Eight Filipino bishops and archbishops, two Protestant pastors and two concerned laymen have asked the Supreme Court to strike down as unconstitutional and void the Commission on Elections’ juggling of P12.641 billion in public funds to pay for the purchase of 93,977 Optical Mark Readers (OMR), a new variant of the widely assailed precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine, from the Venezuelan marketing firm Smartmatic for the May 2016 elections. The questioned realignment of funds is similar to the notorious fund transfers under the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program. The High Court has declared void and unconstitutional, and ordered the prosecution of those involved in its manipulation and misuse.The only apparent difference is that where President B.S. Aquino 3rd authored the illegal DAP transfers, the Comelec alone is responsible for the illegal juggling of the P12.641 billion.
Many welcomed the SC petition for certiorari and prohibition with preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order as a genuine service to the voters. At least one blogger referred to the petitioners as “the Magnificent 12.” These include Archbishop Rolando TriaTirona of the Archdiocese of Caceres, Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz of Zamboanga, Archbishop Emeritus Oscar V. Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, Bishop FilomenoBactol of the Diocese of Naval, Biliran, Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan, Bishop Ramon Villena of Bayombong, Protestant Pastors Arthur Corpus and Greco Antonious Beda Belgica of Manila, former Biliran Congressman Glenn Chong, and this writer.
But the bishops and archbishops clearly displeased the administration. “Who do they think they are? Do they believe they should be running the government or the Comelec now? In asking the Supreme Court to stop the realignment of funds, are they not in fact trying to derail or abolish the 2016 elections?” Absurd as they are, these are the questions screeching out in defense of Smartmatic and the Comelec’squestionable purchase of 93.977 OMRs in two separate contracts—-one involving 23,000 units, and another involving 70,977.
The suggestion is that the clerics’ speaking out violates the constitutional separation of Church and State. This is nonsense. They obviously have a distorted view of the constitutional principle of “separation” and would want to limit the clergy’s participation in the life of the nation solely to the administration of the sacraments and a life of prayer outside the public square. They seem to forget that the bishops are also Filipino citizens, with the same rights and duties as other Filipinos as far as the common good, the national interest and secular matters are concerned.
Moreover, as spiritual and moral leaders, they have a deeper appreciation of what we must do to function well as a society and a nation. By no means do they threaten to abolish elections when they insist that the Constitution and all pertinent laws be followed at all times. To the contrary, they are simply trying to make sure that the common good remain the government’s guiding principle in all its actions and undertakings, and that elections, through which we are supposed freely and intelligently to choose our leaders, possess and maintain their absolute minimum requirements as a democratic institution.
The petitioners believe that the massive realignment of funds, as the Supreme Court had ruled in the DAP cases, is morally repugnant and constitutionally reprehensible. Not only does it grossly violate the 2015 General Appropriations Act, Article VI Section 25 (5) of the 1987 Constitution, and recent Supreme Court rulings in Araullo, et al vs. Aquino 3rd, et al (the DAP cases) and Pabillo, et al vs. the Comelec. It also puts the Comelec in a totally untenable position, for which it could be held criminally liable for the gross wastage of public funds and misuse of public resources resulting from the illegal realignment.
First of all, the Comelec would now utilize all its funds to support just one item—the purchase of 93, 977 OMRs — there by divesting itself of every other appropriation approved by Congress to support the various aspects of the 2016 elections. This includes the P727-million budget for the Voter Verification System, whose illegal removal from the PCOS machine in 2010 and 2013 had contributed a lot to the admittedly illegitimate and fraudulent conduct of the elections. Even the P1.05 billion “savings” from the 2015 SK elections and registrations, and the P70 million “leftover” from the 2014 Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses were also realigned.
Secondly, the purchase of 93,977 OMRs allowsor compels the Comelec to put its 81,000 old PCOS machines in the dead stockpile, after spending P9 billion on their acquisition. Instead of buying the new OMRs, the Comelec could have had those 81,000 old PCOS repaired by Smartmatic for only P2.07 billion, (upgraded from P1.6 billion), leaving the Comelec enough money to pay for the cost of restoring all the legally mandated safety and security features and accuracy mechanisms. These are the things the Comelec had illegally removed in the last two elections, resulting in rigged process which produced “de facto” rather than “de jure” officials.
These features include the Ultra Violet Scan, which would allow every voter to know whether or not he is using the authorized ballot paper; the Voter Verification System, which would allow the use of biometrics to verify the identity of voters, and allow the voter to see whether or not his vote is being read and recorded right by the machine; and the digital signatures, which would assure everyone that the votes from the various voting centers are being transmitted to the designated receiving station by legitimate and properly authorized senders.
All these, plus a review of the source code prior to the actual use of the voting machine, as mandated by law and the contract’s terms of reference, could make it impossible, or at least much harder, for the cheating syndicate, of which the paid propaganda fraudsters seem to be an important part, to cook the results of the elections.
There has always been something fishy about the biddings. There were two separate biddings: one involving the lease of 23,000 OMR/PCOS, and another involving the refurbishment of 81,000 PCOS machines. The Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) disqualified Smartmatic and IndraSistemas of Spain from bidding for the supply of 23,000 OMR/PCOS units to the Comelec. But Smartmatic appealed its disqualification, while Indra did not, so Smartmatic remained the lone bidder and won.
As for the 81,000 old PCOS units, the Supreme Court disqualified Smartmatic from refurbishing them for P1.6 billion, because of its failure to comply with the national procurement law. Thereafter, Comelec en banc reversed the disqualification to allow Smartmatic to participate in a new bidding. But Smartmatic did not bid again for the refurbishment. It offered instead to supply 70,977 new OMR units to the Comelec. And it won handily when its rival Indra Sistemas failed to submit a responsive bid.
Instead of bidding for the supply of the 70,977 OMR units, Indra submitted a bid for the supply of 23,000 OMR units, which had already been concluded and awarded to Smartmatic much earlier. This “unbelievable mistake” has raised suspicions that Indra’s purposely wanted to get disqualified in a simulated bidding in favor of Smartmatic.
As its role in the last two Philippine elections came increasingly under fire, Smartmatic took a much more aggressive role in promoting its business worldwide. In November last year, it brought in as its new chairman, British Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, an international political operator who has been associated with the billionaire specutlator George Soros in supporting the “color revolutions” in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. He came to Manila last month and is expected to be back in September.
I have just learned from my usually reliable Palace sources that during his visit he had an extended lunch meeting with PNoy in Malacanang. He also reportedly spoke with two of PNoy’s siblings. Another meeting with the President is expected in September. In 1986, as lead international partner of Sawyer-Miller, a US consulting firm, Malloch-Brown came to Manila to work behind the scenes during Cory Aquino’s campaign against Marcos in the snap presidential election. Cory failed to win that election, but the ensuing “people power” revolution ousted Marcos and installed her as revolutionary president. Meantime, Malloch-Brown became an international player—deputy secretary general of the United Nations, UNDP administrator, development specialist of the World Bank, British minister of state for Asia, Africa and the United Nations in the Foreign Office, George Soros’s vice president at Quantum Fund and the Open Society Instituteand a promoter of Western-supported “revolutions,” and life peer of the British empire as Baron Malloch-Brown.
Malloch-Brown’s reappearance in the Philippines at this time, when Aquino is trying to make sure that the next president would protect him from criminal prosecution and punishment for his numerous crimes, could mean some real trouble for the Filipino people. The Philippines may have become the latest political playground of the big powers, which do not want to see a truly nationalist natural-born Filipino leader emerge in a genuinely free election.
We have so much to thank for that some of our bravest bishops and archbishops and Protestant pastors have taken the cudgels for our people, but we all need to work together to stop any anti-Filipino moves by Smartmatic and Lord Malloch-Brown.