POSTSCRIPT / December 20, 2009 / Sunday



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What happens if failure of elections is declared?

SHIFTING BLAME: It was silly of Akbayan Representatives Risa Hontiveros and Walden Bello to file charges against four Cabinet members who they said recommended the proclamation of martial law in certain areas of Maguindanao.

President Arroyo and nobody else is responsible for that proclamation. She should get all the blame, or all the credit, since the Constitution assigns that Executive task to her, and only to her. That the President sought the advice of others is beside the point.

The congressmen accused Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales and Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera of violating RA 6713, the Code of Conduct for Public Officials, for allegedly recommending Proclamation No. 1959 and thus prejudicing public interest.

It is just too bad that the President cannot be sued. But going after her subordinates instead is childish.

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SMALL WINDOW: It was good that chairman Jose Melo of the Commission on Elections dropped his plan to try convincing the Supreme Court to reconsider its order to the Comelec to continue registering new voters until Jan. 9 next year.

Himself a former justice of the Supreme Court, Melo must have known that moving to overturn the tribunal’s decision would just embroil the Comelec in a process that could close the small two-week window still open for listing up new voters.

The main consideration should be that all Filipinos who are qualified to vote in the crucial May 2010 elections be given the chance to vote. But first they must be registered according to law.

Voters should not be, in effect, penalized for the administrative deficiencies of the poll body.

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INEFFICIENCY: The Comelec overly focused on the P3-billion-plus automation aspects of the coming national elections to the neglect of other stages such as the education and the registration of voters.

The tragedy is that it may be too late now to catch up and repair the damage.

The Comelec’s administrative failure was evident in the long lines at its offices in the weeks close to the deadline. The attention it gave to efficient registration and the cleaning of the corrupted lists was not comparable to that given to the automated counting machines.

The personnel and technical requirements for efficient voters’ registration should have been anticipated considering the historical overcrowding and bunching in the last days of the listup.

In many Comelec offices, the personnel were not in proportion to the waves of registrants. The staff had to make do with only one computer devoted to the biometrics encoding. Many registrants who had to stand in line for hours complained that there was no system at all.

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NIGHTMARE: It is pointless to pass the buck to the late registrants. The habit of many Filipinos of acting only close to deadline is a known fact that should have been considered in the planning.

Expect the same last-minute habit to manifest itself again in the actual voting on May 10. Has this been considered?

With the clustering of precincts because of the lack of automated vote-counting machines, we can expect a traffic jam of voters looking for their names on the posted lists and going home frustrated when they cannot find their names and precincts.

With the confusion over the lists, with voters showing up late in the day and encountering a totally different procedure involving computers — to cite a few of the possible problems — there could be an operations nightmare.

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ELECTION FAILURE: No wonder not a few worried observers are asking if a failure of elections is not forthcoming, or if it is actually in the order of things.

Remember, what President Arroyo had promised the meddlesome White House was the holding of the May 10 elections as scheduled. But while there would be elections all right, nothing has been said about a possible failure of elections.

One favorite scenario is for confusion or some widespread technical glitch putting in doubt the speedy and credible count of the votes for the national posts — the president, the vice president and the senators.

If by June 1 next year there is no conclusive and acceptable score yet for those national positions — but there are satisfactory consolidated counts for the local positions of congressmen, governors, mayors and others down the line — we could end up with only a half-Congress.

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SUCCESSION: Such a failure of elections could see only the House of Representatives being able to organize itself and function by June 2010.

Lacking 12 new members, and with one incumbent senator detained and unable to vote, the 24-seat Senate would not be able to muster a majority quorum with a maximum of only 11 members physically on the floor. It cannot elect a Senate President

If by that time former President Arroyo had won the congressional seat of the second district of Pampanga, together with the other representatives from other districts nationwide, she could end up as Speaker of the House.

With no president proclaimed, the empty Executive post would be filled by the officials next in the line of succession. These are, in descending order, the vice president, the Senate president and the Speaker of the House.

Now if the proclamation of the president, the vice president and the new senators is held or delayed for some reason, the next official in the order of succession — the Speaker (which is likely to be Rep. Gloria Arroyo) — becomes acting President.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 20, 2009)

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