Thursday, July 2, 2009

Curiouser and curiouser

Ronnie Puno went to the US of A to attend to the wedding of his daughter, set at California’s beautiful Napa Valley. He has been in and out of the US of A, as this is where his family resides. Everyone and his mother in the DILG knows this, and they find it normal when their boss is out of the country. And he designates one or the other of his numerous undersecretaries, usually senior Usec Ed Soliman, as his officer-in-charge.

All of a sudden, three days after Ronnie had already landed in San Francisco International, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita issues an appointment for a DILG officer-in-charge. And it is not one of the usual undersecretaries, which is the usual practice anywhere in the bureaucracy. Ermita designates current DPWH Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane.

That’s not just it. Ermita even announced that Puno went to the US of A on a medical leave. Either Ronnie is sick or he is undergoing a medical check-up, Malacanang explained. Still, curiously, why Ebdane?

Ebdane of course used to be PNP Chief, before the Dona made him public works czar, and after a brief stint as Secretary of National Defense, right after Nonong Cruz resigned because he could no longer take the many machinations in the stinlking palace beside the stinking river. Yet again, if Puno would be absent for ten to twelve days, why not one of his undersecretaries? And why Ebdane, not DOTC’s Larry Mendoza, a Batangueno like Ermita? I thought Ebdane has his hands full with almost 200 billion pesos in the current budget, for Dona Gloria’s “legacy” infrastructure program?

Now palace woodwork whisperers of course have long told everybody who cared to listen that Ermita and Puno do not exactly like each other. One is Lakas, the other is Kampi. Besides, one used to get the Donya’s undivided attention when it came to politics, yes, undivided, until he made the mistake of telling the cabinet that cha-cha won’t wash. And until Louie Villafuerte who authored House Resolution 1109 suddenly withdrew his signature on that piece of crap. That was the signal for the knives to be sharpened against Ronnie the Tree.

And Ermita found just the right time to pull the knife and strike against the Tree. While the Tree is away, selecting the vintage wines that would be uncorked on July 4, which is when the grand but intimate wedding is scheduled.

As a corollary damage, Ermita hinted, rather maliciously I might add, that Ronnie, who has announced his vice-presidential candidacy, and has been moving throughout the archipelago using a newly-purchased Lear jet, is well … sick. Now that’s a low blow.

Inisahan na nga, siniraan pa ng pailalim. Kandidato na nga, sinabi pang may sakit. Aray naman. That’s not the way Batanguenos usually fight, preferring “harapan” as they usually say, but then again, years inside the snake pit can really change culture and nature.

Wait till Ronnie the Tree comes back late next week.

* * *

Apropos what we wrote yesterday about the failed automation ploy of the Comelec, let me propose two things, just so readers will not say I cannot be constructive:

First, ask the Comelec to amend the implementing rules and regulations for the conduct of the 2010 elections, or if need be, get Congress to amend the Omnibus Election Law or whatever other legislation needs to be amended, in order to: (1.1) segregate the list of national candidates from the list of local candidates in the official ballot; and (1.2) design the two sets of official ballots accordingly for the National Printing Office to follow.

The elections will still be synchronized, as this is one of those specifically weird constitutional edicts. But hey, dura lex sed lex.

What will be changed is just the ballot, and the corresponding election returns (ER’s), SOV’s and COC’s.. Instead of printing a kilometric-length ballot, print two sets. On one, we list down the choices for President, VP, 12 senators, one congressman for the district, and the long line of parties in the party-list system.

Two, adopt the Open Election System proposed by Gus Lagman and Christian Monsod who once ran the Commission credibly and creditably, as its chair. It costs less, and all we will need are thousands of personal computers linked to the national main frame of the Comelec. Lagman estimated the cost at 4 billion pesos, with a subsidiary advantage --- Comelec can donate the PC’s to the public schools after the elections. The OES means manual voting, similar to before, and manual canvassing via the ER’s, except that consolidation of the BEI-certified ER’s in each precinct are consolidated, based on those ER’s, and canvassed by computer, in full view of watchers and Comelec officials.

Hence, the canvassing, which is where the dagdag-bawas and the Garci, Bedol et al creatures thrive at manipulation, will be made faster, right after the ER’s are accomplished, also in full view of the board of election inspectors and the party and candidate watchers, in situ.

Meanwhile, the ballots for local candidates, which means governors and their vice, mayors and their vice, as well as bokales and councillors, are done the same way as before --- manual voting, manual canvassing, manual transfer to certificates of canvass and statement of votes from the ER’s. Banaty-sarado naman ang lokal ng mga lokal. That is the main focus of local candidates and their legion of watchful leaders and supporters.

National media can oversee the process which will be faster, because transmission is done electronically, and time is cut considerably because the voter writes in only 16 names: president, vice, 12 senators (or even less if he finds but a few worthy of his vote, which is my usual practice), one congressman, plus one party.

Comelec prints two sets of ER’s, one national, one local, and similarly two sets of COC’s. It orders two sets of ballot boxes, one national, another for the local.

Is there time to do this? Most certainly so.

This also gives even the party-less national candidates a better chance, because campaigns can be more focused on national issues, as the carrying importance of the local candidates, which costs a lot of money, diminishes especially in the urban centers, which is more than half of the total electorate.

But will Comelec do this, especially if it cannot shuck off its fixation for full automation, and more especially, because they already have 11.3 billion pesos in their hands? And will Malacanang allow this?

In any case, it seems like elections are far, far away from the minds of the denizens of the stinking palace beside the stinking river. It’s still a year away from curtain time, and they don’t want those curtains to fall down…ever.