POSTSCRIPT / July 8, 2018 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Another Du30 train coming: Federalism

THE PUBLIC has not been shown the draft Constitution produced by a commission assigned by President Rodrigo Duterte to write a new charter for, this time, a federal system of government for us listless Filipinos.

The excerpts we read about the proposed federal system are mere swatches of the total fabric that is still being woven in the minds of those whose agenda will soon be imposed on us.

We suggest that we wait, and keep our powder dry. The early debates on Duterte’s staying beyond 2022, his wielding transitory executive and legislative powers, and such mind-boggling possibilities, are pure pyrotechnics.

President Duterte, the master of the ellipsis or the incomplete sentence left hanging in midair, is merely describing a federal system the details of which are still as murky as the Pasig river. Latch on at your own peril.

At this point, let’s refuse to believe that the dark federal cloud forming in Duterte’s crowded mind is the answer to the problems bedeviling our nation. It may, in fact, even exacerbate them.

Pardon my background, but I understand federations originate generally from the union of like-minded and contiguous states or fiefdoms under a system that balances the powers and aspirations of the individual components with those assigned to the central government.

An example near us is Malaysia, which was federated in 1963 out of largely Malay states – including Sabah, a British territory in North Borneo, despite its only being leased from the Philippines. Another one, a grand federal union across the Pacific, is the United States.

It is alarming to see Duterte taking us on a perilous adventure into federalism – in a political process moving in the opposite direction of nation-building.

The Philippines, despite traces of tribalism, is already one united nation. Now comes Duterte, using state powers to redress personal hurts, poised to cut up our nation and throw the pieces to the bonfire of federalism.

We are doing our best to prosper in unity, then this merchant of federalism breaks us up into regions to be distributed among political dynasties, local warlords (among other *lords), secessionist groups, and a variety of political and economic cliques.

The tragedy, as I see it in my weary mind, is: What Duterte wants done will be done! The only force that can stop him is Divine Intervention or a Mass Upheaval, both of which seem unlikely at the moment.

 Raise 25% vote-shading to 50%?

IN THE 2016 presidential elections, the votes were counted using the 25-percent threshold shading of the oval opposite a candidate’s name. Some parties now want the Presidential Electoral Tribunal that is recounting the same ballots to raise the shading minimum to 50 percent.

Suddenly raising to 50 percent the 25-percent threshold that was used in the actual voting and counting would substantially alter the results as the shift would impact on the appreciation of the intent of the voters shading the ovals in the ballot.

As a voter, I believe that tampering with the intent of the electorate in such an arbitrary manner – and in effect manipulating the direction of any pending electoral protest — is most unfair and unjust.

The vote-counting machines in the 2016 national polls that elected President Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo were programmed under the direction of the Commission on Elections to read as a valid vote an oval that is at least 25-percent shaded.

Such action was based on a resolution of the Comelec, the constitutional commission exclusively mandated to adopt all means necessary to insure a clean and credible elections.

In a democratic process of supreme importance such as an election, the rules should not be changed in the middle of the game – much less after. Whatever was the oval-shading threshold used during the voting and counting must be consistently observed.

Although the vote-counting machines were programmed to accept a minimum of 25-percent shading, the Comelec advised voters to shade the oval in full to be sure. It was deemed better than telling them it was all right to shade only a quarter or half of the space.

Under existing jurisprudence of Supreme Court (PET), House and Senate electoral tribunals, shades of less than 25 percent are still counted in election protests under the “intent of the voter doctrine.” All doubts are resolved in favor of enfranchisement.

Are there special reasons why Supreme Court justices sitting as PET members should arbitrarily raise to 50 percent the 25-percent threshold used in the automated counting of the same votes that they are now revising?

In the Marcos vs Robredo vice presidential protest before the PET — despite the Comelec’s advice of its using the 25-percent threshold — the tribunal adopted the 50-percent minimum based on its 2010 rules while awaiting the poll body’s further comment through the Office of the Solicitor General.

After asking for deadline extensions of almost 50 days, Solicitor General Jose Calida surfaced Friday with a manifestation and left it to the Comelec – his client! — to file its own comment on the threshold issue.

Not a few observers saw in Calida’s action, including his insistence that the 50-percent threshold be applied in Marcos’s protest, a bias for the protestant.

The tribunal is still revising ballots from some 6,000 clustered precincts of Marcos’ “pilot provinces” — Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental — which is expected to be finished in December if the recount goes on smoothly.

The idea is for Marcos to prove that it could make substantial recovery from these three provinces to show it could overcome the 260,000-vote lead of Robredo. If he could, the PET would then collect about 20,000 more ballot boxes from 22 other provinces protested by Marcos to be recounted.

Thereafter, it would be the turn of Robredo to ask for the recount of the ballots from some 13 provinces she counter-protested which also involve millions of ballots.

Anything could happen along the way, including the protest being overtaken by the adoption of a new Constitution providing for a federal setup – making the Marcos-Robredo poll dispute moot.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 8, 2018)

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