Since we are often lied to, we the media and the public should be glad and thankful when a public official or a politician tells the truth, even if only accidentally.
When this happens, bells peal and presses stop, so much so that US political pundit, Michael Kinsley, sought to register it as the Kinsley Law of gaffes — “A gaffe is when a politician (accidentally) tells the truth.” He said it first in the UK Guardian on January 14,1992.
Whoever owns the patent, gratitude is due Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma for accidentally (inadvertently, carelessly, mistakenly) revealing the truth that Malacañang is behind the scheme to award to Smartmatic the P1.2-billion contract to repair and augment the PCOS machines of the poll body for the 2016 elections. And what is more alarming, the Office of the President is meddling in the work of the constitutionally independent Commission on Elections (Comelec), and trying to influence the preparations for the 2016 elections.
Like stepping on quicksand
Coloma said it all at a press briefing last Monday. Had he been concise, certain journalists (women perhaps) could be forgiven if they hallucinated that it was all just a “Freudian slip” on his part. But the way the briefing developed, it was more like stepping on quicksand. With every point Coloma made and every elaboration he offered, the administration sank deeper into unconstitutional depths.
Coloma’s truth-telling is all the more astonishing because it was totally gratuitous. The Comelec can speak for itself, it has access to its own press corps, and it has an equally verbose spokesman in James Jimenez.
Until the Press Secretary let this cat out of the bag, no one knew that the administration was actively lobbying the Comelec to award the contract to Smartmatic. Everything was behind the scenes.
The Tribune report
Let us now turn to the substance of what the Press Secretary said, warts and all. I was not present at the news briefing; hence my information comes mainly from the detailed accounts of various Palace beat reporters, who quoted Coloma’s words like they were Shakespeare’s jewels.
Especially helpful for this column was the report in the Tribune of Joshua Labonera, which was most revealing.
Labonera reported the following:
1. Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that Malacañang continues to lodge its trust in the Comelec on the use of the PCOS machines for the 2016 polls despite issues being raised on the contract to refurbish these machines.
2. Coloma went further, saying the reliability of the PCOS machines has been proven the 2010 and 2013 elections.
3. Coloma says “We have gone through two national elections in 2010 and 2013. There were no massive protests or uprising from the people against the results of the two elections.”
4. In fact, there were a lot of anomalies noted in 2010 and 2013. All safety features were not in place at all, thus making it easier to commit automated fraud.
5. A former commissioner, Gus Lagman, whose appointment was not renewed by President Aquino after he started to question the integrity and reliability of the PCOS machines, called the controversial new contract “a midnight deal with Smartmatic.”
Comelec awards, Palace justifies
The link between Malacañang and Comelec is shown in the glaring irregularity of Comelec’s failure to hold a public bidding on the contract.
In a statement, Comelec has contended that the decision to award the contract of refurbishing PCOS machines is in accordance with Executive Order 423 series of 2005 or the law prescribing the rules and procedures on the review and approval of all government contracts to conform with Republic Act no. 9184, otherwise known as the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Posing as a lawyer, Coloma says there should be a presumption that Comelec acted in accordance with the law. This presumption argument is a favorite ruse of Palace spokesmen to explain away wrongdoing in the Aquino administration. But serious lawyers say that this line of reasoning is absurd; no lawyer would raise it before the Supreme Court, sitting en banc.
Coloma’s accidental truth-telling exposes a violation of the constitutional provision on the Constitutional commissions in Article IX of the Constitution.
In Section 1, it reads “the constitutional commissions, which shall be independent, are the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Elections and the Commission on Audit.”
The Aquino administration appears to believe that simply because the President has the power to appoint the chairman and members of these commissions, these bodies are mere extensions of the Office of the President. They are most emphatically not.
Appointed members may feel forever grateful to President Aquino for being appointed, and they may not care one whit about their independence. But the people care. This is a prerogative they are not at liberty to surrender.
When this reprehensible Smartmatic contract is finally heard and deliberated by the Supreme Court, we shall know what this independence means. I’m curious to see who will stand up to argue the position of the executive.
As things stand therefore, Coloma’s accidental truth-telling could be the nail that will send Smartmatic home to Venezuela. There will be no pabaon (parting gift) for Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes, when he retires next month.
Perhaps then we can attend to the necessary mending and overhaul of the Commission on Elections, before the nation holds the 2016 elections