Nicodemo Ferrer

Folder supplier bags new poll deal

Folder supplier bags new poll deal
By Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The controversial winning bidder of the botched and overpriced secrecy folder deal has bagged a new contract with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The Comelec has awarded OTC Paper Supply a P5.7-million contract for the supply and delivery of stamp pads to be used in the May polls.

A notice of award released by the Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) yesterday showed that the poll body awarded the contract for the supply and delivery of 350,000 pieces of thumbprint and fingerprint taker or stamp pads to OTC at P16 each.

OTC gained notoriety for its recent involvement in the Comelec’s planned procurement of a specially designed ballot secrecy folder at a price of P380 each.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo earlier admitted lapses on the part of the commission and ordered the cancellation of the approved P689.7-million ballot secrecy folder contract with OTC Paper Supply.

Although the Comelec decided to cancel the contract for the ballot secrecy folder, Melo maintained that OTC had a good track record based on deals with the Comelec in past elections.

Smartmatic bags another contract

In another development, the supplier of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the May polls has bagged a P499-million contract with the Comelec.

The Comelec yesterday reported that it had awarded Smartmatic International Corp. the contract for the tracking and delivery services of official ballots.

In its website, Comelec’s BAC chair Maria Lea Alarkon reported the Comelec has approved the resolution awarding the contract for the tracking and delivery services of official ballots amounting to P499,180,327.87.

Comelec sources said there was no bidding held for the contract because it was an emergency procurement.

Aside from supplying the P7.2-billion PCOS machines, Comelec also awarded to Smartmatic the P519-million contract for the procurement of ballot boxes and transportation of PCOS machines to all polling centers nationwide.

Smartmatic, which has organized elections using electronic voting solutions in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States, was one of seven bidders for the 2010 election automation project.

After passing the eligibility, technical and financial requirements, the Comelec awarded the poll automation contract to Smartmatic in June last year.

Meanwhile, the Comelec has officially awarded the contract for the procurement of 720,000 bottles of indelible ink to Texas Resources Corp.

Comelec said the indelible ink shall contain at least seven percent silver nitrate with blue dye with not more than 1.75 percent additives and solvents.

The Comelec initially ordered a re-bidding for the purchase of indelible ink but immediately backtracked from its decision allegedly due to lack of time.

Comelec adjusts delivery procedures

In an interview, Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said the ballots would no longer be sent to the offices of provincial treasurers as has been done in the previous polls.

Instead, the ballots would be sent directly to the city and municipal treasurers’ offices, prior to their distribution to the polling precincts. With Sheila Crisostomo

Ladlad gets nod from Supreme Court

Ladlad gets nod from Supreme Court
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Saying what is immoral may not necessarily be illegal, the Supreme Court (SC) overturned yesterday a Commission on Elections (Comelec) decision barring a gay rights group from contesting national elections in May and recognized it as a legitimate political party for the first time.

In a decision handed down during the SC’s summer session in Baguio City, the magistrates voted 13-2 to grant the petition of Ang Ladlad and nullify resolution of the Comelec disqualifying the group on the basis of “immorality.”

“We hold that moral disapproval… is not a sufficient governmental interest to justify exclusion of homosexuals from participation in the party-list system,” declared the ruling penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo.

“The denial of Ang Ladlad’s registration on purely moral grounds amounts more to a statement of dislike and disapproval of homosexuals rather than a tool to further any substantial public interest,” the SC stressed.

Ang Ladlad, an organization of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT), was earlier disqualified by Comelec because “although the group presented the proper documents and evidence, they cannot be accredited because their definition of LGBT makes it crystal clear that the petitioner tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs.”

But the SC ruled that Comelec erred since it failed to explain “what societal ills are sought to be prevented, or why special protection is required for the youth” to justify the denial of accreditation of Ang Ladlad.

Citing Article III Section 5 of the Constitution, which provides that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the SC said Comelec violated this clause when it used the Bible and Koran to justify the exclusion of the group.

It stressed that Ang Ladlad has satisfied all legal requirements to qualify as a party-list organization under Republic Act 7941 (Party-list System Act), including “proofs of past subordination or discrimination suffered by the group, immutable or distinguishing characteristic, attribute or experience that define them as a discrete group, and present political or economic powerlessness.”

Upholding equal protection, the court said that LGBTs have the same interest in participating in the party-list system as other marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

Issue emotionally charged

The SC also found a violation in Ang Ladlad’s right of freedom of expression since the group was precluded from publicly expressing its views as a political party and participating on an equal basis in the political process with other party-list candidates.

“We cannot help but observe that the social issues presented by this case are emotionally charged, societal attitudes are in flux, even the psychiatric and religious communities are divided in opinion. This Court’s role is not to impose its own view of acceptable behavior.”

“Rather, it is to apply the Constitution and laws as best as it can, uninfluenced by public opinion, and confident in the knowledge that our democracy is resilient enough to withstand vigorous debate,” the court said.

“I felt vindicated,” said the group’s leader Danton Remoto, an English professor at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University.

He said Ang Ladlad had struggled for recognition and accreditation for the past seven years.

Other magistrates who concurred in the ruling were Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Perez, and Jose Mendoza.

In his separate concurring opinion, Puno said “Ang Ladlad’s right of political participation was unduly infringed when the Comelec, swayed by the private biases and personal prejudices of its constituent members, arrogated unto itself the role of a religious court or worse, a morality police.”

Two magistrates – Senior Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justice Arturo Brion – dissented in the ruling.

In his separate opinion, Corona said “even assuming (Ang Ladlad) was able to show that the community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals is underrepresented, it cannot be properly considered as marginalized under the party-list system.”

The court earlier granted temporary relief to Ang Ladlad by ordering Comelec to include the group in the ballots for the polls pending resolution of the petition.

Unsupported records

In its 26-page petition last Jan. 26, the group asked the high court to reverse the decision of Comelec denying their accreditation as a sectoral party because of “immorality.”

Petitioner argued that Comelec “made conclusions unsupported by records” when it ruled that Ang Ladlad “goes against teachings of certain religions” and that it “advocates sexual immorality.”

The group lamented how Comelec invoked Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), dealing with the glorification of criminals, violence in shows, obscene publications, lustful or pornographic exhibitions, to support its determination that Ang Ladlad espouses doctrines contrary to public morals.

“It may not be amiss to say that the principle of ejusdem generis (of the same kind) suffices to declare that homosexuality per se does not fall within the ambit of the penal law. That one’s affections towards people of the same sex easily translate to lust and immorality is obviously a non sequitur (it does not follow),” they stressed.

They also told the court that being gay or lesbian is “neither a sin nor a sickness,” and therefore should be respected under Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 44, a treaty to which the Philippines is a signatory.

“Each State party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,” the group said.

“Among these rights that must be respected and ensured, ‘without distinction of any kind’ are the right ‘to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives’ and the right ‘to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections,’ both of which are guaranteed under Article 25 of the ICCPR,” the group said.

Comelec committed discriminatory act

With this, Ang Ladlad claimed that Comelec committed a discriminatory act under ICCPR in disqualifying them from the party-list race.

It assailed the Comelec resolution of the second division composed of Commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer, Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph.

In its ruling, the second division said Ang Ladlad advocates same-sex relationship that offends religious beliefs.

Upon appeal of Ang Ladlad in December, the first division of the poll body, composed of Commissioners Gregorio Larrazabal, Rene Sarmiento, and Armando Velasco, voted to grant Ang Ladlad’s appeal to get accredited.

Ang Ladlad, in its motion for reconsideration, cited the 2003 SC ruling on Estrada vs Escritor case. The court explained that the terms “immorality” or “morals” referred to in the law, including those in the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code, are not of religious nature, but of public and secular sort.

But Chairman Jose Melo sided with the second division to junk Ang Ladlad’s appeal.

Melo countered the group’s argument that the Nov. 12 ruling of the poll body applied religious beliefs instead of using public or secular morals in deciding the gay group’s application for accreditation.

Melo said what the second division members used were “moral parameters and precepts that are generally accepted.”

Though the morals applied are religion-based, Melo said the hundred years of influence of Muslim and Christian beliefs had become an accepted norm in society.

He also stressed that the community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders is not a “special class,” and is therefore not marginalized or underrepresented.

“Thus, even if society’s understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of LGBT is elevated, there can be no denying that Ang Ladlad constituencies are still males and females, and they will be protected by the same Bill of Rights that applies to all citizens alike who are amply represented also by the males and females who compromise our legislature,” he said.

The poll chief said homosexuality is not a protected right under the law.

Since gays enjoy the same rights as other citizens, Melo said that their officials could also seek other elective posts, as long as they meet the requisites for the position.

The group has received support from Leila de Lima, head of the independent Commission on Human Rights, who denounced the Comelec’s November ruling as “retrogressive” and smacking of “discrimination and prejudice.”

Ang Ladlad is one of over 100 parties seeking to win 50 of the 286 seats in House of Representatives allocated for marginalized sectors. – With AP

Abalos, 10 others charged with graft for 2008 polls

Abalos, 10 others charged with graft for 2008 polls
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Former elections chairman Benjamin Abalos and 10 other officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) were charged with graft before the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday in connection with the procurement of election forms for the 2008 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Reached by The STAR, Abalos denied having any involvement in the allegedly anomalous transaction since he was no longer with the Comelec when it took place.

Abalos resigned as chairman in October 2007, five months before the supposed bidding process was undertaken.

“Definitely, I don’t know anything about it,” he said.

Five members of the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) accused Abalos and the poll officials of entering into an anomalous transaction for the procurement of election forms and supplies for the 2008 elections in the ARMM.

The complainants said bloated prices approved by Comelec commissioners and members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) caused the government to lose P8.5 million.

Among those charged for alleged violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act were Commissioners Jose Armando Melo, Nicodemo Ferrer, Rene Sarmiento, Moslemen Macarambon Sr., Lucenito Tagle and Resurreccion Borra.

BAC members Jose Tolentino Jr., Thaddeus P. Hernan, James Arthur Jimenez, and Ma. Norina Tangarao-Casingal were also named respondents.

Lawyer Harry Roque and the CCM members said the Comelec officials committed graft in causing undue injury to Advance Paper Corp. and the government by giving undue advantage to three other private firms who lost the bidding process for a procurement contract on March 24, 2008.

Apart from giving unwarranted benefits to the losing bidders, graft was also committed when the poll body entered into a procurement contract that was allegedly “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government,” according to the complainants.

The complaint said Advance Paper Corp. won the public bidding for “Forms and Supplies for the Resumption of the Continuing Registration of Voters” in the ARMM after giving the lowest and most advantageous bids for five specific items or forms.

However, after the process, the Comelec disqualified the firm for allegedly being a sister-company of Advance Computer Forms Inc., a blacklisted company.

The only trivial basis for the accusation was that the companies shared the name “Advance,” the complaint added.

On March 25, 2008, Advance Paper Corp. filed a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec BAC to show that based on corporate documents, the two companies had different stockholders, and that they were not subsidiaries or affiliates of each other.

Despite the evidence presented, the poll body, three days later, issued Notices of Award (NOA) in favor of losing bidders Forms International Enterprise Corp.; Philand Industries, Inc., and Consolidated Paper Products, Inc. “instead of resolving Advance Paper Corporation’s motion for reconsideration.”

Roque and the CCM members said the awarding of the procurement contracts for supplies to the three other firms resulted in bloated prices and the loss of more than P8.5 million to the government.

“From the foregoing, it could be seen that the Comelec BAC caused undue injuries to Advance Paper Corporation and to the government by first, unjustifiably disqualifying this corporation by merely alleging that it was related to a blacklisted company. The unfounded and whimsical decision of the Comelec BAC denied the government of a cost-effective bid for election documents offered by Advance Paper Corporation,” read the complaint.

“Second, the Comelec BAC, with manifest partiality and evident bad faith as shown by the unexplainable indifference to Advance Paper Corporation’s pending motion for reconsideration, awarded overpriced procurement contracts to losing bidders who gained unwarranted benefits, advantages and preferences causing undue injuries to Advance Paper Corporation and to the government.”

Comelec urged to purge BAC

The Comelec was urged yesterday to purge its ranks in the wake of mounting controversies on the conduct of the elections on May 10.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD senatorial candidate Raul Lambino said the poll body must examine and discontinue questionable deals made by members of the BAC.

“This is already a question about the integrity of the Comelec,” he said.

“The public might doubt the Comelec every time it procures something. It could also be flooded with accusations of poll cheating after the election period because of this latest scam.”

Lambino said it is not too late for the Comelec to implement corrective measures to win back the trust and confidence of the people.

“One of them is to effect a reshuffle of its BAC members and relieve all its officials implicated in the ballot secrecy folder scam,” he said. – Michael Punongbayan, Jaime Laude

Comelec disqualifies KBL presidential bet

Comelec disqualifies KBL presidential bet

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday officially disqualified Kilusang Bagong Lipunan Kilusang (KBL) standard-bearer Vetellano Acosta from the presidential race.

Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said the poll body disqualified Acosta on the basis of his own pronouncements and the statement of KBL vice-presidential bet Jay Sonza that they do not support each other, and that Acosta is not supported by his own partymates.

He said the statements prove that Acosta cannot wage a nationwide campaign, which is a requirement for a presidential candidate.

Ferrer said Acosta was also quoted in one interview as saying that he will no longer campaign and join presidential debates, and that he would leave his candidacy to God.

Liberal Party standard bearer Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III earlier filed a petition before Comelec to declare Acosta a nuisance candidate.

Earlier this week, Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said that if it were up to him, he may just disqualify Acosta from the presidential race because he doesn’t seem to be a serious candidate for president. (Read: Melo wants Acosta out of presidential race)  — report from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News