Category: editorials

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.


Why doesn’t the COMELEC trust Filipino IT professionals? by Gus Lagman

The last time I checked, all members of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) are bona fide Filipinos, as they should be, according to the Philippine Constitution. Yet, from the way they made decisions in the past two years, one would think they were not. Their major decisions have mostly favored foreign companies, which led us to think that they don’t trust Filipino IT professionals. Let’s review some of those decisions:

First, the COMELEC chose a solution that was completely foreign – foreign hardware, foreign software, foreign integrator/implementor. On November 12, 2008, we presented to the commissioners a local solution which, at its most elaborate version, would have cost the taxpayers only a third of the P11.3 billion that the COMELEC spent on the automation of the May 10, 2010 elections. We presented this PC-based solution to the commissioners, not as vendors, but as a group of Filipino IT professionals who believe that should the COMELEC espouse this solution, it can then simply source the PCs locally and outsource the implementation to local systems integrators. (A significant benefit is that all the purchased PCs can be donated to public schools after every election, while at the same time avoiding the costly warehousing of the equipment in between elections.)

After our presentation, Chairman Melo remarked, “This is a good solution; if we don’t get the budget we’re asking for, we can use this.” Our jaws dropped upon hearing that remark. At that time, the COMELEC was still asking for a budget of more than P20 billion. The solution we presented would only cost P3-4 billion. We all thought that if they believed our solution was good, then why even bother asking for such a huge budget.

Second, TIM, at one point, wanted to back out of the joint venture for the reason that while they would own 60% of the joint venture company, control would mostly be in the hands of Smartmatic, the foreign company. Instead of rectifying this anomaly, the COMELEC prevailed upon TIM, the Filipino company, to accept this arrangement, or be brought to court.

Third, Section 12 of Republic Act 9369 says, “Once an AES technology is selected for implementation, the Commission shall promptly make the source code of that technology available and open to any interested political party or groups which may conduct their own review thereof.” On the other hand, Section 9 says, “The Committee shall certify, through an established international certification entity … not later than three months before the date of the electoral exercises, categorically stating that the AES, including its hardware and software components, is operating properly, securely, and accurately, …” (Emphases supplied)

What these two paragraphs in the law mean is that the source code of the Automated Election System (AES) technology should have been made available for review by Filipino IT professionals (who were going to review the code free of charge), through their political parties, as early as July, 2009 and to an established international certification entity not later than October 9, 2010 (allowing for a four-month review), thus favoring the locals, timing-wise.

But what did the COMELEC do? It awarded a P70 million contract to Systest Labs, an American company, in October, 2009, and sent word to the locals that they will have to wait until Systest finishes its review and submits its report, before the COMELEC would make the source code available to the locals. To add insult to injury, while COMELEC made all the necessary documents available to Systest for their intensive review in their US offices, it would only make the documents available to the locals under a controlled environment. Rightfully, the locals eventually boycotted that review.

Fourth, the COMELEC recently asked the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), yet another foreign organization, to audit the manner by which automation was implemented in the last elections, while denying the Center for People Empowerment on Governance (CenPEG), a U.P.-based organization, documents that it needs to do a comprehensive evaluation of the the same elections. Saying that the COMELEC probably wants an unbiased opinion as the reason for its asking a foreign organization to do the audit, does not hold water; in fact, it is a naive, yet insulting statement. What made it conclude that IFES is unbiased and CenPEG is not?

So, what’s with the COMELEC and why doesn’t it trust Filipino IT professionals? Doesn’t it know that this attitude sends the wrong message abroad? For the last thirty years, Filipino software companies have been spending much of their capital in marketing their services to companies in the western world. To assist these companies, the software industry has been asking the government to contract out its large IT projects to local systems integrators in order that the latter could use the experience in marketing abroad. And the government has responded positively to this plea. Government agencies such as the LRA, SSS, DFA, BIR, and many others, have contracted out most of their major development work to local systems integrators.

Except the incumbent COMELEC.

This COMELEC effectively awarded the election automation contract to a foreign company which has no experience in an election exercise of this magnitude, that uses paper-based ballots. This inexperience, many IT practitioners believe, could have been one of the reasons for the major problems the project encountered during the election process. But thanks to our COMELEC, this foreign company was given its first experience in this kind of system – experience that it can now use to market the same services in other countries, like Indonesia. (Perhaps, as a friendly neighbor and co-member in the ASEAN, we should warn Indonesia about the many problems that were encountered in our May elections.)

And by the way, yet another reason why the COMELEC should not even entertain thoughts of purchasing the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines that were used during the May, 2010 elections is that the Philippines would forever be hostage to the foreign company which owns the Intellectual Property Rights to the software that runs each and every unit.

This article appears in the Opinion pages of the September 21, 2010 issue of BusinessWorld.

COMELEC plans to perpetuate an error by Gus Lagman

The COMELEC has declared that the May 10, 2010 automated elections using PCOS was successful, although it did admit that the process could stand some improvement.  A recent SWS survey showed that some 70% of Filipinos were happy about the way automation of the last elections was implemented.  That, of course, is the public’s perception and not a technical opinion.  In fact, most IT professionals, with the exception of the COMELEC’s Advisory Council and Smartmatic’s technical staff, are of a contrary opinion.

So, without going into technical details, let us analyze whether the 2010 automated elections was truly successful, as COMELEC claims; or not, as IT professionals maintain? Let’s consider just two issues: speed and accuracy.

On speed. President Noynoy Aquino was proclaimed on June 9, 2010, or 30 days from the May 10, 2010 elections.  Not bad.  But wait; former President Joseph Estrada was proclaimed on May 30, 1998, or only 19 days after the May 11, 1998 elections! Much, much better.  And the country did not have to waste P11.3 billion to automate that electoral exercise.

In both instances, there were no big disputes regarding the outcome of the presidential election.  In both instances, the voting public readily accepted the results.  What was common to these two electoral fights?  They were both landslide victories.  This factor then appears to be the key to quick acceptable results.  Just look at the close contest in this year’s vice-presidential race.  A formal protest has even been filed.

But the P11.3 billion was not the only expense that we could have saved ourselves from.  The country also did not have to suffer many months of anxiety over the strong possibility of failed elections – anxiety that started the moment COMELEC awarded the automation contract to Smartmatic-TIM.  Consider the following occurrences:  TIM attempting to divorce itself from the joint venture agreement with Smartmatic;  wires catching fire during the first public system testing;  failure of the communication system during the dry runs conducted by Smartmatic;  delay in the delivery of the machines, caused to a certain extent by the transfer of manufacturing from Taiwan to Shanghai;  delay in the order and delivery of ballot boxes;  delay in the printing of ballots;  discovery of errors in the CF cards one week before election day (extremely unforgivable!).  If one would write a post-evaluation report on the project, a most appropriate title would be “How not to implement a project”.

Surely, we don’t want to experience this kind of anxiety on such an important political exercise as elections, ever again.

On accuracy. The Random Manual Audit (RMA), done on a very small sampling of the precincts, but which took many weeks to complete … no, I should say, which took many weeks before a report would be released to the public, showed an accuracy rate of 99.6%.  That does not meet the mandated 99.995% accuracy rate.  But even the claimed 99.6% rate is questionable.  No explanation was given as to the methodology used in computing that rate, which led some IT people to conclude that the RMA was a sham.

And then, there are the null votes – 1.5 million and 2.6 million votes in the presidential and vice-presidential positions, respectively.  If the reason for these null votes is the inability of PCOS to read some marks, then that’s a form of disenfranchisement – something that would be negligible in manual voting and manual precinct counting (only when handwritten votes are completely illegible).

Because precinct counting is not public, because the audit is unreliable, and because this COMELEC is by far the most non-transparent since we regained our democracy in 1986, we are not sure if those who won, really won and those who lost, really lost, except in those cases when all pre-election surveys and exit polls support the results.

Not content with the monumental problems the COMELEC encountered during the implementation of the PCOS system and perhaps deluded by the seemingly successful outcome, the COMELEC now wants to purchase the machines! It’s bad enough that it made the wrong choice of technology, it now wants to perpetuate the error by buying the machines!

Why does COMELEC want to buy the machines?  Because, according to some commissioners, the COMELEC only needs to pay 30% of the purchase price.  One commissioner even went as far as saying that the machines are being offered at a 70% discount.

According to COMELEC, the lease-purchase agreement provides that it has the option up to December, 2010 to buy the machines at 30% of the purchase price.  Of course!  The rental price in the previous contract is roughly 70% of the purchase price.  That’s the P7.2 billion that we, the taxpayers, paid.

Why shouldn’t COMELEC purchase the PCOS machines?  First, it’s not the most appropriate technology for Philippine elections.  (Personalities in the local IT industry are willing to debate this issue with the COMELEC, its Advisory Council, Smartmatic, and their supporters in the leadership of the PPCRV.)  Second, and this is perhaps the least important, new technology may render PCOS obsolete in the next three years.  Third, repair of the machines after three years of non-use may prove costly.  Fourth, and most important, warehousing these machines would be very expensive.

Let me expound on the last one.  Remember the Mega-Pacific machines that the COMELEC bought in 2003?  The COMELEC has been paying for their storage cost because after more than six years and despite the Supreme Court order, it has not succeeded in returning the machines to the supplier.  Years ago, I was told that the COMELEC was spending P3.9 million annually for the rental of the warehouse.  About two months ago, a reporter who researched on it told me that the COMELEC is, as it turns out, paying P220 per square meter rental (not air-conditioned), or a total of P29 million a year!

That’s only for 1,991 units.  If the COMELEC therefore were to purchase the 82,200 PCOS machines, and assuming the same per square meter cost, then we, the taxpayers, courtesy of the COMELEC, would be paying almost P1.2 billion a year, or P3.5 billion every three years,  just to warehouse them.  Little wonder why Smartmatic has been pressuring COMELEC to purchase the machines.  It’s Smartmatic-TIM who’s paying for the warehousing right now.

This is only one of the issues that the COMELEC does not talk about.  There are many more.

This article appears in the Opinion pages of the August 31, 2010 issue of BusinessWorld.

Shame and blame with a sense of proportion by Dean Tony La Viña

The chorus of blame and shame has been on full blast in the aftermath of last week’s hostage drama. Police officials, the media, the President, his Cabinet officials, an entire government, indeed a whole country is enduring the resulting outrage over how a dismissed police officer managed to hold tourists from Hong Kong hostage in their bus and local security forces are unable to contain and diffuse the lethal situation as it escalated and eventually resulted in nine deaths.

How and why the incident happened has been dissected by many. But what is often lost in the cacophony of accusations and mea culpas is that blaming and shaming, while they have a place in society, should not be taken too far. The ongoing investigation has to be thorough but, if it is to result in accountability and more importantly in reform and improvement, it must not be turned into a witch hunt that can only embitter, paralyze, and divide a people. We must respond to this incident with the right sense of proportion.

Filipinos have this habit of over-reacting due to our preconceived notions and unfortunately often regardless of the evidence. Our disillusionment with the Arroyo , Estrada and yes Marcos governments makes us overlook or dismiss their positive contributions to Philippine development, perceiving everything they did through a black and white lens. More recently, we saw the hostile reaction to Dean Marvic Leonen’s statement, delivered as the chief negotiator of the Philippines to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, that constitutional change might be an option to achieve peace in Mindanao. In this context, the calls for the resignation of officials right up to Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo are expected. In the case of Robredo, such calls are absurd without any evidence that he made serious errors of judgment during the crisis. In the same way, it is foolish to hold President Aquino or, for that matter, the past administration responsible for what happened. The problems of our police force precede the Aquino and Arroyo administrations. Unless we recognize this fact, our diagnosis of these problems, which should be evidence-based and not be guided by our understandably raw feelings, will be seriously flawed and the problems will remain unsolved.

Apologies are in order for what happened in that tourist bus last week. These gestures of humility, intended to heal wounds, are particularly important for those directly in contact with the peoples of Hong Kong and China, such as our overseas workers, tourism officials and industry, and diplomats. But the country loses its sense of proportion when it expects all its citizens to feel equally guilty or ashamed.

We should also remind ourselves that genuine atonement is not solely about apologies, laying blame, or feeling shame. Apologies without real, tangible, on the ground change are empty words that drive a wedge between apologizer and the hurt one. When all people feel is blame and shame for their mistakes, they become resentful, embittered, suspicious and hostile, making meaningful reform impossible. This is also why it is imperative that we take immediate and constructive steps so that this incident is not repeated.

In my view, aside from fundamental police reforms, we need to make sure that Secretary Robredo, an award winning mayor with nearly 20 years of experience working on local peace and order, has unencumbered powers over the police at the national level. The line of command should be clear from the President downwards to Robredo to the top police officials to the rank and file. If it is true, as reported by other columnists (not in this paper) that Robredo was not given supervision of the police when he was appointed, that needs to be changed right away. We should remember what happened in the Department of Agriculture in the last administration when an Undersecretary was able to bypass his principal and got instructions straight from the President.

The President should also seriously look at his own internal and communication operations so that the way the Palace responded – in my view, a tragedy of errors – never happens again. Foremost is making sure the President has close-in advisers with extensive and senior, including international, governance experience so he is well advised all the time and regardless of type of crisis. He must also make the tough decision of who should singularly head his communications department and replace the current arrangement which is likely to bring him and the country more grief in the future. All professionals will tell the President that communications by committee never works. Unfortunately, this crisis is above all about communications and the Palace is failing absolutely in this challenge.

For the record, in spite of my dissatisfaction with what happened, my optimism for the future of an Aquino-led country remains unchanged. A sense of proportion also means that one sees that a single incident does not make a pattern and should not make us lose hope for our country.

This week, we celebrate National Heroes Day, and to dwell on the mistakes of the past is not what this day is all about. There is a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear and a time to mend, the Book of Ecclesiastes says. Today is therefore a good moment to remember that there are heroes among us.

Despite the mistakes and omissions of the Manila police force, among them surely are honest men and women who answered the call, and put their lives on the line, even while ill-equipped, in the middle of confusion, and against one of their own. Another hero is Venus Raj, our representative to the Miss Universe 2010 pageant. Her less than perfect answer should not overshadow her humble roots, the virtues she brought to the stage, or the odds against her. She should make us proud, not ashamed. This week is also a time to remember present day heroes, not only in the Philippines but in Asia with the traditional awarding ceremony of the Ramon Magsaysay awardees. Let us celebrate particularly the two Filipino science teachers who are among this year’s awardees.

Finally, there are our fellow Filipinos in Hong Kong who are in the front lines of this crisis. I know many of them personally and they have communicated to me through text, email, Facebook and Twitter how affected they are by what happened. Let us salute them for their sacrifice, courage and dignity – and give them whatever support they need to overcome this. They are truly our heroes and we owe this to them.

Overcoming the fog of confusion, today and in the weeks to come, why don’t we surprise ourselves and find our heroes from both unlikely and ordinary of sources? For a start, let’s truly get to the bottom of this incident and make the changes necessary so that never, never again do we have to do so much blaming and shaming. That to me is doing things with a good sense of proportion.

Email: Facebook: Twitter: tonylavs

This article is a slightly edited version of Dean La Viña’s column “Eagle Eyes” in the Manila Standard Today published on August 31, 2010.

“Ka-Vibes” doesn’t seem to be working by Solita Collas-Monsod

Someone calls the Malacañang trunk line in the middle of a hostage crisis involving Hong Kong nationals and asks to talk to President Aquino. He claims to be calling for Donald Tsang, the chief executive of Hong Kong. You are one of the presidential aides, and you are not sure that the call is authentic. What do you do?

a) Suggest that he route his call through the Department of Foreign Affairs, as protocol demands.

b) Tell him the President is not accessible at the moment but will get back to him as soon as he is reached.

c) Tell him the line is not clear, and the President will call him back on another line immediately.

The first option has to be the pits. There is a crisis going on, and if the caller is who he says he is, he is understandably trying to cut through red tape. The aide choosing this alternative should be fired immediately, because either he has, without any basis, come to the conclusion that the caller is a fraud and is palming him off, thus putting his principal and the country in hot water if the caller is authentic; or he is inept and cannot exercise initiative in unusual situations, hiding behind bureaucratic procedures instead. The President needs this aide like he needs a hole in the head.

The second option is better than the first, but still unacceptable. It is better because the aide at least has kept his mind open about the authenticity of the caller, and is covering all bases, because if the caller is a fraud, it will be discovered immediately when the chief executive’s office is called. But it will leave a bad impression (if authentic) of inefficiency in the seat of power. In this day of communications technology, how can a President not be immediately accessible to his office?

The third alternative covers all the bases, and of course is the best choice. If it was indeed Tsang who called, he would be gratified at the immediate response. And if the original caller was fraudulent, the President’s call will be interpreted by Tsang as a thoughtful and sincere initiative to assure him that all is being done to ensure the hostages’ safety, and that he will be updated regularly by whoever is in charge of the negotiations.

From what I read in the papers, option one was chosen, or a truly fumbled variant of it: the caller was told that the Department of Foreign Affairs would call back; but the DFA was told to await the call from Hong Kong. Which is why Tsang waited for a return call in vain, even as DFA was waiting for the Hong Kong call—until the tragedy occurred. No wonder Tsang was hopping mad, and no wonder his constituents were angry. (Which does not excuse their stupid retaliatory actions.)

What is not clear is whether the President was apprised of the Tsang call (whether real or fraudulent). If he was not, then again, heads should roll. If he was, it is legitimate to ask why he did not call Tsang (regardless of the original call’s authenticity). There was nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by calling his counterpart to convey his assurances. Obviously the President’s head cannot roll—not this early in the game anyway—but one has to wonder about the quality of the advise he is receiving, which means the quality of his close-in aides. Kaklase Inc. or Ka-Vibes (a.k.a. Ka-rancho, ka-billiards, ka-yosi) does not seem to be working out too well. Now may be a good time to reexamine this criterion for selection.

In the search for a scapegoat (Who was in charge?), the primary target appears to be Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo. He is head of the department charged with promoting peace and order, ensuring public safety, and strengthening the capabilities of local government units as well as overseeing the Philippine National Police. I have made no secret that I am impressed with his credentials and his performance as a local government executive, although I have not even had the opportunity to congratulate him or talk to him since his appointment. And there is no reason to change my mind.

Yes, he should have been in charge, and apparently he was in the command center. And if he had been in charge, things would certainly have turned out different.

Judging from stories from knowledgeable sources, however, he could not have been in charge because, while he is DILG head, he was supposedly ordered to concentrate on the local government side, and to leave the PNP side to Undersecretary Rico Escalona Puno. In which case, Puno, the first undersecretary appointed by P-Noy, should be the one debriefed.

Who is Puno? Googling reveals that until he burst forth as undersecretary, there is nothing on him. His appointment was accompanied by the info that he was a consultant of then Tarlac Rep. Noynoy Aquino and also served him in the Senate, in charge of public order and safety, economic affairs and local government, and liaising with PNP and the Armed Forces. He was in the Liberal Party’s National Campaign Committee. The basis of their friendship, aside from a common province, is apparently that both are gun enthusiasts. Ka-Vibes trumping competence, not to mention integrity, anytime.

Actually, it seemed that everything was going well until the Gregorio Mendoza situation, when the laxity of the police with respect to broadcast (TV) media, combined with the latter’s incredible irresponsibility, resulted in that awful tragedy and brought everybody else’s shortcomings to light.

Unless all involved learn from this experience, we are bound to repeat our mistakes.

This article appeared in Prof. Monsod’s column “Get Real” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer published on August 28, 2010.