POSTSCRIPT / May 13, 2004 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Namfrel 'quick count'  bogs down in slow-mo

SIGN OF LOSS: In the Philippines, only two kinds of candidates emerge from the dust and din of electoral battle: yung nanalo at yung nadaya , those who had Won and those who had been Cheated.

Fernando Poe Jr., the action king of Philippine movies, goes around town moping, crying that he has been cheated of the presidency.

That, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is the sure sign that the political novice from flickerville already knows the score — and the painful fact that he had lost.

Da King is in denial.

Speaker Jose de Venecia, who was buried under the landslide of Joseph “Erap” Estrada in 1998, tells us it would take about six months for the loser to come to terms with reality. Let’s give Poe time to cope.

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KNP KNOWS SCORE: Under election laws, the major parties get official copies of the election returns from all precincts all over the archipelago. The opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino carrying Poe is in possession of those official copies.

By this time, Poe and his KNP must have consolidated all those reports and, we assume, have added and compared the totals. Even a high school dropout, we assume, knows how to add six or even seven digits.

The opposition’s body language shows it: For sure, they already know the score. They know they have lost the presidency.

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NAMFREL SLOW DRAG: What is unnecessarily adding to the confusion is the snag at the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel). It has been two days after the votes had been counted, yet their supposed Quick Count has ground to a slow drag.

Considering that the Namfrel network is supposed to be using high-tech hardware, a refined-with-use program and a system manned by veteran technicians, we cannot understand why Namfrel bogged down.

If the bugs are not removed fast enough, it might take Namfrel at least a month more to draw a clearer picture of the voting results nationwide.

Considering that Namfrel is on its second day already yet has been able to tabulate only about 2 percent of the votes, or an increment of only 1 percent a day, where are we going — if we are going anywhere at all?

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TRY COMELEC?: Not that we are trying to mop up spilt milk, but would it have been better if we allowed the Comelec to carry out its plan to do its own electronic Quick Count using a satellite relay?

As we understand the Comelec system, most of the winners — including the president and the vice president — could have been known in less than 36 hours after the counting.

The Namfrel has been at it for more than 50 hours yet we have absolutely no idea where the count is headed. There is even no hint of any trend, if there are some who want to see some direction.

A slow count provides the window of opportunity for cheaters to get to work. As you know, these slick operators work better in the dark.

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FAST TOTALS: Since partisans have advance copies of the official returns from all precincts nationwide, they know in two days exactly where they have lost and won — and where they could pad on or shave off some figures to save the day.

If the Comelec were not waylaid by hypersensitive parties and barred from doing its electronic Quick Count, we dare say that we would have seen by now a clearer idea of the status of the senatorial race and much of the local contests.

By this time, the Comelec also would have the totals for the president and the vice president. We assume it would be willing to share the figures with Malacanang and the opposition, but these figures for the top two positions would not be published because they are not official figures.

A faster count will make for stability and the earlier dissipation of partisan emotions stoked by the bruising campaign.

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CONGRESS CANVASS: We hear a lot of people saying on radio that the Comelec should hurry up with the counting of the votes for president and vice president to minimize confusion and avert chaos.

It seems it is not generally known, or many of us may have forgotten, that it is Congress and not the Comelec that is tasked under the Constitution to conduct the national canvass of the votes for the two top elective positions in the government.

One official copy — exactly the same as the copy sent to the dominant parties — is also sent to the Senate for safekeeping. These copies will be opened when both chambers of Congress convene in joint session to canvass the votes and proclaim the president-elect and the vice president-elect.

Unfortunately, the returns are sent by hand delivery from the barangay precincts to the town centers, to the provincial capitals, then to the Senate in the capital. At every stop, they are processed. This handling adds to the delay and to the risk of tampering.

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SATELLITE SPEED: In past elections, many discrepancies had been discovered in the returns. The handwritten results in words and in figures sometimes do not tally within the same document or when compared to the same entries in the other copies of the same document.

The Comelec Quick Count was supposed to eliminate many of these problems.

The system will speed up transmission because from the town where the precincts’ returns are gathered and checked, they will be saved and immediately sent by computers via satellite to the Comelec base in Metro Manila.

That’s instant delivery, as fast as cellphone messages are being sent and received. There are no paper forms being carried around over long distances.

The Comelec’s national coordinating center in Alabang will add and consolidate the precinct reports as they stream in. At any given time, there will always be a running total of the votes on all levels: national, provincial, by the districts, and municipal.

The software has checks for conflicting, duplicating, misleading or spurious entries.

Its Quick Count plan was at the advanced stage of implementation, but with Comelec’s low credibility, it was shot down at the Supreme Court.

So now we are stuck with a Namfrel tied up in knots and a Congress enmeshed in an antiquated system.

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TOTAL Q.C. SHUTOUT: In Quezon City, if you haven’t heard this fantastic news yet, Mayor Sonny Belmonte scored a total shutout of comebacking Mel Mathay.

When the final official tally comes days from now, it will show Belmonte leading Mathay by a thumping 400,000 votes in a contest where only about 900,000 ballots were cast! That is more than a landslide.

Belmonte defeated Mathay in all precincts, all barangays, all districts and in all Quezon City. There was not one tiny spot where Mathay posed a serious challenge.

How did this come about when Mathay once had nine continuous years running city affairs while Belmonte was at City Hall only the past three years?

That is precisely the reason. Residents of Quezon City saw the yawning difference in service, sincerity and managerial competence between the nine dismal years of Mathay and the three years of Belmonte.

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BOKING ABLE TO RUN: We received a number of queries as to why Mayor Marino “Boking” Morales of Mabalacat, Pampanga, was able to run even if the Comelec had disqualified him.

We explained that Morales was disqualified by the Comelec through its 2nd Division. But as due process would have it, Morales appealed the decision. The appeal was subsisting when elections were held May 10.

When a judicial decision is on appeal, it is not final nor executory. Therefore, it could not be enforced. In short, there was no legal bar on May 10 to stop Morales from being presented as a candidate for mayor.

If Morales is later found with finality to have been ineligible to run, he would be removed if he had been elected and been proclaimed as mayor. Sorry na lang to the mayoral candidate whom he defeated last Monday.

And here’s the rub: If and when the mayor is eventually removed for having been ineligible when he ran, the elected vice mayor — and not the mayoral candidate he defeated on May 10 — would take over as mayor.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 13, 2004)

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