Not Too Brilliant Call

by Joseph G. Lariosa

”The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,”

— Dick the Butcher in ”Henry VI,” Part II, act
IV, Scene II, Line 73 of William Shakespeare

CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – Although I did not vote for Nancy Binay, I like to congratulate the former doting clerk and daughter of the Vice President for taking her time to be sworn in as senator.

With less than 25 percent of the votes counted, the decision of Ms. Binay to hold off her induction as senator-elect not only made sense but made Sixto Brillantes look like unbecoming a Comelec chair.

Binay’s unexpected decision must have pleased sports fans, who consider a game over only after it’s over.

Brillantes’ faux pas caused him to reiterate his resignation if Binay and five other senators he prematurely projected to win would be dropped out from the “Magic 12.?

Before the elections, Brillantes had been toying with the idea of quitting as Comelec chair, saying, his “work is finished – the dangerous part – the critical phase in the preparations for the May elections – is over, and that the rest of the work can be done by senior Comelec officials, even without [me] around.”

He was on the ropes after getting a series of adverse rulings from Philippine Supreme Court, the latest of which was the Comelec rules limiting the airtime of political advertisements for the elections.

For me, if Brillantes were to go, it was his loss of moral support for the confirmation of Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman that takes the cake. Lagman was facing last year an influential critic in Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who blamed Lagman for allegedly shaving two million of his votes and that of other senatorial candidates of the Grand Alliance, the opposition party, in the 1987 elections in favor of the senatorial candidates of President Cory Aquino’s party.

Instead of picking the cudgels for Lagman, Brillantes did not put some encouraging words for Lagman to try his luck in facing the Commission on  Appointment (CA) chaired by Enrile. Coupled with Malacanang’s withdrawal of its support for Lagman by not issuing his “ad interim appointment,” Lagman, who denied Enrile’s point-shaving accusations, was never given a day in court to defend himself before the CA, thus violating his civil rights.

According to Lagman’s essay emailed to me by one of his friends, one of the reasons Brillantes was giving him a cold shoulder was that “I am not a lawyer, I had been ineffective as COMELEC Commissioner.”

Say what?

Since when has a non-lawyer been disqualified from becoming a commissioner of the Commission on Elections?

CONSTITUTION ALLOWS NON-LAWYERS AS COMMISSIONERS

The Philippine Constitution is very clear — the Comelec should be “composed of a Chairman and six Commissioners who shall be natural-born citizens of the Philippines and, at the time of their appointment, at least thirty-five years of age, holders of a college degree, and must not have been candidates for any elective positions in the immediately preceding elections. However, a majority thereof, including the Chairman, shall be members of the Philippine Bar who have been engaged in the practice of law for at least ten years.”

By supporting only lawyers to become commissioners, Brillantes has violated the Constitution, which also allows the appointment of non-lawyer college degree holders as commissioners!

For me, this constitutional provision calls for an amendment by not pinning too much hope on the expertise of lawyers to solve the inefficiency of the commission. Remember Sen. Franklin Drilon asking for investigation of the low turnout (16%) of overseas absentee voting a few weeks ago?

What the Comelec needs are not old-school lawyers in the mold of Brillantes, who could use their legal knowledge to skirt the loopholes of the law to defend themselves from their mistakes, but accountants, engineers and programmers, who are computer- and Internet Technology (IT)-savvy, and who know how to count and count the votes accurately with dispatch and with integrity.

Out of the 15 Philippine presidents, nine of them were lawyers, one was a third year high school student (Emilio F. Aguinaldo), two economic graduates (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and incumbent President Noynoy Aquino), a bachelors degree holder major in French (Cory Aquino), a student in mechanical engineering ending up with a commerce degree (Ramon F. Magsaysay), a student of engineering but dropped out (Joseph E. Estrada) and a graduate of West Point Academy with masters in civil engineer (Fidel V. Ramos). But these nine lawyers, who became presidents, could not really claim that they were able to improve the Filipino peoples’ lives. Nabili ng mga Pilipino ang talino ng ating mga abogado (Filipinos have had enough of the antics of lawyers). Let’s try other professions!

Just ask my friend, former Sen. Dick Gordon, who does not want to be called a lawyer anymore because the once noblest profession is no longer as noble.

As a veteran information technology executive, Lagman can tell that the Comelec should not have hired the services in the first place of the London, England-based Smartmatic International to run the 2010 Philippine presidential elections at a staggering cost of P11-B (US$261-M) and the 2013 mid-term elections at a cost of P8-B (US$190-M) for the simple reason that Smartmatic does not have the software technology to run the elections. It had to depend on its competition – the Toronto, Canada-based Dominion Voting Systems International Corporations – which has the right to the intellectual property of the latest voting technology such as “Democracy Suite 4.0, the Imagecast Evolution, Precincts and Central Court Scanners.”

SMARTMATIC’S MILKING COW

Based on the civil action pending before the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware filed by Smartmatic, it appears that Smartmatic is mere a “middleman” in its contract with the Comelec when Smartmatic hired the services of a second-party, Dominion Voting Systems, to provide Smartmatic international with, among others, the upgrade of the hardware, software, firmware, and provide technical support needed to enable Smartmatic to exploit the broad license granted by Dominion.

If Brillantes were able to consult Lagman on Comelec’s 2013 mid-term elections deal with Smartmatic, maybe Brillantes would be able to realize that Smartmatic was making a lot of money from Comelec.

Perhaps, Brillantes does not want to know the truth that’s why he is happy to let  Lagman go. Galit ang magnanakaw sa kapwa! (A thief hates his fellow!)

Brillantes told Lagman he (Lagman) “did nothing” at the Comelec. But in ten months, Lagman said he signed 443 resolutions of election cases, “87 of my own decisions (including 70 that have been promulgated and 17 decisions pending promulgation), and 16 separate opinions (dissenting, concurring, separate).”  In addition to these, Lagman created the Information Systems Strategic Plan and development of Consolidation and Canvassing System (CCS), which cost the Comelec P600,000 (US$14,285) instead of the P58-M (US$1.3-M) Comelec paid to Smartmatic for the 2008 Automated ARMM Election and the 2010 Automated National Elections.

LAGMAN RETURNED UNSPENT I.F.

I agree with Lagman to encourage Filipino programmers to come up with voting software, like the “Filipino Systems Integrators, so there would be check and balance in the implementation” of the voting project. Filipino programmers could always hire foreign experts to audit the efficacy of the homespun software at international standard rate of service and buy the hardware needed.

Perhaps, one reason, Brillantes does not like Lagman was when  Lagman returned the P1,250,000 (US$29,761) “intelligence fund” (I.F.) while other Comelec Commissioners may have been “receiving double that,” saying, “I didn’t know what to do with it and besides the money was just sleeping in the bank” after Brillantes texted him why he chose to return the money.

Lagman said he also returned US$1,800 unspent representation allowance during his two official trips abroad as he only spent US$70.25 representation expenses. As commissioner, he was entitled to a revolving fund of P50,000 a month. If he withdrew the fund for the whole year, he should have gotten P600,000. But he only spent P182.003.77 to cover expenses during “Pillar meetings.”

Now that Enrile is on his way out as Senate President, Enrile’s replacement should warm up to Lagman, in case, Aquino would re-nominate Lagman as Comelec commissioner. Lagman should not worry about Brillantes because he can always use the text message Brillantes sent to him (assuming the text message was preserved) as forensic evidence to warrant impeachment of Brillantes for graft and corruption if he does not resign as Comelec chair!

(lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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