MANILA,  JUNE 3, 2004
(STAR) By Aurea Calica  -  The opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) asked the Supreme Court yesterday to stop a congressional committee from proceeding with the canvassing of votes for president and vice president on the grounds that the process was unconstitutional.

In a 29-page petition, Davao City Rep. Ruy Elias Lopez represented the KNP in questioning the legality of the rules adopted by the joint session of Congress in appointing the members of a joint committee to count the certificates of canvass (COCs) in the tabulation of results for the two elected positions.

There was no immediate reaction from the Supreme Court.

Through lawyers for KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr., Lopez claimed the formation of the joint committee was illegal and a violation of the Constitution.

Lopez claimed congressmen and senators have been deprived of their constitutional mandate to participate in the canvassing of votes as members of the National Board of Canvassers.

KNP lawyers led by Rufus Rodriguez and Sixto Brillantes cited Section 4, Article 7 of the 1987 Constitution in claiming that Congress as a plenary body, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers, is tasked to conduct the canvassing.

They said the constitutional task of canvassing the votes for the two highest elected positions should not be delegated to a mere committee.

Lopez also urged the Supreme Court to issue a restraining order against Congress, barring it from proceeding with the canvass under the rules adopted by the joint legislative body last May 28.

"Petitioner most respectfully urges this Honorable Court to seize this critical opportunity and rule squarely upon this most critical constitutional issue in a most critical period in the life of this nation in the light of very serious accusations of widespread electoral fraud in the May 10, 2004 national elections and allegations of railroading in the canvassing of votes for presidential and vice-presidential candidates," Lopez said in his petition for prohibition and mandamus.

Named respondents in the petition were Senate President Franklin Drilon, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., the 22 members of the joint canvassing committee, and the chief financial and budget officers of the two legislative chambers.

Lopez argued that all the members of Congress should not be "deprived of their rights and prerogatives to be present at, observe and participate in the opening of all the certificates of canvass, determining the authenticity and due execution thereof, and canvassing the votes cast for presidential and vice presidential candidates."

Unless the canvassing is stopped, Lopez said members of Congress "will suffer grave and irreparable injury not only because of the loss of their representations in the canvassing proceedings but also because the use of public funds in the implementation, enforcement and execution of an invalid, illegal, unconstitutional legislative act is a misapplication of public funds."

Lopez underscored the importance of the petition "in the light of very serious accusations of widespread electoral fraud" during the conduct of the May 10 elections.

"Such serious accusations and allegations cannot be taken lightly during these critical times in the life of this nation," he said.

The KNP lawyers, for their part, argued that the rules adopted by Congress effectively amended and abrogated Article 7, Section 4 of the Constitution.

"We want the Supreme Court to declare as unconstitutional the joint resolution of Congress creating the joint committee to canvass the certificates of canvass," Rodriguez said.

Although admitting Congress has the prerogative to promulgate its rules for the canvassing under the Constitution, Rodriguez claimed the rule is not absolute.

"The power of Congress to promulgate its rules for the canvassing of the certificates cannot be extended to amending or extending the constitutional mandate or to embrace matters not covered by the Constitution," the KNP counsels stated.

The opposition lawyers emphasized the Constitution is very detailed and specific when it comes to canvassing procedures.

The lawyers said Drilon as the Senate president should open the COCs in the presence of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives in a joint public session.

"Congress shall determine the authenticity and due execution of all certificates of canvass in the manner provided by law, and Congress shall canvass the votes for presidential and vice presidential candidates," they said.

Comparing the canvassing to the impeachment process, Rodriguez and Brillantes said the task of canvassing the votes should not be delegated to a select few.

"To deprive the sovereign people of representation and voice in the affairs of government, most especially in the choice and determination of the public officials to serve them, is ‘of the highest degree’ undemocratic, unrepublican and unconstitutional," the KNP lawyers said.

Rodriguez and Brillantes claimed leaders of both the Senate and the House committed "grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction and neglected the performance of their constitutionally mandated duty to canvass the votes."

"As a branch of government, Congress must exercise all its duties, functions and responsibilities properly and responsibly in the manner provided by the Constitution. Congress cannot shirk from any such duty, function or responsibility," the lawyers said.

Canvass Continues

Meanwhile, lawmakers from both sides of the political fence continued for the third day yesterday to open more ballot boxes and inspect the COCs before they begin to tally the votes to determine the winners in the presidential and vice presidential elections.

Administration lawmakers, for their part, expressed confidence the Supreme Court will ignore the petition since it could only further delay the official count.

"My position is that there is absolutely no basis for the Supreme Court to intervene in what we are doing," Drilon said. "We will not stop simply on the basis of a petition being filed."

For his part, De Venecia said the outcome of the petition is already expected.

"We expect the Supreme Court to respect the independence of Congress and the separation of powers," De Venecia said.

"The Supreme Court will most likely realize that this is not a constitutional question but a political question. I cannot imagine the Supreme Court issuing a temporary restraining order to Congress." he said.

‘A Waste Of Time’

Analysts believed the petition filed by Lopez and the KNP lawyers could be a waste of time and money since the Supreme Court would not intervene in the duty of Congress as a separate branch of the government.

"It’s legally weak," said Ruben Carranza, a constitutional lawyer.

"Congress has the authority to create its own rules on how to canvass the votes and there was no violation of the Constitution," he said.

Carranza said it appeared that the opposition has other intentions other than seeking a clarification on the constitutionality of the Congress decision to form a panel to speed up the tallying of votes.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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