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POSTSCRIPT / February 9, 2016 / Tuesday
High-stakes SC race with ballot printing
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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WITH voters’ preference survey leader Sen. Grace Poe already on the ballot for the May 9 presidential election, what happens if the Supreme Court finally rules that she is not constitutionally qualified to run due to citizenship and/or residency issues?

The answer depends largely on how soon or how late the High Court will render a final and executory ruling. Today, just 90 days before Election Day, the tribunal is still entangled in the raging oral arguments on the disqualification cases.

And the Commission on Elections already started yesterday what Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista called the dry-run for printing the ballots for 54,363,844 registered voters and 1,376,067 for overseas absentee voters.

The 8½ by 26 inches ballot lists on its front side the candidates for national posts from the president – including Poe and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte — down to party-list groups, and on its back side the local candidates from district congressmen to councilors.

Bautista said the National Printing Office will not print in excess of its “one (ballot) to one (voter)” rule to preclude suspicions of extra ballots being prepared for cheating.

Once the NPO presses hit their stride, they are expected to be printing almost one million ballots per day till the run is completed in 78 calendar days on April 25. That printing deadline is only two weeks before Election Day.

Macalintal gives SC ruling scenarios

WE ASKED top election lawyer Romulo Macalintal: “If the ballots are still being printed or have been printed by the time the Supreme Court rules with finality that Senator Poe is NOT constitutionally qualified, what happens?”. He gave his “humble opinion”:

“By that time, the Comelec can no longer stop printing the ballots (if still being printed) as this will affect the ballots of other candidates. The Comelec can no longer revise or change the templates as each municipality, city, district and province will have its own type of ballots containing different names and local candidates. The ballots will bear the same names of candidates for president, vice president, senators and party-list groups, but will have different names of representatives, governors, vice governors, board members, mayors, vice mayors and councilors.

“The Comelec can no longer delete the name of Senator Poe from the ballots still to be printed, otherwise there would be different kinds of ballots — some with her name, while the rest without it. More so if the ballots had already been printed in which case the Comelec can no longer change the ballots. This means the name of Poe will remain on all the ballots as candidate for president.

“The consequences: If Senator Poe’s name is on the ballot and the SC disqualifies her and the decision becomes final BEFORE the election, the ruling will not contain any instruction to the Comelec on what to do with the ballots. The only jurisdiction of the SC is to rule on the issue of whether or not Poe is qualified to run for president as this was the only issue raised before the court. It cannot rule on the collateral issue of what to do with the ballots bearing Poe’s name.”

Electoral ‘Battle of the Century’ looms

MACALINTAL continues: “Since the PCOS machine does not know that Poe had been disqualified, it would automatically count her votes. Her rivals could then file appropriate motions before the Comelec to direct the boards of canvassers not to count or canvass Poe’s votes as reflected on the election returns transmitted by the PCOS from the precinct to the boards of canvassers level.

“If Comelec issues the order, then all the votes cast for Poe counted by the PCOS and recorded in the election returns would no longer be canvassed by the boards of canvassers. Thus, the certificates of canvass to be transmitted to the Congress (which canvasses the CoCs for president and vice president) may no longer have the Poe votes and would only contain the names and votes cast for the remaining candidates for president.

“The one among the ‘remaining candidates for president’ who garners the highest number of votes would then be proclaimed President.

“What happens if the SC decides AFTER the election with Poe’s name still on the ballot? If she does not get the highest number of votes, there is no problem. She can just go back to her position as senator, unless the SC decision includes a declaration that she is not a natural-born citizen — in which case, she also loses her Senate seat.

“If despite her disqualification, Poe still gets the highest number of votes and the SC hands down its ruling after the election, the decision may contain the declaration that Poe is disqualified in that her CoC is cancelled and denied due course, and the presidential candidate who obtains the second highest number of votes will then be proclaimed as the winner.

“But, if the SC decision comes AFTER POE IS PROCLAIMED by the Congress as President and has taken her oath of office and started functioning as President, she and her rivals need good election lawyers.

“This is so because the legal Battle of the Century in election cases would ensue. Poe would claim she could no longer be removed by the SC since the court would have already lost its jurisdiction on her Comelec-disqualification cases and that any question on her eligibility would already be within the power of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

“The second placer would claim, however, that the SC still has jurisdiction because the cases filed at the Comelec started before her proclamation and that since she is disqualified, then all the votes cast for her should be treated as ‘stray votes’ and the candidate who obtains the highest number of ‘valid votes’ should be declared the winner as held by the SC in various cases. (Delgado vs Pichay, January 2016, latest doctrine).”

(First published in The Philippine STAR of February 9, 2016)

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