POSTSCRIPT / February 26, 1998 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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God the Father descends on riotous Comelec hearing

GOD the Father descended last Tuesday on the Commission on Elections. He did not overturn the desks in the noisy, jampacked hearing hall of the Comelec nor drive out the charlatans and power brokers. Garbed in a white robe and with a gold-colored braided band holding his long hair, presidential candidate Mario Nebrida Legaspi looked benign enough with his beard and aluminum rod.

The 41-year-old Nebrida, with two women “angels” beside him, was one of some 42 presidential candidates who went to the Comelec to oppose their being declared nuisance candidates. The others included former first lady Imelda R. Marcos (this time she did not walk on her knees while fingering the beads), and former lotto king Manuel Morato.

Comelec officials led by chairman Bernardo Pardo had to cut short the raucous hearing when some candidates and their lawyers engaged them in a shouting match. But God the Father (he claimed to be the father of Jesus Christ) did not utter an angry word, nor did he throw thunderbolts. It was not clear, however, why he had to run for president when he could just, well… declare himself King of Kings.

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THE lawyer of Mrs. Marcos had reason to demand that Pardo inhibit himself. Pardo had prejudged their cases when he issued a statement last week that only five were serious candidates and that the rest should be weeded out.

“That’s my personal opinion, what’s wrong with that?” Pardo said in defending his stand.

What’s wrong with that? Well, the Comelec chief is not allowed to have a personal and premature opinion when judging issues having to do with election matters.

The accreditation or disqualification of presidential candidates is an issue that is likely to come up before Pardo and the Comelec, a quasi-judicial body. Whatever judgment he and the other commissioners make will be official, not personal. Pardo should not carelessly talk about it outside of, or before, the official deliberations.

Pardon me, but Pardo the former judge has prejudged the cases.

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WITH less than three months to go before the May 11 elections, 46 percent of the voters — or nearly eight million of them — are still undecided, according to surveys. With the muddled situation and the absence of a really outstanding candidate, the number of undecided voters may even swell.

The consensus among analysts is that of the 83 (!) running in the presidential race as of press time, Vice President Joseph Estrada (LAMMP) and Speaker Jose de Venecia (Lakas) are the lead pair, followed by the tight pack of Emilio Osmeña (Promdi), Alfredo Lim (Liberal), Raul Roco (Aksiyon Demokratiko), Renato de Villa (Reporma) and Miriam Santiago (People’s Reform Party). The rest (Imelda R. Marcos, Manuel Morato, etc.) are trailing way behind.

The growing number of undecided voters from among the 33 million registered means, among other things, that the laggards among the candidates may still catch up by aiming for the uncommitted segment.

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BETWEEN the two frontrunners Estrada and De Venecia, it will be a battle between Machine and Popularity:

  • Estrada’s 24-percent popularity rating translates to 3.36 million votes outside the control of party machines. Adding the 720,000 votes that LAMMP can deliver (12 percent share of voters under the sway of political parties), Estrada has a total of 4.08 million votes, analyst Antonio Gatmaitan says.
  • De Venecia’s 8 percent popularity rating is equivalent to 1.12 million votes. This is low, but with the 2.784 million votes that Lakas can deliver on the basis of its 48 percent share of the votes controlled by political parties, De Venecia has a total of 3.094 million votes, according to Gatmaitan.

Estrada leads De Venecia by only 174,000 votes, which is not very significant, so their duel can go either way depending on movements in their popularity rating and machinery performance.

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AROUND six million votes are needed to win in this election where there are seven serious contenders, many of whom will be eating into the bailiwicks of the frontrunners.

With Estrada presumed to hold 4.08 million votes now and De Venecia 3.094 million, each of them still needs some 2 million additional votes to go over the threshold.

Estrada will have to strengthen his machinery and widen his network to the remotest barangays. De Venecia, on the other hand, will have to do something drastic about his low popularity.

Many observers say that even if Estrada garners the most number of votes, his machinery still has to make sure these votes are counted, canvassed and officially confirmed by the Commission on Election at the end of the tedious manual process that may take four weeks to conclude.

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