PLM held Tour to Expose Corruption at Comelec and Customs
SUCCESSIVE protest actions were held today at the offices of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) under what protestors dubbed as the start of a series of “Tour to Expose Corruption” in line with the 2016 elections. The said agencies were accused of being “institutionally corrupt and are perfect instruments for cheating and raising funds for the coming elections.”
The protest action was initiated by Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), a political party of the marginalized sectors. Among its affiliates are the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), the Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Lungsod and the Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Transportasyon.
“As the campaign fever rises by the day, we fear that the probability of holding clean and honest elections also fades by the day,” said Sonny Melencio, chairperson of PLM.
Highly Probable Collusion
Melencio explained that, “The P300-million midnight deal between Smartmatic and the Comelec for the diagnostics and repair of 82,000 PCOS machines that was declared void by the Supreme Court was already a red flag, and yet no reforms were implemented and no transparent and upgraded mechanisms were put in place to ensure the Comelec deals were in the best interest of the people.”
“Negotiators of Smartmatic must be the luckiest people on earth for monopolizing billions-of-pesos worth of contracts from the Comelec in the past three months,” Melencio said.
Smartmatic was recently awarded a P7.86-billion lease contract by the Comelec for 70,977 optical mark reader machines (OMRs), on top of the 23,000 OMRs already awarded to it early this year at the cost of P1.72 billion.
Melencio noted that after the voiding of the P300-million refurbishment deal, the Comelec’s budget for the refurbishment of the PCOS machines, including consumables and the official ballots, was adjusted twice from P2.88 billion to P3.13 billion. Smartmatic refused to re-bid. Surprisingly, Comelec nullified the remaining bid by the Dermalog, Avante & Stone of David group, leaving no takers for the refurbishment contract. There was an alarming change of mind by the Commissioners who dropped the idea of refurbishing the 82,000 warehoused PCOS machines in favor of leasing a new set of 93,977 OMRs. All these seemed ridiculously tailor-fitted for the interests of Smartmatic.
Melencio demanded that the Comelec explain thoroughly to the public the sudden change of plans and explain why it was more beneficial and cost effective to the tax-paying public to lease new machines instead of using the old ones. He also lobbied for a holistic review of all Comelec decisions since 2010, as well as the inclusion of representatives of civil society and peoples’ organizations in the entire electoral process being undertaken by Comelec to ensure transparency and people’s trust in the voting system.
“The Comelec has failed in extinguishing doubts on the reliability of the PCOS machines since the 2010 elections, and the lack of transparency in its operations has fueled the suspicion of many, experts and skeptics alike, that something was wrong with the machines,” he lamented.
Motive behind the Balikbayan box fiasco
The PLM likewise held a demonstration at the BoC office in Port Area calling for Customs Chief Bert Lina’s resignation. They accused Lina of using his position to influence tariff and custom measures to gain undue advantage over his competition in the forwarding and freight business. On top of that, Lina treated OFWs as mere collateral damage in the competition between these companies in the logistics industry.
“Lina is misleading the public by declaring that he is just out to implement and upgrade the Customs rules, when his only intention is to give his previously owned companies advantage over competition,” Melencio declared.
“The processing of cargoes is already stiff, but his order for mandatory inspections will further impede the forwarders’ operations. This in turn will force its clients to find more reliable, prudent and punctual forwarding services. And Lina’s companies would be it. This is plain and simple harassment of Lina’s business rivals,” he averred.
Lina, together with his wife Sylvia, is chairman and major stockholder of 19 companies under the Lina Group of Companies which spans from logistics to solar energy and waste management. Among them are Airfreight 2100 Inc., Air2100 Inc., Cargohaus Inc., U-Freight Philippines Inc., and U-Ocean Inc., all doing business with the BoC.
Upon accepting the appointment as Customs chief last April, Lina declared that he would divest himself of all business interests as they are in obvious conflict with his public office. But up to now, no public announcement by concerned agencies has been made on the status of his divestments.
The group believes that Lina’s companies were sold to lesser know associates or even to dummies so that he may buy them back after Aquino’s term ends in 2016, similar to what he did in 2005 when he resigned as Customs chief from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Cabinet and joined the Hyatt 10.
Despite Lina’s lion share of the market, the PLM deems that he is “going in for the kill – a move to monopolize the entire forwarding industry before President Noynoy Aquino steps down from office”.
Lina is believed to be one of the major contributors in the campaign of Aquino when he ran in 2010. PLM fears that Lina will most likely contribute to the campaign kitty of the Aquino-endorsed candidacy of Mar Roxas in the 2016 elections for as long as the Palace supports the scheme of the Customs chief.
The group likewise concluded that the BoC has always been suspected as fund-raiser for administration parties. The previous Customs commissioner himself, John Philip Sevilla, had resigned from his post after accusing the supporters, allies and loyalists of President Aquino of pressuring him to make Customs a milking cow for 2016. Sevilla later on retracted his statement. “It is however an open secret that Customs posts are generally awarded to campaign financiers and supporters,” Melencio claimed.
“Not unless the bata-bata system is completely quashed that we will have a Customs free of graft and bureaucratic wranglings,” Melencio added.
Meanwhile Leody de Guzman of the militant BMP scoffed at the the recent announcement of the Palace to no longer subject Balikbayan boxes to random inspection when their scheme was to support Lina’s plan to subject all shipments to mandatory inspection.
“Is this how the Aquino government treats its “Bagong Bayani”? Malacanang’s support for Lina is a testament of how this government treats the OFWs, as collateral damage in Lina’s pursuit to monopolize the freight forwarding industry,” he said.
The BMP laments that Aquino not only failed to attribute and express gratitude to more than ten million Filipinos abroad for their remittances in his last SONA but also treats them as mere “collateral damage”.###