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PHNO HEADLINE NEWS THIS PAST WEEK
(Mini Reads followed by Full Reports below)

COMELEC WARNS OF 2016 POLL FAILURE


MARCH 12 -The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has raised the scenario in appealing the high tribunal’s order to activate the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) feature of the vote counting machines (VCM) to be used for the polls. A failure of election looms if the Supreme Court (SC) insists on requiring the printing of vote receipts in the May 9 polls. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has raised the scenario in appealing the high tribunal’s order to activate the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) feature of the vote counting machines (VCM) to be used for the polls. “There is strong likelihood that the May 2016 elections will fail if the voting receipt feature is enabled by the Comelec at this very late stage of the project,” the poll body said in a 13-page motion for reconsideration filed through Solicitor General Florin Hilbay. The Comelec, which initially failed to answer the petition when it was being heard by the magistrates, asked the SC to consider the “far-reaching implications of its ruling on the conduct of the elections,” including the possible failure of elections. The poll body stressed that the use of the VVPAT would result in “additional time of at least two hours and 10 minutes” on election day as well as longer lines “which may discourage voters from exercising their right of suffrage.” It also warned that the issuance of receipts would require four more additional steps in the polling process – enabling of ambiguous marks screen, enabling of vote review screen, printing and tearing of voting receipt and dropping of the voting receipt into another box to be provided by the Comelec apart from the ballot box. READ MORE...RELATED, Sereno, senators berate Comelec SC chief tells Bautista to file motion in court instead of media blitz...

ALSO: With SC new requirements, Comelec now considering, manual polls;
[Comelec has also expressed doubts on its readiness to begin the month-long overseas voting on April 9]


MARCH 13 -In Resolution No. 10075 dated March 10, the Comelec has also expressed doubts on its readiness to begin the month-long overseas voting on April 9. Philstar.com/File
With the Supreme Court (SC) ruling on vote receipts possibly setting back preparations for the coming polls by three months, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is now considering either reverting to manual polls and sticking to schedule or resetting the exercise altogether to an “appropriate date before June 30.”  In Resolution No. 10075 dated March 10, the Comelec has also expressed doubts on its readiness to begin the month-long overseas voting on April 9. “Now, therefore, premises considered, after due, careful and exhaustive deliberation coupled with unswerving commitment to the conduct of orderly and credible elections, the Comelec resolved to prepare a contingency Project of Precincts (PoP) with a cluster of 400 voters per precinct in the event a manual election is restored, to only ensure elections will occur on May 9, 2016,” the Comelec resolution read.
As a result of the new requirement, “it now appears that the Comelec will not be ready to conduct orderly and credible elections for overseas voters by the scheduled start of overseas voting on April 9, 2016,” the resolution indicated. The Comelec came up with the resolution after an emergency meeting with service provider Smartmatic International, and with the multi-sector Comelec Advisory Council and Technical Evaluation Committee on Wednesday on the impact of the SC ruling. Based on the resolution, the SC order “sets the Comelec’s preparations back by approximately three months.” READ MORE...RELATED, Lawmaker warns of chaos on May 9 if Comelec prints vote receipts...

ALSO: Malacañan - PH urging other nations to persuade China to accept sea row ruling


MARCH 13 -“The Philippines maintains that the decision of the tribunal, once rendered, will be legally binding and should be accorded due respect by everyone. We are enjoining other nations to help us to convince China to respect the rule of law,” resigned foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said during a testimonial lunch yesterday at the Fairmont Makati Hotel.
The Philippines is urging the international community to help persuade China to accept the United Nations tribunal’s ruling on the arbitration case filed by the Philippines and for Beijing to comply with the decision.
“The Philippines maintains that the decision of the tribunal, once rendered, will be legally binding and should be accorded due respect by everyone. We are enjoining other nations to help us to convince China to respect the rule of law,” resigned foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said during a testimonial lunch yesterday at the Fairmont Makati Hotel. The Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, AMCHAM-Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines and Bankers Association of the Philippines hosted the testimonial luncheon for Del Rosario. Del Rosario said the Philippines has reposed its faith in the rule of law, particularly on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other applicable principles of international law. “Having presented our positions and evidence in support of all our submissions before the Arbitral Tribunal last November, we now await the tribunal’s decision on the merits of the case. To this decision, we shall accordingly abide,” he said. The tribunal’s decision on the Philippines’ case against China for excessive and expansive claims in the South China Sea is expected to be released in May. READ MORE...

ALSO: China to start civilian flights to and from disputed island


MARCH 13 -Beijing – China will begin civilian flights to and from a disputed South China Sea island within a year, state media reported on Friday, as the government expands infrastructure on islands and reefs also claimed by other countries in the region. The United States, which has voiced concerns about China’s assertive pursuit of territory in the South China Sea, said launching such flights could complicate disputes between rival claimants in the region.
Chinese media said the flights would be to Sansha City, on Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago, China’s administrative base for islands and reefs it controls in the South China Sea. China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. Two passenger ships and a police vessel are base stations for mobile communications in Sansha, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing an interview with Mayor Xiao Jie. The airfield in Sansha and a newer one on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly archipelago are expected to boost air traffic services in the region, Xiao added, aiding navigation and surveillance while providing weather and aeronautics information. READ MORE...RELATED, Amid sea disputes, China to set up int’l maritime judicial center...

ALSO: Officials mourn passing of Jovy Salonga, ‘the best President we never got’


MARCH 10 -Former Senator Jovito Salonga
Officials from all branches of government have expressed their grief over the country losing another one of its elder statesmen, former Senate President Jovito Salonga. Commission on Human Rights chairman Chito Gascon on Thursday said that he has been informed by Salonga's family that the 95-year-old advocate against corruption and human rights violations already died. Supreme Court spokesperson Attorney Theodore Te described Salonga as the “best President we never got.” “Paalam, Ka Jovy Salonga. He was the last candidate for president that I voted for and IMO, with Ka Pepe, the best President we never got,” Te said, who was also referring to Jose W. Diokno. According to the Supreme Court, Salonga topped the bar examinations in 1944, tied with a grade of 95.3 percent with Diokno. Salonga also and had law degrees from the University of the Philippines (Ll.B.), Harvard University (Ll.M.) and Yale University (J.S.D.). The SC in a statement described him as "an intellectual mentor and role model to many generations of lawyers through his courage and integrity." Salonga also taught law and was a professor to many of the country's prominent lawyers. The SC said it recognized his contribution to the shaping of modern jurisprudence in basic human rights and fundamental civil liberties, especially during Martial Law and after the restoration of democracy in 1986. "His death is a great loss to the legal profession and to the country," the high court said. Respected statesman Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago also took to Twitter to extend her condolences to Salonga's family. READ MORE as Aquino blames 2 Senators in BBL failure ...

ALSO: Aquino takes swipe at martial law, BBL critics in PMA grad
[PRESIDENT TELLS MILITARY: STAY NEUTRAL IN POLITICS]


MARCH 13 -THE SWORD. President Aquino handed this year’s presidential saber to newly-commissioned ensign Kristian Daeve Abiqui, the valedictorian of Philippine Military Academy Gabay Laya Class of 2016. The president led this year’s graduation rites at Fort del Pilar. PHOTO BY EV ESPIRITU
President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday reminded the graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) of the military’s responsibility to protect the Filipino people, secure sovereignty, and safeguard democracy, as he brought up the armed forces’ role under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. In his speech during the graduation ceremonies of PMA GABAY-LAYA Class of 2016 in Baguio, Aquino, citing the Constitution, said “civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military.”  “Gusto ko nga pong ipagdiinan ang tungkulin ng Sandatahang Lakas sa ating demokrasya, lalo pa’t ipinagdiriwang natin ang ika-30 anibersaryo ng EDSA People Power Revolution. Nangyari po sa ating kasaysayan ang isang eksperimento, kung saan minsan kayong kinasangkapan para sikilin ang demokrasya at maipatupad ang mga kapritso ng iisang pamilya,” Aquino said before 63 PMA graduates, the smallest batch since the 1960s. The President also recalled the restoration of people’s confidence in the military under the term of his late mother and democracy icon Corazon Aquino, and boasted of military modernization projects under his own administration. “Sa ilalim naman po ng aking ina, ibinalik ang tiwala ng mamamayan sa inyong hanay, na nangakong pagsisilbihan ang taumbayan. At sa atin sa Daang Matuwid, sama-sama nating hinubog at pinalakas ang Sandatahang Lakas upang higit ninyong magampanan ang inyong tungkulin,” he said. READ MORE...RELATED, PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING FALLS, EVEN AS INTEREST RATES HIT ROCK BOTTOM, Malaya Opinion of the Day...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

Comelec warns of poll failure


The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has raised the scenario in appealing the high tribunal’s order to activate the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) feature of the vote counting machines (VCM) to be used for the polls.

MANILA, MARCH 14, 2016 (PHILSTAR)  By Sheila Crisostomo March 12, 2016 -A failure of election looms if the Supreme Court (SC) insists on requiring the printing of vote receipts in the May 9 polls.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has raised the scenario in appealing the high tribunal’s order to activate the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) feature of the vote counting machines (VCM) to be used for the polls.

“There is strong likelihood that the May 2016 elections will fail if the voting receipt feature is enabled by the Comelec at this very late stage of the project,” the poll body said in a 13-page motion for reconsideration filed through Solicitor General Florin Hilbay.

The Comelec, which initially failed to answer the petition when it was being heard by the magistrates, asked the SC to consider the “far-reaching implications of its ruling on the conduct of the elections,” including the possible failure of elections.

The poll body stressed that the use of the VVPAT would result in “additional time of at least two hours and 10 minutes” on election day as well as longer lines “which may discourage voters from exercising their right of suffrage.”

It also warned that the issuance of receipts would require four more additional steps in the polling process – enabling of ambiguous marks screen, enabling of vote review screen, printing and tearing of voting receipt and dropping of the voting receipt into another box to be provided by the Comelec apart from the ballot box.

READ MORE...

“The hardware and software without a printer/cutter upgrade on the VCMs will not be able to cut the printed receipt automatically, thereby increasing the rate and likelihood of paper jams and printer failures dramatically, as when a voter tears the printed receipt and yanks the existing paper cutter,” the Comelec explained.

The poll body said it would conduct a demonstration of the process before the justices, if necessary, for them to realize the repercussions of the ruling.

The SC has also been urged to give the Comelec a “presumption of regularity in its course of action and to afford it wide leeway in choosing the means to perform its constitutional and statutory duties under the law.”

The Comelec stressed it shares the SC’s objective of ensuring transparency in the elections and empowering voters in the exercise of their right to suffrage.

“Nonetheless, this objective should not result in burning the house down and risking a failure of election, a catastrophic result that is too high a price to pay for the marginal improvement sought by petitioners. Progress requires a sense of proportion, balance and timing,” the Comelec motion read.

In a unanimous decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the SC said Republic Act 8436 (Automated Election Law) was clear when it said receipt-printing capabilities should be put in place as part of the minimum safeguards provided by law.

The Comelec deactivated the VVPAT on concerns that it can be used for vote-buying activities, among other reasons.

But the high court said the poll body could not simply breach requirements of the law just “to assuage its fears regarding the VVPAT.”

The high court also cited the Comelec’s failure to file a comment within the time required by the court.

No guarantee In an ambush interview yesterday, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said he could no longer promise a credible election on May 9 if the SC order on VVPAT is not reversed.

“If we will have to print the voter receipts, we cannot guarantee that we can deliver a credible election. We are not sure if we can make our May 9 elections credible,” he said.


COMELEC WARNS OF POLL FAILURE: “This (SC ruling) has turned the timelines completely upside down... We cannot rush. We have to do things carefully and slowly and surely. Otherwise election preparations will be half-baked, so you will also get half-baked results which the Comelec is not aiming for,” he [Commissioner Lim] added.

He explained the Comelec would have to deal with various complications that the SC decision might spawn, especially with the polls barely two months away.

As much as possible, Bautista said he does not want the elections postponed as the law provides that elections shall be held on the second Monday of May.

“It is our responsibility to ensure an orderly and credible election. If we are not able to do that, then we failed in our responsibility,” he lamented.

“It’s like we are in limbo on what we shall do. So we hope that we can be given directions on this issue the soonest possible time,” he added.

The entire seven-man Comelec plans to appear before the SC to demonstrate how the VCMs really work and how the printing of receipts could complicate matters.

On Monday, the Comelec is set to meet with the political parties and with its Advisory Council and Technical Evaluation Committee to discuss the ruling and its implication on the timeline, logistcs and operations of the poll body.

“I hope political parties speak out because it will be their candidates who will be affected,” he told The STAR.

Earlier, Bautista expressed dismay at the SC decision, saying the poll body’s request for a five-day extension to submit a comment on former senator Richard Gordon’s petition was “not abusive” as it was already in the peak of election preparations.

OAV in peril

Another poll official also said the SC order would also be damaging to the conduct of the month-long overseas absentee voting (OAV) which would start on April 9.

In an interview, Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim noted the order entails bringing back some 1,400 SD cards from 30 Philippine posts where elections would be automated.


Commissioner Arthur Lim

“We have already deployed 129 VCMs to various parts of the world. We don’t have to recall them but we have to get back 1,400 SD cards because they are not configured to print the receipts,” he added.

Comelec estimates that recalling, configuring and deploying the SD cards again would require at least 21 days.

Lim, who is in charge of OAV, said the Comelec would also have to re-do not only the voter’s education but also the training of the Special Board of Canvassers for OAV.

“This (SC ruling) has turned the timelines completely upside down... We cannot rush. We have to do things carefully and slowly and surely. Otherwise election preparations will be half-baked, so you will also get half-baked results which the Comelec is not aiming for,” he added.

There are more than 1.3 million registered voters for OAV.

Bautista’s predecessor Sixto Brillantes also warned of mayhem in the conduct of the May 9 elections if the VVPAT enabling pushes through.

“If the Comelec will rush in its preparations, there is a big possibility for errors. It will be like the Comelec will re-do everything that it has done in less than two months. Can you imagine that?” Brillantes maintained in a phone interview.

He said if the SC stands firm on its decision, the Comelec would have to recall the teachers comprising the Board of Election Inspectors for another training.

Furthermore, the Comelec would have to conduct biddings for the procurement of thermal paper and receptacles for the voter receipts.

“The Comelec will also have to come up with guidelines on vote receipt and they have to cascade them down to the teachers and its field personnel,” he pointed out.

“One week before elections, the Comelec must also do the Field Testing and Sealing of the voting machines. How can you do all of that in just two months?”

He also expressed belief there would be “failure of elections” in many areas in the country if the high tribunal would insist on having voter receipts printed.

“For me, the Supreme Court should reverse its decision. Otherwise, the elections may be chaotic,” he maintained.

Don’t blame us

Smartmatic project director Elie Moreno has also raised a warning over the SC decision and said the firm should not be blamed for whatever trouble it would entail.

“Such late-stage change in the procedures could endanger the elections,” he said.

Citing its extensive experience in rolling out automated elections, he said Smartmatic “has reasons to believe that the elections could fail if such a major change is implemented at this very late stage of the preparation process.”

“The company has warned Comelec of the risks involved in the activation of the printed receipts at this stage and emphasized that Smartmatic should not be held liable if the elections fail for this reason,” Moreno added.

“Voters will have four new steps that they did not take during past elections: ambiguous marks screen, vote review screen, printed receipt and tearing, and finally dropping this receipt into the new defined box will all now be required,” Moreno said.

Furthermore, the proposed change will also “impact both on the schedule and costs for the preparation activities for the 2016 national and local elections,” he added.

He also underscored the need for clearer legal framework so authorities can manage new possible scenarios, like when a voter refuses to deposit the voter receipt into designated receptacles before leaving the precinct.


Palace supports SC ruling

At Malacañang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. voiced support for the Supreme Court’s decision, saying it’s the Comelec’s duty to conduct orderly and credible polls.

He also said the administration trusts the readiness of Smartmatic to help the Comelec accomplish its goal.

For senatorial candidate and former justice chief Leila de Lima, the Comelec should implement the law instead of dwelling on procedural concerns.

Even with less than 60 days to go before the elections, De Lima said the Comelec still has time to address the problem.

Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon reiterated only Congress can postpone or reset elections.

“Ï doubt if we can convene even half of lawmakers in both House of Representatives and the Senate to move the election to another date by postponing it just because the Comelec says so,” he said. – With Edu Punay, Ben Serrano, Delon Porcalla, Romina Cabrera

-----------------------------------

RELATED FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN

Sereno, senators berate Comelec SC chief tells Bautista to file motion in court instead of media blitz March 11, 2016 Share32 Tweet0 Share0 Email0 Share98 By Leonard D. Postrado, Rey G. Panaligan, Mario B. Casayuran, and Hannah L. Torregoza


SERENO

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno yesterday admonished the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for bringing their poll-related issues before the media instead of taking the orders of the High Tribunal seriously.

Likewise, some senators rebuked the poll body for toying with the idea of postponing the May 9 elections just because of the SC decision.

Sereno’s comment came a day after Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista told reporters covering the poll body that there is a possibility of postponing the May 9, 2016, national elections following the High Tribunal’s decision to order the use of the voters’ receipt feature of the automated elections.

Instead of engaging into a media blitz, Sereno told Bautista to file their respective motions in court on time in order for them to take cognizance of their position on why they should overturn their decision compelling the poll body to activate the voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT) feature of the vote counting machines (VCMs).

“I would like to caution people that when a matter is under litigation before a court, the procedure is to make such communications with the court. That’s the only way we can take cognizance of the positions that they have,” the SC chief told reporters at the sidelines of the 21st annual convention of the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA) at the Manila Hotel.

“We don’t take matters that are aired before the media and that are not properly raised before us,” she added.

In a unanimous vote of 14 justices through the ruling written by Justice Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen, the SC said:

“Wherefore, the Petition for Mandamus is granted. The Commission on Elections is ordered to enable the vote verification feature of the vote counting machines, which prints the voter’s choices without prejudice to the issuance of guidelines to regulate the release and disposal of the issued receipts to ensure a clean, honest, and orderly elections such as, but not limited to, ensuring that after voter verification, receipts should be deposited in a separate ballot box and not taken out of the precinct.”

Sereno pointed out that the SC wanted to contribute to the success of the upcoming May 9, 2016 polls by expediting election-related cases, such as the disqualification case of Senator Grace Poe and the petition of senatorial candidate Richard “Dick” Gordon on VVPAT.

‘PROBLEM LIES WITH COMELEC’

The problem, she claimed, lies with the Comelec, which disregards the orders that the SC issues to the poll body.

“Simply because a body is a constitutional body that is very, very important and at the center of many of our national concerns does not mean that court requirements are to be taken lightly,” Sereno warned.

Justice Sereno, however, stressed that the SC magistrates anchored their decision on the merits of the case and agreed that the law stated that the issuance of the VVPAT is mandatory.

“I think that the most important part was the law itself. As you can see in the resolution that had been penned by Justice [Marvic] Leonen and unanimously concurred in, we looked at the law and we found that its character is mandatory,” Sereno said.

“So until there is something that is exceptional we have to apply it as a mandatory requirement,” she added.

When asked on whether the SC considered the possibility of a “no-el (no elections)” scenario given that the decision will affect the timetable of the Comelec, the SC chief said they had taken into considerations all possible effect of their decision.

“I think it’s very important if we act professionally as we ought to. You know already the limitations before us. So we act within those limitations because that is part of due process,” she said.

On Wednesday, the Comelec said that it is studying the possibility of postponing the May 9, 2016 polls following the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) ordering the poll body to activate the printing of the voter receipt feature of the vote counting machines (VCMs).

But Bautista stressed that this will need legislation.

“Unless otherwise provided for by law, the elections shall be held second Monday of May,” he said.

The poll chief also revealed their plan to file a motion for reconsideration regarding the SC decision.

“Our current direction is we will be filing an MR of the decision as soon as possible,” said Bautista.

“What we actually want is for a chance for us to demonstrate our machines to the SC so that the justices can see for themselves how it operates, its features, and the reasons we believe that it will be complicated or on how the disadvantages will outweigh the advantages of printing voter receipts,” he added.

SENATORS’ REBUKE

As this developed, senators rebuked the Comelec for hinting that a no-election (No-El) scenario.

Senate President Franklin Drilon shot down the Comelec plan to postpone the upcoming May 9, 2016 elections, warning the poll body it would be violating the Constitution and existing laws on the holding of automated elections.

“It is premature for the Comelec to make public pronouncements on the postponement of elections because there still is time,” Drilon said.

“I urge the Comelec to instead focus all their resources to follow the Supreme Court decision. We are in favor of observing the May 9 elections, as mandated by the Constitution,” the Senate leader stressed.

Independent vice-presidential candidate Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. chided Bautista for painting a scenario of postponing the forthcoming political exercise because the SC ruling.

He said Bautista’s statement does not sit well with the mandate of the Comelec to conduct the elections on the date set by law.


DRILON

“What’s the play of Chairman Bautista? Instead of assuring the public that the May 9 elections will push through, he is sending signals that it may not happen at all,” Marcos said.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation Committee, described as “bad attitude” on the part of Comelec to state that a “no-el” scenario is possible because it is constitutional body to conduct elections.

“Sila ang authorized ng Constitution na magpatakbo ng ating election (They are the ones authorized by the Constitution to hold the election). History will remember all of them if they (Comelec officials) will be the first batch of Comelec officials who would not do their designated duties,” Marcos said.

Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Malacañang expects the poll body to push through with the elections as mandated by the Constitution and to comply with the recent SC ruling.

“We trust that the Comelec will exert all efforts to ensure the orderly conduct of the national elections while complying with the Constitution and with the Supreme Court decision,” Coloma said when asked if the Palace would allow the postponement of the May polls.

Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said he is confident the poll body would “do its utmost to have the elections on schedule as provided for by the Constitution.”

“We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court to require the printing of ballot receipts as mandated by the Automated Elections System Law. This would further promote transparency, protect the sanctity of votes, and boost the confidence of the Filipino people that their votes will be counted properly,” Angara said in a statement.

DAMAGING TO DEMOCRACY

Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, head of the House Independent Bloc and president of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), said the Comelec’s plan is damaging to the country’s democracy.

“It is the mandate of the Comelec to ensure that the will of the people is respected and protected. The challenge is for them to safeguard the country’s democracy. No-el scenario will only create chaos and damage our democratic system,” he said.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the Comelec is merely using the possible postponement of the May 9, 2016, polls as an excuse not to activate the printing of the voter receipt feature.

“Maybe, they want to sow fear because they don’t want it activated,” he said in an interview.

“That’s their own doing. Why didn’t they activate that when it is in the law?” asked Pabillo.

“We’ve already had two automated polls… and they are always making excuses,” he added. (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling, Charissa M. Luci, and Leslie Ann G. Aquino)


PHILSTAR

With SC ruling on vote receipts, Comelec now considering, manual polls, sticking to schedules By Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 13, 2016 - 12:00am 0 2 googleplus0 0


In Resolution No. 10075 dated March 10, the Comelec has also expressed doubts on its readiness to begin the month-long overseas voting on April 9. Philstar.com/File

MANILA, Philippines – With the Supreme Court (SC) ruling on vote receipts possibly setting back preparations for the coming polls by three months, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is now considering either reverting to manual polls and sticking to schedule or resetting the exercise altogether to an “appropriate date before June 30.”

In Resolution No. 10075 dated March 10, the Comelec has also expressed doubts on its readiness to begin the month-long overseas voting on April 9.

“Now, therefore, premises considered, after due, careful and exhaustive deliberation coupled with unswerving commitment to the conduct of orderly and credible elections, the Comelec resolved to prepare a contingency Project of Precincts (PoP) with a cluster of 400 voters per precinct in the event a manual election is restored, to only ensure elections will occur on May 9, 2016,” the Comelec resolution read.

As a result of the new requirement, “it now appears that the Comelec will not be ready to conduct orderly and credible elections for overseas voters by the scheduled start of overseas voting on April 9, 2016,” the resolution indicated.

The Comelec came up with the resolution after an emergency meeting with service provider Smartmatic International, and with the multi-sector Comelec Advisory Council and Technical Evaluation Committee on Wednesday on the impact of the SC ruling.

Based on the resolution, the SC order “sets the Comelec’s preparations back by approximately three months.”

READ MORE...

This means “there will be insufficient time to complete preparations for orderly and credible elections on May 9, 2016.”

The Comelec explained that “practical and operational issues” in the printing of vote receipts have affected the existing timeline and may require resetting of the elections.

Furthermore, the use of voter receipts as tools for audit and protest would only pose problems as no law exists “that will compel voters, under the pain of an administrative or criminal sanction, to deposit the receipt in a box.”

Based on the resolution, it was established that the “voting experience will be adversely affected” by the ruling because “voters will have to learn and be comfortable with four new steps that they did not use during the past elections.”

These are checking the onscreen verification feature for ambiguous marks on the ballots, using the onscreen verification feature or ballot review and approval, the printing and tearing off of the printed receipts, and dropping the printed receipts into the designated receptacle.

The procedures, if strictly followed, are seen to extend the voting period to more than 20 hours.

With the SC order, the Comelec said it may also have to reconfigure the source code of the vote counting machines (VCMs) because only on-screen verification is allowed in the “current trusted build.”

“Any paper jam or absence of paper will result in the shutdown of the VCM. The likelihood of paper jams and printer failures has been estimated at around 20 percent, which will entail another five minutes of delay per machine for every shutdown,” the Comelec pointed out.

Palace appeal


QUEZON

Despite the disturbing scenarios raised by the Comelec, Malacanang said it is hopeful the poll body and the SC would be able to resolve issues regarding the printing of vote receipts.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said over radio dzRB the Comelec has the right to air its concerns regarding the effects of the SC ruling on poll preparations.

“Of course, at the same time, all of us must be conscious that we only have 60 days to go (before the elections). I believe whatever branch of government or whether we are citizens, I think we should all hope that the Comelec and the Supreme Court will face these issues and resolve them at the soonest possible time so there will be no more concerns,” Quezon said.

He said the Comelec can work with the media in educating the public about the voting processes to make sure they would know what to do at polling precincts as the printing of receipts would require new voting procedures.

“For example, in my understanding, what that (printing of vote receipts) means is that a paper receipt will come out and you will check the paper receipt if the ballot matches (with the receipt) and then you drop the receipt in a ballot box, meaning you are not going to take it home. Those are the things that we must explain to the people,” Quezon said.

While the Aquino administration is determined to keep the elections clean, peaceful and orderly, a president can only do so much, he said.

“We can all appeal that this matter…be resolved at the soonest possible time but in a way that everyone will have clarity and not add to worries or cause doubts among the people,” Quezon said.

‘Whatever the cost’ Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., for his part, said the Comelec should pull out all the stops to ensure the successful conduct of the elections on May 9.

“The Comelec must ensure the successful holding of the elections whatever the cost in terms of money, effort and time,” Belmonte said.

The Comelec raised the scenario of poll failure in appealing the high tribunal’s order to activate the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) feature of the VCMs to be used for the polls.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System, chided the Comelec for raising election failure scenarios, saying the poll body should instead focus on finding ways to comply with the SC order.

He said he could not accept statements about a possible failure of elections from the only body that has the mandate and the power to conduct elections in the country.

The senator said the Filipino people have no choice but to have the Comelec conduct the elections so the poll body should do everything in its power to ensure that everything goes right on May 9.

“Every time something comes out that they do not agree with, they will say postpone elections. But what is in the law should be followed whether it is difficult for them or not,” Pimentel said.

He said it was unacceptable for the Comelec to be complaining about the difficulties in implementing the order of the SC when it could just make simple adjustments to make it work.

The printing of the voting receipts is provided for under the Automated Election System Law but has not been implemented by the Comelec in the previous elections.

On the poll body’s complaint that the printing of receipts would require longer voting hours, Pimentel said the Comelec can extend the voting period from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

He urged the Comelec to work with media in disseminating the procedures for voting so that the entire process would run smoothly.

Pimentel said the Comelec should also stop making the storage of the voting receipts an issue since the surrendered receipts would not have any impact on the results of the election.

To prevent the use of vote receipts for vote buying, the Comelec has been advised to prohibit the voters from bringing the receipts out of the polling precincts.

He said the Comelec may store the voting receipts in simple receptacles like in brown envelopes or even in old ballot boxes.

“The paper receipt is for the benefit of the voter only and cannot be used to overturn the results of the election,” he said. – With Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero, and Marvin Sy

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RELATED FROM GMA NEWS ONLINE

Lawmaker warns of chaos on May 9 if Comelec prints vote receipts Published March 13, 2016 3:52pm By XIANNE ARCANGEL, GMA News


Capiz Representative Fredenil Castro. Photo from http://www.congress.gov

A lawmaker on Sunday warned of possible chaos during the May 9 national and local elections as a result of the Supreme Court's (SC) order for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to print vote receipts.

Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, chair of the House of Representatives' committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, said commotion and violence might ensue on election day if the voting hours are extended until nighttime just so the Comelec could comply with the Supreme Court ruling.

“Alam naman natin na pag hanggang gabi na ang eleksyon, alam naman natin na delikado na ang buhay ng mga botante, delikado na ang buhay ng ating mga maestra o members of the board of election inspectors... Alam mo naman ang nangyayari based on experience, ang mga ballot snatching natin, pagsunog ng mga eskwelahan, pagpatay sa mga maestra, patayan ng mga kontra sa politika ay nangyayari na yan,” Castro said in an interview over radio dzBB.

Last month, the Comelec announced that the voting period on May 9 will be from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., two hours shorter than in the May 2013 midterm elections.

The poll body said it set a shorter voting period for this year's election because there are fewer voters assigned to each clustered precinct.

It said that the voting period may be extended to 20 hours or until the wee hours of May 10 if the vote counting machine's voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT) feature is enabled.

Castro said that given the tight race for the top elective positions, there is a likelihood that some candidates' supporters would cause a stir on May 9.

“[B]ase sa mga survey na lumalabas, ay plurality lang itong mangyayari dito [sa presidential race]. Kaya syempre magiging masyadong mainit ang mga tagasuporta ng mga kandidato. Kaya maaaring mangyari ang mga hindi natin inaasahang mangyari. Pwedeng maulit ang mga nangyari na noong mga taong lumipas,” Castro said.

Although the Supreme Court voted unanimously to direct the Comelec to print vote receipts, the lawmaker expressed hope that the magistrates will reconsider their decision.

“Kung gusto ng mga pilipino o ng SC na magkaroon tayo ng honest, clean, orderly at acceptable election itong darating na mayo ay kailangan baguhin nila ang kanilang paninindigan. Wag nilang sabihin na nakalabas na sila ng decision at hindi na pwede sapagkat ang isinusugal nila dito ay ang kinabukasan ng bansa at kinabukasan ng ating parating na eleksiyon,” he said.

Castro said the justices' minds might change if they witness a demonstration of how the VCM would work with the VVPAT feature activated.

In its motion for reconsideration filed Friday, the Comelec asked the SC to be allowed to demonstrate how the VCMs work.

It also said warned the SC in its petition of possible failure of elections due to the printing of vote receipts.

"There is a strong likelihood that the May 2016 elections will fail if the voting receipt feature is enabled by the Comelec at this very late stage of the project," the Comelec said. —ALG, GMA News


PHILSTAR

Nations urged: Persuade China to accept sea row ruling By Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 12, 2016 - 12:00am 0 184 googleplus0 0


“The Philippines maintains that the decision of the tribunal, once rendered, will be legally binding and should be accorded due respect by everyone. We are enjoining other nations to help us to convince China to respect the rule of law,” resigned foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said during a testimonial lunch yesterday at the Fairmont Makati Hotel.

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is urging the international community to help persuade China to accept the United Nations tribunal’s ruling on the arbitration case filed by the Philippines and for Beijing to comply with the decision.

“The Philippines maintains that the decision of the tribunal, once rendered, will be legally binding and should be accorded due respect by everyone. We are enjoining other nations to help us to convince China to respect the rule of law,” resigned foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said during a testimonial lunch yesterday at the Fairmont Makati Hotel.

The Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, AMCHAM-Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines and Bankers Association of the Philippines hosted the testimonial luncheon for Del Rosario.

Del Rosario said the Philippines has reposed its faith in the rule of law, particularly on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other applicable principles of international law.

“Having presented our positions and evidence in support of all our submissions before the Arbitral Tribunal last November, we now await the tribunal’s decision on the merits of the case. To this decision, we shall accordingly abide,” he said.

The tribunal’s decision on the Philippines’ case against China for excessive and expansive claims in the South China Sea is expected to be released in May.

READ MORE...

Del Rosario said as a result of Chinese unilateral conduct of test flights, island-building activities and constructions, and challenges on freedom of navigation, over flight operations, ongoing militarization and China’s still continuing prevention of Filipino fishermen from plying their trade at the Philippines’ Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal area have “seriously heightened tensions and further highlight the urgency of an early promulgation of the decision.”

The Philippines fully recognizes China’s role in world affairs and supports its peaceful development.

The country openly acknowledged that China’s emergence as an economic power has been of great benefit not only for Asia-Pacific but also for the world, he said.

“Notwithstanding certain difficulties and positions, we have consistently maintained that the South China Sea issue is not the sum total of our relations with China. It is my belief, nevertheless, that for China to be truly viewed as a positive force and a responsible regional power, it is of great import for China to manifest adherence to and respect for the rule of law,” Del Rosario added.

In February, Del Rosario admitted that he felt the Philippines was alone in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute, but the country has gained allies in initiating an arbitration case against China for a lasting, legal and durable solution.


MANILA BULLETIN

China to start civilian flights from disputed island by Reuters March 13, 2016 Share0 Tweet0 Share0 Email0 Share10

Beijing – China will begin civilian flights to and from a disputed South China Sea island within a year, state media reported on Friday, as the government expands infrastructure on islands and reefs also claimed by other countries in the region.

The United States, which has voiced concerns about China’s assertive pursuit of territory in the South China Sea, said launching such flights could complicate disputes between rival claimants in the region.

Chinese media said the flights would be to Sansha City, on Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago, China’s administrative base for islands and reefs it controls in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Two passenger ships and a police vessel are base stations for mobile communications in Sansha, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing an interview with Mayor Xiao Jie.

The airfield in Sansha and a newer one on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly archipelago are expected to boost air traffic services in the region, Xiao added, aiding navigation and surveillance while providing weather and aeronautics information.

READ MORE...

A spokeswoman for the US State Department said launching the flights would be “inconsistent with the region’s commitments to exercise restraint from actions that could complicate or escalate disputes.”

“China should heed to its prior public commitments to cease land reclamation and militarization on their outposts in the South China Sea, and instead focus on reaching agreement on acceptable behavior in disputed areas,” Anna Richey-Allen said.

US and Taiwanese officials confirmed in February the “very recent” placement of surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, the site of the largest Chinese presence on the Paracels, criticizing the move as contrary to China’s commitments not to militarize its claims in the South China Sea.

Beijing says it is entitled to “limited defensive facilities” on its territory, and dismissed reports about the missile placement as media hype. China says much of the infrastructure it is building is purely civilian in nature and will benefit other countries.

China landed fully-armed jet fighters on an expanded airstrip on Woody Island in November, and reinforced hangars have been completed, regional diplomats have told Reuters.

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RELATED FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN

Amid sea disputes, China to set up int’l maritime judicial center by Reuters March 14, 2016 Share0 Tweet0 Share0 Email0 Share4


Amid sea disputes, China to set up maritime 'judicial center' AP

Beijing, China — China plans to set up an “international maritime judicial center” to help protect the country’s sovereignty and rights at sea, its top judge said yesterday.

Giving a work report at the annual meeting of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, chief justice Zhou Qiang said courts across China were working to implement the national strategy of building China into a “maritime power.”

“(We) must resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty, maritime rights and other core interests,” he said. “(We) must improve the work of maritime courts and build an international maritime judicial center.”

He gave no details. It is not clear when the judicial center may start working, where it would be located or what kinds of cases it would accept.

China disputes a group of uninhabited islets with Japan in the East China Sea, and also claims most of the South China Sea. Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei also have competing claims there.

The Philippines has lodged a case with an arbitration court in The Hague about its dispute with China in the South China Sea, angering China which has pledged not to participate.

China’s increasingly assertive claims in the South China Sea, along with its rapidly modernizing navy, have rattled nerves around the region.

Zhou said about 16,000 maritime cases were heard by Chinese courts last year, the most in the world. China has the largest number of maritime courts globally, he added.

Zhou pointed to a 2014 case at a southeastern China maritime court involving a collision between a Chinese trawler and a Panama-flagged cargo ship in waters near the islets China disputes with Japan in the East China Sea.

The case, which was ended via mediation, clearly showed China’s jurisdiction over the region, he said.


GMA NEWS ONLINE

Officials mourn passing of Jovy Salonga, ‘the best President we never got’ Published March 10, 2016 5:33pm By XIANNE ARCANGEL, GMA News


Former Senator Jovito Salonga

Officials from all branches of government have expressed their grief over the country losing another one of its elder statesmen, former Senate President Jovito Salonga.

Commission on Human Rights chairman Chito Gascon on Thursday said that he has been informed by Salonga's family that the 95-year-old advocate against corruption and human rights violations already died.

Supreme Court spokesperson Attorney Theodore Te described Salonga as the “best President we never got.”

“Paalam, Ka Jovy Salonga. He was the last candidate for president that I voted for and IMO, with Ka Pepe, the best President we never got,” Te said, who was also referring to Jose W. Diokno.

According to the Supreme Court, Salonga topped the bar examinations in 1944, tied with a grade of 95.3 percent with Diokno.

Salonga also and had law degrees from the University of the Philippines (Ll.B.), Harvard University (Ll.M.) and Yale University (J.S.D.).

The SC in a statement described him as "an intellectual mentor and role model to many generations of lawyers through his courage and integrity."

Salonga also taught law and was a professor to many of the country's prominent lawyers.

The SC said it recognized his contribution to the shaping of modern jurisprudence in basic human rights and fundamental civil liberties, especially during Martial Law and after the restoration of democracy in 1986.

"His death is a great loss to the legal profession and to the country," the high court said.

Respected statesman

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago also took to Twitter to extend her condolences to Salonga's family.

READ MORE...

“We have lost a respected statesman today. My deepest sympathies to the family of former Senator Jovito Salonga,” Santiago tweeted.

In a statement, Malacañang paid tribute to Salonga and his role in the restoration of democracy in the country after years of being under the Marcos dictatorship.

He was also praised as an example of a selfless public servant.

“With heads bowed in grief and respect, we extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Senator Jovito Salonga," Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a statement.

"His passing marks the departure from this life of another of those brave, committed individuals who lit a candle during the deep darkness of the dictatorship; and who contributed to the restoration of our democratic way of life after the triumph of People Power,” he added.

Passionate advocate

As a “passionate advocate of the rule of law, of nationalism” and the country’s democratic institutions, Lacierda said Salonga was among those who have made the position of being a senator “an honorable and respectable, thing.”

“His life stands as a reproach to all those who would put personal gain ahead of public service; who would lower the standards of public discourse; and who would sacrifice human rights and the rule of law either for personal or partisan advantage,” Salonga said.

In view of the upcoming elections, Lacierda said Salonga’s passing poses a challenge to all those who seeking an elective post “to live up to a life well lived as a patriot and citizen.”

Salonga was a staunch opponent of the Marcos regime who defended political prisoners detained without charges during Martial Law.

Tough act to follow

Given his various accomplishments, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Salonga was "a tough act to follow.”

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Jovy (Salonga’s nickname) for dedicating his talents, bravery and his life’s work to the Filipino people. He is a tough act to follow and a source of pride for us,” Belmonte said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay remembered Salonga as a “pillar of the protest movement who steered the Senate during the difficult years of transition from dictatorship to democracy.”

Senator Grace Poe urged the public to relive in their deeds Salonga’s legacy about fighting for freedom.

“I will always remember his famous words: ‘We cannot and do not deserve freedom unless we are prepared to fight for it, to suffer for it and, if necessary, to die for it,’” she said.

PCGG, Kilosbayan

Following the restoration of democracy in 1986, he headed the Philippine Commission on Good Government, which was tasked with the recovery of ill-gotten wealth from the dictator and his cronies.

Salonga was subsequently elected to the Senate in 1987 and served as Senate President until 1991 before running for the presidency in 1992.

After his retirement from the government, Salonga remained active in public service through Kilosbayan, an avenue for raising the public’s awareness and participation in governance, and the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation.

He was awarded the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service. -with Mark Merueñas/NB, GMA News


INQUIRER

Aquino takes swipe at martial law, BBL critics in PMA grad
SHARES: 1648 VIEW COMMENTS By: Yuji Vincent Gonzales @YGonzalesINQ INQUIRER.net 03:47 PM March 13th, 2016

[PRESIDENT TELLS MILITARY: STAY NEUTRAL IN POLITICS]


THE SWORD. President Aquino handed this year’s presidential saber to newly-commissioned ensign Kristian Daeve Abiqui, the valedictorian of Philippine Military Academy Gabay Laya Class of 2016. The president led this year’s graduation rites at Fort del Pilar. PHOTO BY EV ESPIRITU

President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday reminded the graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) of the military’s responsibility to protect the Filipino people, secure sovereignty, and safeguard democracy, as he brought up the armed forces’ role under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

In his speech during the graduation ceremonies of PMA GABAY-LAYA Class of 2016 in Baguio, Aquino, citing the Constitution, said “civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military.”

“Gusto ko nga pong ipagdiinan ang tungkulin ng Sandatahang Lakas sa ating demokrasya, lalo pa’t ipinagdiriwang natin ang ika-30 anibersaryo ng EDSA People Power Revolution. Nangyari po sa ating kasaysayan ang isang eksperimento, kung saan minsan kayong kinasangkapan para sikilin ang demokrasya at maipatupad ang mga kapritso ng iisang pamilya,” Aquino said before 63 PMA graduates, the smallest batch since the 1960s.

The President also recalled the restoration of people’s confidence in the military under the term of his late mother and democracy icon Corazon Aquino, and boasted of military modernization projects under his own administration.

“Sa ilalim naman po ng aking ina, ibinalik ang tiwala ng mamamayan sa inyong hanay, na nangakong pagsisilbihan ang taumbayan. At sa atin sa Daang Matuwid, sama-sama nating hinubog at pinalakas ang Sandatahang Lakas upang higit ninyong magampanan ang inyong tungkulin,” he said.

READ MORE...

Less than two months before the upcoming national elections, Aquino also urged the military to stay neutral in politics to avoid “monopoly of power.”

“Tandaan lang po natin, tanging Sandatahang Lakas lang ang may puwersa, na kung makikihalo, lalo na sa pulitika, ay may tinatawag pong ‘monopoly of power.’ Tila hindi ho parehas ang usapan, kaya importanteng nasa isip natin parating neutral tayo, lalo na pagdating sa pamumulitika,” he said.

In instances when they would feel superior over everybody else and power was corrupting them, Aquino said the PMA graduates should reassess their beliefs and principles to avoid a repeat of the “dark chapters” of the country’s history.

“Kailangan din ninyong isaalang-alang: Oras na dumating kayo sa punto na para bang kayo na lang ang tama, kayo na lang ang magaling, muli ninyong suriin ang inyong paninindigan,” Aquino said.

“Mga kasama, ang mga prinsipyong ikinintal sa inyong alaala ang magpapatatag sa inyong loob sa pagtupad ninyo sa mandatong maging mga tagapagtanggol ng inyong kapwa Pilipino. Nasa inyong mga kamay kung mamamayani ang demokrasya o kung babalik tayo sa madilim na kabanata ng pang-aabuso at kawalang hustisya; kung magiging laganap ang kapayapaan sa mga komunidad na siyang hihimok sa iba na makiisa, o kung babalik tayo sa estado ng pagdududa sa isa’t isa,” he added.

Peace process

As he recognized the military’s commitment to the peace process in Mindanao, Aquino took a swipe at two senators who vehemently blocked the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which was aimed at creating a new Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, without offering an alternative.

“Alam po natin ang kasabihang ‘Ang kasundaluhan ang huling magnanais na magkaroon ng kaguluhan.’ Sila nga ang unang sasabak sa hidwaan, sila ang unang magsasakripisyo, at sila ang unang malalagay sa peligro. Nariyan po ang panukalang Bangsamoro Basic Law, kasama na ang Framework Agreement at Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Ang hangad natin: Maghatid ng katarungan, kapayapaan, at kaunlaran sa Bangsamoro,” Aquino said.

“Ang masakit po, may dalawang miyembro ng Senado na tahasang hinarang ang BBL. Dito ko naalala yung sinasabi ng nakakatanda: Sige, malinawag na ayaw mo, ano naman ang gusto mo? Ang dalawang miyembrong ito ng Senado, naiwan na lang sa ‘ayaw’ nang walang nilalatag na mas mainam na solusyon. Kayo na nga po ang humusga kung sino sa amin ang nagkulang at kung sino naman ang tumotoo sa inyo,” he added.

The Congress failed to pass the BBL, a key component of the peace pact inked by the Aquino administration with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, when it adjourned in February.

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RELATED FROM MALAYA By Benjamin Diokno

PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING FALLS, EVEN AS INTEREST RATES HIT ROCK BOTTOM By BENJAMIN DIOKNO March 14, 2016

The overall state of public infrastructure in the Philippines is dismal. The World Bank and the World Economic Forum ranked the Philippines as the worst among Asean-5 economies in terms of overall state of public infrastructure – road network, airports, seaports, railroads, telecommunications, power, and others.

Among 144 economies, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked the Philippines 95th in terms of overall infrastructure. Singapore was ranked 5th, Malaysia 20th, Indonesia 72nd and Thailand 76th.

The Philippines’ airports are horrendous. In terms of the quality of air transport infrastructure, the Philippines ranked 108th, Singapore ranked first, Malaysia ranked 19th, Thailand 37th and Indonesia 108th.

What happened?

It’s a truism that it is not possible to produce something out of nothing. And it’s a fact that all post-EDSA 1 presidents, including the incumbent, have underinvested in public infrastructure.

From the first Aquino administration to the second Aquino administration, the country invested, on average, 2.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for ‘public infrastructure and other capital outlays (OCO)’.

The term ‘public infrastructure and other capital outlays’ overstates slightly the level of infrastructure spending as percent of GDP. This expanded category of expenditures includes other items such as motor vehicles (for civilian, military and police) , military aircraft and naval ships, fire trucks, office buildings and equipment as so on. Strictly speaking, public infrastructure expenditures are those that increase the capacity of the economy to grow.

But certainly the impact on the economy of higher spending for military hardware (aircraft or naval ship) is different from say constructing a new line of urban railway system or new airport. The impact on the economy of a mammoth government building is different from constructing better ports that would connect the country’s more than 7,000 islands.

First Aquino administration

In the first Aquino administration, public infrastructure as percent of GDP was only 2.2 percent. But public infrastructure spending was constrained at that time. Tax effort, defined as taxes as percent of GDP, was low during the first half of Mrs. Aquino’s term. At that time, the1986 tax reform program has yet to generate more resources.

The focus of the first Aquino regime was fiscal stability since more than half of the national budget goes to servicing the huge inherited public debt. This was exacerbated by the high costs of financing the budget: foreign and domestic costs of borrowing money to finance public infrastructure were extremely high.

Fast forward: the performance of the second Aquino administration was a major disappointment. The low infrastructure spending of his predecessors has made the substandard state of public infrastructure a major binding constraint for future fast, sustainable growth.

Worse, President Aquino III failed to move forward whatever plan he has to make up for past neglect at a time when global and domestic interest rates were at rock-bottom levels.

The London interbank (LIBOR) rate averaged 0.5 percent from 2011-14, compared to 7.1 percent during the first Aquino term; the 364-day Treasury bill rate averaged 1.7 percent from 2011-2014, compared to 18.8 percent during the first Aquino term.

With foreign and domestic interest rates so low, and with low public debt-to-GDP ratio, financing socially worthwhile public infrastructure projects is a no-brainer. Mr. Aquino failed to tap cheap loans to finance the government’s infrastructure program. What a major missed opportunity!

Mr. Aquino’s flagship program -- the public-private partnership (PPP) -- is a major failure. Only three of some 50 PPP projects are likely to be completed before he exits from Malacañang, and these three projects are the least costly of all identified PPP projects.

Why didn’t Mr. Aquino move forward relentlessly to elevate the Philippine state of infrastructure at a competitive level?

Is it the poor absorptive capacity of the bureaucracy?

Is it Mr. Aquino’s incompetent Cabinet men and women?

Is it the fear of making mistakes that would lead them to ending behind bars, or expensive legal cases, after the end of Mr. Aquino’s term?

Is it poor budgeting practice which involves putting in the President’s annual budget projects that are not ready yet for implementation (President Ramos calls these projects with no completed staff work (CSW)?

Or, is it all of the above?

There are many lessons to be learned from the errors and bumbling of the present administration. But I’ll have more on these next time.

***

Benjamin Diokno is a former secretary of Budget and Management. Benjamin Diokno is a former secretary of Budget and Management. Category: Opinion Of The Day Rating: Cancel rating Give it 1/5 Give it 2/5 Give it 3/5 Give it 4/5 Give it 5/5 No votes yet

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