MAX  SOLIVEN:  FIRST,  WE'VE  GOT  TO  CLEAN  UP  COMELEC

MANILA, June 28, 2005
 
(STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - The President has finally admitted she spoke on her phone to a Comelec Commissioner, and regretted it as "a lapse in judgement."

But let me say, once more, that Iím appalled that two grown men, and intelligent ones at that, are eagerly calling for a "snap election" to choose a new President.

Former Education secretary and ex-Senator Raul Roco continues, it seems, to insist that a "snap election" is the answer to the current crisis. He adds the argument that it would be perfectly constitutional IF President Macapagal-Arroyo and Vice-President Noli de Castro "resigned".

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. was quoted, too, as opining that the holding of an immediate vote was a "workable and acceptable alternative." Are those two gentlemen kidding?

To begin with, what gives Roco the idea that GMA might resign, much less Noli Magandang Gabi Bayan? In his dreams.

Could GMA be "evicted"? Yesterday, lawyer Oliver Lozano filed a seven-paragraph "impeachment" complaint with the House of Representatives, but it still hasnít mustered any Congressional backing. Could an impeachment move prosper? As of the moment, the opposition has neither the numbers nor any like-minded allies in the legislature.

Could GMA be topped by another EDSA "People Power" upheaval? Where are the street mobs and demonstrations? Two contemplated marches have already fizzled out, and the torrential afternoon rains have come, dampening any demonstration plans in the near future.

But letís say, for the sake of argument (though itís not likely), both GMA and Noli get ousted, who would conduct these "snap election"? The same discredited Commission on Elections which conducted and tallied the ballots in the last one?

If the results of the May 2004 elections are now under serious question, how could the same Comelec be trusted to undertake the "snap" one?

Raulís proposal is full of holes. Even if he voluntarily disqualified himself from running for President in any snap election (he lost in the last one), his idea isnít feasible.

* * *

In a previous column, I referred to the Supreme Court having indicted the Comelec officials in the severest terms in that poll bodyís history.

Hereís why.

In case you havenít noticed, retired Comelec Commissioner Luzviminda Tancangco, who President Joseph Estrada had appointed to the poll body, has been charged by the Office of the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan for having approved the Voters Registration and Identification System (VRIS) project at a cost of P6.2 billion when only P1.2 billion had been allocated for the project.

However, the wheels of justice move slowly in this land. it can be expected that if there is a conviction in this case by the anti-graft court, the judgement may not be handed down in less than five years, taking into account any appeals to the Supreme Court and interlocutory orders and motions for reconsideration.

When one contemplates how long it took for the Office of the Ombudsman to put together a case against Tancangco, you can imagine how long it will take to prosecute those responsible for the "horrendously overpriced" Ė the Supreme Courtís own words Ė automated counting machines (ACMs).

The High Courtís resolution penned by Justice Artemio Panganiban denying the Comelecís motion to use those rejected ACMs for the elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) next August 8, 2005, states that 1,991 ACMs were overpriced by about P162,000 per unit. It was also stated in the resolution that not only Value Added Tax (VAT) and import duties amounting to P194.60 million were included in Mega Pacificís bid price whereas Section 8 of Republic Act 8436 exempts such equipment from the above-mentioned taxes and duties, but the Comelec further "allowed Mega Pacific to peg the ACM price using an exchange rate of P58 to $1 instead of P52 to $1, which further inflated Mega Pacificís windfall." (At the time the contract was signed, in short, the exchange rate was only P53 to one US dollar. At present, it is still below P56 to the dollar).

One of the five grounds under Section 2 of Art. XI of the Constitution for the "impeachment" of impeachable public officials (like commissioners of the Comelec) is graft and corruption.

A complaint-affidavit, dated September 14, 2004, was filed by former Senate President Jovito Salongaís Kilosbayan and former Ambassador Sedfrey OrdoŮezís Bantay Katarungan against the leading Comelec officials. The complaint-affidavit filed with the Office of the Ombudsman alleged violations of R.A. 7030 (the Anti-Plunder Law), R.A. 3019 as amended (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices) and R.A. 6713 (The Code of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees). The allegations, it must be observed, are documented.

If prosecutors in the Ombudsmanís office are still studying the complaints and discussing the legal feasibility of criminally indicting the culprits in the poll body because they are still public officials, the next step could be a motion for their "impeachment".

And these are the same officials on whom Raul Roco and Nene Pimentel would be relying if they pursued their idea of a "snap" election! Wouldnít the snap poll then be in danger of becoming a "horrendous" scam, too? In sum, with a criminal complaint pending in the Office of the Ombudsman, how could any actions of our Comelec officials be credible Ė particularly in "choosing" a new President? The bottom line is: We cannot hope to hold credible elections in this country unless we purge and reform our Commission on Elections. This isnít a democracy. Itís an adhocracy.

* * *

Immediately after the flag-raising and awards ceremony in Camp Crame yesterday morning, Philippine National Police Director General Arturo C. Lomibao flew straight to Davao City, then went by car to the scene of the latest raid by elements of the New Peopleís Army to personally investigate what happened.

I checked with him as soon as he returned last night from his whirlwind sortie to Magpet, North Cotabato. Since the investigation is still ongoing, I wonít prejudge the matter Ė but hereís what happened in that disgraceful incident.

Last Sunday, June 26, about 5:45 p.m., three L-300 vans with armed men aboard (wearing Army camouflage uniforms) pulled up in front of the police station in Magpet. The three policemen outside the station were shown a "prisoner" in handcuffs, ostensibly being "turned over" by the military to them (the police). By the time any of them noticed anything fishy, they had been "surrounded" (by their testimony) by the armed men who had counted on the element of surprise.

The 36 raiders rushed into the station and, according to the version of the cops inside (three more in the radio room, and three in the main outpost), took them also "by surprise". Susmariosep. None of the nine policemen on duty put up even the semblance of a fight.

The NPA raiders who seemed to know exactly where to find the weapons inside the outpost, broke into the lockers containing them, and carted off 28 firearms Ė seven M16s, two M-14s, five M1 Garand rifles, two 9mm pistols, five caliber .45 pistols and seven caliber 38 revolvers! Then they waltzed off, leaving the nine policemen behind Ė unharmed.

By golly, they got away with enough artillery to arm an entire NPA squadron. Of course it was a serious loss to our PNP in which 12 percent of its 115,000 member contingent donít even have adequate firearms. Worst of all is the PNPís loss of face Ė and loss of morale.

Aside from the Integrated National Police (INP), the PNP is the offspring of a unit which, before it degenerated, was our nationís proudest domestic guardian, the Philippine Constabulary. The old PC was so superbly trained, disciplined, well-officered and valiant in every challenging situation, that it lived up to its motto: Always Outnumbered, Never Outfought.

In the case of Magpet, not one of them fought. Not a shot was fired in resistance or anger. Taken by surprise, indeed. Gee whiz. The police chief, a captain, was out "on a mission". Perhaps it was a legitimate mission, but when I asked General Lomibao last night, he replied that he still hadnít gotten a report on what the mission was.

I must say that Lomibao took a personal risk by going to Magpet from Davao by land. I suggest that he be more careful. Itís a classic guerrilla tactic to ambush reinforcements rushing to the scene of an incident or firefight, or, more significantly, a ranking general enroute to investigate. Lomibao, in his desire to be a hands-on police commander, has established the unsafe pattern of rushing to any scene immediately. As for the policemen at Magpet (the full complement assigned there is 30), why they didnít resist has to be fully investigated.

Already a blow has been struck against police morale everywhere.

* * *

When Quezon City Mayor S.B. (Sonny Belmonte) Ė although heís younger than me Ė was the senior police reporter of The Manila Chronicle and I was a cub reporter under him, we used to spend much of our time at the Police headquarters on Isaac Peral (now United Nations Avenue). What impressed me as a young police reporter was the engraved stone plaque which still stands there. It proclaimed: "Go tell everyone, every passerby, that in this little world men knew how to die." (I rely on faulty memory, so please forgive me if a phrase goes astray). After that preface were listed the names of the brave policemen who had fought and died in the line of duty.

How sad things are today. Nobody, even remembers from where the above quotation was cadged. The admonition is still writ on stone in Thermophylae, in Greece, where 300 Spartans under Leonides died defending that pass against an invasion horde of thousands of Persians. "Go tell the Spartans, o ye passersby, that here in obedience to their commander we lie."


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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