Archive for May 22, 2009

Comelec must ascertain bidder’s background

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc The Philippine Star, May 22, 2009

The poll automation bidding has reached post-qualification stage. At this point the Comelec will test-run the vote counters of the one bidder (out of seven) it had let past its technical screening. This is the consortium of foreign Smartmatic and local Total Information Management. The election body also needs to background-check Smartmatic-TIM to verify capability to supply the 82,200 machines for the May 2010 balloting. Here it may be in for surprises, like in Smartmatic-TIM’s “outrageously low” bid of P7.2 billion, 37 percent way down the P11.3-billion reserve fund.

To begin with, the nationality of Smartmatic International Corp. (SIC) is hazy. Reports about it are confusing. Sometimes it seems to be American, other times Dutch or Barbadian or Curacao. On record, most of its staff and works are in Venezuela, and its management and ownership is Venezuelan. It runs layers of shell companies around the world, allowing it to present itself as anything but Venezuelan. Its bid documents state SIC’s origin to be The Netherlands. But its website says it is based in Barbados. During Comelec bidding conferences over the past few weeks, SIC reps admitted having just a handful of employees in that known tax haven. Records show that SIC is owned by Smartmatic International Holdings (SIH). While this mother firm is in The Netherlands, it is not the bidding entity. SIH is owned by opaque trusts; control and voting rights are unclear. For the Comelec automation, SIC stated it will have the machines made in Taiwan, under license by a company in Canada. The reps said they would answer queries about them after they are formally declared winner.

Save for 2008’s ARMM election, virtually all Smartmatic’s contracts are in Venezuela. In 2004 the little-known unit was tapped to set up a nationwide voting system there, which promptly was operated to secure Hugo Chavez’s rule in referendum. Subsequent uses of Smartmatic’s system turned in results favorable to Chavez. The one exception was in Dec. 2007, when Chavez’s constitutional revisions narrowly were rejected, his first poll defeat in a nine-year Presidency. This seemed to belie the view that Smartmatic machines were rigged. But misfortune soon befell the firm. In April 2008 one of its founders and a lawyer perished in a plane crash near Caracas. The cause of the crash was the unusual failure of both engines of the private jet, which unexplainably did not send out an SOS. Chavez fared much better in a following election using Smartmatic voting machines.

US legislators had reviewed Smartmatic’s 2005 buyout of California-based Sequoia Voting Systems, one of the six Comelec bidders disqualified this week on technicality. Afraid that Chavez’s fondness for nationalizing Venezuelan businesses might intrude on US elections, they required the Venezuelans in Aug. 2006 to sell back to Sequoia’s American managers. Four months later feds investigated Smartmatic for bribery to bag the 2004 Venezuela deal.

As in Venezuela, Smartmatic sold the touch-screen direct recording electronic voting machines for ARMM precincts. These are different from the precinct count optical scanners that the Comelec intends to use in 2010. The firm’s experience with this counting machine, as opposed to the voting machine, is unknown. Documents it submitted to the Comelec had crucial portions blacked out.

In keeping with the automation law, TIM is supposed to be the 60-percent local partner of the foreign supplier. During the pre-bid sessions, however, it was Smartmatic that answered all questions about technology, financials, and logistics. TIM has no known experience in automated count. The last time it was in the news was in late 2003, when it lost to MegaPacific in the Comelec’s earlier failed automation.

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It frustrates boxing-crazy Filipinos that there won’t be a slugfest of tycoons at Meralco’s annual stockholders meeting Tuesday. Long feuding San Miguel president Ramon Ang and PLDT chairman Manuel Pangilinan separately have indicated they’ll shun confrontation. But don’t fret. There’ll be an exciting undercard of sorts. It’ll come by way of unveiling at last who a new 9-percent owner of Meralco is. Who knows, it may even become the main event — when the mystery stockholder steps into the ring on Ang’s side to face off with Pangilinan’s majority.

Ang himself revealed last week the entry of the secret ally. He told reporters in the sidelines of another stockholders confab that his group now controls 43 percent of the country’s biggest power utility. Previously Ang held only 34 percent: 27 when state pension GSIS ceded its Meralco shares to San Miguel, and 7 more when sidekick Global 5000 bought out SSS and DBP. (Pangilinan counts on 56 percent: 20 from a bloc sold by the Lopez family, 10.17 in outstanding common shares picked up by PLDT Retirement Fund, 13.2 remaining in Lopez hands, plus proxies.)

Ang’s teasers on his new partner’s identity have kept the business community in suspense. “No he’s not a ‘rogue’ member of the Lopezes,” he swiped at the once-controlling clan whose unloading enabled Pangilinan to enter. “We have friends and the government.”

That reference to “government” got observers guessing if Ang’s new ally is a state financial institution. The 9-percent bloc could not have come from proxies, since solicitation ended Apr. 27. After the flurry of government sellouts to San Miguel-Global, no agency was known to have kept that large a chunk. So it could only be from recent purchases in the open market. In which case, it came at a steep price. Days before the April 27 close of proxy submission, Meralco stock prices had surged 12 percent to P104 apiece, before diving back to P93.

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Dondon Lanuza, an OFW in a Saudi Arabian prison death row, is begging for help to put his children through grade and high school this year. His eldest daughter Pauline can be reached at Block 4, Lot 5, Phase 2, G. Rosas St., Camella Townhouse, Bacoor, Cavite; mobile +63921-6320032. Aunt Violeta Bundalian is in Guadalupe Nuevo, Makati City; +63928-2990163.

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May 22, 2009 at 12:23 am 1 comment

Ang mangingisdang naging makata’t dekano

SAPOL Ni Jarius Bondoc, Pilipino Star Ngayon, May 22, 2009

Hindi ko akalain na pagtungtong ko sa kolehiyo sa UP – Diliman nu’ng dekada-70 ay magiging propesor ko si Rogelio Sicat. Kilala ko lang siya sa pangalan: Ang umakda ng maaaksiyong maikling kuwentong “Impeng Negro” at “Tata Selo”, na pinabasa sa amin ng high school Pilipino teacher. Sa dalawang literature subjects ako napailalim sa matiyagang pagtuturo ni Ka Roger: Sarbey ng Panitikang Pilipino, kung saan binaybay namin ang mga akda ng iba’t ibang rehiyon mula pana­hon ng Kastila hanggang kasalukuyan; at Malikhaing Pagsusulat, na talaga nga namang linya niya. Isa si Ka Roger sa mga nag­tulak sa akin na magsulat — sa Ingles at sa Pilipino.

Kokonti ang nakakaalam na hindi nagsimulang ma­ kata si Ka Roger. Mangingisda sa ilog at magsasaka ng gulay siya sa Nueva Ecija. Ito raw ang rason kung bakit napaka-pasensiyoso niya, isip probinsiyano, maka-mahirap, at simpleng mag-ayos sa sarili’t manamit miski dekano na sa College of Arts and Letters nu’ng delada-90. (Merong maikling sanaysay tungkol kay Ka Roger sa librong Persona, ni Ligaya G. Tiamson Rubin).

Namulat si Ka Roger sa panitikan dahil sa kanyang ama na mahilig sumulat ng tula. Kapag umaalis ang ma­tanda, hinahalungkat ng batang Roger ang kahon ng ama para basahin ang mga likha. Muntik nang hindi ma­katapos si Roger ng elementary at high school dahil kapos sa pera. Pero naigpawan niya ang kahirapan    para maka­tapos ng Journalism sa UST. At mula nu’n ay walang tigil na ang kanyang pagsusulat ng award      winners, at pag-iinspira sa iba na magsulat din. Sa­-yang di nagtagal ang buhay niya. Sa laki ng kontri­ bus­yon niya sa panitikan, da­pat ay National Artist siya.

Malaki ang utang na loob ng UP Department ng Pilipino at Panitikan kay    Ka Roger. Kaya’t ang ikala­wang taunang creative writing workshop nito ay ipinangalan sa kanya: Ang Palihang Rogelio Sicat. Gaganapin ito Mayo 27-31 sa Palayan City, Nueva Ecija. Labinlimang fellows ang lalahok sa workshop, at may 15 observers din mula sa probinsiya ni Ka Roger.

Si National Artist Bien­venido Lumbera ang pa­ngunahing tagapag­sa­lita.

May 22, 2009 at 12:00 am Leave a comment


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