POSTSCRIPT / May 30, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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If Poe really won, fans must speed up canvass

DÉJÀ VU: Doesn’t it feel like we’ve seen this before?

The plot in Congress sitting in joint public session for the canvassing of votes for the president and the vice president is playing out like the impeachment trial in 2000-2001 of then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.

In the same way that pro-Erap senators were then blocking with all their might the opening of the envelope containing documents on a Estrada secret bank account, the opposition is now obstructing the opening of the sealed certificates of canvass.

We were asking then: If Erap was innocent as his defenders in the impeachment trial claimed, why were they blocking the opening of the envelope?

Today, a parallel question arises: If the opposition believes its own claim that Fernando Poe Jr. won the May 10 presidential elections, why is it stalling the canvass that could affirm his victory?

You know the answer.

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ONE-STOP FORUM: The joint session of Congress as we see it now is not meant under the Constitution to be the one-stop omnibus forum for all questions having to do with presidential elections.

Article VII, Section 4, of the Constitution merely mandates Congress in joint public session to canvass the votes for the presidential and the vice presidential candidates “upon determination of the authenticity and due execution thereof in the manner provided by law.”

That joint session is not meant to receive, hear and decide election protests based on alleged fraud, vote-buying, and similar charges being ventilated by the opposition on the floor.

Hearing and deciding such charges is a function reserved for the Supreme Court sitting as a Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

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PROPER TIME & PLACE: The big delay in the canvassing stems partly from the insistence of some opposition lawmakers that the joint session hear its claims of “massive and systematic” cheating in the May 10 elections.

There is a Time and a Place for hearing such charges. The Time is after a president-elect is proclaimed and the Place is before the Supreme Court — not now before the joint session of Congress.

The seventh paragraph of Article VII, Section 4, cited above says: “The Supreme Court, sitting en banc , shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice President, and may promulgate its rules for the purpose.”

The work flow, the proper sequence, dictates that we first canvass the votes, then proclaim a winner, and then hear the protests, if any. Congress cannot canvass the votes while hearing election protests.

…Unless, of course, the idea is really to disrupt the proceedings, throw a blanket of doubt over the last elections, and create chaos preparatory to a grab for power.

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TRAP AVOIDED: Congress, impelled by its own sense of propriety and proportion and noting the irritation and impatience of people, has rejected proposals that could have resulted in a delayed proclamation of the winners, and then confusion and chaos.

Avoiding the trap laid out for a plenary body of more than 240 lawmakers directly processing (or “appreciating”) the CoCs from all over the country, Congress decided Thursday night to continue with the old practice of having just a small bicameral committee do the preliminary canvass.

The committee will have 11 members from the Senate and an equal number from the House, with a reasonable number of representatives from the opposition in both chambers.

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JUST PRELIMINARY: As the rules have said consistently since the 1992 and the 1998 presidential elections, the committee’s work is just a “preliminary canvass.” It is more of an administrative chore.

The committee will not proclaim the president-elect and the vice-president-elect. There is no danger of a joint committee usurping the function of Congress.

It will still be the joint session, acting on the committee recommendations, that affirms, rejects or revises the official canvass, and then proclaims the winners. The Constitutional mandate for the joint session to canvass and proclaim will be complied with.

The runners of FPJ in the legislature know this, but they have a script to follow.

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SUBSTITUTION CASE: We have received a copy of a letter of Mrs. Patricia Daza Planas to President Arroyo about the last congressional elections in the 3rd district in Quezon City.

To stimulate an open discussion, we picked these excerpts below and freely condensed them to fit limited space. The affected parties may respond, if they so desire.

“My husband, Mike Planas, ran for congressman for the third district of Quezon City. He was the only candidate, since the Certificate of Candidacy of the incumbent congresswoman, Rep. Maite Defensor, sister of Secretary Mike Defensor, was found to have been forged and of no effect. This resulted in the cancellation of her CoC.

“Maite was disqualified as a result of the void CoC. To buy time for the Defensors to decide who in the Defensor family would run in place of Maite, who was still in the United States for the operation of her child, her high school best friend, Ms. Anna Lisa Cabochan, filed her own CoC on Jan. 5, 2004.

“While Ms. Cabochan’s signature and thumbprint were authentic, her CoC — which was notarized on Jan. 5, 2004 — was void since the commission of the notary public, Atty. Merito Fernandez, expired Dec. 31 2003. Hence, the CoC was not properly notarized and could not be filed with the Comelec under its rules.

“Despite this, Ms. Cabochan withdrew her candidacy on Jan. 15, 2004, to be immediately substituted by Secretary Defensor’s father, Atty. Matias Defensor. Atty. Defensor then campaigned as congressional candidate under your K4 banner.

“On the same day the substitution took place, my husband filed a petition with the Comelec to disqualify Atty. Defensor’s candidacy since he could not substitute a non-existent candidate.

“The Comelec did not act on the petition for four months, until Friday, May 14 — after (1) the elections had taken place, (2) people were allowed to vote for a non-existent candidate, and (3) when canvassing was already winding down.

“We received a copy of the resolution of the Comelec on Saturday, May 15. The resolution annulled the substitution of Atty. Defensor, and reads in part:

“All told, a disqualified candidate may only be substituted if he had a valid Certificate of Candidacy in the first place because if the disqualified candidate did not have a valid and seasonably filed Certificate of Candidacy, he is and was not a candidate at all. If a person was not a candidate, he cannot be substituted under Section 77 of the Omnibus Election Code.”

“As soon as we got a copy of the resolution, our lawyers took it to the Board of Canvassers of Quezon City to stop their canvassing of votes in favor of a non-existent candidate. Despite receiving a copy of the resolution and in spite of our arguments, the head of the Board of Canvassers of Quezon City, Atty. Ma. Lea Alarcon, refused to cease canvassing in favor of Atty. Defensor and implement the Resolution. If anything, Atty. Alarcon sped up the canvassing in order to proclaim Atty. Defensor.

“For 3 days, we argued with Atty. Alarcon for her to implement the Resolution, but to no avail. At the first possible opportunity, or on Monday, May 17, Atty. Alarcon proclaimed Atty. Defensor as the winning candidate for the third district’s congressional seat. Her undue haste is questionable considering that even Mayor Sonny Belmonte and Vice Mayor Herbert Bautista, who both won by a landslide, were only proclaimed on May 18.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 30, 2004)

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