Lagman reveals Comelec's intelligence funds

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 22 2013 07:56 PM | Updated as of May 23 2013 05:46 AM

Brillantes-Lagman word war gets uglier

MANILA (UPDATED) - Former elections commissioner Gus Lagman turned the tables not just on his erstwhile boss, Chairman Sixto Brillantes, but on the rest of his former colleagues in the poll body.

In a statement sent to media late Tuesday night, Lagman raised the matter of the intelligence funds poll executives supposedly get -- amounting to P1.25 million in 2011.

"An area where I definitely did not accomplish anything was 'intelligence' work. I didn't even know that Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioners had that function," he said.

"Sometime in 2011, I received a check payable to me for P1 million, followed a few months later by another P250,000, as 'intelligence' fund, or 'I.F.', as they referred to it. Presumably, all Commissioners received an equal amount, with the Chairman, as mentioned by one of the Commissioners, receiving double that," he added.

Lagman said he returned the money after holding on to it for a few months---and only after he felt that he was being made to sign a false liquidation.

"Thinking that there might be need for the fund in the future, I deposited it in my bank account. In early 2012, somebody from [Comelec] finance asked me to sign a document (just one sheet) that would liquidate the fund. The document basically said that I spent the amount on a variety of activities, none of which I actually did. I therefore refused to sign the document and said that I would just return the money, still untouched," he said.

Lagman revealed the questionable circumstances behind the money:

"The [Comelec] Director for Finance came to see me and explained that all I needed to do was sign the document and the fund would automatically be liquidated. No receipts needed to be presented. After several minutes of discussion, I said that I chose to return the money – and I promptly wrote out a check – and asked him to issue me an official receipt for it. Which he did."

The poll chief then allegedly asked Lagman why he returned the money.

"I said I didn't know what to do with it and besides, the money was just sleeping in the bank. I also said I had no intention of making anything big out of it. So admittedly, this (intelligence work) is the only area where, I truly did not do a single thing. An election lawyer I met later told me that the buzz inside the Comelec was that I was the only commissioner who returned unspent money," he said.

Lagman stressed that he also returned other amounts to the poll body.

“Aside from the I.F. that I returned, I also returned unspent representation allowance during official trips abroad (US$1,800 every trip, no matter how short the trip was). This was on top of the other travel expenses like plane fare, lodging, and per diems," he said.

"Of the two trips I made, I only spent US$70.25 of the representation allowance when I treated to dinner some people from a foundation that has been sponsoring training programs for Comelec staff. I returned the rest. The disbursing officer didn’t know how to handle the return of funds, so much so, that I had to ask somebody from Finance to receive the money and issue me receipts," he added.

Lagman expounded on the money given to each of the poll commissioners.

“Commissioners are also entitled to a monthly Revolving Fund of P50,000 a month for office expenses. Had I used them all up by presenting receipts, I could have drawn a total of P600,000 for the year that I was with the Commission," he said.

"My office only spent P182,003.77 of that amount, most of which was to cover expenses during Pillar meetings."

Brillantes admits intel funds

The poll chief, however, feels that Lagman took things the wrong way.

Brillantes clarified that Lagman was being shown how a liquidation should be done.

He maintained the Comelec does have an intelligence fund and they cannot be compelled to disclose it.

“Ako, may intelligence funds. Sinasabi ko, sa akin nakapangalan lahat ng intelligence funds, binibigyan ko lang sila. This is approved by the Office of the President. Di ko sasabihin kung saan ko ginagamit. But I will confirm that he (Lagman) had, I gave him and then he returned it," he said.

In a phone interview with ABS-CBN News, Brillantes explained Lagman "was merely being given an idea how to liquidate. A guide. Tumanggap ka ng pera, hindi ka nag-liquidate. Tinuturuan sya. Just like the other commissioners."

The poll chief feels Lagman is just being "holier than thou."

"Not true. How would he know? It's not true he's the only one who returned it. Pinalalabas nya yata sya lang mabait dito but how would he know he's the only one who returned it? Naghahanap sya ng gulo," he said.

"We're not the first (to have intelligence funds). It's a necessity. I don't know how far back but from the time of Chairman [Jose] Melo, they had. I talked to him."

Brillantes stressed everything is above board. "Ako, wala akong tinatago. Kapag pera ang pinag-uusapan natin, wala akong tinatago kaya hindi ako natatakot. Tinanggap nya (Lagman). Sinoli nya nung di sya na-confirm."

P30M in intel funds for Comelec

For 2013, the Comelec has a budget of P8.26 billion, and there is no entry in it for intelligence funds.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM), however, clarified that based on the general provisions of the 2013 budget, Comele was given P30 million in confidential and intelligence funds.

Lagman said he only raised the issue now because Brillantes has been accusing him of not accomplishing anything during his few months as commissioner.

Lagman also rebutted the poll chief’s claims that he was pushing for an alternative election technology.

"Since I am not a vendor of election systems, I’d like to ask him what kind of business I might be interested in when precinct counting is manual. It will only cost about P2 billion, against what it cost us when the Comelec decided to use PCOS -- P11.3 billion in 2010 and over P8 billion in 2013," he said.

"We have been explaining since 2008 that the system will only need laptops and servers that the Commission can buy from Filipino computer shops in the major cities, thus also reducing the expenses for logistics. These laptops and servers can be passed on to the Department of Education after every election, so there will virtually be no warehousing and maintenance cost," he said.

Lagman added: “Suppose I reverse his question: Might there be business interests on the part of some Comelec officials who participated in the decision to purchase the PCOS system and related items that cost the Filipino people over P8 billion?"

The statement also expounded on Lagman’s track record as a poll commissioner, rebutting Brillantes’ claims that he didn't help address the criticisms he raised against the automated election system during his time as poll commissioner.

“Despite my not being a lawyer, I was 'raffled' an equal share of election cases as the other Commissioners. However, during my first two months, I could not attend to the cases assigned to me, as I was still hiring staff (lawyers and clerks). In effect, therefore, I only spent about nine months studying, signing, and releasing election cases. In that span of time, I signed a total of 443 resolutions of election cases assigned to the other Commissioners, 87 of my own decisions (including 70 that have been promulgated and 17 decisions pending promulgation), and 16 separate opinions (dissenting, concurring, separate)," he said.

Brillantes also clarified his statements questioning Lagman's accomplishments.

"Wala siyang accomplishment as far as the automated elections is concerned. Ang biggest accomplishment niya--he decided on 400 cases, na hindi naman siya abugado."

Brillantes hinted he is prepared for what else Lagman might say.

"He better prepare also for other things. If that’s the case, I will look for his entire accounting while he's here. Kaya nga 'di ko maintindihan, pinag-usapan trabaho niya, pera expose niya. Gusto niya gumanti, ako wala ako tinatago rito."

Brillantes also isn't buying claims there is no conspiracy among critics of the automated election system (AES).

“Hindi ah pare-pareho napansin may mali. Three years na nila sinasabi, 3 taon paulit ulit, hindi pwedeng ano yun sabihin mo kay Gus okay lang. Wala ako tinatago rito, maski isa so hindi ako natatakot."

Brillantes reiterated his demand for Lagman to show that the AES is erroneous.

Lagman documents, Comelec