MANILA,  JUNE 5, 2004
By Marvin Sy  -  Following the Supreme Court decision yesterday denying the petition seeking to halt the canvassing, Malacañang said there is no reason for the opposition to raise other issues to further delay the counting in Congress.

"We have said that the opposition will not get away with this ploy to further delay the canvassing under the guise of raising constitutional issues," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

"In any event, all parties should be prepared to accept the Supreme Court final decision on the merits of the case," he said.

In a one-page resolution, 13 justices unanimously turned down the application for a temporary restraining order against Congress to proceed with the canvassing.

But in a 9-4 vote, the court required the respondents, as well as the Office of the Solicitor General, to submit their comments on the petition not later than 12 noon on Monday.

Among the respondents in the petition are Senate President Franklin Drilon, Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr., the members of the 22-man joint canvassing committee and the respective financial and budget officers of both legislative chambers.

The court said it will hear arguments next week on whether the tallying process is unconstitutional.

The opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court 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.

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.

Bunye said Congress leaders with the help of legal experts are expected to explain their side before the high court.

"We believe essentially that they have to state the rules of the matter, that there are internal rules that govern the procedure," Bunye said.

He said both leaders of Congress will be merely explaining their role in the canvassing.

Bunye also called on the opposition to see the "writing on the wall" and to be sensitive to the pulse of the people anxiously waiting for the results of the canvass.

"The opposition has a clear choice, either to make a stand for statesmanship and principle or be pushed to the margins of disgrace by an indignant electorate," Bunye said. "Undue delay has become unacceptable and untenable."

Drilon, for his part, said he will essentially focus on the constitutional principles in submitting his comments before the Supreme Court on Monday.

"First, there’s the separation of powers. Second, it is Congress that will proclaim the winners and the joint committee is merely doing a preliminary canvass. So there is no delegation of legislative function," Drilon said as he also made mention of the comments of Senator-elect Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

De Venecia said it was expected that the Supreme Court will not interfere in a purely legislative issue even as the court called on Congress leaders to submit a formal reply to the petition filed by the opposition.

"Thank God, they (Supreme Court) acted swiftly," De Venecia said. "As expected, we have said the Supreme Court will observe the separation of powers."

De Venecia has tasked Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles, Western Samar Rep. Antonio Nachura and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales Jr. to draft the reply to be submitted before the high court on Monday.

A Validation

Santiago slammed the petition by the KNP in raising the constitutionality of the procedure of canvassing by a committee.

She said what the opposition wants is a total disregard of the equal protection clause of the Constitution, pointing out that the same procedure was used in the 1992 and 1998 presidential proclamations.

"It should be the same process that should apply to Mr. Fernando Poe Jr. and President Arroyo in this year’s election," Drilon said.

Drilon said he was glad that the Supreme Court "saw fit to allow the canvass to continue."

He said by refusing to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the canvassing, the Supreme Court respected the constitutional principle of separation of powers among the three branches of the government.

On the other hand, opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said it is not a complete setback for them since the high court still left open the constitutional question in their petition.

He said the issue of whether the joint session of Congress should canvass the votes for president and vice president in a plenary session or delegate the job to a mere committee would be resolved by the high court on Monday.

The fact that Congress formed the canvassing committee to proclaim the winners of the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections does not make the practice right and constitutional, Pimentel said.

Pimentel maintained that the Constitution requires Congress to canvass the votes in a plenary session, although he conceded that this can be done in a simpler and more expeditious way by delegating the task to a committee.

He said the decision of the Supreme Court on the issue will guide Congress in performing its constitutional mandate in the future in canvassing the votes for the two highest elected officials of the land.

Pimentel said this issue of delegating the constitutional task to a committee was raised for the first time in the petition the KNP filed last Wednesday.

Notwithstanding the denial of the Supreme Court of the KNP’s prayer for a restraining order, opposition lawyer Rufus Rodriguez said it is improper for Congress leaders to proceed with the counting.

"Reason dictates that the legislators should not continue with the canvassing by the committee. It’s just a waste of time and people’s money," Rodriguez said in a statement.

Rodriguez reminded Drilon and De Venecia to comply with the court order to answer the KNP petition before noon Monday.

The former immigration commissioner also criticized Santiago for "prejudging" the KNP’s petition when she said it would not prosper in court.

"She should not predict the decision of the Supreme Court. She should just help the respondents prepare their comments on the petition. She should respect the Supreme Court by not preempting its decision," Rodriguez said.

Santiago earlier said the petition filed by the KNP "won’t prosper."

She predicted the high tribunal will not issue a temporary restraining order "because it is accepted theory that the courts will not prevent the performance of a legal duty."

She said the KNP petition violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution since they really wanted a "special canvassing procedure for a special candidate" like Poe that would discriminate against presidential candidates in the past when the votes were canvassed by a small congressional committee.

Surprisingly, opposition lawmaker Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen said he did not support the move made by the KNP in seeking relief before the Supreme Court to stop the canvassing.

Dilangalen, a lawyer, pointed out the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over Congress, it being a co-equal branch of the government.

The Maguindanao lawmaker, however, said he did question the move made by his colleagues in the opposition to seek relief before the Supreme Court by saying it was a "judgment call." He said the arena of combat should only be limited to Congress.

Administration lawmakers said the high court’s decision would clear the way for the speedy canvass.

Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles, a member of the 22-man committee, said the Supreme Court acted with dispatch in taking note of the urgency raised in the petition.

Nograles said many of his partymates also expected the high court to dismiss the KNP petition considering its lack of legal basis. "I am happy the court acted with dispatch," he said.

"The Court’s decision was unanimous which means there is a strong basis for the justices to deny with finality any motion for reconsideration to be filed by the opposition," Nograles said. — With Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Nikko Dizon, Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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