(First published in The Philippine Star issue of Feb. 21, 2013)

REGULAR RENT: The Sabah issue is clear and simple: If Malaysia is indeed the absolute owner of that corner of North Borneo which the constituents of the Sulu sultan insist on occupying as their ancestral home, why is Kuala Lumpur regularly paying rent to the sultanate?

While we plain folk readily comprehend this point, Malacañang cannot seem to appreciate this ownership detail underlying the standoff between Malaysian police and Filipinos occupying the coastal village of Lahad Datu in Sabah.

Kuala Lumpur had the foresight and cunning to broker – with the aid of British and American collaborators -- the Bangsamoro sub-state deal of Malacañang with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

That adroit move is now paying off. See how President Aquino has been siding more with the Malaysian tenants than with the legal and historical Filipino owners of Sabah.

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DORMANT ISSUE: Shifting focus to the safety of the Sulu sultan’s constituents, Malacañang is consulting behind the scenes with its Malaysian counterpart on how they can convince the Suluans in Sabah to agree to be evicted without incident.

We ache to hear Malacañang say that the Suluans’ safe repatriation will not be at the expense of the Philippine claim to Sabah. We want to catch even just a hint that the Aquino administration has not abandoned the claim to please Malaysia and its Western patrons.

That the claim was initiated by a previous president (Diosdado Macapagal, the late father of Aquino’s hate-object Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) cannot justify Malacañang’s showing scant interest and dismissing it as a dormant issue.

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SABOTAGE?: Palace propagandists have come up with a sabotage spin, insinuating that characters identified with former President Arroyo instigated the Sabah standoff to torpedo the Bangsamoro sub-state that President Aquino promised to deliver by 2016.

On the other side of town, Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. of the Commission on Elections is also using the sabotage angle, accusing critics of throwing obstacles to his preparation for the automated elections in May. Brillantes has at least two big problems:

• If he recognizes the flaws of the Precinct Count Optical Scan hardware and concedes that there was computerized fraud in the 2010 elections, he might open to question the election of his patron who had appointed him to the poll body.

• If Comelec stops covering up for Smartmatic, the favored contractor (that seems to have captured the poll body and a host of other entities, including some sectors of media) might spill the beans on the "commissioners."

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SOFTWARE LICENSE: Somebody must remind Brillantes that election hardware such as the PCOS machines is useless without the software, or the programmed instructions that will make the computers run the way the operator wants.

While the Comelec has bought from Smartmatic for some P1.8 billion the second-hand PCOS, around 82,000 of them carried over from the 2010 elections, the machines are just a dead heap of metal, plastic and wires without the software.

Smartmatic has been trying to make good its commitment to secure the software license from Dominion Voting Systems, a third-party program developer. But the two firms got entangled in an exchange of suits over payments and copyrights.

The Comelec, which has placed all its bets on its beloved Smartmatic, is caught in the middle. While it has the PCOS hardware, it does not have the license for Dominion’s software.

Brillantes is so desperate that he has expressed willingness to advance $10 million (from public funds?) to mollify Dominion, a private foreign business firm. Can he legally do that?

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ARMM POLLS: The Comelec had a license for the use of the Dominion software in the 2010 presidential elections where President Aquino won.

There were the usual losers complaining of supposed cheating, but it is now too late in the day for the integrity of the elections to be challenged.

It is odd that the President’s own running mate Mar Roxas questioned the results, albeit only those pertaining to his rival Jojo Binay who was elected Vice President on the same ballot as Aquino using the same PCOS machines.

There is speculation that the Smartmatic-Dominion dispute was the real reason why the ARMM election originally set in August 2011 was called off despite the fact that the logistics were already in the area.

It was made to appear that the regional election was just postponed to coincide with the May national election this year. This also justified the appointment of ARMM officers-in-charge.

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ERAP TALK: Reacting to our last Postscript on the shifting political alliances in the 2013 and the 2016 elections, former President Erap Estrada called to clarify some items in my column. Erap, incidentally, is running for Manila mayor against the incumbent Fred Lim.

He said it is not true that he offered his son Sen. Jinggoy Estrada as the vice presidential mate of Vice President Jojo Binay when the United Nationalist Alliance stalwart runs for president in 2016. He said he has enough delicadeza to not do that.

It is too early to think of the 2016 elections, he said, adding that he has been reminding Jinggoy to just continue working hard as senator. The presidency, he pointed out, is a matter of destiny.

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BIRTHDAY BASH: That was a lively and well-attended birthday party last Tuesday of PhilStar columnist Tony Katigbak at the E’s Bar, Edsa Shangri-La hotel. Tony is chairman of the Tuesday Club, a weekly forum at the Shang that brings together media, businessmen, diplomats, government officials and politicians.

Another friend, Myther Buñag, is also waiting to waylay Tony this noon with a followup party at his place off the Remedios Circle in Malate. His weekly lunch, noted for its Capampangan cuisine, also draws a respectable crowd of media friends, businessmen and politicians.

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