Monday, March 30, 2009


The New People's Army (NPA) - armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been waging an insurgency war in the Philippine countryside - turned 40 last Sunday. Despite decades of waging war against government forces in the hinterlands, however, it is doubtful if the CPP and NPA would ever take power in the Philippines.

If there was a moment in our history that the revolutionary movement could have taken power, it was during the Marcos era where repression and iron-clad totalitarianism ruled the country. History tells us that revolutions - whether bloody or peaceful - find opportune moment and achieve great success whenever the people suffer great oppression in the hands of the government. The moment of success was especially ripe during the EDSA uprising, but the CPP and NPA were nowhere to be found. They failed to galvanize the masses into action and take over the reins of power.

It may be argued that had the NPA taken action, the country would have been plunged in bloody civil war. But is this not supposed to be the ultimate objective of an armed revolutionary movement? To seize power through violent means? Truth is, the NPA - and the revolutionary movement in general - is still ill-equipped and lacking in mass support to morph into an offensive force that can threaten the government out of power like the Sandinistas of Nicaragua that overthrew Anastacio Somoza in 1979 or Fidel Castro's revolutionary movement that ousted the dictatorial government of Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959.

The Filipinos, as a people, are still not keen on the idea of a communist take over of our country. To be sure, there are still extrajudicial killings of activists and opposition leaders attributed to certain government elements and corruption in the government is still massive, but these still do not rise to a level as rampant and flagrant under the Marcos regime that provided the receipe for a rebellion. Not yet at least.

But even if they do - which I hope not - the communist revolutionary movement will still find it difficult to make relevance to a population that will surely find mainstream leaders who will make them rise up against an oppressive government, short of waging a bloody revolution. And even when armed struggle becomes an option, the one that will find support will be coming from the right rather than from the left; by revolutionary leaders and soldiers in the military establishment. Our history clearly shows the military has been a decisive force in regime changes.

That is only the political aspect. On the military aspect, the old communist strategy of a protracted war that starts in the countryside then gradually spilling into the centers of power does not appear to be working for the CPP-NPA. Our experiences in regime change show that immediate take over of the centers of power appear to be the most efficacious means of effecting a take over of the government and consequently the country. For this to work, however, a massive force and firepower is required. Obviously, the CPP-NPA is still not ready for this type of military operation. Not only will it find it difficult to generate mass support for the reasons already mentioned, but it will be overwhelmed by a strong military opposition. The communist rebels are still not capable of engaging the military in a face-to-face confrontation, reason why after several years in the moutains they are still waging a guerilla warfare.

As an indication of its outmoded propaganda strategy that all the more makes it irrelevant to the country's political landscape, the CPP's congratulatory message to the NPA contained the following misleading statement: "The new chieftain of US imperialism [Barack] Obama has followed the path of [George W.] Bush in endorsing the brutal military policy of the Arroyo regime by justifying it as antiterrorism."

With his hands tied between two wars that is draining the US economy and testing the patience of Americans - not to mention the gargantuan economic problems facing the US - US President Obama could care less what President Arroyo's military policy is. Obama did not even give her as much as a greeting or a smile when she recently visited Washington, D.C. And during US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's Asian tour, which is a reaffirmation of US interest in the Pacific region, the Philippines was not even important enough to be within her itinerary. With the pull out of US military bases from our country, we have become far off the radar of the US; its interest in our country now is nothing more than ensuring that we do not become a breeding ground for terrorists. Clearly, the communist movement is running out of ideas to shore up its waning insurgency campaign.

By failing to capture the seat of power in the darkest days of our history, it would even be more difficult now for the CPP-NPA to generate mass support and achieve its revolutionary objectives. Its armed cadres will be but roving patrols in the countryside who may occassionally see action in chance encounters with the military, but with no real chance of taking over the reigns of power in the country.

Friday, March 27, 2009


It is saddening that the so-called "People's Champ," Manny Pacquiao, almost embroiled himself in a legal battle with Solar Films or ABS-CBN just a little over a month before his much awaited bout with "Triggerman" Ricky Hatton this coming May. If any, it must be the continuing public support and upcoming fight of Pacquiao that have stayed the hands of either company in pursuing a legal action against him. Besides, it would be bad publicity.

Despite the unfavorable opinions Pacquiao got from some commentators and sports writers about his attempted break away from Solar Films and failed partnership with ABS-CBN for the exclusive coverage of his fight with Hatton, I am still inclined to give Pacquiao the benefit of the doubt. Without meaning to put down Pacquiao, the man never really got a decent education, let alone a training in the intricacies of contract law. Even top executives with MBAs from well-known universities constantly seek the advice and guidance of their lawyers in contractual matters, which brings me to the point I would like to make. Manny Pacquiao would not have broken his contractual obligation with Solar Films were it not for the advice of his lawyers.

It does not take a lot of thinking to understand that Pacquiao has been in the thick of a gruelling training for these past few months in preparation for his fight with Hatton. As would probably be the case during this period, the legal, administrative and marketing aspects of his career would normally be taken cared of by his support staff. I do not pretend to know the way things work at the Pacquiao camp, but I would surmise this is pretty much how they would be done. Pacquiao, therefore, would rely heavily on his people to address these other concerns. Meantime, he would concentrate on his training.

It is safe to assume that Pacquiao, occupied with his training, has relied on his lawyers about the propriety of breaking his conract with Solar and inking another one with ABS-CBN. Whether it was someone from ABS-CBN who urged him to form a partnership with the network and whether this network's lawyers advised him of loopholes in his contract with Solar, ultimately Pacquiao would have to ask his lawyers if such move could be done. To say that Pacquiao's lawyers made a mistake for letting him get into a legally questionable transaction is putting it mildly. Screwing up is more like it, and for this firing them and getting competent ones should seriously be considered by Pacquiao.

As I write this, it seems though that Pacquiao continues to employ the same incompetent staff that he has, for he continues to make public statements that serve no purpose but stoke the fire and keep it burning. The best thing for him to do is to keep quiet about this already and concentrate on his training. Focus on the upcoming fight and let this fiasco die down.

It is obvious in all these that Pacquiao has been caught in the ugly ratings war between GMA and ABS-CBN. Pacquiao has an existing contract with Solar for a block time coverage by GMA of his match with Hatton. ABS-CBN is clearly envious as such coverage will command huge viewership both in the Philippines and abroad. Even assuming that it was Pacquiao who approached ABS-CBN, the latter was duty-bound to do a due dilligence review of Pacquiao's contract with Solar before inking a deal with him. Now we do not know yet if indeed the Pacquiao-Solar contract suffers a defect, but with Pacquiao backing out of his deal with ABS-CBN just a few days after and honoring his committment with Solar, this tells us that the contract might be rock solid.

In its bid to outdo its fiercest rival, ABS-CBN failed to exercise propriety by immediately jumping into an agreement with Pacquiao. Never mind the collateral damage.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Slain body of Badrodin Abbas, a local
radio commentator in the South who was
killed by unidentified gunmen early this year.
(photo from )

The recent listing of the Philippines as the most dangerous peacetime country for journalists in the so-called impunity index of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is another huge setback to our country's reputation in the international community. When it comes to negative ratings, sadly the Philippines is always among the topnotchers.

But we are not concerned here about reputations only. More importantly, we are concerned that our country continues to slide down from a civilized path, where the reign of terror tightens it clutches as one journalist after another suffers violent death. The killing of journalists is without a doubt a tool to silence the media and stifle press freedom; those who orchestrate the killing of media men want their dastardly acts to serve as object lessons to other journalists that criticisms or other negative publicity against them will only have fatal consequences.

According to CPJ, there are 24 unresolved murders of journalists for the past ten years in the Philippines that makes it the sixth most dangerous country for media men. The other top five countries in the list are Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Columbia - countries which have been in armed conflict for years. The saddening fact is that, compared with these countries, the Philippines is not in armed conflict as these countries are. Sure, we continue to wage a fight with communist rebels in the countryside and Moro Islamic rebels in the South, but these conflicts do not rise to the level that these other countries are in, aside from the fact that the killing of journalists in our country are not related to these problems.

The culture of violence in our country continues to propagate because, as observed by the CPJ, killers ply their nefarious trade with impunity by evading arrest, escaping prosecution or avoiding conviction - which speaks a legion about the ineptness of our criminal justice system, that includes our law enforcers, prosecutors and the courts.

In trying to parry the blame on the government for this alarming situation, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde accuses journalists of partiality or partisanship in their work. He said that journalists lack objectivity and end up becoming spokespersons of politicians. Assuming this to be true, does that mean that those who are opposed to politicians being catered by journalists or hurt by the views of the biased journalists are justified in killing them? Is it now suddenly the fault of these journalists that they are dead? Come on, Mr. Secretary. I'm sure you could say someting better than this. This may not be the intended meaning of your statement, but the way it is worded it surely conveys such an insensitive meaning and reflects badly on your qualifications as a press secretary.

Besides, in several developed countries the media is openly partisan by favoring one political party over another or reporting along certain ideological lines. Rupert Murdock's Fox News, for example, is openly conservative and does not mince words in attacking President Obama and the Democrats, as does MSNBC in taking on liberal views and criticizing Republicans. But are the lives of the journalists or reporters of these news networks ever in peril? And how about political journalists, such as radio and TV commentators, whose job is to air their comments or views about current political issues. Do they not become necessarily biased by taking a particular position?

The danger in the Philippines is that there is so much lawlessness because a lot of criminals don't get apprehended or even if they do, the wheels of justice grind so slowly that the effectiveness of the justice system is seriously compromised. Add to this are corrupt prosecutors and judges that allow these malefactors to walk. Oh - and I forgot to mention - life is so cheap in the Philippines that for as low as P5,000.00 one can hire an assassin. Lest I be misunderstood, I do not relish saying these awful things; I say them with dread and great concern at how deep our country has fallen on the precipice.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how this alarming problem can be solved. The answer is right in front of us: an effective criminal justice system, which means a clean police force that is efficient in crime solving, a prosecution service in the caliber of Patrick Fitzgerald that respects no holy cows in extending the arm of the law to wrongdoers, and courts that swiftly administer justice and are impervious to corruption.

Indeed, these are things easier said than done, but they are achieveable for others have approximated, if not fully accomplished them. Now, if our leaders are not up to the task - which is apparently the case now - then they have no business governing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The other day, Umagang Kay Ganda's Anthony Tabernas made an interesting analogy about Suzette Nicolas's, "aka" Nicole, action in accusing US marine lance corporal Daniel Smith of rape. He compared her to Helen of Troy who, by leaving her husband King Menelaus and following Paris, ignited a war between the Trojans and Acheans in what came to be known in Greek mythology as the Trojan War.

In certain ways, Nicole became a sort of Helen of Troy by becoming the center of a controversy that almost strained the relationship between the Philippines and the United States. If you will recall, Nicole accused Smith of raping her while the latter was participating in joint military exercises between Philippine and US troops pursuant to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries.

To make a long story short Smith was eventually found guilty. This is where all the controversy started. While Smith was detained in a city jail awaiting the result of his appeal, he was whisked away to the US embassy in Manila by virtue of an agreement between Philippine and US authorities, known as the Romulo-Kenney Agreement, purportedly in compliance with the provisions of the VFA. This created a huge uproar, not only from Nicole's side, but from political leaders and groups who saw this as a denigration of Philippine sovereignty.

Groups opposed to the VFA saw this as an opportune moment to revive calls for the scrapping of the agreement and promptly filed a case with the Supreme Court by questioning anew the constitutionality of the VFA. Although the High Court's decision fell short of petitioners' expectation with the affirmation of the validity of the agreement, it was nevertheless ruled that the Romulo-Kenney Agreement was not in accord with the terms of the VFA and directed - or should I say advised - the US and Philippine governments to agree on the detention of Smith by Philippine authorities. No one knows what happened to this supposed agreement, as Smith continues to remain on the premises of the US embassy in Manila.

Imagine the controversy and division sparked by this case of Nicole. It almost strained the relationship between the Philippines and the US with the threat of abrogation of the VFA, and angered a lot of us with the kowtowing of our leaders to US wishes. Many have fought to help Nicole secure the justice she sought. And all of these went for naught with the sudden and unexpectated recantation of Nicole's testimony that she was raped by the American marine.

Indeed, Nicole trifled with the courts and made a mockery of the legal system, and betrayed the efforts of those who fought for her with this questionable turn-around. She had effectively perjured herself by swearing to testimonies bearing conflicting versions. And most reprehensible, she lied to the Filipino people, not to mention the deprivation of Smith's liberty - if indeed she was not raped.

Monday, March 16, 2009


What happened last March 14 at the Batasan Hills Police Station 6 in Quezon City - where a DZMM reporter and two ABS-CBN newsmen were assaulted by three people who were then filing a complaint against a neighbor - is reflective of the disturbing culture permeating our police force.

It all started when DZMM reporter Dexter Ganibe was attacked while making his regular rounds at the police station, presumably to gather news. ABS-CBN cameraman Benny Ganelo, who happened to be there, saw the incident and attempted to cover it, but was prevented from doing so when he was also attacked by being punched and stabbed in the stomach with a ballpen. The daring lady assailants even wrecked his video camera and snatched the tape.

All these happened inside a police precinct right under the noses of the police. So what were the police doing and why did they allow this incident to happen? A certain police inspector Alex Alberto offered a lame and pathetic excuse by saying that since the assailants were women they were reluctant to intervene for fear of touching their sensitive parts that would become the source of controversy. Can you believe this? The first and foremost consideration for every policeman should be the safety of the citizen he is duty-bound to protect and that duty must be discharged regardless of the gender or status of the assailant. What if the attack went beyond mere infliction of physical injuries and escalated to a more serious level?

A police station should be the least of all places where a citizen is likely to be victimized by criminal assault. To serve and protect the public has always been - and should always be - the guiding principle of our police force. The police are there to prevent crimes and ensure our safety, but what happens when even the police cannot live up to this standard like what happened in the ABS-CBN newsmen incident? The public's confidence in the police as the protector of the people gets eroded.

We should not brush this aside as an isolated incident. I'm sure we have all been witnesses to cases of crime victims being allowed to beat, assault or attack suspects while in police custody. These things happen while the police are watching or even handling the suspects, as if they are being entertained by the victims' outrage. Even worse, sometimes it is the police themselves who beat their suspects to a pulp.

Needless to say, even criminal suspects deserve to be protected from physical harm and any assault against them is no less a crime. Besides, these people are still suspects who, in most cases, have not even been charged in court yet - let alone adjudged guilty. Every citizen, no matter how circumstanced, should find safety at the hands of the police. Instead of fearing their presence, the police should provide comfort; comfort in the thought that their presence protects us against criminal elements and those who want to do us harm.

With the involvement of our police force in manifold controversies ranging from corruption to rub-outs, our confidence in them continues to decline so much so that we cower instead of finding comfort in their presence. To be sure, there are still good policemen out there, but this disturbing culture of malfeasance among the rotten is also pulling them down and threatens to soil their reputations unless something is done to stop this malady. Even more worrisome, a distrustful public creates the danger of experimenting with its own version of law enforcement.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Two days ago, Jonah Goldberg, director of National Campaign for Fair Elections of the Washington, D.C.-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, testified before the US Senate Committee on Rules and Administration in regard to the problems besetting US elections. He drew largely from the experiences and observations of hundreds of legal volunteers across the US who participated in the program called Election Protection - headed by the Lawyers Committee and launched in 2001 and every US elections thereafter to assist voters in the voting process. I was fortunate to join this program during the last US presidential election.

Based on the information culled by Goldberg's group, the major problem that crops up every election in the US, including the one in November of last year, is voter registration. According to Goldberg, the voter registration system in the US is antiquated and is the major cause of voter disenfranchisement and delays in polling places. A lot of voters were not able to cast their votes because their names were missing from voters registration lists, and poll workers were forced to sift throught their records on election day to find these missing names that caused much of the long lines during the last election, but to no avail.

Another problem that was encountered, which accounts for one-tenth of the recorded problems, had to do with breakdown of voting machines. Servers in other polling places have crashed, machines malfunctioned or broke down, and there were no available on-site technical support to immediately address these problems.

This should be a stark warning to us as we gear toward the automation of our elections in 2010. Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero was not merely making political sound bites when he said that he has no problems with poll automation, but that we should see to it that we have a reliable registration of voters. In fact, even before R.A. 9369 - our election automation law that was passed in 2007 - voter registration has always been problematic. Aside from voters' names missing from the rolls, there are double or even multiple registrants who are able to vote several times in different polling precincts, and the specter of dead voters rising from the graveyards to cast their votes.

COMELEC should also look into the very real problem of voting machines shutting or breaking down on election day. This will become especially true in far flung areas where there are no technology infrastructures in place. If in the US - where most cities are unquestionably technologically fitted - they are still not immune from computer glitches, what more in our country where most of our localities are still strangers to modern technology?

2010 should be a very lucrative year for IT people who will surely be in high demand in the coming computerized elections, for the automation law itself requires the Board of Election Inspectors to be staffed by a trained computer specialist so that a technician will be handy onsite should problems occur, as i'm sure they will. It is only hoped that we have enough people, not to mention the funds, to fill this need.

Finally, I agree with legislators who are calling for the passage of a companion law to the recently passed poll automation budget. As R.A. 9369 now stands, it has provisions that seem to conflict with an automated election. Curiously, it still provides for manual counting of votes by retaining the system in past elections, as provided in the Omnibus Election Code, while at the same time it authorizes the COMELEC to conduct computerized elections which will automate not only the voting but the counting as well. How will they reconcile these conflicting provisions?

Likewise, there is nothing in the automation law that states the basis for a manual counting or recount. If you will recall, the recent senatorial race in Minnesota between Saturday Night Live comedian Al Franken of the Democrats and Norm Coleman of the Republicans ended in a hand recount when the results of the computerized count turned inconclusive, several absentee votes were alleged to have been improperly excluded, and votes were not properly cast. The Minnesota experience serves as an object lesson in voting problems associated with automated voting and counting.

COMELEC is clearly in favor of using the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) system of voting machines, which counts and records votes by reading ovals opposite candidates' names that have been shaded by voters to indicate their votes. The Minnesota experience shows that voters can get lost following instructions as several ballots unrecognized by the OMR machines turned out to be improperly accomplished, such as crossing or checking the ovals instead of shading them or shading them incorrectly. Take note, these are middle class natural-born English speaking voters we are talking about.

I favor an automated election because it is fast, easy, convenient and less prone to cheating. But Congress and the COMELEC should see to it all the safeguards are put in place - and promptly at that as the 2010 elections are fast approaching - to ensure what we have always been dreaming of as a clean, honest and fair election. Let us not automate for the sake of automaking. If we can't do it come 2010 because of our unpreparedness, let's take it easy and wait for the succeeding elections because lack of preparation spawns the opposite of the benefits in an automated election. An ill-prepared automated election is something election fraudsters are only too happy to have.

Monday, March 9, 2009


If Legacy president Celso Delos Angeles, who is alleged to have bilked millions of pesos from his pre-need company prejudicing hundreds of plan holders and investors, is following the footsteps of Bernie Madoff - who himself has defrauded investors in billions of dollars - our Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seems to be following also its couterpart agency in the United States in failing to heed signs of investment fraud that lead to catastrophic losses. Our SEC is, after all, patterned after the US.

The testimony of SEC officials during the recent Senate investigation on the state of the pre-need industry in the country is most revealing. Director Aquino of the SEC Non-traditional Derivatives Department, the department that directly regulates pre-need companies, revealed that Delos Angeles's license renewal application was delayed - filed only in March when the rules require it to be filed in November - due to failure to comply with several requirements, chief among them is the maintenance of a set amount of trust fund to answer for plan holders claims.

Pressed by Senate President Enrile's questioning, Aquino admitted that he did not bother to inquire as to what beset Legacy for its failure to promptly meet the requirments and seasonably file its application for renewal of license. It was also revealed that despite Legacy's failure to comply with other important requirements its license was nevertheless renewed.

SEC Commissioner Jesus Martinez, head of the oversight committee on pre-need that supervises the work of Aquino, appears unaware of this situation. Neither is SEC Chairperson Fe Barin. To top it all, Commissioner Jesus Martinez, supposed to oversee the operations of pre-need companies - or of the SEC departments monitoring them, if that is how he wanted his oversight functions to be characterized, was found to have been in constant personal contact with Delos Angeles whose Legacy company is supposed to be under the supervision, regulation and monitoring of the SEC. By the way, Martinez denied he ever had communication with Delos Angeles and Legacy's officers prior to the Senate investigation. He would later on claim that his contacts with Delos Angeles consisted merely of sending daily biblical text messages spanning a period of one year. Interesting.

But what gets even more interesting is the claim of former top Legacy officials that Legacy (1) purchased an expensive Ford Expedition from Martinez's son and (2) purchased a house for Martinez in the sum of P5 million. And yes, Martinez saw nothing wrong with that.

Not only were issues of corrupt practices and unethical conduct surfaced in this investigation, but also issues of gross negligence in the performance of duties of the SEC as an agency tasked to guard against investment and corporate fraud, and the protection of the investing public. Senator Biazon was right in saying that this Legacy mess falls squarely on the shoulders of Chairperson Barin, who failed to see the direction Delos Angeles's company is taking and to prevent the syndicated divestment of plan holders and investors' money. She may claim that she did not see this coming, but this all the more makes her incompetent and undeserving in retaining her post because the very reason why her agency was created is precisely to guard against this type of problem.

Clearly, there was failure of regulation. If Chairperson Barin was merely following the footsteps of her agency's counter-part in the US, perhaps she should also follow what its leaders did: step down from office. That goes the same for the other commissioners and enforcement officers who failed to protect the interests of the investing public they were sworn to protect.

Meanwhile, it will do our legislators well to focus more on the legislative aspect of the problem and stop acting like prosecutors or trial lawyers in the investigation they are conducting. It is a waste of taxpayers' money and time for them asking evidentiary details which are better reserved for our prosecutorial agencies like the DOJ and the Ombudsman. Their primary purpose in conducting investigations is to aid legislation; find out where the regulation failed so that measures can be instituted to prevent similar occurences in the future.

As for Delos Angeles, I hope he does a Bernie Madoff again by pleading guilty. Madoff just pleaded guilty to the charges against him which could put him behind bars for 150 years. This is, however, wishful thinking. Clearly, Delos Angles is without remorse for he even had the temerity to lash back at the senators who are investigating him by accusing them of engaging in political grandstanding, and for belittling the poor plan holders who confronted him during the investigation. This guy is something.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Photo from

Poll automation is the buzzword for the coming 2010 elections. To better understand the issues - which are not few - and give our two cents worth, we should first educate ourselves what this poll automation or computerization of the elections is all about.

On January 23, 2007, Republic Act No. 9369 was signed into law. The complete name of the law is too long so let's just call it the election automation law. This law authorizes the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to use an automated election system for local and national elections. This law, passed by the 13th Congress, is the basis of the current move to automate the upcoming elections.

However, as elections draw near, some congressmen - others even voted for the automation law - are expressing doubts if automation, let alone full automation, can be achieved by 2010. Legislators are divided into two camps: (1) those that favor full automation - meaning complete computerization of the voting and counting process from the precinct to the national level and (2) those that call for partial automation or hybrid elections - meaning computerization only in certain apects while retaining manual work in other aspects of the voting and counting process.

The chief proponent of partial automation is House Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia of Cebu. Garcia proposes a hybrid system where voting and counting at the precinct level and canvassing at the municipal, city, provincial or district levels are held manually just like what we have been doing in past elections. The automation comes only in the transmission of the results from the precinct to the municipal and city level, then from there to the provinicial or district levels, and so forth. Garcia justifies his proposal by arguing that full automation violates RA 9369, which mandates both manual and electronic system of elections.

Garcia also claims that a fully automated election is unconstitutional bacause people will not have a conscious, deliberate and intelligent participation in the electoral process.

Another variation of the proposal for a hybrid election is limiting automation to national positions (president, vice president, senators, and party list representatives), while retaining manual elections for local positions from congressmen to governors, vice governors, mayors, vice mayors, provincial, city and municipal board members. COMELEC disagrees with this proposal by saying that it will only cause confusion to voters and poll officials.

On the other side is Cagayan De Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez who has filed a bill for full automation.

Another issue confronting congressmen is the mode of computerization that will be carried out by COMELEC. According to House Speaker Prospero Nograles, a companion bill to the recently passed poll automation budget of P11.3 billion is needed to guide COMELEC on the manner of carrying out the automation. Meanwhile, COMELEC Chairman Jose Melo and Makati Representative Teodoro Locsin, Jr., chairman of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, agree that COMELEC gets to decide on the type of automated elections and not Congress. Locsin filed a resolution asking Congress not to hint or impose a technology of choice on the COMELEC as it will be the one to decide the matter.

Although COMELEC appears to be leaning toward an Optical Mark Reader (OMR) system, some groups such as the Movement for Good Governance are proposing the so-called Open Elections System (OES). The OMR uses the same system for computerized testing wherein voters shade a bubble or circle opposite the candidate of choice on specially prepared papers, which will in turn be fed into a computer. The computer will scan or read the marks made and record them as votes. Under the OES, voting and counting at the precinct level will be the same as in previous elections, but after getting the results they will be entered into a computer using the OES software, which could then be accessed through the internet by the public.

Proponents of the OES claim that the OMR system lacks transparency, because everything is left to computers which could make the internal process of vote recording, counting and tabulation suspect. Voters, they say, are wary of a process that they do not see. Unlike the OMR, the public can see the votes for each candidate and the results obtained at the precinct level in an OES. Furthermore, they argue that handwriting is essential because this allows for the determination of whether the same person cast more than one vote for a particular candidate. Obviously, this cannot be done in an OMR system where only shaded boxes or bubbles could be seen and which allows one person to shade more than one ballot. OMR proponents, on the other hand, counter that handwriting is one of the biggest problems in past elections. According to them, by determining the choice through shaded boxes or bubbles, ineligible handwriting, voter forgetfulness of candidates' names, mistakes in spellings, and problems associated with similarly-named candidates are avoided. They also criticize the OES by saying it is too dependent on individuals who could manipulate the results being entered into a computer.

Election watchdogs National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) reportedly support the OMR in principle, while the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace, is endorsing the OES.

Other systems are the punch card system and the direct reading electronic voting system (DRE). Voters punch a hole with a metal stylus to indicate their candidate of choice on cardboards, which are fed to computers in a punch card system. The punched holes are read by the computer as votes. This is the system that was used in Florida during the 2000 US presidential election where former Vice President Al Gore, then a presidential candidate against George W. Bush, sought a recount of the votes on claims that many ballots (cards) were not properly punched by voters, leaving the punched-out portions still hanging attached to the ballots, hence were not read by computers. These came to be known as the famous hanging chads.

The DRE allows voters to cast their votes either by touching the computer screen (using touch screen technology) or by using a computer mouse to click on the candidate of choice.

The last Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections used the OMR and DRE systems.

Now that the P11.3 billion poll automation budget has been passed, COMELEC Chairman Jose Melo announced that bidding for the automation machines is already being worked out and hopes to choose the supplier by May. It may dampen the spirit of OES proponents to know that COMELEC seems to have already chosen the Precinct Count Optical System or the OMR system by lining up possible bidders for this type of machine.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Sen. Manny Villar's recent statement that those who could not even raise one billion pesos should not think of running for president has elicited varied, but mostly unfavorable reaction from his colleagues in the Senate. Foremost among those who severely criticized the erstwhile senate president is Sen. Richard Gordon by saying that Senator Villar's statement smacks of arrogance and conveys the impression that only the moneyed can ran for president.

But isn't Senator Villar simply stating a sad reality of Philippine politics? That only the moneyed ones - the rich and influential - corner the elections? Senator Gordon is either being naived or hypocrite in lambasting Senator Villar. Having been a long serving mayor of Olongapo City and now senator, he should know very well that money talks in Philippine politics. Instead of trying to appear innocent and immune from money politics, Senator Gordon and his like-minded colleagues can better spend their time - and the taxpayers' money, I should add - by rethinking our laws on campaign spending.

While surely money is essential for launching a successful campaign, measures should be put in place to enable qualifed, but less wealthy individuals to vie for public office and to prevent elected officials from becoming beholden to special interests. Campaign finance is admittedly a murky area; it is for this reason that serious study on the matter should be made and not simply be a passing interest that serves only the thirst for publicity of politicians.

The money that elevates a candidate to a public office is as much important as his or her qualifications, because its nature and source will speak legions about what type of public official he or she will become. Ever heard of Italy's mafia-financed politicians? or more relevant to us, the jueteng-financed politicians?