POSTSCRIPT / May 9, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA to beat FPJ, but without majority vote

GMA GETS A 7/10: Throughout the campaign, and even before, I have been asked who I thought would win the May 10 presidential election.

In fact, as early as last year, almost the same question on the election chances of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was asked us columnists in a TV ad of Philippine STAR .

I gave her then a 7 in a winning scale of 1 to 10 when most other colleagues — except Robina Gokongwei-Pe who I noticed rated her higher — kind of indicated they thought President Arroyo would have a hard time squeezing through.

Today, on the eve of the historic casting of the votes, I still give GMA a 7. My fearless forecast is that she would outvote Fernando Poe Jr. to win her own six-year term as president.

Sorry, but this assessment may not jibe with the hula of Quiapo fortune-tellers and the suki callers of broadcasters who see nothing ever right with GMA because she took the presidency away from their friend and benefactor “Erap” Estrada.

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NO MAJORITY, NO MANDATE: The sad part is that whoever eventually wins tomorrow — be it GMA or FPJ — the president-elect will inherit a country that, I fear, has grown almost ungovernable.

So it could be whipped back to its feet, this divided nation badly needs a president elected by a clear majority (more than 50 percent of the votes), not by mere plurality as it now seems likely.

My fearful forecast is: With the votes scattered among five candidates, the winner is likely to fail to garner the desired majority.

Without a majority vote, the winner is liable to be regarded as having no mandate at all. And without a mandate, the president-elect will have a hard a hard time binding the nation’s wounds, rallying the downcast population, and leading the country to peace and progress.

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WORST FEAR: With a president perceived as without a clear mandate, we are likely to end up with more unrest, more obstuctionism. We will continue to be mired in destructive politics.

My worst fear is that if GMA wins but only with a slim margin, the Estrada forces who are running the FPJ camp will continue the destabilization and their vengeful campaign to make sure she fails.

On the other hand, if FPJ wins, the forces from the middle-upper crust of society may resort to another mammoth Edsa march to prevent somebody who is not one of them, especially a high school dropout, from ruling their lives and their businesses.

Either way it goes, without a majority president, the prospects are not bright at all.

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UNLIKELY SCENARIOS: To capture that elusive majority presidency, one of several unlikely things must happen:

  1. The sure losers in the presidential race must withdraw, not necessarily in favor of any frontrunner, but in favor of a more stable Philippines. This will leave the field to the two top contenders, ensuring a majority victory for either of them.
  2. The potential voters of the weaker candidates (Ping Lacson, Raul Roco and Eddie Villanueva) must give up their favorites and vote instead for either GMA or FPJ. Hopefully, this would produce a majority vote.

Sadly, these two conditions are not likely to come about, given the emotionalism pervading Philippine politics.

Are we then stuck?

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SENATE BLOCK: There is the added element of teamwork. Theoretically we have a strong presidency. In practice, however, the president could be stalemated by an uncooperative Congress.

In the Arroyo and past administrations we have seen how the best plans of government had been derailed by the president’s failure to muster enough support from both the House and the Senate.

This idea is central to a parliamentary setup where there is a working merger of the executive and the legislative offices, but that is another topic.

Without going into the well-known reasons why some lawmakers may not cooperate with Malacanang in passing legislation needed for key projects, we say simply that it is not a bad idea for the people to give the president a clear majority in the Senate.

Of course a good president should be adroit enough to make congressmen and senators cooperate in passing Malacanang’s legislative agenda in the higher national interest. But given our bruising politics and the prohibitive cost of buying congressional approval, this is extremely difficult.

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MY SENATE LINEUP: People also keep asking me whom I want to see elected to the Senate this time.

Contrary to what I was saying earlier that if we want the president of our choice to succeed we should give him/her enough senators to support his/her platform of government, I now let you into my tentative mixed lineup.

There is no more space to explain my 10/12 choices, but they are: Mar Roxas, Dick Gordon, Kit Tatad, Mel Mauricio, Orly Mercado, Fred Lim, Caloy Padilla, Jamby Madrigal, Pia Cayetano and Doc Hussin.

Please vote for them. They deserve it.

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E-COUNT JUSTIFIED: As we write this, we do not know how the Supreme Court will handle the petition to stop the plan of the Commission on Elections to launch its own Quick Count using computerized electronic data transfer and direct satellite relay.

(Meanwhile, a stressed Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos collapsed 6 p.m. Saturday on his way to the elevator while the SC was hearing the case on Padred Faura St. The justices will resume hearings today, Sunday, to hammer out a quick decision.)

Here is our considered opinion of that proposed Very Quick Count of the Comelec:

  1. The Comelec count will not contest, eclipse, replace or disrupt the official canvassing by Congress of the votes for the president and the vice president. The Comelec will not publicize its own totals of the votes for the two top officials. But the data consolidated and archived will be useful for historical and legal purposes. The mandate for Congress to handle the canvassing does not stop other persons or entities from performing a similar operation done in good faith and not in contravention of law or policy.
  2. The short distance and time between direct transmission from the province to the Comelec base will minimize discrepancies and errors from creeping in, unlike in the multi-stage transfer of paper reports/certificates that takes weeks to reach Manila, sometimes being tampered along the way.
  3. The Comelec plan will shorten the canvassing or consolidation of votes from the usual weeks to less than 36 hours. This virtually closes the window to dagdag-bawas cheaters who need time to know how many votes to add or subtract to make their clients win.
  4. A quick electronic count is not trending. The count will start only after the ballots are counted and sent to the Comelec base. There will be no trend to mislead voters (who have cast their votes by then) or help cheaters (who then have no more time to operate).
  5. The Comelec count will not offset or overturn the Namfrel quick count. The two groups operate separately — and may the best counter win.

To summarize: We must assume good faith in our Comelec. With that, let us welcome a fast count as it answers a long-felt urgent public need.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 9, 2004)

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