Ex-poll exec blames Brillantes for mess

Aries C. Rufo

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The 2013 polls was both messy and costly, claims Augusto Lagman. Comelec could have done better if it heeded his suggestions, he says.

MANILA, Philippines – It was a costly and a messy exercise that could have been avoided in the first place. And with the snafu that littered the conduct of the 2013 midterm polls, poll chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr has only himself to blame.

This is what former poll commissioner Augusto Lagman said in a scathing open letter that circulated on Wednesday, May 22. He issued it after Brillantes slammed him for his constant criticism of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in an early morning television program.

Lagman was part of the Comelec from April 2011 to 2012. President Benigno Aquino III did not reappoint him after he was bypassed by the Commission on Appointments.

In his letter, Lagman said Brillantes ignored his recommendations on how to implement the automated elections, and should take full responsibility for the mess, instead of silencing his critics.

Lagman said he recommended that they bid out the project management of the automated polls. A unit that would oversee the implementation of the automated elections was necessary because of the Comelec’s lack of IT-preparedness, he said.

“Comelec did not have enough people to properly implement the automated polls,” Lagman said in a phone interview.

Out of the loop

The Project Management Group was necessary, Lagman argued, considering the move of the Comelec to assume  some of the automation election projects.

In the 2010 national polls, most of the election preparations – from the ballot printing, deployment of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and compact flash (CF) cards, counting, transmission and canvassing of of results – were shouldered by Smartmatic, the winning supplier of the PCOS machines.

“I also suggested that Project Management be bid out to Filipino Systems Integrators so there would be check and balance in the implementation of the project. I added that Smartmatic should not participate in that bidding as they were the major contractor. Logically, Project Management should have been the first to be bid out. This didn’t happen. In fact, this didn’t happen at all! So effectively, it was just Comelec and, to a large extent, Smartmatic that ran the election project. Imagine, a foreign group practically running Philippine elections – almost a repeat of the 2010 experience,” Lagman said in his letter.

Despite having a background on information technology,  Lagman lamented that he was not tapped to help in the automation project and was out of the loop in dealings with Smartmatic. “Except for two meetings at the Comelec when Smartmatic was trying to collect some money, I was never part of any PCOS discussion between Smartmatic and Comelec. It would usually be Chairman Brillantes himself and Executive Director [Jose] Tolentino. I was therefore not privy to the details of agreed-upon transactions and special deals, if any. I would only find out about some of these meetings when they were brought up during en banc meetings.”

Costly exercise

Lagman, who is now with the watchdog National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections, said Brillantes also shot down his proposal on the Consolidation and Canvassing System which could have saved millions of pesos in public funds.

“I also caused the successful development by Comelec’s IT Department of the Consolidation and Canvassing System (CCS) at the minimal cost of P600,000. An earlier version, which was bought from the vendor, Smartmatic, and used during the 2008 Automated ARMM Election and the 2010 Automated National Elections, cost us P58 million.

“But here’s the thing: Chairman Brillantes did not want to use it, using the lamest of reasons – that the law requires that the technology must have been tried successfully in a previous election. He did not understand that it employs the ‘PC/server technology,’ which is an old and very common technology. It’s also the same ‘system’ that was used during the 2008 and 2010 elections; only the computer programs were new. He also did not understand that the enhanced version of Smartmatic’s CCS used in the 2013 elections falls under the same category as the COMELEC-developed CCS. Both use new programs,” Lagman wrote.

The Comelec has exercised the option to purchase the more than 80,0000 PCOS machines that were used in the 2010 national polls to the tune of P1.2 billion. Included in the purchase contract is the CCS, at no cost to the Comelec.

The only good guy?

Interviewed by Comelec reporters, Brillantes dismissed Lagman’s tirades, insisting that he was not helpful when he was poll commissioner. “He did not contribute anything. He prepared the CCS, which we did not use. He used the funds of the commission to prepare the CCS, we did not use it.”

Lagman issued his open letter to Brillantes, saying he was already fed up with the poll chief’s constant reference that he “did nothing” when he was in Comelec.

He also scored Brillantes for allegedly hinting that he was pushing for manual elections because he would supposedly financially benefit from it.

On the contrary, Lagman said, he was not after getting his hands on money at the Comelec. Lagman said he’s the only commissioner who returned some P1.25 million in intelligence funds, which was given to him during his tenure at Comelec. Intelligence funds are not subject to the usual auditing rules for liquidation.

He said that when a staffer at the Comelec finance unit asked him to sign a document which would show he had liquidated the intelligence fund,  he opted to issue a check to return the money, which he deposited in a bank.

“Two days later, Chairman Brillantes sent me a text message asking me why I returned the money. I said I didn’t know what to do with it and besides the money was just sleeping in the bank. I also said I had no intention of making anything big out of it,” Lagman said.

Brillantes said Lagman should be careful about making sweeping statements that portray himself as the only good guy at the poll body.

“How would he know that he’s the only one who returned it? That is not true. He does not know what he’s talking about…. If he’s trying to claim na siya lang ang mabait dito, talaga namang hindi ko maintindihan. Humahanap lang siya ng gulo… Ang pinag-uusapan, trabaho. Ngayon, pera ang ine-expose niya. (If he’s trying to say that he’s the only honest man here, then I don’t understand what point he’s trying to make. He’s just picking a fight. We’re talking about his performance, he gets back by exposing funds),” the poll chief said.

As far as Brillantes was concerned, Lagman “accomplished nothing” at the poll body. “His biggest accomplishment was, he decided a lot of [protest] cases, 400, when he’s not even a lawyer,” he said in Filipino. – with a report from Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com


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