POSTSCRIPT / May 6, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Comelec resolves today row over 3-term mayor

UNANIMOUS DECISION: Good news for the patient people of Mabalacat, Pampanga!

The Commission on Elections is set to announce today its decision on three petitions to disqualify three-term Mayor Marino “Boking” Morales from running for a fourth term on Monday.

Presiding Commissioner Mehol K. Sadain of the Comelec’s 2nd Division has scheduled the promulgation at 10 a.m. today. With him in what sources said is a unanimous decision are commissioners Florentino A. Tuason Jr. and Manuel A. Barcelona.

We cannot preempt the anouncement of the decision, but we were told by Comelec sources that it would be a resolution that the more enlightened voters of Mabalacat would welcome.

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SPIRIT OF THE LAW: The case is really simple. The petitioners merely submitted the historical fact that Morales was elected and he served as mayor without interruption through three consecutive terms in 1995, 1998 and 2001.

They pointed out that under no less than the Constitution, and as reiterated in the Local Government Code, a mayor may serve only for three consecutive terms — after which term limit, he has to step aside.

The letter and spirit of the law is so clear that it amazes us to see corrupt officers of the court and the Comelec conniving to make possible three-term local officials running for a fourth term.

But vigilant citizens objected to Morales’ running again. The petitioners were Marissa P. Castro (SPA 04-057), Venancio O. Rivera III, Normandick P. de Guzman, Renato Y. Bautista Jr. (SPA 04-057), and Eliazar R. Cuenco Sr. (SPA 04-059).

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ABUSE OF POWER: The Supreme Court should step in and investigate the regional trial judge in Angeles City who delayed the decision on the protest against Morales after he was proclaimed in 1998 to serve his second term.

The judge’s decision on the 1998 post-proclamation protest was handed down in 2001, just one month before the end of the contested three-year term. By delaying justice, the judge thus made a mockery of the sovereign peiople’s will expressed at the polls.

Why should a judge be allowed to nullify all by himself the will of the electorate by the expediency of allowing proceedings to drag on to an absurd end? How many crimes have been committed by judges in the name of due process?

This time, the Comelec is acting with dispatch and equity. This despite (or because of?) reports that the husband of a high Malacanang official was pressuring a member of the Sadain division to sit on the petitions until after the elections.

Morales, btw, is supporting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But we keep telling ourselves that this is irrelevant to the case.

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PROLONGING THE AGONY: We have been around long enough, however, to know that it is equally possible for the Comelec to pull a surprise today and rule in favor of Morales running for a fourth term.

Even then, that decision would still be better than their sitting on the case.

Also, today’s resolution is not necessarily the end of the game. As we understand the rules, the loser has the option to move for reconsideration, then run to court and buy a TRO, or even mount a “people power” rally of paid marchers.

Experience tells us that the ramifications depend largely on the lawyers orbiting around the protagonists. They have to make money also, you know, by resorting to all sorts of legal rigmarole allowed under the rules.

But if Morales is disqualified and does not try prolonging the agony, Mabalacat voters will then have to choose their next mayor only from the remaining candidates: Moc Candelaria, Anthony Dee, Ed Lopez and Armando de Guzman.

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PRECINCT LOCATOR: If you have time and Internet connection, try the Comelec’s new game of locating your voting precinct from the comfort of your home or office well in advance of the bedlam of Election Day.

Visit the website www.findprecinct.com and follow the simple instructions on the screen. These consist basically of entering your last, first and middle names, as well as the month, day and year of your birth date.

Hit Enter and the wonders of high technology will take over. You will be shown your precinct number, its address and, if you are lucky, even a color map showing where you have to go on Election Day.

There is just a little, actually big, problem: While it had worked for this lucky voter, it does not work yet for everybody.

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WHY THE BUGS?: How come not everybody can find his precinct in that Internet locator?

The contractor behind this project has not been able to input all the basic data for all 43 million (est.) registered voters. As of last Monday, only 80 percent of registered voters have been uploaded.

Uploading the database is fast and easy. We assume that the delay is from the side of the Comelec, which is still struggling with organizing paper lists, encoding and validating (double checking what was encoded) data, and such clerical chores.

Another problem is technical. Just one small error — such as one stray letter or a misplaced period or comma — can render the search ineffective. The error could be that of the encoder (the one who keyboarded the data) or the voter-searcher. While computers are precise, they are also demanding on users.

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E-QUICK COUNT: We understand that this Find-Your-Precinct facility was a sweetener to the P300-million “Quick Count” project of the Comelec that has stirred so much controversy.

On Election Day, the Comelec will launch its website called www.halalan2004.net.ph. This is an electronic nationwide count that will gather, consolidate and total the votes cast for all officials from the president down to the last councilor. Data will be transmitted via satellite from the towns to Manila.

It is an upscale version of the Quick Count regularly mounted by the National Movement for Free Elections. With its resources and sophistication, the Comelec project is likely to eclipse the Namfrel version.

Abalos threatens to announce the election winners 36 hours after the votes are counted and consolidated via the Comelec Quick Count. He said this would leave cheaters less time to operate.

Namfrel is now asking why the Comelec should spend P300 million for a project that the civic group can do for free. Good question.

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OFFICIAL OR UNOFFICIAL?: Another question being thrown at Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos is if his agency’s Quick Count is official or unofficial.

Without waiting for Abalos to respond to that, we have our own answer: The Comelec Quick Count is both official and unofficial, if such dual personality is possible under the law.

It is official in the sense that it is being conducted using public funds by the government agency (Comelec) that is exclusively tasked by law to manage national elections.

But it is also unofficial in the sense that the Comelec count is not the official consolidation of votes mandated in the Constitution. This one we have to explain.

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PAPER TRAIL REQUIRED: Under the charter, only Congress may canvass or consolidate the votes for the president and the vice president. At the end of the official canvass by Congress, the president-elect and the vice president-elect are proclaimed.

On the other hand, the votes for lower officials from senators down are canvassed and the winners proclaimed by the Comelec.

In these two separate canvassing by Congress and the Comelec, the law specifies that the votes be tallied from paper certificates of canvass. It is silent on electronic data transmitted by satellite, as envisioned in the Comelec Quick Count, being the basis of the canvass.

Right off, you will see many problems rearing their ugly heads.

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ELECTRONIC BILLBOARD: To go around the possible legal and political objections, Comelec will not announce the winners in its electronic canvassing for president and vice president even if it already knows the results after three days.

A huge electronic billboard will be mounted at a capacious site where the tabulation of results sent via satellite from all over the country can be witnessed. But the totals for the president and vice president will be missing.

The same billboard can be seen on computers with Internet access, because exactly the same site will be uploaded on www.halalan2004.net.ph. We are sure the media, including TV, will cover its updating.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 6, 2004)

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