(STAR) By Jess Diaz - President Arroyo will most likely extend her stay in office if there is a failure of elections on May 10, Nueva Ecija Rep. Edno Joson said yesterday.

Joson said a situation where the winning candidates for president and vice president could not be determined would give Mrs. Arroyo an excuse to stay in office beyond the expiration of her term on June 30.

“A major or even a minor glitch in the automated voting and counting, where the number of votes involved could affect the outcome of the election for president and vice president, could result in a failure of elections. Violence in Mindanao could have the same effect,” Joson said.

“For the sake of our nation, we are hoping and praying for the best. We don’t want a failure. But this could happen, and we should be preparing for it,” he added.

Joson said the prospect of Mrs. Arroyo extending her term in case of a failure of elections was the reason why her congressmen-allies sat on his bill that seeks to expand the line of succession to the presidency.

“Her allies want her to keep her job in case the winning presidential and vice presidential candidates cannot be determined and proclaimed,” he said.

Joson has chosen to quit politics by not seeking a second term as representative of Nueva Ecija’s first district. “We lawmakers have not made a difference in the lives of our people,” he once lamented.

Under his Bill 3194, the line of succession to the presidency would be expanded to include senators and Supreme Court justices.

The Constitution names only the vice president, Senate president and Speaker of the House of Representatives as successors of the President. Contrary to popular impression, the Supreme Court chief justice is not among the successors.

The House committee on revision of laws chaired by Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao endorsed the approval of Joson’s proposal late last year, long before last weekend, when lawmakers adjourned their session for the three-month election campaign without passing several important bills.

Joson lamented that the nation is paying more attention to the issue of succession in the Supreme Court “when the issue of who will succeed President Arroyo in case of no-el (no elections) or a failure of elections is far more important than who will succeed Chief Justice Reynato Puno.”

He said his bill seeks to ensure that “there will be no leadership vacuum even for a second.”

“There will be someone who will lead the country, someone from whom the military, the police and the bureaucracy can take orders,” he said.

He said the easiest way to resolve the succession issue is for senators to elect a new Senate president whose term of office ends in 2013 and who would assume the presidency in case the winning presidential and vice presidential candidates cannot be proclaimed.

The incumbent Senate president, Juan Ponce Enrile, is seeking reelection. His term expires on June 30. The incumbent Speaker, Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles, is ending his term also on June 30.

Joson said if there is an election failure on May 10, theoretically, senators could still elect a replacement for Enrile when Congress resumes session on May 31.

“But supposing senators cannot muster a quorum? Supposing Malacañang applies pressure on senators so they cannot elect a new Senate president? If the camp of Sen. Manny Villar can work out a boycott of sessions, so can the Palace. We will then be stuck with GMA,” he said.

Under the Joson bill that Aggabao’s committee endorsed, in case of an election failure, the 12 remaining senators whose term ends in 2013, would be among the successors of the outgoing president.

The one who would act as president among the 12 would be the senator with the highest number of votes in the immediately preceding elections, followed by the others in the order of votes obtained.

It was Sen. Loren Legarda who topped the 2007 senatorial elections, followed by Francis Escudero, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel Villar, Francis Pangilinan, Benigno Aquino III, Edgardo Angara, Alan Peter Cayetano, Joker Arroyo, Gregorio Honasan, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

There were suggestions that those running for president and vice president should not be included in the line of succession for reasons of conflict of interest.

Among the 12, Villar and Aquino are presidential candidates, while Legarda is Villar’s vice presidential running mate.

If none of the 12 senators whose term ends on June 30, 2013 is willing to act as transition leader, Joson’s bill provides that Supreme Court justices, in the order of their seniority, would assume such role.

One of those who proposed excluding presidential and vice presidential candidates in the line of succession to the presidency was Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr.

Barzaga said it would be anomalous for an acting president to preside over the determination of the winning president in an election in which he or she is a candidate.

He said there might be a need for a new presidential election and it would be improper for a senator to act as president if he or he is a candidate in that election.

'No failure of elections, no GMA holdover' By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated February 09, 2010 12:00 AM

Photo is loading... President Arroyo hosted a dinner for The STAR yesterday at the newspaper’s office in Manila as part of a campaign to improve public awareness of the achievements of her administration. The President and new Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr. (left) were welcomed by (from right) STAR editor-in-chief Isaac G. Belmonte, president and CEO Miguel G. Belmonte and executive vice president Grace Glory Go. FERNAN NEBRES]

MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo’s election lawyer yesterday dismissed claims by an opposition lawmaker that she would extend her stay in office if there would be a failure of elections.

“There will be no failure of election and there will be no President Arroyo holdover,” lawyer Romulo Macalintal said.

Macalintal was commenting on the statement by Nueva Ecija Rep. Edno Joson that a failure of elections, where the president and vice president could not be proclaimed, could give Mrs. Arroyo an excuse to prolong her stay in office.

He said Joson’s statement was too speculative.

“It should be made clear that the election is actually manual, to which we have been accustomed since the very first polls in our country.”

“What is only automated is the counting of ballots and canvassing of returns,” he said.

“So, if the feared 30 percent failure of PCOS (precinct count optical scanner) to function happens, we’d still be 70 percent automated which means 70 percent faster than the manual polls,” Macalintal explained.

As to the failed 30 percent PCOS, the voting being manual, then the Comelec would have a manual count and manual canvass of 30 percent of the votes cast, he said.

“In other words, even if all the PCOS failed, there’d be no failure because there will still be voting by manually shading the ballots and manually counting and canvassing which will be faster than the old type of manual election since the automated ballots would only be shaded and voters will not have to write the names of candidates.”

Two-way presidential race

Meanwhile, the May 10 presidential elections would be reduced to a two-way race between Senators Benigno Aquino III and Manny Villar, a political analyst said.

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said with Aquino and Villar consistently topping presidential surveys, it would take a “dramatic event” for other candidates like former President Joseph Estrada and administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro to catch up.

“They (Estrada and Teodoro) really have to do miracles,” he said.

Asked what he thinks were the factors that caused the decline in Aquino’s ratings in the latest pre-election surveys, Casiple said “it’s the negative campaign.”

“He said that he will not steal from the government, but the voters are asking him what he will do if he wins,” he said in Filipino.

“Villar, on the other hand, has been doing this from the start,” Casiple said. “He’s been telling the people that he came from a poor family and he will help the poor to rise from poverty.”

Casiple said the public wants to know more of Aquino, other than being the son of the late former President Corazon Aquino and martyred Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.

“I don’t think the people accepted that, the voters are demanding... they won’t vote for Noynoy because he is the son of Cory and Ninoy, he has to prove that he is (worthy of being) the son of Cory and Ninoy.”

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile urged Villar to moderate his campaign spending.

“I have never seen a candidate that has spent a lot in campaign ads,” Enrile told reporters after attending the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Hotel media forum.

With less than four months to go before the elections, Aquino and Villar are now “statistically tied” at first place in the latest Pulse Asia’s presidential survey.

Villar has overtaken Aquino by one percentage point in a “one-on-one” rider survey dished out by Pulse Asia. – With Helen Flores

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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