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Driving through miles of American back roads

03:55 PM April 25, 2012

First things first. I need to address the situation of Gus Lagman first. Among the Comelec Commissioners, Lagman is the only non-lawyer and IT expert. He knows how computers can be used to steal elections. He understands how computers can be rigged by bribed Comelec operatives where the real winners lose and the real losers win.  He has been involved in the campaign for cleaner more transparent elections since the martial law years.

A former IBM executive, Lagman is not only well respected by his IT peers for his technical expertise but also has a reputation for integrity and honesty.

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In a third world country striving to be a true democracy, having clean credible efficient elections is an absolute priority.  The Comelec has the reputation of being one of the most corrupt agencies in the country. Commissioners and other Comelec officials are known to be susceptible to bribes or else be used as tools for dishonest “bawas-dagdag” operations.

The “Hello Garci” scandal is still fresh in the public’s mind. Here,  a dishonest seated president is caught red handed on tape directing a Comelec Commissioner to rig the elections in a certain area of the country in her favor.

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Amidst accusations of kickbacks and lack of bidding transparency, billions of pesos of the people’s money were spent by the Comelec during the last administration to purchase computer hardware and software from Smartmatic-TIM Corporation—which could not persuasively demonstrate proper safeguards against using their system to cheat candidates.

The national interest compels the presence of a Comelec Commissioner like Lagman—who can  provide technical expertise as well as be a watchdog in keeping  elections honest.

But a few days ago, Malacanang announced that President Simeon Benigno Aquino will not be renewing the appointment of Lagman. The reason given: A senior Senator who heads the Committee on Appointments is against Lagman’s appointment. The senior Senator has been identified as Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

A well known columnist  states that Enrile  may be against Lagman’s appointment because in the Senatorial election in 1987 — 25 years ago — NAMFREL (and Lagman who was then with NAMFREL) purportedly caused Enrile to be in the last place among the winning candidate. NAMFREL’s  trending forecasts — among other things, supposedly caused this result.

However, it must be recalled that President Corazon Aquino was at the height of her popularity at that time and her candidates practically swept the elections. Enrile was not among her candidates.

Whether this is the real reason for Enrile’s opposition or not, I honestly do not know.  This would be quite petty of Enrile if it were so — as the blame appears to be unjustified. Some analysts including Lagman himself speculate that it might also have something to do with Lagman’s opposition to the purchase of the Smartmatic-TIM’s Corporation PCOS machines.

Lagman has been openly vocal against the purchase of these machines. As an IT expert, he proposed an alternative system that would be cheaper, more reliable and more transparent. Several glitches were apparent in the PCOS machines.

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Last March, he and Christian Lim, another Aquino appointee  — were outvoted by the other Commissioners who voted to exercise the Comelec’s option to purchase some 80,000 PCOS machines for P1.9 billion. The Smartmatic officials claimed they had fixed the glitches.

Without mincing words, Lagman publicly announced on TV: “They are lying if they say they have fixed the glitches.”

Lagman supporters claim that Smartmatic has been campaigning against his confirmation.

Given Enrile’s opposition, the word among the know-it-alls in coffee shops and self proclaimed pundits  is that Malacanang will throw Lagman to the dogs in exchange for Enrile’s support in Corona’s impeachment trial. Enrile’s support supposedly  automatically includes the support of his allies Senator Gringo Honasan and Senator Jinggoy Estrada.

Depending on one’s perspective, such a viewpoint on Enrile is a sword that cuts both ways. On the one hand, it’s a recognition of the influence and power that he wields.  On the other hand, it is also a tacit suggestion that he is a dishonest man — that his judgement on the Corona trial  will not be based on the merits of the case but on whether or not his favor can be purchased for the right price. In this case, the head of Lagman.

To be fair, all of the above explanations regarding Enrile’s opposition to Lagman’s  are mere speculations which could be true or not true.

There’s no question that Enrile himself is a puzzle. He made his way to the top by being a top henchman for the dictator Marcos for years. He admitted after Marcos fell that the  supposed assasination  attempt on his life by the communists was staged — to use it as an  excuse for the declaration of martial law.

But then he was also one of the key figures in the downfall of Marcos. Did he go against Marcos because he sensed that the dictator was about to fall and he wanted to avoid falling with his boss? Was it a matter of personal survival? Or did  he finally go against Marcos out of conscience — where he could no longer tolerate the strongman’s excesses?  Even the people whom I know who have worked with him have mixed opinions. Some say he is a good man. Some say they don’t know. He certainly sends mixed signals.

What is certain is that Enrile is one savvy street wise wealthy lawyer who understands the mechanics and dynamics of power politics. Like his colleague Danding Cojuangco,  not only has he survived politically, he has outsmarted other younger competitors, outlived boss Marcos and wound up on top of the heap. Both have retained their power and become even wealthier after the Marcos years.

In time, powerful and wealthy men are soon forgotten — unless they have done much good for others — or much evil. But ultimately, beyond the honor or dishonor we get from men, only God can judge us and who knows the various hidden  meanings of our lives which even to us — are often unknown. Who can fathom the far reaching consequences of one good or evil act on the lives of others?

As I am often inclined to do when I need to put my mind and spirit in order, I drive by myself for a few days for miles and go through  backroads and small towns, sample the local delicacies, talk to the locals  and stay in quaint inns and places. I bring with me a good book or two, a bottle of fine scotch and some pad paper to write my thoughts. I have done these for years and just love it. So relaxing; so spiritually enriching. I discover so much about myself, other people and  the world when I go about this driveabouts.

I have happily driven through mountains,  valleys, forests and by the ocean, lakes and rivers — through snow, heavy rain, the heat of summer or the pleasantness of spring when the flowers and leaves with various colors are shouting out in all their glory.

When I was living in Chicago, at one time, I drove through the beautiful dairyland back roads of adjoining Wisconsin. After miles of driving through fields loaded with golden wheat and expanses of green cattle ranches, I came across a large beautiful beige colored monastery on the side of a large lake — looking like a fairy tale castle from afar.  I knocked at the gate and asked the monk who opened it if I can stay for two nights. I told him I wanted to go on a private retreat. Most monasteries usually have rooms for guests who wish to go on retreats. The monk welcomed me.

I found out later from one of the monks that the monastery and the wide tract of land on which it stood was donated by a big time “operator” from Chicago in the twenties. “Operator” was a euphemism for a mob boss. I suspected it may have been Al Capone who was a Catholic  but the monks were mum on his identity. Who knows what good is hidden in the hearts of men?

Let’s get back to where I started. People like Lagman are good for the country and Malacanang should fight for people like him — not abandon them. Understandably, it’s often not easy for the President to do this as he will encounter strong opposition. But it’s the right thing to do.

Palace sources  state that Aquino will not reappoint Lagman to spare him the embarrassment of not being confirmed by the Senators and Congressmen. I think Malacanang has it wrong. It will not be Lagman who should be embarrassed if he is not appointed. It should be the Senators and Congressmen.

Aquino should reappoint him and have him face the Senators and Congressmen. If they will not confirm him, the President should do the right thing and just keep reappointing him annually.

This weekend, I hit the hidden back roads underneath  giant redwoods and besides the roaring waves of the Pacific Ocean along the Northern California coastline. Perhaps I’ll run into some Indian tribes, have some of their smoked salmon and venison jerky and share some good scotch with them. I must be the luckiest person on earth. I was born and raised in the Philippines but can feel completely at home anywhere in the world.

Note: Honored by the State Bar of California as one of the top immigration lawyers in the country, Attorney Laguatan also  does complex litigation, accident injuries and wrongful death cases. Contact info:  Tel  650 991-1154. Email [email protected] Address: 455 Hickey Suite 516, Daly City, Ca 94015

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TAGS: comelec, Elections, Gus Lagman, Politics, Technology
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