themselves with vehicles costing P25.919 million. An officer of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, it was noted, availed himself of a car plan despite his being ineligible.

Officials also paid P14.081 million for the personnel’s Early Separation Incentive Program which the CoA said is inconsistent with Section 10 of RA 4968.

Instead of engaging in bond flotation, HGC officials should have “instituted the collection of its receivables xxx including the more than one billion pesos from the National Housing Authority, the CoA said.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 11, 2014)

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