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Less than brilliant as Comelec chief

By Jojo Robles | Feb. 15, 2013 at 12:01am
Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes is a man with a mission. And that, it seems, is to do everything he can to gloss over all concerns about the fitness, accuracy and legality of using the precinct count optical machines that Comelec purchased for the automated midterm elections this May.

The white-maned elections chief routinely displays distaste for those who air doubts about the PCOS machines that Comelec purchased from its automation partner, Smartmatic. And when he can no longer answer his critics, Brillantes threatens to revert to manual voting—a proposal that, as a longtime election lawyer, he knows is illegal and contrary to what the law provides.

The latest dull (as opposed to brilliant) pronouncement from the Comelec chairman has to do with his belief that the source code of Smartmatic’s automated election system need not be certified for use by its owner to be used efficiently and accurately in May. Brillantes said a technical evaluation committee has already certified to the soundness of the system, which means (according to him, anyway) that there is no need to ask the software’s developer and owner, Canada-based Dominion Voting Systems, to do the same.

Brillantes said he is willing to use Smartmatic’s pirated and uncertified software, contrary to what the law provides, because that’s been done before. “In 2010, we had an election although no one really saw the source code,” the un-brilliant chairman explained. “Nobody even knows what is inside the Central Bank [where the source code was kept back then].”

Dominion has refused to allow Smartmatic to use its proprietary election software anymore, an action that led to Comelec’s technology provider suing of the source code’s owner. Now, even the third-party reviewer of the software, a US-based outfit called SLI Global Solutions, cannot release its own certification report on Smartmatic’s source code, simply because Dominion (the owner) will not allow it to do so.

All of this is of no import to the Brilliant One. As he reportedly told former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, an IT expert who questioned some of the chairman’s actions: “When it comes to IT, I won’t say I am better than you. But keep away from legalities.”

Well, it seems that Brillantes is not that great with legalities, either. Or he wouldn’t act so dumb—and dull.

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The framers of the 1987 Constitution were well aware of the importance of education in national life. The basic law seeks to “give priority to education, science and technology, arts, culture and sports” and to “protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”

The way to do this, according to the charter, is to “establish and maintain a system of scholarship grants, student loan programs, subsidies and other incentives which shall be available to deserving students in both public and private schools, especially to the underprivileged.”

This is why San Juan Rep. JV Estrada has urged leaders of the House of Representatives to pass a measure providing a comprehensive and unified financial assistance system to poor students. The United Financial Assistance System for Higher and Technical Education Bill (or UniFAST) consolidates 53 House bills and seeks to expand the access of poor students to quality college education.

Estrada made the last-ditch appeal to leaders of the Lower House to pass the measure before its adjournment on Feb. 8. The measure is still awaiting the approval of the House committee on higher and technical education.

The UniFAST bill seeks to give poor students a chance to pursue their college education through harmonized government scholarships and grants-in-aid programs. The passage of this landmark measure would be a lasting legacy of Congress to poor but deserving Filipino students who want to earn a college degree.

Estrada also wants to institutionalize the participation of affected sectors in the process of approving increases in tuition and other fees in the country’s universities and colleges. Under House Bill 4598, which he authored, Estrada wants to create a National Tuition Fee Rationalization Council  to broaden participation by including representatives from parents, student councils, campus publications, faculty associations, among others, in the process.

The bill, to be known as the Tuition Fee Rationalization Act, seeks to address the problem of profit-oriented educational institutions that impose exorbitant tuition and other school fees every year. The multi-sectoral body that will regulate school fees at a time when more and more schools are increasing their tuition and other fees on a regular basis.

In the 2009-2010 school year, more than 50 percent of universities and colleges raised their tuition, Estrada said. In the 2010-2011 school year, 376 private universities and colleges all over the country implemented tuition hikes.

As the current school year ends, parents and students alike will once again be confronted by higher school fees. UniFAST and the Estrada bill need to be approved by Congress as soon as it reopens.
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