POSTSCRIPT / May 15, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Comelec has too many lawyers, but no manager

THE confusion that marred the election in many places yesterday was the result of utter mismanagement by the Commission on Elections.

It’s amazing that a powerful institution like the Comelec cannot even ensure that ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia are distributed on time in the nation’s capital or that all registered voters are able to cast their ballot on Election Day.

It is not enough that officials running the Comelec are brilliant lawyers or are familiar with election laws. At least the poll body’s chief executive officer must also be a good manager.

* * *

AS soon as I got home after voting, I washed the “indelible” ink poured on my forefinger by a poll clerk to prevent my possibly voting again. With plain soap and water, and an old toothbrush, I was able to remove the stain.

There must be a lesson to be learned from this.

* * *

IT is impossible at this time of writing, an hour after the close of voting, to see the direction of voting preferences. The major TV channels are not of much help.

One network reporting “partial, unofficial” returns started with opposition bailiwicks and naturally showed an early lead by the candidates of deposed President Erap Estrada.

At the same time, a rival network displayed its own early “partial, unofficial” results showing nine of the 13 winning senatorial slots going to the administration’s People Power Coalition.

A viewer has to jump back and forth between the two channels to get a fair estimate of what is going on.

* * *

INSERTING the caveat that the poll results being reported are only partial and unofficial is supposed to be a neat defense against accusations of media foisting false and misleading reports on the public.

In the wrong hands, “partial, unofficial” reports could be used for “trending” or the conditioning of the public mind into accepting pre-conceived and manipulated poll results.

But with the official count crawling at snail’s pace, the media have no choice but to resort to their own devices to give the public early reports. Media are forced to organize their own poll count, usually in cooperation with other civic and specialized groups equipped for the purpose.

* * *

THE quick count of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) is a hybrid between the official Comelec tally and the “partial, unofficial” count of the media.

Namfrel’s credentials are enhanced by its being officially recognized by the Comelec as a citizen’s poll arm. Its quick count should reflect, within tolerable margins of error, the final, official results as they would be announced much later by the Comelec.

At some point, expect the media to also pick up the Namfrel poll report, because that quick count is much superior in terms of scope and reliability than any tally that the media are able to mount.

When the official, although still partial, Comelec tally starts displaying bigger figures, you can also expect the media to publish both the Comelec and the Namfrel scores side by side. That’s playing it safe.

* * *

SENATORS now serve for six years. But whoever lands in 13th place in the senatorial election will serve for only three years. This is the unserved portion of the six-year term of Sen. Teofisto Guingona, who vacated his seat when he became Vice President.

For purposes of counting how many terms the 13th placer would have served if he runs again in the future to use up his maximum three terms allowed under the Constitution, his first elective term will be counted as one term although it is only three years.

* * *

IN the case of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo becoming president upon the resignation of President Estrada, the 3-1/2-year balance of Erap’s term will not be considered as GMA’s first term.

Therefore, she can run for President in 2004 despite the prohibition against a President running for reelection.

The reason for this is that the Constitution (Section 4, Article VII) prohibits reelection only if the Vice President who has succeeded as President serves as such for more than four years. GMA will serve less than four years.

It’s not necessary, but we can also throw in the argument that GMA is not serving a term to which she was elected. She merely succeeded the resigned President.

* * *

WE recall this interesting item on reelection and the maximum number of terms for elective officials because of the case of Bataan Gov. Leonardo Roman, who is running again for reelection despite his having served for three elective terms already.

If Roman were proclaimed after winning again in the just-concluded elections (where he is running unopposed), he would be serving his fourth consecutive term — which is over the three-term maximum allowed. There would be confusion.

The Comelec itself has ruled that Roman is now serving his third elective term to end in June, but for some reason Roman is still running for another term.

* * *

IN 1993, Roman ran for governor to serve the unexpired term of then Gov. Enrique T. Garcia, who was recalled. Roman won and served till 1995, when he ran again for governor and won. He ran again in 1998 and won.

He has run thrice and won each time, giving him the maximum three consecutive terms allowed local officials under the law.

The bone of contention seems to be Roman’s first term. He argues that since he was just serving the unexpired term of Garcia, that should not be counted as one term.

* * *

A BATAAN taxpayer, Fred S. Ramos, who does not buy this argument has filed a disqualification suit with the Comelec against Roman. He is also asking the poll body not to proclaim Roman. (Running for governor unopposed, Roman is a sure winner.)

In his petition, Ramos cites various Supreme Court decisions and the opinion of Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and Joaquin Bernas, who were among the framers of the Constitution.

The two Concon delegates say that when an official is elected to public office, he is deemed to serve one elective term for purposes of counting how many terms he has served. Roman did not succeed to the governorship in 1993; he was elected to the position.

* * *

DAVIDE and Bernas hold that if a vice governor merely succeeds to the governorship upon the creation of a permanent vacancy in the governorship (for instance if the governor dies or resigns), his serving the unexpired balance of the governor’s term is not to be counted as one term.

According to them, if the vice governor, or anybody for that matter, runs for governor and wins – as in the case of Roman running for governor in the special election to replace Garcia – his tenure, however short, is considered as one term for purposes of counting how many terms he has served.

The Comelec has to act swiftly on the Ramos urgent motion to disqualify Roman. To gloss over the motion or delay action on it — and proclaim Roman winner in the gubernatorial race — would create a bigger legal and political problem.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 15, 2001)

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