The folly of Comelec’s ‘full automation’ bid

Poll officials, and ironically to some extent some lawmakers, are peddling a bad joke. They are currently in chorus in rejecting the hybrid system as proposed by independent groups to push for “full poll automation” in 2016, which is in their universe the use of old precint count optical scan (PCOS) machines from foreign supplier Smartmatic.

One wonders if their memory is too short to remember that the 2010 and 2013 eections were not actually fully automated with the use of PCOS machines. Or maybe, they are dangerously sticking to a wrong idea of “full automation.”

Last week, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced that they are rejecting the hybrid system of manual balloting and partial automation in favor of full automation. The proposal for hybrid system, which was pitched by independent IT professionals, was described by the new Comelec chair Andres Bautista as costly and slow, adding that the poll body will now just have two options: either to refurbish the old 80,000 counting machines and lease additional 23,000 units, or lease all voting machines.

PCOS isn’t full automation

Before I explain how ridiculously costly Comelec’s two options are, it should be clarified first that Smartmatic’s voting system is not full automation but partial automation being an example of optical mark reader (OMR) technology. If it really was full automation, then voters would not have to manually shade the ballots to indicate their electoral preference. Full automation, in the real and exact sense, is a system wherein voters directly input their votes to the machines, such as a direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine which uses touch screen. Comelec chair Bautista should review this distinction before making a misguided prescription for the upcoming elections.

In rooting for PCOS “full automation” and rejecting the hybrid system, Bautista even claimed that opting for a hybrid electoral system would be against the law. Yet Republic Act 9369 or the poll automation law does not actually specify the use of full automation. What RA 9369 prescribes is the use of the “most suitable technology of demonstrated capability taking into account the situation prevailing in the area and the funds available for the purpose,” as it distinguishes paper-based technology from DRE voting technology.

As I have emphasized in my past articles, it was Smartmatic’s technology that violated the minimum system capabilities specified in the law (by the way, RA 9369 still has no implementing rules and regulations up to now).  Let me again point out some of the minimum technical requirements set in the law (Section 7) which Smartmatic failed to comply with:

  1. Provide the voter a system of verification to find out whether or not the machine has registered his choice – the PCOS machine simply greets voters with a silly “congratulations” message after the ballot was fed to the machine without offering any option for voter verification
  2. System integrity which ensures physical stability – In the 2010 and 2013 elections, several PCOS machines conked out and broke down even under stable non-catastrophic environment
  3. Accurate ballot counters – a technical team of experts from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) discovered the presence of vertical lines in the scanned images of ballots, potentially affecting the accuracy of the votes counted.

Poll watchdogs including the Automated Election System (AES) Watch have repeatedly rejected the PCOS technology given such errors, yet poll officials seem to be stuck with their penchant for Smartmatic’s voting machines.

Lease, sell, repair, repeat

That unwavering penchant for PCOS machines by Comelec came at a very steep price that was shouldered, and will be shouldered again, by Filipinos via taxes.

Let it be not forgotten that for the 2010 national elections, the government paid Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) consortium P7.19 billion for the lease and delivery of PCOS machines (P3 billion for the delivery alone of the counting machines nationwide), and the canvassing system as well. In 2012, the Comelec signed a P1.8 billion contract with Smartmatic to purchase and reuse the PCOS machines for the 2013 midterm elections despite the machines’ glitches.

In December 2014, Smartmatic bagged the P268-million contract to refurbish and repair the old erroneous 80,000 PCOS machines which were cramped in a shady warehouse in Laguna. Thankfully, the Supreme Court voided the contract and ordered the return of the taxpayers’ money. Yet more recently, the Comelec awarded the P1.72 billion contract to Smartmatic for the lease of additional 23,000 PCOS machines to be used for next year’s elections.

All in all, the Comelec-Smartmatic partnership has cost us Filipinos a whopping P10.71 billion (excluding the voided repair contract) since 2009 through the lease, sale and lease again of PCOS machines that have been demonstrated technical glitches over and over again. Such huge amount could have been used for the development of a Filipino and publicly owned voting system that is compliant with the requirements set forth in the law. That way, the government would not need to rely on suppliers third party providers

Hasn’t the Comelec gotten Smartmatic’s lease-sell-repair ploy even up to now? Or is it deliberately playing hostage to a foreign supplier’s corporate interest at the expense of ordinary people and at the cost of free and fair electoral exercise? Come 2016, Smartmatic executives will emerge yet again as the true victors of an election that has become ridiculously lucrative under the control of the foreign private entity.


Of Velosos and ‘firing squad’ journalism

First published on Blogwatch

Errors in reportage are so common nowadays as speed and news saleability become the metrics of the news business. Most of these errors could be easy bygones because there is always a more recent and more hilarious one. But the recent series of ethical lapses by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) on the Mary Jane Veloso issue is too brazen to be ignored, precisely because it victimized the victim on several counts and brought Philippine journalism to a new low. And unlike other newsroom blunders, PDI’s lapses are nothing close to being hilarious.

On April 29, the PDI ran a dramatic but erroneous banner “Death came before dawn”, referring to Filipino migrant worker Mary Jane Veloso who was scheduled for execution on the night of April 28. At the last minute though, Veloso got a last-minute reprieve from execution in Indonesia. PDI apparently “killed” Veloso as it put the paper to bed even as came up with a story titled “Veloso execution stopped” with time stamp at 1:43 a.m. Among major broadsheets, it was only PDI which got the story wrong, although the Center for Media Freedom for Responsibility (CMFR) noted that other papers similarly used appeal to emotions for their heads during that day.

PDI issued a statement on its erroneous headline, saying it regrets the “aggravation this may have caused Mary Jane Veloso’s family.”

But the morning after Labor Day, the PDI published a story that carried a malicious and loaded headline that belittles the Veloso family: “Militants use Velosos in labor protest rallies.” The title clearly was an insult not just to progressive groups but to the Veloso family, which was insinuated as to allowing itself to be used by militant groups for propaganda purposes. Whether intentional or not, the effect of the title was that it reduced the issue of workers (low wages, contractualization) and of Veloso in particular into a mere propaganda stunt – despite being real issues. On the contrary, the head appealed to the taste of anti-“extreme Left” (as they would put it) middle class who would use any opportunity to discredit the militants. A reading of the body however will show that the bias in the title was not substantiated. In fact, the story quoted leaders of progressive groups linking the issues of migration and local jobs crisis.

By some sort of editorial prerogative, the title-story disconnect was made publishable, defying even one of the most basic rules in journalism.

PDI’s most recent journalistic lapse was far more tasteless and disgusting, to say the least. It published a story titled “Netizens: #Firing squad for Celia Veloso”, referring to the mother of Mary Jane who castigated the government’s inaction on the case during the Labor Day rally. The story framed Nanay Celia in the crosshairs of Twitter hate speech (that included “Pakshet”), with the addition of a Guyito cartoon to play up the loaded angle. But most of the “netizens” quoted in the story are actually non-existent (checked as of May 4, evening) if not with questionable online identities. Apparently the currently non-existent Twitter accounts were bots (presumably backed up by a well-oiled vested interest) which were programmed to make #FiringsquadforCeliaVeloso as trending topic.

Committing an ethical lapse and blindly falling into the “netizen trap” is one thing. But to incite archaic violence and fan animosity against an aggrieved party – which in this case is a poor mother of a migrant worker – is a far more serious offense that no media organization should go away with, in the same way that no perpetrator of journalist killings should go scot-free regardless of the victim’s reportage. PDI should be sensitive enough to discern that the Veloso case and the averse reactions of questionable netizens should not be dealt like a usual story on trending celebrities, politicians and mundane expressions. Nanay Celia and the Veloso family demand far more sensitivity and ethical considerations from the media, as they have had enough of pain and misery during the past five years and having no similar clout and means to air their reply as that of a politician or a celebrity. To put them in further aggravation with one-sided and unprofessional reportage constitutes the height of insensitivity.

By several indications, the ethical lapses fall squarely on the shoulders of the gatekeepers, the editors, who apparently applied their biases in the headlines with journalistic hubris. These editors have engaged in “firing squad” journalism versus the Velosos, putting the aggrieved party on the hot seat in the way that subjects them to public condemnation. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, they actually served to create dissonance in public opinion over the Mary Jane Veloso instead of helping the people fully grasp the issue. Those in power who have demonstrated criminal neglect of Mary Jane Veloso over the past five years are the only ones benefitting from kind of character assassination against the Velosos. At a certain point, discussions are shifting from tracing government’s accountability to defining Veloso’s relations with the Left which is actually irrelevant to the rigor by which #SaveMaryJaneVeloso should be pursued. It should be made clear yet again that Veloso is a victim.

The consequence of the Veloso bashing, which was partly fuelled by the mainstream media, is that the issue of forced migration, state neglect of migrant workers, and death penalty have been downsized into a purely personal frame of ungratefulness to the President. This is certainly not the kind of trajectory which everyone across the globe and across the social strata who supported #SaveMaryJaneVeloso yearned for.

Pens vs pork: People’s Initiative puts dead end to Aquino’s ‘Daang Matuwid’ show

First published on Blogwatch

Tens of thousands returned to Luneta Park today to kick off the Luzon leg of the petition for a People’s Initiative bill to abolish the pork barrel system, a year after the mammoth “Million People March” demonstration against widespread corruption in government.

Today’s gathering brings to the fore two main positives for the country’s history: One, Filipino voters transcend their token role as mere source of votes for politicos in the electoral exercise, in a bid to finally end the abuse and misuse of public funds. Two, the Filipino people are taking the anti-corruption drive literally into their hands, which is by far the strongest telltale sign that President Aquino’s sham “Daang Matuwid” show has ended.

The former marks a milestone as regards the electorate’s political maturity while the latter signifies the ruling class’s immaturity in running their business of deceptive politics, believing that empty slogans will still do the trick. But of course Palace spokespersons would be quick to place credit on the President for this growing political movement to end and criminalize pork. They would say the people were inspired by Aquino’s resolve to stamp out corruption in government.

In truth, the people were disillusioned by Aquino’s farcical anti-corruption campaign.  A growing number of Filipinos from the left to the right, south to north, are now rising up, kicking off the long haul to kill pork in all its permutations.

At the center of today’s protests is the petition proposing the enactment of an anti-pork bill that not only bans lump sum funds but also criminalizes the budget schemes. This is premised on the fact that the Chief Executive in collaboration with lawmakers has retained discretionary funds in the 2014 national budget, as the audio recording by ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio of “executive sessions” reveals. Based on the discussions between some agency officials and lawmakers, the latter will still have discretion over the lump sum funds that were realigned to different departments.

In short, pork barrel is still alive and “oinking” despite Supreme Court rulings declaring Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional. This comes as no surprise since the President has remained staunch in his assertion that discretionary funds should be maintained in any national budget.

As if to blunt the impact of the explosive disclosure on the state of “hidden pork” in the budget, President Aquino then began entertaining the thought of term extension and Charter change. But instead of dissuading the public from joining today’s protests, it appears that the contrary resulted. Aquino’s talk of term extension has galvanized the unity of the anti-pork coalition and has attracted to the fold more disillusioned camps and individuals.

Groups behind the People’s Initiative target at least 10 million signatures, or nearly twice the compliance rate of 6 million signatures for the the bill to be considered for approval. Once the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has verified at least 6 million signatures and the referendum successfully conducted, the initiative cannot be vetoed even by the President.

With the People’s Initiative to drive a stake through the heart of the pork barrel system now in full swing, no future Philippine president can lay claim to another anti-corruption rhetoric. Future presidential aspirants would have to invent modern formulations of anti-poverty themes that are disjointed from corruption – that is IF there would be elections as presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda spilled out.

An alternative way to frame the prospects of the 2016 elections would be like this: Assuming that the People’s Initiative will be successful in ridding all forms of pork, will politicos still run for public office? There would be probably be a different “no-el,” but of course the country’s elites will fight tooth and nail to retain the lifelines of graft and plunder in the bureaucracy. Without pork, politicians’ lives in our country would be very boring. They would have no money to splurge for their mansions and mistresses, and no “incentive” to keep patronage transactions well-oiled. It would be the end of Philippine politics, as we know it.

Such ramifications of pork’s demise for ruling families present the reasons why the People’s Initiative will face a very rough sailing and why it requires the broadest support possible. President Aquino is expected to mobilize all institutions albeit cunningly to avert this initiative, with political Charter change as the ace up in his sleeve. Extending his term would buy himself time to maneuver against the anti-pork crusade, aside from sparing himself from potential suits. But then it would also be too politically costly for the ruling clique.

The final war to end patronage politics and corruption has just begun. The lines have been drawn, with Noynoy and his allies and apologists on the wrong side of history.

Napolist of bureaucrat capitalists

first published on

And so the controversial Napoles’ list or “Napolist” is out, at least the conflicting versions of former senator Panfilo Lacson and pork scam whistleblower Benhur Luy.

Did we hear the legislative branch crash to the ground as warned by the rehabilitation czar? There was confusion, but there was certainly no collapse – at least for now.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives was even busy at work rushing the approval of Charter change (Cha-cha) at the plenary on Wednesday as the public grapples with the long list of names in the Napolist. On the sides, Lacson and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago (who was not actually in Lacson’s list) were trading unsavory sound bytes for the press, creating the added distraction. With the Napolist confusion and frenzy in place, the neoliberal lawmakers are revealing more of what they really are: they are not just corrupt, they are “bureaucrat capitalists” at heart using public offices to secure their economic interest and that of foreign businesses, to borrow a term from national democratic activists.

At the precise time when their oath to serve the interest of the Filipino people is being tested, these lawmakers even chose to advance the agenda of foreign business lobbyists frequenting the halls of Congress. They chose to play deaf to the renewed spike in public dissent over the pork barrel scam. They instead danced to their favorite Cha-cha tune while the pork scam storm rages outside, in a fitting affirmation of their devout belief that foreign investments will solve the country’s problems.

The chambers of landlords and local businessmen, which we wish had collapsed as soon as the lists were out, are engineering a different collapse under Cha-cha. It is not the kind that will cut short their political careers but the broader, much wicked type that will see the local economy crash and burn and thousands of workers thrown into joblessness.

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Why job prospects for 2014 graduates remain dim despite growth

First published at The Philippine Online Chronicles

jobless growth

Another batch of over 500,000 college graduates will soon leave the halls of their academic institutions, eager to enter the dynamic world of work. But with Philippine unemployment rate rising to a nine-month high at 7.5 percent in January, will they have good chances of landing a job?

Getting a diploma is no assurance of getting employed immediately as the latest jobs data reveal that one-fifth (19.8 percent) of jobless Filipinos were college graduates, while 34 percent were high school graduates.

The latest jobless rate, which is an increase from last year’s 7.1 percent, could be even higher as the January labor force survey did not cover the provinces in Eastern Visayas that were heavily devastated by super typhoon Yolanda.

Jobless growth

The unemployment picture does not coincide with the Philippine economy’s strong performance, which is currently next only to China’s sustained growth. Last year, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) surpassed projections as it grew by 7.2 percent.

Such jobless growth has baffled even President Benigno Aquino III, who pressed his Cabinet on the results on the action plan for poverty reduction. But a closer look at foreign capital flows may provide a hint why robust economic growth rates did not translate to more jobs for Filipinos.

Aside from overseas remittances, private capital flows are providing the added buoy to the Philippine economy, albeit on a temporary basis. Private capital flows include foreign direct investments (FDIs) and portfolio investments or hot money. Between the two, FDI has the potential to create jobs as portfolios are as good as fictitious capital.

Last year hot money inflows, which include stock market shares and bonds grew by 8 percent to $4 billion, the highest since 1999. This large amount money never crossed to the real economy, say for example to finance the construction of new factories or offices, as portfolio investors are interested in generating returns in the shortest time possible. On the other hand, FDI surged to 20 percent to $3.86 billion in 2013. More than half of this FDI went to debt instruments, meaning parent companies mainly lent to their local subsidiaries either to finance existing operations or for expansion.

Folly of FDI

But FDIs do not necessarily lead to job generation based on the Philippines’ experience. Think-tank Ibon Foundation noted that the cumulative FDI stock has doubled from US$10 billion in 1995 to $19 billion in 2007, yet the unemployment levels hardly changed.

“FDI supposedly goes towards building a strong productive economic base. However, there is nothing to indicate that all that FDI has contributed to creating a strong domestic economy able to create jobs on a sustainable basis. On the contrary, the number of jobless Filipinos has continued to rise, and the 2001-2008 period is already the worst eight-year period of recorded unemployment in the country’s history,” IBON Foundation said.

Such data on jobs and FDI dispute claims by those staunchly pushing Charter change (Cha-cha) which seeks to lift constitutional limits on foreign ownership.

FDI, if channeled to productive sectors, are also mostly going to manufacturing, transport and storage within special economic zones outside Metro Manila where wages are very low and where working conditions are dismal. Continue reading

Questions from A Worker Who Reads

While checking our library for old issues of Datos (Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research’s magazine), I stumbled into a 1991 issue containing messages of solidarity for EILER’s 10th anniversary. One of the messages was from a journalist named Karl Rossel based in Cologne, Germany. Rossel, a member of journalists’ collective Rheiniches Journalisten Buro, included some parts of Bertolt Bretcht’s beautiful poem “Questions of a Well-Read Worker” in his message to illustrate how the ruling class obliterates the role which workers and the masses played in the progress of empires and societies.

Who built the ancient city of Theben with its seven gates?

The books only mention the names of kings.

But did the kings carry along all the stones?

Where – in the golden city of Lima  – were the houses of craftsmen?

On the evening, when the Chinese wall was finished, where did the bricklayers go?


When Alexander conquered India, was he alone?…

Did he not even take a cook with him?

Philipp of Spain weeped, when his fleet was gone down?

Did nobody else cry?…

Every few years another famous man.

Who paid the costs?

So many reports

So many questions.”

Rossel said “people of EILER and the workers – well-read or not – ask questions like this,” adding that Filipino workers could have framed the questions in this way:

When the coconut and sugar plantation of landlords were built,

were there no Philippine peasants around?

When Mac Arthur “liberated” Manila in 1945, did no Filipino help him?

When Aquino talked about people’s power,

did she stop the military at Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo by herself?

How — in the  city where Malacanang Palace stands — do the workers live

and where are the houses of those who cannot even find work?

Every few years another president.

But who pays the costs?

So many reports.

So many questions.

How Brecht’s poem was localized by Rossel could not be any more better. Indeed, the role of the people in history’s progression is consistently stricken off from the books, to give more space for the exaggerated heroism of a select few. Such is the myopic and bourgeois perspective of history that looks at individuals rather than on throngs of people turning the wheels of change.

This is the same lopsided historical perspective which the Aquino government – and all other previous regimes – is guilty of. 

Every few years another president, another episode of deception, corruption, and economic sabotage. The people pays the costs. 


A glimpse of the Bonifacio@150 exhibit at CCP

boni150 launch

Last Wednesday, an exhibition of 15 artworks portraying Andres Bonifacio and his nationalist ideals was launched at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as part of the commemoration of Bonifacio’s 150th birthday this coming November 30.

The “Andres Bonifacio@150” exhibit was made possible through the collaboration of collaboration of the CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Interestingly, the collaboration pulled together a diverse set of artists – from abstract expressionists to social realists – to highlight Bonifacio’s heroism and his legacy of fiery struggle for national liberation and democracy.

Multi-awarded visual artist Leonilo Doloricon contributed a monochrome painting titled “Rebolusyon at Bayan,” which features a rendition of the Bonifacio monument in Caloocan City over Filipinos in prominently battle cry chorus.


Contemporary artist Nikki Luna, meanwhile, came up with a neon-lighted installation art of Bonifacio’s face. Critics however noted that the sun rays used were that of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s Magdalo group and not of Supremo’s Magdiwang group.

nikki luna_boni copy

In this intriguing paper cut-out titled “Masked,” the artist creatively portrays the captured Filipino insurgents with their heads covered in bayong.

masked boni_copy

Other artists who shared their gift for the Bonifacio@!50 collaboration are Ramon “Chito” Zapata, Con Cabrera, Buen Calubayan, Vermont Coronel, Antipas Delotavo, Caloy Gernale, Badz Magsumbol, Iggy Rodriguez, Jose Tence Ruiz, Pablo Baen Santos, Dea Solis, Manolo Sicat and the Ugatlahi Artists Collective.

“Andres Bonifacio@150” is open to the public at the Pasilyo Carlos V. Francisco (Little Theater Lobby) of the CCP from October to December 3.