[PHOTO AT LEFT - Vice President Noli de Castro (second from left) leads a toast during the victory party for Sen. Francis Pangilinan at the 1Esplanade on Bay Boulevard in Pasay City.]

MANILA, JUNE 29, 2007 (STAR) COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva - It is practically the last working day of all elected officials in Congress and in all local government units, especially those “graduating” in their third and last term. Actually, these outgoing elective officials have until 12 midnight tomorrow (June 30) when their respective terms in office lapse. At the same time, all those elected and officially proclaimed winners in the May 14 elections are also supposed to take their oaths of office before they can assume and discharge their official duties and responsibilities in their respective posts.

As of the last count made by Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone, spokesman of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), there are at least six provinces where the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has yet to proclaim the governor, the vice governor, and board members because of pending electoral protests. The six provinces include Antique, Basilan, Cagayan Valley, Isabela, Laguna and the newly created province of Sharif Kabunsuan. Interviewed over the radio a few days ago, Evardone warned that such a situation could lead to unnecessary vacuum in leadership.

But under the country’s electoral laws, the leading or winning candidate can take his oath and assume office even while the election protest is being heard in the courts or in the Comelec. Thus, being a proclaimed winner is no guarantee of his tenure.

Many of these newly elected officials though, have taken their oaths of office already, including the senators and members of the incoming 14th Congress. Most of the re-elected and newly elected senators took their oaths before Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Genuine Opposition (GO) Senator-elect Loren Legarda, who topped the Senate elections, is scheduled to take her oath of office before the elected local government officials in Bicol tomorrow.

But Legarda is worried that her oath-taking might lead to the dismissal of her pending protest at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) against Vice President Noli de Castro. As of yesterday, she was toying with the idea to postpone her oath-taking, if it is legally possible, until the PET rules on her petition. I think she can do so but she will not be able to assume office as Senator.

The lawyers of Legarda have filed an urgent motion before the PET on June 18 that sought a resolution of the first aspect of her electoral protest concerning the May 2004 elections where she was the vice presidential running-mate of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. The first aspect of Legarda’s protest involved the re-tabulation and re-canvass of the election returns from two pilot areas in Lanao del Sur.

Over lunch with her yesterday, Legarda frankly admitted she is ready to accept that Vice President De Castro won over her by more than 800,000 votes which she cited all came from Cebu. What she just wants the PET to rule on, she said, is that she has been able to prove that the May 2004 elections had been indeed marred by “cheating” in these two particular areas in Lanao del

Legarda’s case is just one of the latest examples of how tedious, prolonged and costly, it is to pursue an election protest in our country. Our election history is replete with many horror stories of how these election protests drag on.

The most classic one is the tight contest during the May 2004 gubernatorial race in Nueva Vizcaya between Luisa Lloren Cuaresma and Leonardo Byron Perez. The provincial canvassers proclaimed Cuaresma as the winner. Perez sought the recanvassing of the votes. The Comelec first division nullified Cuaresma’s proclamation in January 2006. But Cuaresma appealed the decision. The Comelec en banc decided in favor of Perez on May 10 this year. The ruling though, came too late because Perez died of illness in January this year while waiting for the final resolution of his petition. The Comelec rejected the argument of Cuaresma that she could not be dismissed as governor with the death of the petitioner.

Then, there is the case of businessman Noel “Toti” Cariño who ran in his congressional district in Pasig City in May 2001. He filed his protest against the declared winner, the late Rep. Henry Lanot at the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). The HRET resolved the case in favor of Cariño. He was finally proclaimed and took his oath of office on the last day before Congress adjourned sine die in June 2004. Cariño was congressman for just one day out of the three years term of office. Unfortunately for him, when he ran again in Congress in this year’s midterm polls, he placed a far third from the winner.

Also tomorrow, there are seven Senators bowing out from Congress. Four of them are “graduating” from their second and last term. They are Senators Frank Drilon, Juan Flavier, Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Sergio Osmeña III. Senator Ralph Recto also bade goodbye at the Senate already after he lost in his reelection bid under the administration-backed Team Unity (TU). Senator Luisa “Loi” Ejercito did not seek re-election and returned to her quiet life as “caregiver” to detained ex-President Joseph Estrada in Tanay, Rizal. Senator Alfredo Lim, who still has three more years left of his six-year term at the Senate, is going back as Mayor of Manila in a dramatic transition in office between him and outgoing Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, his former vice mayor.

We are seeing new faces at the Senate. Hopefully, the contest for the last slot for the Senate between Bukidnon Rep. Miguel “Migz” Zubiri and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III will be resolved before the transition day. But then again, it’s not over until it’s over because for sure, the next long drawn battle between the two will be at the Senate Electoral Tribunal. 

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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