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As I See It

Everybody has his own version of the Sona

/ 04:37 AM July 25, 2011

Many people will be glued to their television sets today to listen to President Benigno Aquino III tell them what they already know: the state of the nation as he sees it. The trouble with this annual rigmarole is that every person has his or her own view of the state of the nation. The President sees it with rose-colored glasses, thanks to his efforts. The people, especially the poor, see it differently. Life is harder, there is less to eat, he is still a squatter, he still has no job, his children are out of school, one of them is sick but can’t get sufficient medical attention because he has no money for his hospitalization or for a doctor, he can’t get help from government charity agencies because the red tape is so long, corruption in government is still endemic, crime is still common, etc., etc.

But to hear it from the President and his allies, we are about to enter the Promised Land; to hear it from the opposition, we are worse off now than we were before. After every Sona, the people are bewildered. Who should they believe?

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Why is it that in conducting almost all transactions in the Philippines, you have to have clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation that you are not a criminal and you have to prove your birth with a birth certificate? Are criminals so widespread in the Philippines that it is presumed that any person without an NBI clearance is a criminal?

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Look at the long lines of Filipinos patiently waiting for their clearances in front of the NBI. Look at the hordes of people waiting for copies of their own birth certificates at the National Statistics Office. Even when you want to pay your taxes, pay your loan at the Social Security System or the Government Service Insurance System, or deposit money in the bank, you have to wait a long time.

In the age of IT, why is it still so difficult to transact business? Wasn’t that one of the goals of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration, to eliminate red tape? But the tape has become not only longer but redder. And it looks like it is not going to be any shorter any time soon.

For example, look at what is happening at the NBI. The NBI clearance has become a basic requirement in our lives, be it for job applications, securing business permits, getting a passport or visa, or for any other legal purpose. It is as if we are a nation of criminals.

For 32 years until last June 30, the NBI clearance was through the “piano method,” fingerprinting all fingers through ink and security paper. For 32 years, Megadata was the information technology provider of the NBI for its Clearance System under a BOT (build-operate-transfer) arrangement.

For 32 years, the NBI Clearance System was co-managed by the bureau and Megadata. It started in 1978 when the original memorandum of agreement was forged by the two parties. The arrangement remained in force through multiple extensions, until June 30, 2011. All of a sudden, Megadata took the Operations System Software and Hardware last June 30, the day its contract expired. Megadata left to the NBI just the files in the databank. The mother software which opens, stores the files and manages the system was taken by Megadata.

This act of Megadata was said to be in violation of its original BOT contract with the NBI. Megadata was supposed to transfer technical expertise, software and hardware to the NBI upon the termination of its contract.

Megadata is involved with other controversial information technology services including the issuance of alleged low quality driver’s licenses, an accusation of then Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Alberto Suansing.

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During the administration of President Joseph Estrada, the Office of the Ombudsman investigated then Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas and his brother Filemon, ambassador at large, for an apparent “conflict of interest” arising from the awarding of a P4-billion government project to a company where they have holdings. The contract was later on cancelled.

The Cuevases are major stockholders of Amalgamated Management and Development Corp. (AMDC). This company is a member of the Megadata Consortium which won the bid for the computerization of land titling of the LRA, which is an agency under the Department of Justice, whose chief was then Serafin Cuevas.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has ordered an investigation of Megadata for failing to transfer technology and expertise to the NBI as provided in the contract.

“I find it questionable that there is no such transfer after more than 30 years,” she said.

The contract’s expiration last June 30 without a replacement has resulted in confusion among applicants for NBI clearance. Also to be investigated is how Megadata was retained for 32 years.

NBI will hold a bidding for a new IT service provider in about six months. Which means applicants for NBI clearance will have to suffer for at least six more months.

The NBI said it wants to avail itself of the latest technologies at par with investigative agencies of other countries like the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Britain’s Scotland Yard.

Meanwhile, the NBI has set up satellite offices in Ever-Gotesco malls. These satellite offices will be using biometrics as opposed to the antiquated “piano system” of Megadata. Ever-Gotesco malls are in Quezon City, Manila and Caloocan.

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The fight between the National Printing Office (NPO) and the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) is not yet over, even with the denial by APO that the two government printing agencies would be merged.

The NPO sent a press release denying that it has only one printing press. It has 20 presses, it said. It also said that while it is true that NPO subcontracts government printing jobs to private printers, APO also subcontracts some of its government printing jobs.

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TAGS: Asian Productivity Organization (APO), Ever-Gotesco malls, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), National Printing Office (NPO), NBI satellite offices, President Benigno Aquino III, SONA 2011
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