May 2010

Kris Aquino, Boy Abunda back Joey de Venecia

Kris Aquino, Boy Abunda back Joey de Venecia
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Two of the country’s biggest show biz personalities—Kris Aquino and Boy Abunda—have endorsed the senatorial bid of Joey de Venecia III.

The endorsement came in front of hundreds of thousands who attended at the Bangus Festival in Dagupan City where Aquino and Abunda praised De Venecia for his “courageous battle against corruption and poverty.” The two also asked their fans to vote for the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino candidate.

The son and namesake of former Speaker Jose de Venecia thanked the pair, whom he admired “not only for their show biz savvy, but also for their business acumen.” Besides being prized talents of ABS-CBN, Aquino and Abunda are also among the top product endorsers in the country.

Same goal

“Kris, Boy and I have the same goal of trying to uplift the lives of our countrymen, especially the poor,” De Venecia said in a press statement. Kris Aquino is the younger sister of Liberal Party presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

De Venecia said wholesome entertainment figures like Aquino and Abunda play a large role in national development. “They serve as role models for their millions of fans.”

The De Venecia family has solid connections in local show business, with the former Speaker’s wife Gina being a member of the Vera Perez clan of Sampaguita Pictures.

TUCP backing

The backing of Aquino and Abunda came on the heels of the endorsement of De Venecia by the country’s largest labor organization, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP).

De Venecia said the TUCP endorsement and that of Aquino and Abunda has boosted his candidacy.

In response to the TUCP endorsement, De Venecia said he would redouble his efforts to encourage more investment in the local IT sector and to push legislation that would ensure more frequent minimum wage hikes to reflect the higher cost of living.

“Being the country’s largest labor organization, the TUCP endorsement will go a long way,” De Venecia said.

The TUCP announced this week that it was supporting De Venecia because of his pro-worker stand and goal of producing millions of new jobs through IT.

SC tells Comelec: Bare all preparations for May 10 polls

SC tells Comelec: Bare all preparations for May 10 polls
By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Citing “alarming developments” concerning the reliability of the automated elections system, including the glitches that have developed in the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines’ software, the Supreme Court Thursday ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to make public the complete details of its preparations for Monday’s polls.

Voting 12 to 3, the high court directed the Comelec to disclose to the public “the nature and security of all equipment devices such as software and hardware components; the source code for review by interested parties; the terms and protocols of the random manual audit; the certification from the technical evaluation committee that the entire automated system is fully functional and continuity plan is already in place; and the certification protocol and the actual certification issued by the Department of Science and Technology that the 240,000 Board of Election Inspectors all over the country are trained to used the automated election system”.

The decision, penned by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, said the Comelec must comply with the requirements that are provided for under Republic Act 9369, or the Amended Automated Elections System Law of 2007.

Civil action

The high court was acting on a special civil action for mandamus filed last April 23 by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., Protestant Bishop Leo Soriano Jr., Quintin Doromal, Fe Maria Arriola, Isagani Serrano and Rodolfo Lozada Jr.

The justices said they were granting only the specific reliefs asked for in the petition because of the proximity of the elections. The petitioners can press the Comelec for other reliefs after the May 10 polls, they said.

The resolution cited news reports on Tuesday that with just six days to go before the May 10 elections, the Comelec has recalled 76,000 compact flash cards because of the widespread failure of the PCOS machines to read and tally votes during the testing conducted by the Comelec and Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp., the systems supplier.

In its comment submitted on May 4, the Comelec said the petitioners had no legal standing to file the petition and that there was no proof that they had requested the release of the information contained in the documents mentioned in their petition.

The justices said the petitions had “overwhelming support” in the Constitution, citing in particular the provisions on the right to information and the state’s corresponding duty of full disclosure of all transactions involving public interest.

The court also cited the provisions in the Omnibus Election Code, requiring the Comelec to carry out a continuing and systematic campaign to educate the public about elections laws, procedures, decisions and other matters related to its duties; the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards, which mandates all public documents to be made accessible to, and readily available for inspection, by the public; and the Government Procurement Reform Act and RA 9525 (which appropriated P11.3 billion for the automated election), that required transparency in the procurement process and in the implementation of procurement contracts.

Democracy’s last bulwark

“[The] Comelec cannot shirk its constitutional duty to disclose fully to the public complete details of all information relating to its preparations for the May 10, 2010 elections without violating the Constitution and relevant laws. No less than the Constitution mandates it to enforce and administer election laws. The Comelec chair and the six commissioners are beholden and accountable to the people they have sworn to serve,” it said.

Calling itself “the last bulwark of democracy in this country,” the high court said it would spare nothing to ensure that the people’s right to information on matters affecting democratic processes is “fully guaranteed, protected and implemented”.

Concurring with the resolution were Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Portugal Perez and Jose Mendoza.

Dissenting were Associate Justices Renato Corona, Roberto Abad and Presbitero Velasco Jr.

BENIGNO SIMEON C. AQUINO III : What’s important is I see problem and solve it

BENIGNO SIMEON C. AQUINO III : What’s important is I see problem and solve it
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

(Editor’s Note: The presidential profiles will be running in no particular order but as the stories come in from our reporters in the field.)

(Eighth of a series)

MANILA, Philippines—He looked more like a cockfighter’s kristo—a bet caller —than a presidential candidate as he waved a fistful of paper notes with one hand and held up the back of his sliding Paddock’s jeans with the other in a late-night rally in Zamboanga City whose size could rival that of an Eraserheads’ reunion concert.

With his thinning hair, stooped shoulders and awkward gait, Sen. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III could not care less about his looks in a campaign where he faces the most expensive political bid ever mounted in the Philippines and one of the most vicious personal attacks against a presidential candidate in history.

In the course of the 90-day campaign, Aquino has proven that looks, and a person’s biodata, can be deceiving.

Put down by his critics at the start of the campaign as “walang alam”—a know-nothing—just like his late widowed mother who dared to challenge a brilliant but ruthless dictator in 1986, the 50-year-old Aquino has surprised a lot of his cynics with his self-confidence, keen grasp of major issues, and his diligence in doing his homework before facing the media and other organizations.

His opponents claimed that he would be unmasked in the presidential debates, but Aquino appeared intelligent, well-prepared and poised in these forums and was never the one to pass up on answering a thorny issue such as the Hacienda Luisita case and doubts on his state of mental health. He was modest, warm, folksy and appreciative when meeting people in motorcades and town rallies far from the cold and snotty hacendero he was pictured to be by his foes.

“He has grown before our eyes in the campaign and proved himself worthy as our next president. I never saw this side of Noy before, because he always looked ordinary to me being the son of a martyr and democracy’s saint,” said Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, an adviser to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a strategist of the administration candidate Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro until a month ago, and a classmate of Aquino at Ateneo de Manila University.

“He has earned and gained a stature that is his own and has shown his mettle under pressure and amidst criticisms from his opponents. It was actually there all along and I have seen it up close, but I guess it’s only now that he is given the opportunity to show it to people other than his close friends,” said Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who backed out of the presidential race and has openly campaigned for Aquino’s election.


Ramon del Rosario Jr., chair of the Makati Business Club, was surprised at how Aquino had weathered all the challenges in the campaign and remained as the leading candidate heading into the elections.

“I first met Noy in 1986 and I think he demonstrated throughout the campaign his leadership qualities, honesty, maturity, consistency and to take principled positions. He will be a strong, trustworthy president,” Del Rosario said.

Aquino admitted having reached a new level of maturity since he took on the family’s virtual franchise as this country’s savior.

“I’ve grown up in the sense that I gained more knowledge of so many things. I have clearly witnessed the strengths and weaknesses I have and the limits I can go to. Plus, all the principles I have, have been put to the test,” he said in an interview at a seafront rest house in Bacacay, Albay.

Still, Aquino insisted that he was just being himself throughout the campaign. “I just did not get that much exposure when I was in the House and the Senate. I have become perhaps more polished but the fundamentals have always been there. My focus is not self-aggrandizement but to go for results to correct what is wrong,” he said.

When asked why it took his mother’s death for him to come out of his cocoon, Aquino replied: “Is being on the center stage important? What is important to me is that I see the problem and I solve it and improve the situation of the people. Whoever ends up being the hero is just secondary to the strategy.”

Behind the scenes

Aquino explained that he had always worked behind the scenes since he was suddenly thrust into politics with the declaration of martial law and the arrest of his father, former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. He said he did not feel any need to draw attention to himself because his parents were still there.

His family might not have been poor, but Aquino said he also knew how it felt to suffer, especially with the tragedy that befell his family. He opened up to the public how it felt as a 12-year-old to suddenly become the man of the house and take care of his mother and four sisters, Ballsy (Maria Elena), Pinky (Aurora Corazon), Viel (Victoria Eliza) and Kris (Kristina Bernadette); the feeling of helplessness at seeing his family humiliated by soldiers and his father imprisoned for seven years and seven months; his anger at the people who treated his assassinated father like frozen meat; and the pain of seeing his mother go through a fatal illness.

His rivals have criticized him for authoring zero laws in his 12 years as a lawmaker (nine years as representative and three years as senator) and working only for companies either owned by his family (Intra-Strata Assurance Corp. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac) or were run by friends of his parents (Nike distributor Mondragon Philippines).

But what the public did not know was Aquino’s role in his mother’s administration, when, as a 26-year-old, he became the confidante of his mother who was learning on the job how to fend off coup plotters, opportunists and backstabbers in the Palace.

Aide to his mother

Aquino was hands-on in managing the security of his mother, especially after he took five bullets in one of the military uprisings staged by then Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan just 18 months into his mother’s term (this event fueled his fascination for guns and military hardware).

President Aquino constantly turned to her son for his personal take on policy reforms and proposed deals which was why he has become adept in doing research on his own, a trait he would carry in the elections.

“Whenever my mother wanted a background check on someone or some project, he went to me for help. There are only a few people she trusted during those days and as his only son, it was my duty to protect her and I did,” Senator Aquino said.

The campaign period showed how meticulous and precise Aquino was in preparing for his speeches, debates and campaign rallies. Over the last eight months, Aquino said he had spent his free time and rest days soaking up on issues.

He does not go for off-the-cuff remarks, he thinks deeply before answering any question. He rarely answers with a yes or a no as he makes sure that the audience gets his answer in the proper context.

Not a dictator

Closure is the byword of Aquino in his reply to what he would do in his first 100 days. “They call us bengatibo (vengeful), but isn’t that a way of admitting that they have done wrong? But again, we will give them what they have not given us—due process. I might have my opinion of them but it does not mean it will be the law. I will not be a dictator,” said Aquino, who plans to put up a special commission on his first day in office that would investigate all unfinished probes on corrupt deals under the Arroyo administration.

His campaign slogan is “Walang Mahirap, Kung Walang corrupt”—there’s no poor where there is no one corrupt—and he plans to achieve that in two ways—punish the guilty and reward the bureaucrats with a handsome pay.

Aquino said the only way to instill fear among corrupt officials was to ensure that justice would be swift, certain and painful by improving the conviction rate of government prosecutors, landing a big fish in jail.

But a stick would not work without a carrot as Aquino noted the absurdity of a P50,000-a-month president presiding over a P1.5-trillion annual budget. “What we want is to lead government officials away from temptation because the pay scale they have right now practically guarantees that they will be corrupt,” he said.

Oxygen breaks

Aquino has stayed true to himself even in his vices, the most visible of which is his smoking which he fondly calls his “oxygen breaks.” He never said smoking was good and he never tried to quit, not even at the risk of this becoming an election issue.

He has not weaseled his way out of the raging reproductive health bill debate as he stood firmly for sex education and providing parents with a choice for alternative ways to stop pregnancy even though he knew how sensitive this issue was to the leaders of the Catholic Church, specifically Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales.

“We are not talking primarily about overpopulation, but the lack of capacity of the state to start addressing the problems that are already here such as lack of vaccines for newborn babies and classrooms. You have so many other statistics that say that the youth are not being attended to and are relegated to making do with what is available,” Aquino said.

While he takes the campaign very seriously, this has not stopped him from having fun. Despite the sizzling heat, Aquino said he enjoyed riding on six-wheel trucks with makeshift roofs in his motorcade because he could give away his yellow rubber wristbands to the crowd, like throwing rings in an amusement park.

“There’s a certain style of throwing it, depending on how far you want it to go. I can proudly say I’ve become an expert in throwing these baller IDs,” Aquino said. (The team gives out 15,000 to 20,000 baller IDs worth P2.80 each in every province Aquino visits during a motorcade).

Coke and ‘chicharon’

Aquino proudly shows off the scratch marks and bruises on his arms from the grabbing and pulling in his sorties like a warrior would his battle scars.

“Everybody I saw was smiling, they were happy to meet me. Their enthusiasm was enough to bring me through the day even if my first and last meal for the day is dinner,” he said.

One of the biggest surprises in the campaign was how he has held up with his Marlboros and a diet of chilled Coke, and chicharon from Cagayan de Oro City. “I have sinusitis, but I haven’t had any serious episodes on my health during the campaign period despite foregoing so many meals and not having enough rest periods in between motorcades and long trips,” he said.

“This must be how the Beatles felt,” quipped Florencio “Butch” Abad Jr., the Liberal Party (LP) campaign manager, in describing the throngs of people who have swarmed Aquino’s motorcades and rallies with arms wide open and their hands flashing the ubiquitous “L” sign.

Part of the family

Abad said that when people come near Aquino, they look at him not as a rock or movie star but as a part of their family. “It seems that they know him intimately since his family’s life has played out like a telenovela for decades,” he said.

With the fervent response of the crowds to Aquino’s presence, his campaign team felt no need to juice up his personal appearances by bringing in celebrity endorsers and supporters. Kris and husband, basketball star James Yap, only accompanied Aquino twice in his provincial sorties, while actors Dingdong Dantes and Coco Martin came on stage with Aquino only three times.

In between sorties, Aquino gave a glimpse of his playful side, especially with the children whom he interacts with like it was his second nature. His eyes brighten up whenever a child approaches him and he lets their guard down by immediately asking them: “Who’s your playmate?”

During late-night coffee sessions, Aquino regaled his friends and reporters with his funny anecdotes on the games he played with his nephews, Joshua and Baby James (sons of Kris), and how he always kept tabs on their schedule and their appetite.

Aquino, however, clams up when asked whether he would marry Valenzuela City Councilor Shalani Soledad. He has met her sparingly throughout the campaign, probably to emphasize that he has his priorities set. They are not a showy couple and the most personal gesture they displayed in public during the campaign was when Soledad fixed Aquino’s disheveled hair on stage in a rally in her city.

No punching bag

Aquino might have grown up with the who’s who of the country’s richest families and political shakers, but his feet are clearly on the ground as attested to by the company he keeps and the types of jokes he makes. “Wanna buy watch, Joe” is a standard punch line in his campaign spiels and the joke is lost on the predominantly youthful crowd.

He has an anecdote or a joke to share for each person he meets in the rallies or who hops on his float. His top aide, Zaldy de Layola, said Aquino’s way of relaxing was having mindless chatter with his friends from politics, school and media usually exchanging jokes (the kind Joey de Leon makes) and making fun of other people.

“It keeps my mind at ease after long hours of studying,” Aquino said.

He also makes fun of himself, especially his balding head, and this comes as a surprise to most people who meet him for the first time. But he does have a temper and he fights back when he and his family are insulted.

“I wasn’t raised to be a punching bag. I am Catholic but I am not ready to turn the other cheek all the time,” Aquino said.


When his sister, television host Kris Aquino, the country’s version of Oprah Winfrey and Paris Hilton combined, approached him for a makeover shortly after declaring his run, Aquino initially gave in just to please her but eventually returned all the expensive clothes and shoes and immediately went back to wearing his “comfort” clothes—soft-collared shirts, high-waist jeans and soft-soled leather shoes.

Aquino was also firm on not getting Botox or hair implants as Kris suggested.

Aquino keeps his wardrobe simple—blue jeans, white underwear, basic shirts and jeans, and off-the-rack formal wear—because he does not want to waste time on deciding what clothes to wear. He also has an assistant to do his shopping for him.

Aquino explained that his message was for honest change and transparency and he would not be truthful to the public if he marketed himself as a suave, fashion-conscious guy in the campaign.

To maintain his credibility, Aquino has made it a point to screen all campaign funders and political allies to make sure that they are not tainted by any corrupt deals with the Arroyo administration or are instigators of the shady transactions themselves.
Aquino said his campaign might be running on a limited budget from the contributions of volunteers and sales of campaign materials, but it did not mean they cannot afford to be picky.

Taking control

One of Aquino’s biggest regrets in his presidential bid was the lack of time for preparations. He described his campaign as being “rushed” compared to the three-year window of others, and he has used it as an excuse for the sluggish start of his campaign team and the slight drop in his ratings in the opinion polls.

“Just imagine if we had the same preparation time as our opponents. But this rushed campaign also showed how the people wanted to get involved in the process and not just looking in. In that way, our process has matured, which made the experience okay,” Aquino said.

Aquino took control over his campaign in February to ensure that it worked smoothly with his coalition partners’ brain trusts, mainly his uncle, Paul Aquino, and LP senatorial candidate Serge Osmeña.

That he has remained at the top of the surveys should be no surprise if you base it on hard work. Aquino has probably been to more provinces, attended more debates, and conducted more interviews than any other candidate.

His critics have also belittled him as just a pushover, overshadowed by his more glamorous and more glib sibling, Kris, and that he would wilt under the pressure of incessant attacks on his character and family during the campaign.


Aquino, however, has weathered the worst mudslinging a candidate could endure. He has been labeled witless, a spoiled brat, a womanizer, a nightlife habitué, a chain smoker, and a loony, while his family has been branded as opportunists, slave drivers and even murderers. Yet he has emerged smelling like roses based on the most recent Pulse Asia survey which showed him having a 40-percent share or nearly double his two closest rivals.

Aquino said his opponents tend to exaggerate their claims to gain a greater effect, such as in their charges of corruption by “Kamag-anak Inc.” during his mother’s term and the long-standing struggle between his family and the farmers in Hacienda Luisita.
“They say our relatives were corrupt but have there been cases filed against them when we were not in power from 1992 when my mother stepped down and 1998 when I ran for Congress? They say Hacienda Luisita was wracked with many labor disputes, but there have been only four labor cases in five decades,” Aquino said with some irritation.

But Kris herself would be the first to say that Aquino makes his own decisions and stands by them even if it meant going against a friend or relative. Not even his parents could make Aquino change his mind once he has come to a decision.

Kris has already declared that she and her siblings would leave Aquino on his own if he became president that they would only give him sisterly advice. “We have our own homes, so why should we live in Malacañang?” asked Kris, who clarified that her mother lived on Arlegui Street across the Palace during her reign.

Parents behind every step

Aquino said that if it was his obligation to lead this country out of Ms Arroyo’s hell, he would do it within the mandate given to him. “If I’m elected as president, I would have spent close to 20 years in politics. I think that’s enough for one man. When it’s time to pass your papers, I hope that I will leave this country in a better position,” he said.

With the confluence of events at this stage of his life—his mother’s death, his reluctance to run, his sudden jump to the top of the presidential surveys, and his continued stay at the top despite the deluge of black propaganda—even Aquino could not help but feel a sense of destiny in his presidential run not unlike her mother’s fate.

“I guess they (his parents) have always been behind me in every step I took in the campaign. Every time I have problems, I seek their help, including my lolo (grandfather) and lola (grandmother), who are major influences in my life,” Aquino said.

But will history repeat itself in the sense that his mother was cheated in the 1986 snap polls and it took a People Power revolution to fulfill her destiny? She was also 50 years old when at the cusp of the presidency.

“Hopefully not. We will try our best that it will not happen. I cannot look at this as a personal fight. This is not a question of Noynoy winning the presidency, this is a question of whether or not the people will be able to choose and their choice is reflected without question in the proclamations to be conducted.”

Hang ’em high later, says human rights commission chair

Hang ’em high later, says human rights commission chair
By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Hang them later.

Veteran election lawyer and Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima Thursday said now was not the time to hold accountable those who caused the pre-election glitches involving the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

Ensuring the success of the May 10 elections, De Lima said, should be everyone’s priority.

“With the elections mere days away, this is not yet the time to seek to hold accountable those persons whose actions have led to this muddle,” De Lima said at a forum in Manila. “We can discuss this later at a more opportune time.”

“Instead, there is a need to throw our full support behind the current efforts of the Comelec to ensure that the machines and other paraphernalia are ready and in place in time for Monday, and that the voting process will be secure and the results accurate,” she added.

“We are in a race against the clock, as well as a race against those who would use nefarious means to replace the will of the people with their own political ambitions,” she added.

“This is a race we cannot afford to lose,” De Lima said. Failure of elections, she added, was a violation of human rights.

Bishop Efraim Tendero, of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, said he, too, believed that the blame game should come later after the people had helped ensure the success of the elections.

Tendero said his group continued to trust in the Comelec’s capability to pull off the exercise.

He said, however, that the Comelec should also have a backup plan, including complete manual elections, if necessary.

Smartmatic-TIM Corp., the Venezuelan-led consortium that won the contract to conduct the Philippines’ first totally automated elections, is currently replacing the cards in 76,000 PCOS machines after mock elections held earlier in the week produced erroneous results.

Estrada scolds Maceda; LP warns of ‘Arroyo option’

Estrada scolds Maceda; LP warns of ‘Arroyo option’
By Philip Tubeza, Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Be careful what you wish for.

Former President Joseph Estrada Thursday said he scolded former Sen. Ernesto Maceda for coming up with that “kalokohan (nonsense)”.

Maceda, Estrada’s campaign manager, said on Tuesday that supporting Estrada may be the Arroyo administration’s “only option” if it wants to prevent an Aquino victory.

He came out with the scenario to explain how Estrada could still overtake Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, a consistent front-runner in the major surveys of presidential contenders.

Estrada would be sinking his own ship if he’s open to an alliance with the Arroyo administration just to boost his chances against the Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer.

LP director general Chito Gascon Thursday had this bit of advice for Estrada, in effect telling the 73-year-old opposition leader to junk the Maceda suggestion.

Gascon said the widespread unpopularity of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would spell doom for any presidential candidate she would support.

He cited as an example the falling survey numbers of Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Senator Manuel Villar, who had been rumored early in the campaign season to be Ms Arroyo’s “secret candidate” and not administration candidate Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro. The Villar and Arroyo camps had denied forging an alliance.

Unrepentant regime

“Now that a clear win by Senator Noy is imminent, it could very well be logical for this unrepentant regime to swing their support to former President Estrada in an anybody-but-Noynoy game plan,” Gascon said in a statement.

“But we all know that an Arroyo endorsement will only bring down Estrada and help the chances of Sen. Villar instead, so I don’t think this last card, a Plan C, is going to play out on May 10,” he said.


In an Inquirer interview, an angry Estrada said he immediately confronted Maceda after reading about the latter’s statement.

“How can that be! It irritates me just to hear that name (of the President),” Estrada said in Filipino.

“She grabbed power and then threw me in jail,” said Estrada, who was ousted in a people power uprising in 2001, detained for six years, and convicted of plunder in 2007. His successor, Ms Arroyo, granted him pardon a month after his conviction.

Estrada said Maceda issued the statement without his clearance, and that his chief campaigner probably thought he could do that because “he is older than me.”

The day the story came out, text messages began circulating claiming that Estrada—not Villar—was now Malacañang’s “pet” in the presidential derby. Estrada dismissed these as black propaganda.

‘She almost ruined my life’

“Maybe it’s Maceda-Arroyo,” he said, and not really “Villarroyo,” the buzzword coined by critics to describe the alleged Villar-Arroyo partnership.

Estrada said it would be “impossible” for him to accept help from someone whom he had been denouncing in his campaign speeches as one of the conspirators behind his ouster from Malacañang.

“I might as well lose than join her. She almost ruined my life,” he said.

Noynoy lead now 22 points; Erap overtakes Villar—SWS

Noynoy lead now 22 points; Erap overtakes Villar—SWS

With the May 10 elections just around the corner, Sen. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” C. Aquino III has picked up steam to widen his lead in the presidential race, results of the final BusinessWorld-Social Weather Stations (BW-SWS) Pre-Election survey showed.

The May 2-3 poll, conducted roughly a week before Filipinos troop to the precincts, gave Mr. Aquino the support of 42%, up four points and ahead of former President Joseph “Erap” E. Estrada of the Pwersa ng Masa who was now in second place with three-point gain to 20%.

Erstwhile second-placer Sen. Manuel “Manny” B. Villar, Jr. of the Nationalista Party (NP) was a point behind at 19%, a result within the survey’s error margin of 2.2%. His support was down seven points from the prior BW-SWS poll of April 16-19.

The gap between the top two was 22 points, wider than the 12 Mr. Aquino enjoyed over Mr. Villar in the last survey.

Former Defense Secretary Gilberto “Gibo” C. Teodoro Jr., the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD party’s candidate, remained fourth with an unchanged score of 9%.

Bangon Pilipinas bet Eduardo “Bro. Eddie” C. Villanueva was fifth with 3%, followed by Partido Bagumbayan’s Sen. Richard “Dick” J. Gordon (2%), Ang Kapatiran’s John Carlos “JC” G. de los Reyes (0.3%), and independents Maria Consuelo “Jamby” A. S. Madrigal (0.2%) and Nicanor Jesus “Nick” P. Perlas (0.1%)

Six percent of the respondents were classed as undecided. This category included votes for disqualified Kilusang Bagong Lipunan bet Vetellano “Dodong” Acosta and others.

As in three prior surveys, the last BW-SWS poll had respondents being asked to fill out ballots in a simulation of the May 10 exercise. Polled were 2,400 registered voters, divided into random samples of 300 for Metro Manila, 900 in the Balance of Luzon, and 600 each in the Visayas and Mindanao.

(The BW-SWS polls for December and January involved the interviewers providing lists of candidates and asking the respondents to choose.)

The error margins used were ±2% for national percentages, ±6% for Metro Manila, ±3% for the rest of Luzon, and ±4% for the Visayas and Mindanao.

They were asked: “Kung ang eleksyon ay gaganapin ngayon, sino ang pinakamalamang ninyong iboboto bilang presidente, bise-presidente, mga senador at party list ng Pilipinas? Narito ang listahan ng mga kandidato. Paki-shade o itiman po ang naaangkop na oval katabi ng pangalan ng taong pinakamalamang ninyong iboboto. (If the elections were held today, whom would you most probably vote for as president, vice-president, senator, and party list of the Philippines? Here is a list of candidates. Please shade the oval beside the name of the persons you would most likely vote for.)

The results gave Mr. Aquino the lead across all geographic areas and social classes.

The SWS said his wider nationwide lead was due to gains of eight points in Metro Manila (to 43%), six points in Mindanao (39%), four points in the Balance of Luzon (41%), and one point in the Visayas (47%).

Mr. Estrada’s score went up owing to an eight-point improvement in Mindanao (to 30%), one-point gains each in Metro Manila (26%) and the rest of Luzon (18%), and an unchanged 7% in the Visayas.

Mr. Villar’s decline was traced to a 16-point plunge in Mindanao to 15%, an eight-point loss to 10% in Metro Manila and a five-point drop to 20% in the Balance of Luzon. His support in the Visayas stayed at 25%.

Mr. Teodoro’s two-point gain in Mindanao to 10% and a steady score of 9% in Balance of Luzon, meanwhile, were offset by two-point loss each in Metro Manila (to 8%) and the Visayas (9%).

Mr. Villanueva saw his scores in the Balance of Luzon and Mindanao move up by one point each to 4% and 2%, respectively, which was offset by identical declines in Metro Manila (to 2%) and the Visayas (1%).

Mr. Gordon, meanwhile, gained a point in the rest of Luzon (to 3%) and stayed steady in Metro Manila (2%) and the Visayas (1%). His support in Mindanao barely changed at 0.2%.

“The vote percentages of de los Reyes, Madrigal, and Perlas across major study areas hardly changed from April 16-19,” SWS said.

Among the ABC class, Mr. Estrada gained eight points (to 14%,) Mr. Teodoro by three (also to 14%), and Messrs. Villanueva, Gordon and Perlas added one point each (4%, 4%, and 1%, respectively). Messrs. Aquino and Villar lost nine points each to 44% and 13%, respectively.

Among the class D or masa, Mr. Aquino posted a six-point gain to 44%, Mr. Estrada added three points to 19%, while Messrs. Villanueva and Gordon were steady at 2% each. Mr. Teodoro lost two points to score 8% while Mr. Villar slid by seven points to 18%.

Among the class E, Mr. Teodoro posted a six-point increase to 12%, Mr. Aquino was up three points to 35%, and Mr. Villanueva added one point to 2%. Mr. Estrada’s score was unchanged at 23% while Mr. Villar lost 10 points to 21%.

As in geographical areas, the vote percentages for Ms. Madrigal, and Messrs. de los Reyes, Gordon and Perlas were hardly changed.

Sought for comment, Mr. Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a telephone interview: “We are humbled by the numbers. Undecided voters have decided to go for Noynoy after they have heard of our platforms. Secondly, the negative reports that other camps tried to present against us backlashed on them. The issue in this election has boiled down to trustworthiness. The Villar camp is now paying the price of their black propaganda [against us].”

Former senator Ernesto M. Maceda, Mr. Estrada’s campaign manager, said the latest SWS survey results did not match those of their internal survey where Mr. Aquino scored 34% while the former president obtained 29%.

“We do not accept this as reflection of the true situation on the ground. Based on the [support of] tens of thousands of people in our sorties, we feel we have much more,” he said in a separate phone interview.

Lawyer Mike Toledo, Mr. Teodoro’s spokesman, aired the same view, saying: “We find the survey hard to believe. It’s different from what we see on the ground. The surveys don’t reflect the reality [based on our sorties].”

The NP, for its part, was unfazed by the survey results, saying that Mr. Villar’s machinery would help him claim victory on May 10.

“While surveys may be good indicators of public opinion and perception, the NP, however, believes these do not dictate the outcome of elections,” senatorial bet Gilbert C. Remulla, who also acts as NP spokesman, said in a statement.

“We believe that the political machinery established by Senator Villar in the provincial, city and municipal levels nationwide would deliver the much-needed votes for our presidential candidate.” —BusinessWorld

Comelec mulls sanctions vs Smartmatic for foul-ups

Comelec mulls sanctions vs Smartmatic for foul-ups

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering penalizing poll machine supplier Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) for the glitches in the automated election system that will be used during the May 10 polls.

In a chance interview with reporters, Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal admitted that the poll body is thinking of how it can make the technology provider “pay” for its recent foul-ups.

The commissioner issued the statement after some precinct count optical scan (PCOS) units tested last Monday failed to read some votes accurately, forcing them to pull out and replace all the compact flash (CF) cards. (See: Some poll machines fail to read votes accurately)

On Tuesday, Smartmatic Asia president Cesar Flores admitted that they were at fault for “human error” in the configuration of the CF cards. (See: Smartmatic assumes responsibility for PCOS machine glitches)

Larrazabal refused to divulge, however, whether the possible penalty for the supplier would be monetary or otherwise.

“Those who are liable will be held liable. Those who are negligent will be held accountable. But for now, let us work together to ensure that the elections will work on May 10, 2010,” he said at a separate press briefing.

Poll body spokesperson James Jimenez likewise said that they have to focus first on the task at hand. “First order of business is to get this going… best to get the elections over and done with and then settle accounts,” he told GMANews.TV in a text message.

He said that there is still time later to thoroughly discuss what Smartmatic’s liabilities are.

Earlier in the day, Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima said that the technology provider can be made to answer in case of failure of elections “theoretically and hypothetically.”

She added that if their offense qualifies as electoral sabotage in the highest degree, they might even face life imprisonment. She even said that the CHR is willing to pursue the case should the situation call for it.

Flores, for his part, said that their company is “committed” to the success of the elections. He likewise said that they have no plans of abandoning the automation project.

“I also offered Comelec to take my passport, I’m more than willing to surrender it,” he said on Thursday. —JV, GMANews.TV

Gordon clarifies statement, says he won't back out from prexy race

Gordon clarifies statement, says he won’t back out from prexy race

Presidential candidate Richard Gordon on Thursday clarified his earlier statement that he was willing to quit the presidential race and run the Commission on Elections himself to ensure the success of the May 10 polls.

In an interview with GMA News’ Arnold Clavio, Gordon — the main proponent of the automation law— said he was merely goading the poll officials to get their jobs right.

Inuudyukan ko lang na gawin niyo ang trabaho niyo para matapos yan. Hindi naman dapat mahirapan ang Comelec sa nangyayari (I’m just goading you to do your job and finish it. Comelec shouldn’t find this situation difficult),” Gordon said.

Last Monday some Precinct Count Optical System (PCOS) units tested failed to read test ballots accurately, forcing the Comelec to pull out all the compact flash (CF) cards from their respective voting machines and move quickly to replace the cards with reconfigured ones.

In reaction to the technical problems, Gordon said: “Let’s make it work. If Comelec can’t do it, I will withdraw from the race and run the elections.” (See: Gordon open to defer May 10 polls)

Meanwhile, the Bagumbayan standard bearer urged the public to remain vigilant and ask the Comelec to release poll results on the evening of May 10, and not three days after the polls.

Kapag three days hindi na automated yan. Pag matagal, may salamangka diyan (If it takes three days, then that’s no longer automated. If it’s that long, there’s already magic going on),” he said, adding that the main reason for automating the elections was to quickly count the votes to avert poll fraud.

He also rejected anew the proposals to conduct a parallel manual count of the votes on May 10, saying it is expensive.

Those who are proposing for a manual count should be the ones to shell out money, he said.—JV, GMANews.TV

Malacañang: No military takeover in case of total failure of polls

Malacañang: No military takeover in case of total failure of polls

MANILA, Philippines – President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s spokesman assured Thursday that Malacañang will not order the military to intervene in case of a total failure of the automated elections.

“Mangyari man iyon ay there are are available remedies sa Comelec, sa korte at Kongreso. May mga remedies na available (Assuming it happens (total failure of elections), there are available remedies available in the Comelec (Commission on Elections), the courts and in Congress. There are available remedies),” deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said in an interview over ABS-CBN’s Umagang Kay Ganda.

Olivar said Malacañang is confident that a total failure of elections will not ignite a high level of unrest that “needs military intervention.”

He also reiterated that President Arroyo will step down as scheduled on June 30 even if the new president is not immediately proclaimed because of the failure of the elections.

Despite fears of a complete failure of the automated polls, Olivar said Malacañang is taking the Comelec’s word that it will push through on May 10.

He said he had received an advisory that Comelec has already made an assurance that all compact flashcards needed for the automated polls will be ready “a few hours before elections.”

The Comelec, on the hand, had said that it is also banking on the promise of the Smartmatic-TIM that there is enough time to finish reconfiguring all the flashcards in time for the elections.

Mass Comelec resignation

Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, who admits he does not know the technical details of the automated election system, said the poll body “thinks” it can push through with the elections on May 10 because of assurances by the Smartmatic-TIM.

If not all of the flashcards are reconfigured on time, Tagle said automated elections in far-flung areas might not push through. He assured that the Comelec is ready to hold special elections in far-flung areas.

He added that all Comelec commissioners, including their chairman, Jose Melo, are willing to resign if the automated elections completely fail.

“Kung talagang palpak at walang magawa at may complete failure of elections ay magre-resign kami (If the automated elections completely fail we will resign),” Tagle said.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal told ABS-CBN’s Umagang Kay Ganda in a separate interview that the holding of special elections is in violation of the Synchronized National and Local Elections Law.

Macalintal insisted that the Comelec should just postpone the elections for 15 days, which would be enough for the ultimate testing of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) voting and counting machines.

“So we can test the PCOS machines not only for the counting of votes, but also for transmission,” the lawyer insisted.

Macalintal has resigned as President Arroyo’s election lawyer because Malacañang is against his proposal to postpone the automated elections.

Poll watchdogs fear high-tech cheating

Poll watchdogs fear high-tech cheating

MANILA, Philippines – Two election watchdogs warned Thursday that the May 10 elections could be the target of high-tech cheating after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) admitted that there was no more time to check the contents of 76,000 newly configured flash cards.

Election watchdogs and  Automated Elections System Watch said the new flash cards being configured by poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM should be subjected to public scrutiny, particularly by IT people.

IT expert Augusto Lagman of said the machine vendor, or an erring programmer hired by the company, can easily pad and shave votes through the flash cards.

“You can do dagdag-bawas (vote padding and shaving) with that.You can give instructions [to the flash cards or the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines]. It’s just like a computer, that’s why you have to trust the administrators and the vendors,” he told ABS-CBN.

Alfred Pascual of AES Watch said his group warned the Comelec about the possibility of high-tech, massive cheating in the automated election system because of the time constraints imposed on the poll body to prepare for Monday’s elections.

“We have highlighted that the flashcards are the most vulnerable in this elections. [We should] check what’s in the flash cards. What if there are pre-recorded images in the flash cards?” he said.

He said that aside from an audit of the configuration of the flash cards, concerned groups should also be allowed to witness or physically monitor the cards when they are installed to avoid switching.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez on Thursday said the new programmed compact flash cards, which experts said can be a tool for high-tech vote padding and shaving, would not be open to the public for scrutiny.

“The configuration should be open to the public at some point, but right now, I don’t think there will be enough time to show it anyway,” Jimenez told ANC’s Headstart.

Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM are racing against time to configure 76,000 flash cards by Friday morning or just 3 days before the May 10 national and local automated elections.

Comelec ordered a nationwide recall of all flash cards of the PCOS machines after the machines failed to read votes cast for local candidates during field testing on Monday.

Pre-programmed cheating

Pascual, meanwhile, rejected a proposal to postpone the elections to give Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM more time to fix the glitches. “To give more them more time would mean giving them more time to probably commit more errors,” he said.

He said that from the start, his group had noticed that Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM were doing a “trial-and-error” approach in the automation project.

“What is happening is that Filipino voters are becoming unwilling participants in this very expensive experiment. I call this a heuristic exercise, a trial and error exercise,” Pascual said.

He said that when the Comelec awarded the automated project to Smartmatic-TIM, the contract specified that voters can just place a simple X mark with a pen or a pencil on the ovals corresponding to the candidates’ names.

He said Smartmatic-TIM failed to meet the specified mark since voters are being advised to fully shade the ovals for their votes to be counted by the PCOS machines.

Pascual said he could not understand why Smarmatic-TIM failed to identify the latest glitch since they have already conducted a number of field tests and mock elections.

He said that with all the glitches, the Comelec should reconsider a proposal to hold a parallel manual counting of the votes.

Jimenez, for his part, admitted that Comelec has not prepared for a total manual count because they are only prepared for a 30% manual count as part of their contingency plan.

“It can be done, yes. That is up to the en banc to decide, but right now there is no reason for that,” he said, when asked if they are preparing for a 100% manual count.