To the public at large, the parting words of Grace Pulido-Tan, the recently retired chair of the Commission on Audit, are the very antithesis of how it feels about her almost-four-year stint. Indeed, regrets and attachment anxiety are all but palpable among those who have seen in her relatively short stay some hope of redemption for government service.
Never has the COA, obscure and anonymous because of its largely backroom operations, stirred public discourse and outrage than when Pulido-Tan’s uncompromising scrutiny of government documents uncovered the flagrant theft of public funds, reports of which she fearlessly made public.
Pulido-Tan—and certainly the public—consider the COA’s special report on the theft of pork barrel funds her biggest legacy, as it diligently detailed how businesswoman Janet Napoles’ extensive network of corruption corralled as willing accomplices government units, local officials, lawmakers, and nongovernment organizations.
Thanks to solid COA findings, three sitting senators—Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada—have been indicted for plunder in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam. The COA report also helped fuel a public clamor for the abolition of the pork barrel system, which has since been declared “unconstitutional” by the Supreme Court.
As Pulido-Tan steps down, the COA is preparing to release the special audit report on the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund disbursed from 2010 to 2013, the findings of which are again bound to shake government bureaucracy as it expectedly hews to her proven resolve to hold no one sacred.
Not surprisingly, the first female head of the COA leaves behind a trail of groundbreaking reforms, including a corrected process for promotion that does away with the padrino system which had employees courting the endorsement of politicians to get a coveted post, a system that makes them beholden and blind to these politicians’ culpabilities.
Given her sterling record, Pulido-Tan’s retirement elicits regret from a grateful public that can only wish that more of her ilk would serve in public office. And yet her leave-taking also becomes rare cause for celebration—that finally, public service has been enriched because one so exposed to pressure and temptation resisted, and prevailed.
In contrast, raised eyebrows and howls of protest greeted the retirement of Commission on Elections chair Sixto Brillantes, whose final act in public office was to sign a “midnight” contract with Smartmatic Corp. despite questions and criticisms from various sectors.
Petitions have been lodged at the Supreme Court seeking that the Comelec’s P300-million deal with Smartmatic for the diagnosis and repair of 82,000 voting machines be stopped. However, the high court has issued, not a temporary restraining order, but an order to the poll body to submit its comments to the charges within 10 days.
Three days before his retirement, Brillantes awarded the contract to Smartmatic “against all odds,” as he himself declared. Worse, the decision was apparently made to spite his critics. “The contract had not been signed but they kept on attacking us, so I signed it,” the man gloated. “Now, I dare all of them to bring it up to the highest court of this land and I will fight for it up to the end.”
As though to rile his detractors even more, he said that thanks to them, Smartmatic lowered its original price by P31.2 million, making the contract a done deal.
Aside from the haste with which the Comelec chair signed the contract, critics have described the deal as “dubious” for lack of a public bidding, which violated the rules on government procurement.
Brillantes said the Comelec chose to deal directly with Smartmatic because “time is of the essence” in the preparations for the 2016 elections—an explanation that raises yet another question: The complaints about malfunctioning machines were brought up as early as 2010. How much time did he need to negotiate with other bidders and solve the problem?
Admittedly, Brillantes can be credited for pushing for fully computerized polls in the past elections, which has hastened vote counting and made election fraud harder to perpetuate. But his last official act, the midnight contract with Smartmatic, has raised so many questions that it is bound to be the only thing for which this former election lawyer would be remembered. It has vastly compromised the legacy he might have hoped to leave.
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