Reasons to renew Gus Lagman’s appointment By Solita Collas-Monsod

In the interest of justice and fair play. In the interest of safeguarding the Philippine electoral system. In the interest of truth. Any and all of the above are reasons to justify the imperative to renew the appointment of Augusto “Gus” Lagman to the Commission on Elections, until such time as the Commission on Appointments (CA) passes on the merits of his nomination to the position.

Why should the renewal of Gus’ appointment to the Comelec serve in the interest of safeguarding the country’s electoral system? Let me count the ways.

First of all, Gus is arguably the most experienced among the present Comelec members in working for clean, honest and fair elections. He was active with the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections practically from its inception at the end of 1983 and was in charge of Namfrel’s Operation Quick Count (OQC), a parallel unofficial count based on official precinct results. He remained a Namfrel volunteer in charge of OQC for at least nine separate electoral exercises.

Second, Gus was at the forefront of the move to automate elections, together with the local IT community, of which he was an acknowledged leader. He studied the systems, their advantages and disadvantages, the safeguards necessary, and the financial resources that were required. So if anyone knows the ins and outs of automation, Gus is it.

He was sincere in trying to help the Comelec from the outside, but had the tiresome habit of blowing the whistle when Comelec contracts were overpriced, or when products and services were being contracted unnecessarily or in an irregular manner. It was he and his group who filed suit in the Supreme Court (in 2001) to nullify a contract crafted by Benjamin Abalos for automated voting machines—a suit he won, to Abalos’ great chagrin. In other words, he seems to be among the first to have recognized Abalos’ penchant for arranging contracts that would later turn out to be disadvantageous to us.

Why should the renewal of Gus’ appointment to the Comelec serve in the interest of justice and fair play? Here’s the answer: His predecessors in the Comelec (his was the most recent appointment) all had their day in court, so to speak, in the sense of having been given the opportunity to appear before the CA and submit to its scrutiny, even if it meant the repeated renewal of their ad interim appointments.

Examples: people like Manolo Gorospe (of “Kissing Lolo” notoriety), whose “ad interim” appointment was renewed at least nine times by President Fidel Ramos before the CA confirmed him. Or Luz Tancangco, who accused Namfrel of rigging the 1987 elections, but whose “research” and “analysis” were torn to bits by her colleagues in the academe (UP), who pointed to her sloppy methodology and conclusions unsupported by the data. In other words, there was no basis for finding that Namfrel cheated. Nevertheless, she too, had her day in court with the CA, which, one is sorry to say, confirmed her appointment (her “padron” was a presidential brother-in-law).

In contrast, Gus Lagman with an impeccable reputation in the IT community and civil society, has not been given the opportunity to face his detractors and defend himself in the CA. Supposedly because Malacañang wants to spare him from the “humiliation” of rejection by the CA (hey, folks, Gus is a big boy, and can take the blows).

And what does Malacañang say is the reason Gus will be rejected? Because, believe it or not, there is a “difference of opinion” between Gus and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE) with respect to the 1987 senatorial elections.

Rejected because of a difference of opinion? Incredible.

Finally, why should the renewal of Gus’ appointment be in the interest of truth? Answer: Because the CA hearings will, hopefully, bring it out. Assuming that the “difference of opinion” between him and JPE regarding elections held 25 years ago is indeed the reason for his rejection, we will find out what exactly is this difference of opinion.

Apparently, Gus (and Namfrel) is accused of cheating the opposition senatorial candidates in 1987—by padding the votes of each of the 24 administration candidates by 2 million votes. The basis for this belief? A computer diskette supposedly from Namfrel headquarters, which gives explicit instructions (how convenient!) to that effect.

The charge was made by Homobono Adaza at that time (even while the Quick Count was still going on). My daughter, Toby, was in OQC, and she recalls how strict Gus was with regard to validating precinct tally forms before posting them on the board. In any case, when apprised of the charge, Gus had a simple answer: He invited Adaza to bring his “diskette,” and compared its “count” with the Namfrel one. Gus gave three conditions: that the audit be done by an independent auditor, that the recount be done in front of the media, and that should the Adaza diskette prove to be fake, there be a public apology from the opposition candidates. There was no response to his invitation (the Tancangco charges—discredited—came four years later).

Understand, Reader, that if indeed Gus was involved in those machinations, the implication is that Cory Aquino (who was President then), her Comelec, and Namfrel were all in conspiracy to cheat the public.

Which would mean that Namfrel and its hundreds of thousands of volunteers participated in cheating, that Cory and people power were a sham, that Cory was a cheat, and that Marcos must therefore have won the election in 1986.

A revision of history. With P-Noy’s blessing, albeit unwitting.

This article appeared in Prof. Monsod’s column “Get Real” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer published on April 20, 2012.

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