MANILA,  JUNE 23, 2004
By Aurea Calica  -  Citing the lack of a constitutional basis, the Supreme Court (SC) threw out yesterday the petition of opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. questioning the legality of the joint congressional committee that tabulated the votes for president and vice president after Congress adjourned sine die on June 11.

It was the second time that the Supreme Court dismissed a petition from the opposition questioning the legality of the congressional canvass.

In a six-page en banc resolution, the SC said that "despite the adjournment sine die of Congress, there is no legal impediment for the joint committee completing its task assigned and transmitting its report for the approval of the joint public session of both Houses of Congress."

In an 11-0 vote, the high tribunal ruled that Pimentelís petition to declare the canvassing void "has absolutely no basis under the Constitution and must, therefore, be dismissed."

Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. led the 11 magistrates in unanimously voting down the petition.

The decision came two days after the 22-member joint committee finished the tally that took two weeks, with a count showing President Arroyo beating opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr. by more than a million votes.

The joint committee is to make its final report before a joint session of the House and Senate. Mrs. Arroyo is expected to be officially declared winner of the May 10 vote tomorrow or Friday.

The high court said Congress ó convening as the National Board of Canvassers ó is mandated by the Constitution to tabulate the votes for the two electoral positions without the need for the President to call a special session.

The SC agreed with the comments made by the co-chairmen of the joint committee and the Office of the Solicitor General in pointing out "the precedents set by the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections do not support the move to stop the ongoing canvassing."

The high court ruled that the terms of office of the present members of 12th Congress did not expire with the sine die adjournment.

"The legislative functions of the 12th Congress may have come to a close upon the final adjournment of its regular sessions on June 11, 2004, but this does affect its non-legislative functions, such as that of being the National Board of Canvassers," the SC said.

"In fact, the joint public session of both Houses of Congress convened by express directive of Section 4, Article 7 of the Constitution to canvass the votes for and to proclaim the newly elected President and Vice President has not, and cannot, adjourn sine die until it has accomplished its constitutionally mandated tasks," the SC said.

It will be legally defunct when the National Board of Canvassers has completed its functions in tallying the votes and proclaiming the winners, the court said.

The high tribunal also cited a Senate rule "clearly provides that the Senate shall convene in joint session during any voluntary or compulsory recess" for the canvassing not less than 30 days after the elections in accordance with Article 7, Section 4 of the Constitution.

The court said Pimentel, being an incumbent member of the Senate, should have known the rule.

Davide pointed out Congress must discharge its duty of canvassing the votes for president and vice president even during recess.

"Otherwise, a hostile or grossly partisan Congress can easily prevent the proclamation of the president and vice president in a presidential election by simply causing undue delay in the canvass until adjournment of Congress, thereby causing a crisis of unimaginable proportion and consequences, including political instability," Davide said.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Reynato Puno said it was not necessary for the President to call for a special session.

Puno said calling for a special session will result in an absurd situation where the sitting President running for reelection would have the discretion whether to continue the canvass.

No Legal Options Left

Pimentel has claimed that the joint canvassing committee of Congress has no legal personality after the Senate and the House of Representatives adjourned on June 11. He said the adjournment made the 22-man joint committee illegal.

Pimentelís petition was part of an attempt by the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) to stop or slow down the count of votes in the May 10 election which Mrs. Arroyo was widely seen as having won.

Opposition lawmakers had also resorted to protests and filibusters, prolonging the vote tally in Congress for weeks.

The SC earlier this month junked a petition filed by Davao City Rep. Ruy Elias Lopez of the KNP to stop the canvass by claiming the creation of the 22-man joint committee violated the Constitution.

Administration lawmakers said the Supreme Court decision left the opposition with no other legal option to derail the proclamation of Mrs. Arroyo by Congress.

"Not satisfied with delaying the proceedings with their filibustering and repeated queries about the authentic and duly executed certificates of canvass (COCs), the opposition went on to drag the SC into the issue in its desperate bid to stop the canvass and the proclamation after it became clear (Mrs. Arroyo) had won," a member of the joint committee, Eastern Samar Rep. Marcelino Libanan said.

He said the opposition lost the legal battle and also "exposed the bankruptcy of their accusations."

For his part, Antique Rep. Exequiel Javier said the SC ruling and unanimous dismissal of the petition "sent a clear message that the nation has had enough of the oppositionís dilatory tactics."

Baguio City Rep. Mauricio Domogan added the court gave due recognition that the sine die adjournment of Congress only applied to legislation.

"The opposition have no more excuse to delay the Presidentís proclamation after the legality of the canvass which established her victory has been upheld by the court. Itís time for the nation to move on. Weíve had enough of the oppositionís obstructionism," he said. - with AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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