MANILA,  JUNE 22, 2004
The co-chairmen of the joint committee that canvassed the votes for president and vice president, along with the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), asked the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday to dismiss the petition of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. questioning the committee’s legitimacy after Congress adjourned on June 11.

In separate comments, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez and Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo contended that laws and historical precedents allowed the continuation of the canvassing even after Congress adjourned its regular session.

The OSG said the petition should also be dismissed because it had become "moot and academic" with the conclusion of the canvass last Sunday.

"The official results show that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Sen. Noli de Castro won the presidential and vice presidential race, respectively," the OSG said.

The three pointed out that in 1992 and 1998, Congress was able to continue its work as the National Board of Canvassers even after it had adjourned sine die.

The OSG said that Pimentel himself voted for Congress’ Concurrent Resolution Nos. 62 and 63 in 1992, which called for the Senate and the House of Representatives to convene for the canvass and to adjourn the regular session of the 8th Congress, respectively.

Pangilinan said Pimentel’s argument that the term of the 12th Congress ended with the sine die adjournment is erroneous since lawmakers continue to hold and enjoy the perks of office even when Congress is no longer in session.

If the court upholds Pimentel’s argument that when Congress adjourns, it becomes functus officio or legally defunct, "then all senators and members of the House of Representatives in the present and previous Congress should return and refund all the emoluments they received for the period that Congress adjourned," he said.

Pangilinan said that Congress can continue to perform non-legislative work up to the end of its term on June 30, as he noted the view of constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas that the "canvassing committee’s life" survived "the adjournment of the legislative session."

The OSG said that upholding Pimentel’s petition would be "detrimental to the national interest" as it might result in a "no-proclamation scenario" and "a constitutional vacuum."

Last Friday, the SC directed the joint committee chairmen and the OSG to answer the petition Pimentel filed last Thursday, six days after Congress adjourned.

The SC is expected to hand down its ruling on the petition today. SC Clerk of Court Luzviminda Puno said that the justices had already discussed the issue informally yesterday but will only come out with their formal decision after this afternoon’s en banc session. — Aurea Calica

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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