MANILA,  JUNE 12, 2004
By Delon Porcalla and Jose Rodel Clapano  -  Congress adjourned its regular session yesterday but the canvassing of votes for president and vice president continues. The Senate adjourned sine die its regular session while the House of Representatives, for its part, declared an "open-ended" session, avoiding possible legal questions over the legitimacy of the joint 22-member joint canvassing committee. Malacañang, meanwhile, said there is no need for President Arroyo to call a special session to justify the existence of the joint congressional committee tasked to canvass the votes for president and vice president. Some lawmakers pointed out the legal implications in the ongoing canvassing with the sine die adjournment of Congress. Lawmakers from both sides of the political fence have expressed mixed views on Congress adjourning sine die, with some saying it could lead to a constitutional crisis since Mrs. Arroyo’s term ends on June 30. Some lawmakers argue that with Congress adjourning its session sine die, it can no longer reconstitute itself in a joint session to ratify the canvassing results and proclaim the winners of the races for president and vice president.

"It’s not sine die, which means there is no specific date. It means the Speaker can still call for a session until June 30 without the President doing so," House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales Jr. explained. He said the "open ended" adjournment was necessary to avoid legal impediments. Under the Constitution, Congress must adjourn 45 days before the fourth Monday of July, when the new set of elected legislators come in. "We adjourned without stating when to resume. The only issue here is whenever a session is needed, can we still call for one," said the outgoing lawmaker from Mandaluyong City.

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said, "I just adjourned it. But I did not say sine die. Anyway, we can still reconvene if needed. I think there is no danger about vacuum of power." De Venecia said the House "continues" to do its work as part of the National Board of Canvassers. "We have to unite this nation and heal the wounds. We have to join hands and set aside partisanships in this war. We will finish this canvassing in the next 10 days, more or less," De Venecia said. Despite the sine die adjournment, Senate President Franklin Drilon said they will still continue their duties as members of the National Board of Canvassers to tabulate the votes and proclaim the winners of the May 10 presidential elections. Drilon said the Senate, in its sine die adjournment, cannot pass laws. "The only remaining function of the 12th Congress is to continue to meet as the National Board of Canvassers to canvass the votes and proclaim the winners of the May 10 presidential and vice presidential elections," he said. Drilon said they have to declare a sine die adjournment as mandated by the Constitution. He cited precedents when Congress was adjourned when the winners of the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections were declared. "In the said two elections, Congress had already adjourned sine die when it convened as National Board of Canvassers, canvassed the votes and proclaimed the winning president and vice president," Drilon said. Drilon also cited the legislative calendar which was approved by both legislative chambers of Congress that it will adjourn sine die on June 11, 2004.

The Other Duty

Malacañang urged opposition lawmakers to comply with their constitutional duty as members of the National Board of Canvassers and proclaim the president and vice president before June 30. Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye and Presidential Legislative and Liaison Office (PLLO) Secretary Gabriel Claudio said lawmakers should not raise the issue of the adjournment since the scenarios are similar in the proclamation of the winners in the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections. The Palace took the stand following concerns by certain lawmakers that the opposition might again raise constitutional issues on the sine die adjournment of Congress even as the joint canvassing panel has yet to complete its task. Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan earlier claimed the opposition might utilize the sine die adjournment for a "no proclamation" scenario. Pangilinan, co-chairman of the joint canvassing committee, argued that the majority and the minority in the Senate should debate whether adopting the sine die adjournment would violate the Constitution. "This happened without much controversy in 1992 and 1998 and has been accepted as normal practice," Bunye said.

"What we need is a fair and speedy canvass, and a timely proclamation. The people’s patience is wearing thin," Bunye said. "Congress adjourns but the National Board of Canvassers works on." Claudio, on the other hand, explained Congress has already convened into the National Board of Canvassers whose members are duty-bound to comply with their constitutional duties until their respective terms end on June 30. Claudio also noted Drilon quoting the provisions of the 1987 Constitution which stated both chambers of Congress will continue their existence until the new set of elected lawmakers come in. "The basis of existence of the joint session of Congress as the National Board of Canvassers does not cease to exist even if Congress adjourns sine die because there is a distinction between the functions of Congress as a legislative body and as National Board of Canvassers," Claudio pointed out. He said the constitutional duty of Congress convening as the National Board of Canvassers should not be affected by adjournment sine die. Claudio admitted the concerns of the Palace over the possibility that lawmakers allied with opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr. might question the legality of the adjournment notwithstanding the joint committee eventually finishing the canvass of the votes.

De Venecia, for his part, dismissed fears of Congress failing to proclaim the president and vice president before June 30. "We should not allow that to happen. We should never, we will never allow it to happen and it will not happen. Who knows, maybe on Rizal Day (June 19), we can have a president," he said. De Venecia explained the adjournment yesterday was meant to suspend all legislative work of the 12th Congress to give way for the new set of lawmakers in the 13th Congress. House leaders downplayed fears that the closing of the session might lead to confusion, pointing out that the lower legislative chamber still has to carry out its administrative functions, including the canvassing of the votes for the two highest elected officials of the country. - with Marichu Villanueva, Paolo Romero

Arroyo retakes lead in canvass By Paolo Romero  The Philippine Star 06/12/2004

It has been a see-saw battle so far between President Arroyo and opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr. as canvassing of votes entered the sixth day yesterday. Mrs. Arroyo regained her lead at the last minute, overtaking Poe by 27,262 votes. As this developed, the certificate of canvass (COC) from Camarines Norte earlier reported missing from its ballot box last June 2 turned up in the province’s second ballot box during yesterday’s canvassing.

As of 8:25 last night, Mrs. Arroyo garnered 978,913 votes against Poe’s 951,651. Independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson came in third with 254, 563 votes followed by Eddie Villanueva with 148,349. Former education secretary Raul Roco brought up the rear with 131,880 votes.

In the vice presidential race, administration Sen. Noli de Castro tallied 1,174,166 votes, overtaking opposition Sen. Loren Legarda with 1,136,056 votes. Poe earlier regained his lead from Mrs. Arroyo from the total of 75 COCs canvassed. Just the other day Mrs. Arroyo edged out Poe, enjoying a slim lead of 7,160. But yesterday’s canvassing of 10 COCs saw Poe, the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer, closing in.

Earlier, at 5:20 p.m. Poe overtook Mrs. Arroyo with votes from Zambales and La Union, giving him 146, 874 and 169,415 votes, respectively. During the canvassing, joint committee co-chairman Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez announced Senate President Franklin Drilon received a letter from the Camarines Norte election officer, furnishing the committee with official and certified photocopies of the "missing" COCs. When Gonzalez opened the two ballot boxes from the province following the instructions from Drilon, the missing COCs were found inside. Drilon later explained to reporters that Camarines Norte had two ballot boxes – 80 and 80-A – and when the first ballot box was opened, it was found empty. The second was unlocked and only a statement of votes in an envelope was found. He said the page who unlocked the ballot box might have panicked as the lawmakers were already getting hysterical and failed to notice that there was another document inside.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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