POSTSCRIPT / April 30, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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What happens if there is failure of elections?

LIKE a thunderbolt from a clear sky, the peso-dollar rate suddenly dropped Tuesday to a scary P40 to $1. That was after several weeks of the peso settling more or less at P38 to the US dollar.

It was the first time since the regional currency crisis broke out last year that the peso was trading lower than the battered Thai baht, which was afloat at 38 to the dollar. Other beleaguered currencies in the region were also comparatively stable.

How come the peso hit 40 again? The only explanation that the usual analysts offered was “political jitters.” They seem to imply that with the May 11 elections just around the corner, the market has grown nervous.

But aren’t we Filipinos supposed to be used to the rough and tumble nature of Philippine elections?

A relaxed President Ramos has been assuring us that not more than a dozen persons have been killed in campaign-related violence. Less-than-a-dozen dead Filipinos is reassuring? Maybe it is to Mr. Ramos, who noted that some 300 would have been killed by now if the past were used as yardstick.

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MY suspicion is that a group is again out to screw up the peso and make millions, never mind who gets hurt. And I won’t be surprised if some big bankers are again involved.

But if we buy the “political jitters” explanation, we would have to point to Election Commissioner Manolo Gorospe as a probable culprit.

The day before, Gorospe – the famous “Kissing Lolo” who was accused by a lady commissioner, Remedios Fernando, of stealing kiss after locking their office door – was telling the press that there would probably be a failure of elections in Mindanao. That’s a third of the landmass of the archipelago!

Who would not have jitters with such wild pronouncements from a senior official of the Commission on Elections mandated to ensure honest and peaceful polls?

His dire prediction can’t just be dismissed. Besides, Mindanao has been in the news lately for a spate of killings, ambuscades, widespread famine and ferment, on top of the eternal Moro insurgency.

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FAILURE of elections is no laughing matter – except for those plotting it.

This is a scenario where, for some reason, no winner is or can be proclaimed in the presidential elections. This is a sure-fire formula for chaos, especially if there is a widespread suspicion that the failure was intentional.

Vice President Joseph Estrada, who is already practicing his inaugural address as incoming president, warns of revolution if he is denied the proclamation he has been conditioned to believe is his already.

Failure of elections can occur for a number of reasons. There could be violence or threat of violence, or failure to prepare the polling precincts or deliver and secure ballots. Or the integrity of the polls in certain places had been placed in serious doubt.

What is usually done is to schedule special polls where there was failure of elections.

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BUT suppose the area involved was so big as to affect the standing of the two leading presidential candidates? What if most of Mindanao is engulfed in a situation that prevents the holding of credible elections?

In such a case, the proclamation of the winner in the rest of the country may be postponed until the rest of the delayed votes are cast and counted. But suppose the delay drags on till after the June 30 end of the term of the incumbent President?

This is the No-Proc scenario that has been floated since Fidel V. Ramos betrayed signs of wanting to stay beyond his constitutionally mandated single six-year term. His critics warns that he intends to hold over, the excuse being that he is duty-bound to stay on and look after the country while no President-elect is proclaimed and installed into office.

The warning of Estrada is against this No-Proc possibility and the other scenario where somebody else (say Speaker Jose de Venecia) is declared winner instead of him.

The Estrada camp is conditioning the people into thinking that he is the overwhelming choice and that anybody else, especially De Venecia, could win only by cheating. This posture of Estrada is itself dangerous. To put it mildly, it tends to incite mass disorder.

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IF there is no President-elect, cannot the Vice President-elect (say Sen. Gloria Arroyo) take over in the meantime? The votes of the presidential and vice presidential candidates are processed at the same time, so if those for the president are delayed it is likely that those for the vice president are similarly left hanging.

Let’s look at the Constitution for guidance. Section 7 of Article VII (Executive Department) says in part:

“…If the President-elect fails to qualify, the Vice President-elect shall act as President until the President-elect shall have qualified. If a President shall not have been chosen, the Vice President-elect shall act as President until a President shall have been chosen and qualified.

“If at the beginning of the term of the President, the President-elect shall have died or shall have become permanently disabled, the Vice President-elect shall become President.

“Where no President and Vice President shall have been chosen or shall have qualified, or where both shall have died or become permanently disabled, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall act as President until a President or a Vice President shall have been chosen and qualified.”

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