Calling a spade
Business World, 18 April 2012


The bare story is that Augusto “Gus” Lagman’s ad interim appointment as Comelec commissioner was not renewed by President Aquino. This, in stark contrast to the SOP where the president renews these appointments until such time as the Commission on Appointments (CA) has held hearings and then decides whether to confirm or reject (bypass) a nominee’s appointment.

As expected, speculation abounds as to the reason for the deviation from SOP. A confidential memo (leaked, naturally, given the number of recipients), from Lagman himself purportedly opines (could it be that this is what he was told by Palace insiders?) that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE) is out for his blood, and PNoy does not want to antagonize JPE given the latter’s pivotal role in the Corona impeachment trial. Lagman comes out as a sacrificial lamb in a dirty political game.

Another version is that word got to the Palace that Lagman would be rejected outright by the CA, without even giving him the benefit of a hearing where he can defend himself. Why? Because the CA is convinced that Gus was responsible for the defeat of the opposition senatorial candidates in the 1987 elections (25 years ago), where only two out of 24 winners were from the opposition — JPE and Erap.

A third view is that Lagman was too much of a stumbling block against the business-as-usual operations of some Comelec officials, and so he had to go (which meant lobbying against him with the CA members, using plenty of sugar to help the trumped-up charges go down). What were some of Gus’s spoil-sport activities?

For one, the ink on his original interim appointment barely dry, he raised objections (the only one to do so) against the Comelec plan to use Smartmatic and its PCOS machines during the then-scheduled ARMM elections, calling attention to what he considered the unjustifiably large cost outlays involved. He also strongly objected against Comelec’s purchasing Smartmatic’s PCOS machines , but was outvoted (5-2), calling attention to its flaws, both legal and technical. To top it all, he was too gung-ho about putting in place reforms in the Comelec that would make for more efficient (less costly) and more cheat-proof canvassing processes.

But let’s examine these speculations one by one, and meditate on what their implications would be on good governance and the Tuwid Na Daan, if they are indeed valid.

If speculation number one — that Lagman is a very dispensable pawn in power politics — is accurate, the implications as far as I am concerned are that a)PNoy is so bent on getting Corona convicted that he will go to any lengths to achieve it — including accepting an unreformed, business-as-usual Comelec; and that b) JPE is either nothing but a crotchety old man obsessed with a 25-year-old accusation and bent on exacting punishment/revenge whatever the cost, or he has already made up his mind on Corona, and is not averse to getting as much mileage out of it in terms of quid-pro-quo from the administration.

That picture is not pretty. In fact, it is horrifying. And I refuse to give it any credence. Why?

With regard to PNoy , it is clear that he wants Corona convicted. To that end, he has used information that is available only to the government. But I refuse to accept that he will go to the extent of kicking out of a job a person who has the competence, the commitment and the integrity to do that job and to make a difference that will redound to the benefit of the country. Why am I so sure? Because he knows what previous Comelecs did to this country in general, and his father and his mother in particular. And he has to want to make sure that he will correct the problem during his term.

What about JPE? The picture of him that the speculation portrays is not consistent with what he is portraying as presiding officer of the impeachment trial, nor what he portrayed during the Senate investigation of Manny Villar: a person who does his homework, bends over backward to be fair, and seems to want to leave a legacy of serving the country above all other considerations. So there is no way he would make up his mind on Corona until the defense presents its side. Anyone who believes that JPE can be swayed on an issue as important as the Corona impeachment trial by offering him the head of Gus Lagman on a silver platter is an idiot.

But why is JPE out for Gus Lagman’s head? Allegedly because it was Lagman was responsible for the defeat of the opposition candidates in the 1987 senatorial elections. Which brings us to the second speculation.

On to the second speculation: that the CA will reject Gus outright because he cheated in the 1987 senatorial elections for Cory’s candidates.

And how was Gus supposed to have cheated? Supposedly by writing a program, as head of the Namfrel Operation Quick Count, that would add 10,000 votes per congressional district, to each of the administration candidates’ count. That would mean padding the count by a total of two million votes. The accusation was aired shortly after the elections, and the “evidence” was a diskette of a program that was supposedly taken from the Namfrel headquarters which gave precisely that instruction.

Gus apparently has already written JPE, as well as Senator Koko Pimentel and the president, explaining why the accusation is baseless.

But what is the implication, if the speculation that the CA will reject Lagman outright is accurate? Obviously that the these members of Congress and the Senate are either a) acting as a lynch mob, with no consideration for due process and allowing Lagman his day in court, so to speak; or b) so totally intimidated by JPE or so desirous of being in his good graces that they are willing to ignore their constitutional responsibilities.

Even worse implications, if the CA actually believes that there was cheating in 1987, are that the Cory administration and the Comelec (including Heidi Yorac) were cheaters, along with Namfrel. This, by the way, is the Namfrel that was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of its role in safeguarding the elections and restoring democracy.

Ridiculous, right?

Which, by the process of elimination, leaves the third speculation. The implication of this third speculation is that so much money is involved in the deals with Smartmatic that there is enough to spread around to ensure that these are not jeopardized.

The conclusion is loud and clear: Gus Lagman must stay in Comelec.