MANILA,  JUNE 2, 2004
Branding as constitutionally infirm the rules on the canvassing of votes for presidential and vice presidential candidates that were approved by the administration-dominated Congress, the united opposition warned such rules do not guarantee transparent and truthful determination of the election results.

“Instead of restoring harmony in the land after the May 10 elections and restoring the people's faith in its government, the rules would divide our people even wider and increase their mistrust in the canvassing process,” Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), in a statement, said yesterday.

According to KNP Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. the 1987 Constitution grants Congress the power to determine the authenticity and due execution of the received certificates of canvass (CoC) “in the manner provided by law.”

He said this provision was stipulated in the Constitution to prevent a recurrence of the railroading by the Batasang Pambansa of the proclamation of Ferdinand Marcos and Arturo Tolentino as president and vice president on the basis of fraudulent results of the 1986 snap presidential and vice presidential elections.

Pimentel, however, charged this sacrosanct constitutional provision was violated when the joint session of Congress delegated to a 22-man committee the power to determine the authenticity and due execution of the CoC.

Moreover, he pointed out the Constitution limited the rule-making power of Congress as board of canvassers for the presidential and vice-presidential elections to “promulgating rules for the canvassing of the certificates of canvass (Article VII, Section 4, sixth paragraph).”

Citing the explanation of the sponsors of Article VII in the 1986 Constitutional Commission, the senator said the phrase “in the manner provided by law” refers to “the rules and regulations of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Omnibus Election Code, the jurisprudence from the decisions of the Supreme Court,” and a subsequent determination by legislation “what are the points which the board of tellers can take cognizance of...”

The unconstitutional rules approved by Congress have, in effect, amended the Constitution by removing the constitutional distinction between the two separate processes of determining the authenticity and due execution of CoC and the canvass; delegating to a 22-man committee the task of canvassing the votes; promulgating rules for the determination and due execution of the certificates of canvass which is not within the electoral powers of Congress.

Pimentel said the “GMA Express” in Congress (referring to legislative allies of Mrs. Arroyo) by their sheer numbers, rammed through a set of rules – clearly in gross violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution on the canvassing of votes.

Contrary to the deceptive time and motion analysis by a member of Congress, the senator added it would not take months for the whole Congress to exercise its powers to determine the authenticity and due execution of the CoC.

“That will not be so. The minority has no desire to question all the CoC. We intend to question only 10 to 15 CoC. Granting that we will take one whole day to scrutinize every CoC, that will consume only 15 days, not months,” he said.

Pimentel believed the use of electronic power joint projection of the certificates of canvass and their source documents on a giant screen in the session hall would substantially shorten the process.

In a warning, the senator said what is taking currently place in Congress may be compared to the impeachment trial of detained leader Joseph Estrada in which anti-Estrada senators and congressmen walked out before the second envelope was opened.

“We are seeing a similar pattern here on the part of the administration congressmen and senators who are afraid that what might be stated on the CoC inside the brown envelopes are not what they are expecting.”

The lawmaker cited the statement of presidential election lawyer Romulo Macalintal that he would not allow the opening of the election returns if ever the opposition would insist on opening them.

“The problem with Macalintal is that he thinks he is a congressman and a senator rolled into one which he is not,” Pimentel stressed. “Like the rest, Macalintal is afraid to open the envelopes containing the election returns, that is why he is doing everything to block the opening of the envelopes.”

During Estrada's impeachment trial, a second envelope containing the alleged back account number and signature of Jaime Dechavez, alias Jose Velarde, was scheduled to be opened but the pro-impeachment lawmakers walked out of the Senate session hall where the impeachment trial was held.

The walkout triggered a simultaneous gathering of anti-Estrada supporters that eventually led to an uprising.

“The problem is we have the same 'civil society' groups here telling us what not to do,” the senator said. “They are afraid of the truth that Erap is still the president and Fernando Poe Jr. is the winner.”

Malacañang and its congressional allies are apparently making moves to convince the Supreme Court (SC) to outrightly dismiss the opposition's petition questioning the constitutionality of the 22-man joint committee in Congress.

Despite the move taken by Speaker Jose de Venecia and Senate President Franklin Drilon, preempting the said plan of the opposition, Rep. Bellaflor Angara (Aurora) said they will formally file a petition seeking a “prohibition with preliminary injunction” before the high tribunal.

The move, according to Angara, was among the many options the opposition is taking into consideration at the moment while majority is allegedly railroading the canvassing process.

Other members of the opposition, however, were pessimistic, saying the matter might only be dismissed by the high tribunal.

“It is not because our case is baseless but because of the reality that the President (GMA) has eight allies in the high tribunal,” a member of the opposition, who requested anonymity, told the Tribune.

Also, the KNP ridiculed the claim of Mrs. Arroyo's lawyers that the move of the united opposition to exclude her votes in the Congress canvassing is an admission that FPJ has lost the elections.

“This is ridiculous,” the FPJ panel of lawyers, headed by former Comelec Chairman Harriet Demetriou, said.

“Precisely, the purpose of the canvassing is to exclude certificates of canvass that are not duly executed or show alterations and erasures, indicating that they are not authentic or truly reflective of the actual result of the voting in any province or city or absentee voting district.”

With report from Dona Policar

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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