COLUMN OF THE DAY: CREATING A POWER VACUUM
MANILA, JUNE 14, 2004 (STAR) A law each day (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) By Jose C. Sison - When I left for abroad three weeks ago, it was all over but the canvassing in the elections for President and Vice President of our country. The unofficial count showed that the tandem of President Gloria Arroyo and Noli de Castro apparently got the highest number of votes for President and Vice President. I thought that the people had already expressed their choices and it was about time for the also-runs to call it quits so the country can move forward after one of the bitterest electoral battle that has left our people more divided as ever. Yet Filipinos in the US still ask me, "Sino nga ba ang nanalo?", obviously because our politicians have again indulged in their usual practice of complicating our simple electoral process.
The law indeed is quite clear as it is simple. Congress is called upon to proclaim the candidates for President and Vice President garnering the highest number of votes as determined by canvassing the returns of every election duly certified and transmitted to it by the board of canvassers of each province or city. The procedure involves: (1) opening of all the certificates of canvass in the presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives in joint session not later than 30 days after the election; (2) determining the genuineness, validity and the proper and legal preparation and execution of the certificates of canvass; and (3) counting, adding or totaling the returns of the votes cast. This procedure is done in accordance with the rules promulgated by Congress itself (Section 4, Article VII of the Constitution).
The canvassing of votes by Congress does not involve the opening and counting of election returns at the precinct level. This is the function of the board of canvassers of each province or city. To proclaim the winners, Congress only counts or totals the certificates of canvass transmitted by the said board of canvassers which are properly authenticated and executed in the manner provided by the election law. The election returns at the precinct level may be opened only in case of an election protest after the proclamation, before the Supreme Court sitting en banc acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
The demand to open the precinct election returns is just a ploy to further delay the proclamation of the winners. This is a desperate move of those who already know that they lost. Imagine the huge number of precincts where the returns will be contested by simply fabricating or producing copies different from those canvassed by the provincial or city board of canvassers? Just finding out one by one which of them is real and valid already boggles the mind. If such demand will be considered, no successor can be proclaimed upon the expiration of the term of the incumbent president. This is not only impractical. It is against the law.
Dick Pascual in his column yesterday posed several questions after painting a dark scenario where no president is proclaimed because the canvassing is stopped due to widespread disturbance after 75 percent of the canvassing has been completed. First of all, the leading candidate at that stage cannot insist that he be recognized. Any claim to the presidency by virtue of an election is based on his proclamation. If there is no proclamation, he has no right to the position. If no President or Vice President is proclaimed by June 30, 2004, the Senate President will act as president until the duly elected president is proclaimed. The acting President does not have to call a special election but maay be killed should only wait until the regular president is proclaimed. A special election is necessary only if there has been a failure of elections, not when there is only a delay in the canvassing and proclamation. By this time, candidates should realize that the only way they could change the outcome of the election or snatch victory is not to create a power vacuum through delaying tactics. This is highly detrimental to our country. If truth is on their side, there is still the proper and legal way to bring it out. They can file an election protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal contesting the election and returns of the President and Vice President.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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