POSTSCRIPT / August 5, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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A protesting Poe is like Sisyphus pushing a rock

WHO PUSHED POE?: Many of the politicians who had egged on Fernando Poe Jr. to run and carry them to victory last May 10 have vanished from the side of the ex-future president.

Who then advised him to file a protest with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal? And why?

The report we get from the FPJ camp is that the actor was not that keen about pursuing a protest but that he was pushed to it upon learning that his vice presidential partner Loren Legarda was bent on filing a protest against Noli de Castro.

It would have looked odd seeing Legarda battling the odds while macho king Poe slunk away in defeat.

* * *

CARELESS REWRITE: But judging from the similarity of the text of their separate protests, it would seem that the protest of Poe was prepared ahead — by the same lawyer who then merely rewrote it in his hurry to compose another protest for Legarda.

The problem is that in many instances, the harried lawyer forgot to change the word “president” in Poe’s protest to “vice president” when he was writing Legarda’s protest.

And when Poe’s protest used “her” with reference to President Arroyo, the lawyer failed to change the pronoun “her” to “his” when he typed Legarda’s protest against the masculine Vice President Noli de Castro.

We wonder how the Supreme Court justices sitting en banc as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal would take this careless composition. It may not be fatal as far as the form of the two protests is concerned, but it does call for at least a footnote.

* * *

SISYPHUS’ ROCK: Listening to Sen. Miriam Santiago talk of the futility of a presidential protest, we are reminded of Sisyphus condemned by the gods to ceaselessly roll a boulder up a mountain only to have it slip and roll back just as he was near the top.

Just how futile is a protest? We asked election lawyer Romy Macalintal to give us an estimate of how much time and money was involved in a presidential protest.

You know of course that Macalintal is the lawyer of President Arroyo and would hardly qualify as an objective observer. But if the subject is elections, I will still listen to him. Anyway, check his figures and judge for yourself.

* * *

SIX-YEAR RECOUNT: Macalintal says in summation that Poe’s protest heard concurrently with the counter-protest that the Arroyo camp is set to file shortly will take at least six years to resolve. That covers the entire term of the president!

The Legarda protest, which will have to be heard separately as it is based on different allegations, will require a similar period of six years to resolve.

And with the filing of a counter-protest by President Arroyo, not even Madame Auring will be able to predict how long the battle of recounts would take.

The six-year term of President Arroyo would be over by the time the recount involved in the two protests would have been completed and a verdict announced.

This assumes that the Arroyo camp does not resort to the naughty recourse of eliminating the presidency (that Poe is seeking) by changing to a parliamentary setup halfway during her presidential term. Such a shift would render the protests moot.

* * *

BALLOT REVIEW: The protests will not be a repeat of the national canvass where the totals in the provincial canvass of votes were simply added by Congress to determine the overall winners.

The PET will go down lower and check each questioned provincial tally against the municipal canvass upon which it was based. Not satisfied with that, one party might insist on opening the ballot boxes and checking the precinct election returns!

The protest filed by Poe questions the results in 120,000 precincts. The Arroyo counter-protest has not been filed, but it is expected contest Poe’s votes in some 100,000 precincts.

That will mean a total of 220,000 ballot boxes to be opened and their contents examined ballot by ballot.

Considering that some of the SC justices in the PET are also sitting as judges in lower tribunals where some losing candidates for senator and congressman had filed protests, we might end up drowning in protests and seeing judicial cases pile up in the high court.

* * *

COSTLY REVISION: To speed up the work, the SC may create some 25 revision teams examining the contents of an average of five ballot boxes per day. That will be 125 ballot boxes per day.

Opening and working on 220,000 boxes would require — hold your breath — 1,800 days of labor. That translates to about 6.8 years assuming the good justices and their revisors work 265 days each year.

Are the ballot boxes scattered all over the archipelago still there and are their contents intact? The problem of locating, verifying and transporting them to Manila might double the time requirement for the protest hearings.

Aside from recounting the votes, the tribunal will have to detour to some related questions of allegedly “fake and spurious” ballots and smudgy fingerprints that Poe complains about.

When one party brings in technicians to give their expert opinion on the ballots, the other party can be expected to also introduce its own experts. A lengthy free-for-all ensues.

That is just Poe’s protest. Legarda’s protest will have to be attended to separately as she is differently situated. Some voters who voted for Legarda had Arroyo for president and some of those who voted for Poe had De Castro for vice president and so forth and so on in a variety of dizzying combinations.

* * *

HOW MUCH?: That is a general view of the time element. As for the expense, the overall figure being mentioned is a whopping P150 million for the entire exercise in futility.

Each party will have to spend for 25 revision teams and for another 25 teams of alternate revisors. That is because the law requires an equal number of alternate revisors.

At P1,000 per revisor/alternate per day to include meals andmerienda (many Filipinos die if they do not have merienda each blessed day), that will be P50,000 per day that a party will spend just for revisors.

You then multiply that P50,000-per-day expense by 1,800 days and by the number of parties throwing away money in electoral protests. We let you figure that one out. The total cannot fit in our hand calculator.

In all this computation, we have not included yet the mind-boggling fees of the battery of million-dollar lawyers, who in the final analysis will be the real winners in this exchange of protests.

* * *

CONTRADICTION: In the POSTSCRIPT last Sunday, one of the reasons I offered for the apparent contradiction between the court testimony of former hostage Grace Burnham and what she wrote in her book about supposed collusion between the military and her kidnappers was that:

“5. We got our report of what Gracia said in court second-hand. Having been barred from the courtroom, the media had to rely on those who were inside whose objectivity or reportorial skills have not been established.”

The discrepancy in the reports of the state prosecutors talking to media illustrates one of the flaws of mass communication discussed in journalism school.

Get 10 observers to witness an event and tell each one to write a five-paragraph report on the event — and you end up reading 10 different accounts of what happened.

Why so? Because. (That is our way of saying in Pilipino “talagang ganyan.”)

We will give a more rounded explanation of this communication flaw in a future POSTSCRIPT.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 5, 2004)

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