POSTSCRIPT / March 14, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Comelec quick count is official, but not binding

VISITING MA: Former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada should be with his 98-year-old mother as often and for as long as their circumstances permit.

We see nothing wrong per se in a son visiting his ailing mother whom he has not seen for quite some time. In fact, we commend those who spend quality time with their mothers.

The only problem is that Estrada is under detention while facing plunder and other charges before the Sandiganbayan. The court has control over his restricted movements.

So while he has to see his mother, he must do so only with the permission of the court if he has to go out of the detention center to do it.

What was wrong with his reported visit to his mother in San Juan, about an hour away from Camp Capinpin where he is detained, is not his seeing her but in his doing it without court permission. (But he says he had court permission.)

To avoid controversy, Estrada should just ask for permission when there is urgent need to see his mother. And the Sandigan justices should be human and Filipino enough to allow any reasonable request on a case to case basis.

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MAGBAYAD NG UTANG!: That was an impressive gathering of barangay officials applauding President Arroyo in a rally last Wednesday at the centennial Expo Filipino’s “Freedom Ring” at Clark Field in Pampanga (see crowd photos in Thursday papers).

The President was visibly elated. Little did she know, however, that the project manager who rushed the completion of the billion-peso-plus project where she stood to address the crowd has not been paid.

Former Public Works Minister Aber Canlas, who dropped other projects to accede to the request of the Ramos administration to finish the Expo for the centenary in June 1998, admitted to us that he has not been paid his P2.8 million fee.

Prodded for details, Canlas said that while he has not been able to collect, he has had to pay his staff and other professionals who helped him complete the Expo project on time. That was almost four years ago.

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VIA SATELLITE: Good news from the Commission on Elections. Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos said the results of the May 10 elections would be known in 36 hours because the count will be sent to Manila via satellite.

Abalos said that since the Comelec itself will do the satellite communication, the quick count is official. Early reporting, he added, will help prevent cheating.

It used to be that some election results and the ballot boxes in some barangays in Manila do not reach the Comelec for days when the poll body’s main office in Intramuros could be reached in not more than three hours on foot!

In this snail-paced scenario, if the poll chairman and an assistant lugged the ballot box and paraphernalia and walked to the Comelec, they would have arrived ahead of the official canvass.

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CONFLICTS POSSIBLE: What happens if the Comelec quick count does not tally with the official results culled from the certificates of canvass delivered upward to the capital from the towns, provinces and cities?

In case of a conflict in the results reported directly to the Comelec via satellite and those reflected in the certificates of canvass relayed through the municipal and the provincial boards of canvassers, which is to be followed?

The Election Code (RA 8436) lays down the procedure for canvassing and consolidating elections results. It does not speak of early reports being transmitted by satellite to the Comelec for an early quick count.

We think that although the Comelec quick count can be considered official, it is not controlling. It is inferior to the official canvass and consolidated reports coursed up the chain in the manner specified in the Election Code.

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CONGRESS CANVASS: Note that under the law, the canvassing for the president and the vice president is to be done by the two chambers of Congress convened in joint session — not by the Comelec nor through a satellite quick count.

To prevent conflicts and protests, we imagine that the Comelec will stop at some point its quick count of the votes for president, vice president and the senators, leave the national quick count totals hanging and yield to the official canvass.

Still, there could be a problem if a trend is established by the quick count that later on may not tally with the official results.

Even if the final official results tally with the Comelec quick count, losing candidates may still find reason to fault the redundant, unofficial quick count.

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DEFENDING AMERICA: A visiting American expert on the geopolitics of Southeast Asia explained days ago in a Makati forum the moral imperatives that impelled President Bush to lead a coalition invasion of Iran.

Prof. Donald E. Weatherbee of the Walker Institute of International Studies at the University of South Carolina put it simply: The President is sworn to defend the US. When the Sept. 11, 2001, attack occurred and left the threat of terrorism hanging over it, the President had to act.

“We can’t talk of Iraq without talking of 9/11,” he said

Weatherbee, also the 2003-2004 Fulbright-Sycip Distinguished Lecturer, said the coming November elections will tell the world if Americans agreed with their President.

Why did the US apparently bypass world opinion on its way to Iraq? He said that was because the US had the will and the capability to do what it did.

He added, quoting Bush, that America had to act “collectively if possible, unilaterally if necessary.” It did not need the permission of anybody to defend itself.

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SHIFTING POWER: Weatherbee traced the historical shifting of the distribution of world power.

Before 1940, he said, it was evenly distributed among several powers in a setup marked by multi-polarity and a balance of power. He said this failed because the US refused to join the balancing act.

After 1945, a bipolar world order emerged, with the US and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics being the two opposing poles attracting allies. The era was marked by the cold war and a balance of terror promising the specter of mutual annihilation.

The collapse of the USSR, he said, left the US the mono-power. He described a pyramid of power with the US at the apex.

Weatherbee said that the option left for the rest of the world is either to oppose this monopower that is the US or collaborate with it. This sounds like an echo from Bush saying that nations are either for or against the US in its war against terrorism.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 14, 2004)

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