Gary Olivar

Malacañang: No military takeover in case of total failure of polls

Malacañang: No military takeover in case of total failure of polls
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s spokesman assured Thursday that Malacañang will not order the military to intervene in case of a total failure of the automated elections.

“Mangyari man iyon ay there are are available remedies sa Comelec, sa korte at Kongreso. May mga remedies na available (Assuming it happens (total failure of elections), there are available remedies available in the Comelec (Commission on Elections), the courts and in Congress. There are available remedies),” deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said in an interview over ABS-CBN’s Umagang Kay Ganda.

Olivar said Malacañang is confident that a total failure of elections will not ignite a high level of unrest that “needs military intervention.”

He also reiterated that President Arroyo will step down as scheduled on June 30 even if the new president is not immediately proclaimed because of the failure of the elections.

Despite fears of a complete failure of the automated polls, Olivar said Malacañang is taking the Comelec’s word that it will push through on May 10.

He said he had received an advisory that Comelec has already made an assurance that all compact flashcards needed for the automated polls will be ready “a few hours before elections.”

The Comelec, on the hand, had said that it is also banking on the promise of the Smartmatic-TIM that there is enough time to finish reconfiguring all the flashcards in time for the elections.

Mass Comelec resignation

Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, who admits he does not know the technical details of the automated election system, said the poll body “thinks” it can push through with the elections on May 10 because of assurances by the Smartmatic-TIM.

If not all of the flashcards are reconfigured on time, Tagle said automated elections in far-flung areas might not push through. He assured that the Comelec is ready to hold special elections in far-flung areas.

He added that all Comelec commissioners, including their chairman, Jose Melo, are willing to resign if the automated elections completely fail.

“Kung talagang palpak at walang magawa at may complete failure of elections ay magre-resign kami (If the automated elections completely fail we will resign),” Tagle said.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal told ABS-CBN’s Umagang Kay Ganda in a separate interview that the holding of special elections is in violation of the Synchronized National and Local Elections Law.

Macalintal insisted that the Comelec should just postpone the elections for 15 days, which would be enough for the ultimate testing of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) voting and counting machines.

“So we can test the PCOS machines not only for the counting of votes, but also for transmission,” the lawyer insisted.

Macalintal has resigned as President Arroyo’s election lawyer because Malacañang is against his proposal to postpone the automated elections.

Palace backpedals on option to postpone poll

Palace backpedals on option to postpone poll
By RG Cruz
ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines – A spokesman of President Arroyo on Wednesday backpedaled on his earlier statement expressing support for a delay in the automated elections on Monday over glitches in preparations.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar earlier told Agence France-Presse that the May 10 elections may need to be delayed because of technical problems with vote counting machines.

“I would imagine that the success of the automation… is more important than the timing. Nobody benefits from a foul up… if technical issues require more time and require us to delay, that is not an unreasonable judgment to make,” Olivar told AFP.

Olivar’s statements, coupled with the proposal of President Arroyo’s election lawyer to postpone the election for 15 days, was promptly rejected by the Commission on Elections who assured the public that the automated poll will push through next Monday.

During the daily afternoon briefing with Palace media, Olivar softened his stance and said Malacañang will defer to the Comelec’s decision on the matter.

“This started as a position of the President’s election lawyer, but ang posisyon ng palasyo is to defer to the Comelec. Even lawyers and IT experts seem to have different points of view on whether we can postpone or as a technical matter,” he told reporters.

He also said Arroyo’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal was speaking for himself and not his client when he proposed that elections be postponed for 15 days.

“I’m not aware (na) nagpakita ng negative reaction si Pangulo…Macalintal’s comment is his statement as a lawyer. He has other clients. I don’t think he intended to speak for the president,” he said.

Presidential adviser on political affairs Prospero Pichay Jr. said the administration never wanted a delay or cancellation of the elections set on Monday.

“We haven’t really thought of postponing elections. It never crossed our mind that’s the stand of Malacañang. May election code. We are not entertaining thoughts of postponing the election. We’re anticipating elections will happen Monday,” he said.

He added: “We have to give Comelec a chance.”

Pichay and Olivar welcomed news that the Comelec has finally decided that elections will push through as scheduled on Monday.

Olivar also urged some groups to stop spreading talk about an alleged plot by President Arroyo to stay in power through the sabotage of elections.

Progressive partylist Anakpawis on Wednesday said all sectors and groups must unite to stop RAFAEL (Retain Arroyo through Failure of Elections) and NOEL (No Elections) scenarios being pushed by Malacañang.

“Sana tanggalin political noise at bangayan. Rafael — this is political. Noise na tingin namin muli na naman sinasangkot Pangulo. Hindi naman siya tumatakbo for national office,” he said. With Agence France-Presse

Villar, Noynoy warn vs delaying polls

Villar, Noynoy warn vs delaying polls
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential rivals Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party and Sen. Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party on Wednesday opposed proposals to postpone the May 10 polls, saying it may lead to President Gloria Arroyo extending her stay in power or a leadership vacuum.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro also opposed a postponement, calling it “irresponsible” since it had no legal basis.

At least three presidential candidates backed a proposal to postpone the elections despite fears that it may lead to a failure to proclaim a new president before the end of Arroyo’s term on June 30.

Presidential bets Joseph Estrada, Eddie Villanueva and Nick Perlas supported the proposal of Atty. Romulo Macalintal, President Arroyo’s election lawyer, to postpone elections for 2 weeks to allow the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to fix glitches in the automation process.

Villanueva and Perlas said delaying the elections for 2 weeks is necessary to prevent the possible outbreak of violence if there is widespread failure of the May 10 polls.

Villar fears GMA term extension

In a statement, Villar said postponing the elections “could result in bigger problems, including a possible term extension of President Arroyo.” He said the people “cannot allow any term extension for the President.”

If the elections are deferred by 2 weeks as proposed by Arroyo’s election lawyer, Villar warned that the Philippines may plunge into a “political turmoil.”

“Nahihirapan na po ang mga kandidato. Talagang hinihintay na lamang nila ang election. Kung i-extend naman iyan, ewan ko kung papaano tatanggapin ng local officials,” he said in a phone interview with DYHP-Cebu of the Radio Mindanao Network.

“While I hope things will go well with the automated elections, we cannot help but feel anxious about the electoral exercise given the ways things are now unfolding,” Villar said.

Noynoy: No to postponement

Aquino, who is leading in the presidential surveys, on Wednesday pushed for a manual count of the elections and insisted that the voting push through on Monday.

“Elections must push through on Monday, May 10, as mandated by law. Our people want a new leadership,” he said.

“The risk of elections not pushing through at all becomes much greater with a postponement.  It is our sacred obligation to say ‘NO’ to these proposals to postpone elections to a later date. Each postponement increases the possibility of yet another postponement, bringing us closer to a potentially disastrous crisis of a leadership vacuum on June 30,” Aquino added.

The Liberal Party demanded the Comelec begin preparations for a full manual count, which, it believes, can prevent a total failure of the elections.

“We demand that Comelec begin preparations for a full manual count and present their contingency plan to the public as soon as possible. Under the law, this is allowed.  We know that they have made initial preparations for a manual count.  Thus, there should be no obstacle to prevent elections from taking place this Monday,” Aquino said.

“What is important is the integrity of the process and its final outcome. If full manual counting is the practical solution, then let us do it, no matter how long it takes to finish,” he added.

Erap says ‘why not’?

For his part, Estrada said he is amenable to a 10-15 day delay but only if the Comelec reverts to a manual count of the elections.

“If there will be a delay, it should only be to put the manual counting into effect. If there will be a delay of 10-15 days but this will ensure clean and reliable elections, then why not? Anyway, within 15 days that is still within Arroyo’s term and the only fear of the people is that her term will not be extended. So if the postponement is just another 10 – 15 days but it will decrease the risks of fraud and failure of elections, then we should consider it,” he said in a statement.

For his part, Teodoro said postponing the election would be the “height of irresponsibility” in the part of Comelec.

Teodoro urged Comelec to resolve the problems in poll automation. He said the Comelec was given enough time to prepare a contingency plan for manual elections.

Calls for a delay of the nationwide elections mounted Tuesday after Comelec and poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM admitted that faulty software in memory cards for more than 76,000 vote counting machines would have to be replaced.

Palace: Don’t blame us

A Malacañang spokesman on Wednesday said he favored a postponement of the election but backtracked after Comelec said the memory cards will be replaced in time and the election will be able to go ahead.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar also said the Palace should not be dragged into the problems with the vote-counting machines.

He said critics should “remember that the Comelec is a constitutional body wherein Malacañang cannot interfere and does not interfere in its decisions and operations.”

“Those critics should look at their books and study the Constitution before casting their blame on the Palace. We have been consistent in our support and advocacy for fair, free, orderly and credible elections,” Olivar said.

Postponement allowed only for local polls?

A noted constitutionalist and an administration senator, meanwhile, opposed the suggestion to delay the May 10 polls.

Lawyer Joaquin Bernas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, said the Omnibus Election Code does not have a provision that allows a delay in the national election.

“Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code states that Comelec is authorized to postpone in any local subdivision. There’s nothing in the law about national election. It would seem the power is only in local elections,” he said.

He said that while the issue can be brought before the Supreme Court, many people may oppose the idea of a delayed election because they distrust the Arroyo administration. “It will probably increase their distrust in the system,” he said.

Postponement and failure

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, meanwhile, said that while the Omnibus Election Code does not allow postponement of elections nationwide, it allows the Comelec to declare a failure of elections nationwide.

“There is a big difference between postponement of elections and declaration of failure of elections.  In the case of postponement, the law allows it only in a political subdivision, such as a town or a province.  In the case of failure of elections, the law allows it nationwide,” she told reporters.

Santiago also said that unlike postponement of elections, the provision on failure of election allows the Comelec to call for a new election within 30 days after the failure of elections.

“If we proceed with the elections as scheduled, in case there is serious cause, the Comelec can still declare a failure of elections.  The causes for the declaration of a failure of election may occur before, or after, the casting of votes or on election day,” she said. — with reports from Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak; Ces Drilon, Jay Ruiz, Sheryll Mundo, Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News

Arroyo election lawyer resigns over poll deferment dispute

Arroyo election lawyer resigns over poll deferment dispute
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – The long-time election lawyer of President Arroyo has resigned over a dispute with Malacañang on the timing of elections given the new technical glitches that cropped up a week before the May 10 polls.

President Arroyo on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Romulo B. Macalintal as her election lawyer.

“The President has acceeded to Atty. Macalintal’s request,” Malacañang said in a statement Wednesday evening.

“Having taken a position in favor of postponing elections, which is not in line with the Palace stance, Atty. Romulo Macalintal requested the President to be allowed to resign as her election lawyer,” the statement said.

On Tuesday, Macalintal issued a statement that “postponement of the election is the only remedy to prevent a failure of election.”

Macalintal gave his proposal after the wrong configuration of the memory cards in voting machines were discovered during a mock poll on Monday. This major technical glitch was made public on Tuesday, when Comelec and its voting counting machines supplier, Smartmatic-Total Information Management, decided to recall all 76,000 flash cards for reconfiguration

Macalintal said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is authorized to postpone the polls under certain conditions. He added that Comelec must have a back-up plan, which includes resorting back to manual counting, if a glitch-free automation is not assured.

On Wednesday, however, Comelec stood its ground that the nationwide elections will push through as scheduled.

A few hours after, Palace spokesperson Gary Olivar told reporters that Malacañang will defer to the Comelec‘s decision.

“The Palace respects the independence of the Comelec, and defers to its judgment and decisions on all matters regarding the conduct of elections,” Malacañang said in its statement Wednesday evening.

“No official authorized to speak for the President has suggested any change in the election date,” it added.

Macalintal has over 25-year experience as an election lawyer. – with report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Presidential elections now between Noynoy and me – Erap

Presidential elections now between Noynoy and me – Erap
By Rainier Allan Ronda
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Former President Joseph Estrada sees the May 10 presidential elections as fast shaping into a one-on-one fight between himself and Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III.

Speaking to reporters at the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino headquarters in Mandaluyong, Estrada said the latest Pulse Asia survey shows that he has overtaken Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. as Aquino’s main rival.

“While the latest Pulse Asia survey shows me dead-even with Senator Villar at 20 percent and Sen. Noynoy Aquino leading the pack with 39 percent, three other polls show me at solo second to Senator Aquino and ahead of Senator Villar,” he said.

Estrada said results of three other surveys commissioned by allied groups also reflected a “steady, upward trajectory” in voters’ preference and acceptability of him.

On the other hand, Villar was shown at a “nosedive,” he added.

The 73-year-old Estrada said he could cause a major upset and win next week’s presidential election.

“Aquino’s numbers have reached a plateau,” he said.

Estrada said Aquino must not be “so presumptuous” as to claim a premature victory and threaten mass action if he does not win the elections.

“That is very crazy,” he said.

“He might want to take a lesson from his mother to speak with more humility.

“After all, the race is not yet over. May the best man win.”

Present at the briefing were Estrada’s vice-presidential running mate, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, PMP campaign manager Ernesto Maceda, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Estrada identified the three surveys as the Magdalo survey held last April 19 to 24, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) survey from April 18 to 22, and an internal survey prepared for Enrile, who is running for re-election under the PMP, held last April 23 to 25.

The Magdalo survey results reportedly showed Aquino leading the presidential race with 39.6 percent, Estrada at solo second place with 24.8 percent, Villar at third with 23.6 percent, and Gilbert Teodoro, Jr., with seven percent.

The survey had 2,266 respondents with a plus or minus 2 percent margin of error, according to the PMP.

The DILG survey showed Aquino as front-runner with 41 percent, Estrada second with 25 percent, Villar at third with 23 percent, and Teodoro fourth with nine percent.

The poll had 6,000 respondents with a plus or minus 2 percent margin of error.

Enrile’s internal survey conducted by his JAKA distribution company showed Aquino again leading the race with 35 percent, Estrada second with 25 percent, Villar at third with 17 percent, and Teodoro again at fourth place with eight percent.

The poll used a base of 2,400 respondents with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent margin of error.

Estrada said he believes preference surveys are an important part of the campaign in that they serve to educate the voter.

“But more than the unsubstantiated charge that they play a role in conditioning the minds of the people, they do serve the various contenders in any exercise as vital inputs in internal political and campaign guidance and decision making,” he said.

Enrile said the three surveys were more reflective of what they saw in their campaign sorties nationwide, compared to the figures in the Social Weather Stations survey of the past weeks.

“I was surprised,” he said.

“The (SWS) figures do not seem to jibe with what we have seen in the field.”

Enrile said the SWS surveys showing Estrada at third place were “surprising.”

Their campaign sorties are always jam-packed, he added.

Browsing at results of the Pulse Asia and three other surveys, Enrile said the downtrend in the popularity and voters’ preference for Villar seemed irreversible at this stage of the campaign, with only a week to go before election day.

Meantime, Malacañang thanked Estrada yesterday for “supporting” Teodoro.

Speaking to reporters, deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said it would also be good if the two candidates talk to clarify what Estrada meant about working with Teodoro. – With Paolo Romero

Heed Rosales' advice, shun people power talk – Palace

Heed Rosales’ advice, shun people power talk – Palace
By Marvin Sy
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang has called on members of the Catholic faith to heed the advice of Manila Archbishop Gau-dencio Cardinal Rosales to shun talks of yet another people power in case massive fraud takes place during elections as insinuated by one of the presidential aspirants.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar welcomed the statement from Rosales, whom he described as one of the “princes of the Philippine Church.”

“There is no condition or basis for the call to people power by certain quarters,” he said.

“We are gratified by the position taken by the Cardinal who is obviously a man of peace who speaks for a church that is committed to peace,” Olivar said.

“We hope that our countrymen who belong to the same church, as almost all of us do, will heed his words and follow the example of prudence and level headedness that he is counseling us as a shepherd to his flock,” he added.

It was Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III who warned of the people taking to the streets if there is massive fraud in Monday’s elections.

Olivar said that there was no place for such calls in society anymore, not at this time when the institutions and processes are in a much better shape than they were before.

“There are no objective conditions, objective basis to call for street adventurism from any quarter no matter how well intentioned they are. Our institutions and processes are in much better shape today, more than 20 years after EDSA 1 and 10 years after EDSA 2,” Olivar said.

Rosales slammed as “irresponsible” and “crazy” warnings coming from some presidential candidates that there would be civil unrest if they lose in the elections next week.

Rosales did not name a specific presidential bet but said anyone who brings up such an idea is irresponsible.

“Whoever said that… that is irresponsible thinking,” he told reporters. – With Helen Flores

JBC nominates Corona

JBC nominates Corona
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Senior Associate Justice Renato Corona and three other contenders for chief justice are in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC)’s shortlist to be sent to President Arroyo tomorrow.

The eight-member collegial body led by retiring Chief Justice Reynato Puno decided to submit the shortlist with the names of four candidates – Corona, Supreme Court Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion, and Sandiganbayan acting Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval – following an SC decision last month allowing the President to appoint Puno’s successor.

This developed as the Supreme Court (SC) said yesterday that the President could not appoint a new chief justice until a vacancy is created, which is on May 17.

The statement was issued in reaction to a Malacañang pronouncement that the President would appoint Puno’s replacement before the elections on May 10. A court spokesman said Puno did not intend to retire before May 17.

Corona, De Castro and Brion each got the unanimous nod of members of the JBC with eight votes, while Sandoval got seven.

Apart from Puno, the other members of the JBC are Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, Sen. Francis Escudero, Rep. Matias Defensor Jr., retired SC Justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., University of Sto. Tomas dean emeritus Amado Dimayuga, Justice Aurora Santiago Lagman and Integrated Bar of the Philippines representative J. Conrado Castro.

Castro, who missed the meeting but submitted his vote to Puno before leaving for a vacation abroad, did not vote for Sandoval.

All four nominees submitted themselves to the screening process of JBC and attended the public interview in Baguio City last April 19.

The JBC did not include two other nominees for the post – Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales –who manifested their lack of interest in the post due to their stand that Mrs. Arroyo is not allowed by the Constitution to make the appointment.

In a press conference, SC spokesman Midas Marquez explained that the JBC opted to submit the shortlist to the Palace on May 5 so as to give the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) a chance to pursue its second appeal on the March 17 ruling of SC in today’s last full court session before the magistrates take a recess for the elections next week.

“The JBC is bending backwards for PBA. But the JBC can’t wait forever. If they failed to file that second motion for reconsideration before 9 a.m. or if it would be noted without action, then the JBC will submit the shortlist on Wednesday,” he stressed.

“The JBC does not see the need to delay these proceedings any further,” he added.

Marquez also rebuffed a reported statement of the Palace that Mrs. Arroyo would make the appointment before the automated elections on May 10.

“I don’t see how a chief justice can be appointed when the position is not yet vacant. There can’t be two chief justices at the same time. When there’s no vacancy there can be no appointment made,” he stressed.

The SC official also assured the public that Puno would not leave the SC until his retirement on May 17.

“Whoever will succeed can’t even take his oath while the retiring chief justice is still around,” added Marquez.

However, he admitted that the period for the appointment by Mrs. Arroyo was not touched in the SC ruling because “it was not an issue.”

Marquez said he does not know what the basis of deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar was in suggesting the appointment of the next chief justice before election day: “We leave it up to them.”

In a decision last March 17, the SC ruled that positions in the High Court are exempted from the ban on midnight appointments under Article VII Section 15 of the Charter, giving Mrs. Arroyo the power to name the successor of Puno.

The Court, in a resolution last April 20, affirmed this ruling and junked motions for reconsideration filed by parties. Marquez said this made the SC decision final.

GMA to act quickly on shortlist

Meanwhile, President Arroyo would act quickly on the shortlist of candidates for chief justice once it is submitted by the JBC, Malacañang said yesterday.

Olivar also said Mrs. Arroyo would not be affected by last-ditch attempts to stop her from naming the successor of Chief Justice Puno.

“Since all four names have been floated for a while now, this has given the President a head start in arriving at a well-considered choice from among these eminently qualified candidates,” Olivar told a news briefing.

“We can expect a decision soon,” he said.

He said ideally Puno’s successor should be named before the elections this coming Monday because of the possible filing of electoral protests before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) that would be headed by the chief justice.

Olivar hit the groups planning to file another motion for reconsideration before the SC, saying they could have some hidden agenda.

“Why are they insisting (on blocking Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the chief justice) when the SC already ruled twice against them? She is stepping down so there is no debt of gratitude. Maybe they want to install their own chief justice who will be indebted to them,” he said.

SC will be tainted if GMA appoints next CJ

Rep. Satur Ocampo of the militant party-list group Bayan Muna yesterday said that the SC will be tainted if President Arroyo appoints next chief justice.

He said people would call the tribunal an “Arroyo Court.”

Ocampo lamented that the JBC, which is supposed to be an independent body, apparently gave in to the prodding of Malacañang for it to submit its shortlist of nominees for the next chief justice.

“Mrs. Arroyo will appoint anyone who will have a debt of gratitude to her and her administration and hence shield her from legal accountability when the time comes for her to face charges for her crimes committed in office,” he said.

Even if Carpio is included in the JBC list, there are speculations that Mrs. Arroyo prefers Corona to him. Carpio wrote the October 2006 court decision junking the administration’s Charter change campaign through the people’s initiative mode, labeling it as a “gigantic fraud” and a “grand deception.”

Several groups, including lawyers’ organizations, have urged Corona to back out of the nomination process for next chief justice because of his close association with Mrs. Arroyo and the fact that his wife has been appointed by the President as an officer in a state corporation.

Meanwhile, Bagumbayan presidential bet Sen. Richard Gordon yesterday said that although he personally does not agree with the appointment of the new chief justice by Mrs. Arroyo before she steps down next month, he respects the decision of the SC.

PMP Senate bets tell GMA to give successor chance to appoint new CJ

Meanwhile, four senatorial candidates of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) yesterday said that President Arroyo should give the next president the chance to appoint a new chief justice.

In an interview with STAR editors, lawyer JV Bautista said there is a need for a “new dispensation” both in the national government and the Supreme Court.

Bautista, running under President Estrada’s political party PMP, said the justices of the High Court who signed the resolution favoring the contention that Arroyo has the authority to appoint the new Chief Justice “lack a sense of delicadeza.”

He said the interpretation of the Supreme Court justices’ on the Constitution is what prevails today.

“I think what is lacking there is the sense of delicadeza among the members of the Supreme Court. If you will check on the records of those who favored the ruling that Arroyo has the authority to appoint the new chief justice is that they are the most recent appointees of the president,” Bautista said.

For his part, former senator Francisco Tatad said there’s no need to interpret the Constitution to guide and enlighten the justices in their ruling on the authority of the President to appoint the new chief justice during the 90-day ban on appointments before the election.

“What you need is to read the Constitution correctly. You don’t have to interpret the Constitution. The Constitution is very clear. The vacancy has to be filled within 90 days, fill up the vacancy before the 90 days ban,” Tatad said.

PMP senatorial candidate Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada said the High Tribunal can elect an acting chief justice from among themselves.

“The justices have probably been pressured. It’s payback time for debt of gratitude. The SC justices should appoint a chief justice, but they come up with the ruling probably because they are forced to pay back their debt of gratitude,” Lozada said.

Of the four, only Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada gave a submissive statement to the High Court’s ruling.

“We can stage rallies and so forth. But we cannot really do anything about it anymore. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort,” Estrada said. With Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Jose Rodel Clapano

Comelec junks parallel count

Comelec junks parallel count
By Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – It’s official.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will only conduct a random manual audit of votes in the coming polls and not a full parallel manual count as demanded by some groups.

The decision sparked calls from various groups, including lawyers and business organizations, for street protests.

In a seven-page resolution, the Comelec denied for lack of legal basis the proposal to conduct a parallel manual count in all precincts for the positions of president, vice president, congressmen, governor and mayor.

“After having taken into consideration all the submissions of the various proponents, and after having considered the opinions of those who stand opposed, the Commission concludes that it cannot conduct a full parallel manual count,” the Comelec said.

“The attendant risks to the stability of the electoral system are too grave to be outweighed by the promised benefit of parallel manual count,” the Comelec said.

“Conducting a hand count of the ballots will open up the possibility of errors in tallying, as well as provide an excellent opportunity for the perpetration of fraudulent acts,” the poll body added.

Various groups have been calling on the Comelec to allow a parallel manual count to validate the results of the first automated elections in the country.

“The language employed by the proponents of a full parallel manual count indicates that a mere difference between the results of the hand count and electronic count will be enough to trigger a full manual count of all candidates virtually scrapping the automated election system,” the Comelec said.

The Comelec pointed out candidates might demand the scrapping of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) count and a shift to manual counting and canvassing once a discrepancy is raised.

It added that a full parallel manual count would be extremely vulnerable to error as well as to dagdag-bawas (vote padding-shaving).

James Jimenez, Comelec spokesman, said a mere discrepancy of 10 votes could trigger manual recount and a scrapping of the electronic results of the elections.

“This discrepancy can also be done by anybody by simply smudging the ballots,” Jimenez said.

“More than any consideration of cost and effort, is what makes the commission extremely wary of accepting the proposal for a full parallel manual count,” the Comelec said.

The random manual audit would cover a smaller number or precincts compared to the parallel manual count, which was being planned for 76,340 precincts nationwide.

“The fact that random manual audit takes place in such a relatively small subset means that efforts to safeguard the process from errors and the introduction of fraud will be more effective,” the Comelec said.

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said “we agree with the Comelec’s decision.”

“We will expect full and appropriate compliance with it by all parties concerned, and we continue to urge our countrymen to support Comelec and vote based only on what their conscience tells them—the two conditions for a successful and credible election,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said the decision would allow everyone to focus “on getting the automated counting to work.”

“Everybody now can focus on their respective works to see to it that we are well prepared and ready for the first automated election,” deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan said.

Bagumbayan presidential bet Sen. Richard Gordon also welcomed the Comelec ruling and lashed out at the Makati Business Club for floating a failure of elections scenario if a parallel manual counting is not carried out.

Protests

“We will join if there will be any protest actions,” Vitalliano Nañagas, Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) vice chair on the national issues committee said in a telephone interview.

“Since the PCOS machines have not been pilot-tested before in an actual election as mandated by law, the risk of the machine making mistakes at the rate higher than that provided for (one mistake out of 20,000), is quite high,” a MAP statement read.

“We are gravely concerned that without such verification of the accuracy of these machines, the election may not be accepted by the people as the true reflection of their will,” it added.

“We are not going to take this sitting down,” MBC executive director Alberto Lim said in a separate interview. “I cannot tell you our next move yet.”

The Alyansa Agrikultura and the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) also appealed to the public to protest the ruling.

“I will protest in the streets. The Comelec is useless,” PBA president Simeon Marcelo said. “They removed the number one safeguard when they eliminated the system that gives the voter a slip of paper confirming who they voted for.”

“They can elevate the matter to the Supreme Court. I will join them if they do that,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said. – With Ma. Elisa Osorio, Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Aurea Calica, Rainier Allan Ronda, Sheila Crisostomo, Helen Flores, Mike Frialde

Agra to issue new Ampatuan ruling

Agra to issue new Ampatuan ruling
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Embattled Justice Secretary Alberto Agra will review his own ruling clearing two members of the Ampatuan clan in the Maguindanao massacre and come up with a decision within the week.

Agra has drawn flak for absolving detained Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and his cousin, acting Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan Sr., also Mamasapano town mayor, of involvement in the slaughter of 57 people – including journalists and lawyers – on Nov. 23 last year in Maguindanao.

The multiple murder case against Ampatuan patriarch Andal Sr. and his son Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr. remains, based on Agra’s resolution.

The accused are detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

Families of the victims have moved for the reversal of Agra’s decision.

The Ampatuans were staunch allies of President Arroyo and were believed to have manipulated the results of the 2004 elections in the province to ensure her victory. Mrs. Arroyo’s political foes have accused her of having a hand in the dropping of charges against the Ampatuans.

Malacañang ordered Agra to take a second look at his resolution, which even state prosecutors openly contested.

Agra, in his resolution, said there was no evidence to prove that the two Ampatuans had conspired with the other accused in carrying out the massacre.

“I will consult with the prosecutors involved, and take their opinions and observations under advisement, and give their recommendations the utmost weight and consideration,” Agra said in a speech before DOJ employees and officials attending a flag-raising ceremony at the department yesterday.

The DOJ chief said he has decided to act on the appeals himself rather than delegate the task – as he had promised – to a review panel.

He also shrugged off calls for him to inhibit from the case.

“The resolution of this motion for reconsideration belongs solely to the discretion of the DOJ secretary. And I intend to exercise that discretion in full,” he said.

“It is my intention to release the resolution of the MR (motion for reconsideration) this week. Political timing, as has been suggested, plays no part in my strict schedule. Those who know me know that delay is not my style.”

“Because it is like any other case, where both the victim and the accused are accorded the same constitutional rights, I will not inhibit myself in resolving the MR. I will not create a panel,” he said. “My faith in my own objectivity has not been shaken, for there is no reason for me to doubt myself. I have, and always will, act in accordance with my conscience, and due regard to my oath as a lawyer and a public servant,” he said.

No money involved

Agra said his decision to clear the two Ampatuans was based on evidence “with my heart leaning towards the victims, but my mind fixed on the rule of law.”

“With a clear conscience, I declared that burden was not discharged in that instance. Conscience was my motivation, and rule of law my guide,” he said.

“I will say with a straight face, on the honor of my father’s name, I did not receive a single centavo from any quarter, to release the resolution, or rule in that manner,” he stressed.

Agra also rebuffed calls for him to resign, saying he has no plan of turning his back on the challenges besetting his office.

Instead of just waiting for Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes to act on the multiple murder case against the Ampatuans and several others, Agra caught everyone by surprise by issuing a resolution last April 16 clearing Zaldy and Akmad, who is also the ARMM governor’s brother-in-law.

Agra said he was acting on a motion for review filed by defense lawyers.

He also said he had to act swiftly on the motion in keeping with his personal commitment to address the huge backlog of cases pending in his office.

When he took over as acting DOJ secretary about a month ago, there were reportedly 9,000 cases – some dating back to the 1990s – pending with the Office of the Secretary.

Agra said he hopes to cut the backlog by half by the time President Arroyo steps down on June 30.

The real targets of the Maguindanao massacre were the wife and relatives of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu who were leading a convoy of followers, journalists and lawyers on their way to Shariff Aguak to file his certificate of candidacy for governor to challenge Andal Jr.

Witnesses said they were stopped at a checkpoint along the Maguindanao highway by over a hundred heavily armed men led by Andal Jr.

The victims, some begging for their lives, were reportedly taken to a remote hilly area at gunpoint and executed one after another.

Most of the victims were already buried, some still in their vehicles, when help arrived.

More time needed

Malacañang was not bothered by the animosity between Agra and his prosecutors over his controversial ruling, saying they just need more time to resolve their differences.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar also called on possible witnesses to the massacre to come forward to help ensure speedy justice for the victims.

“Obviously if both sides – Secretary Agra and his prosecutors – need more time to come to terms then let’s leave them be and let them use the time left to reconcile,” Olivar told a news briefing.

“We cannot force this process. The important thing is they started to talk to each other and hopefully, sooner or later, they would reach a common position,” he said.

He noted that Agra himself had mentioned publicly that he continued to have an open mind on the appeals filed to reverse his resolution.

He also said the reported emergence of new witnesses could also lead to the reversal of Agra’s position.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza earlier directed Agra to meet with protesting prosecutors and submit weekly reports to the Palace on the developments of the case, including the tackling of the motion for reconsideration.

“The important thing is for justice in the end to be served, however long it may need to take,” Olivar said.

A day after the issuance of Agra’s order, state prosecutors walked out of their offices in protest.

“We are deeply concerned that the resolution will all the more convince a long skeptical public that our criminal justice system is impotent when the accused are politically influential,” chief state prosecutor Claro Arellano told reporters after the walkout.

“With all due respect (to Secretary Agra), we still believe that there was probable cause in the case,” Arellano said. With Paolo Romero

Manual parallel count unnecessary—Comelec

Manual parallel count unnecessary—Comelec
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WITH 15 DAYS to go before the country embarks on its first automated polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declared the parallel manual count pushed by certain sectors as unnecessary and assured the public that all safeguards were in place for credible, accurate and swift voting on May 10.

“We are working 24/7 now. It’s crunch time already,” Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Saturday in a media briefing.

“This is the last two minutes of the preparations for the elections. Almost all Filipinos want the elections to succeed. The goal of the Comelec is to have credible elections. We will not allow [anyone] to thwart the conduct of elections on May 10,” Larrazabal said.

The technical working group is to submit its recommendations on a random manual audit to the Comelec tomorrow, completing one of the legal loose ends in the counting phase, he said.

Asked if the poll body had rejected the proposals of groups like the Makati Business Club and a loose coalition of information technology professionals to conduct a partial parallel manual count of the votes, Larrazabal and Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said a random manual audit would do the job.

A parallel manual count entails a manual recount of the ballots in all 76,300 precincts nationwide for only three elective posts—president, vice president, and mayors.

Under a random manual audit, the ballots for all positions in randomly selected 1,110 precincts nationwide will be counted.

Specified by law

A random manual audit, which is provided for in the Automated Elections Law, will ensure that the results transmitted by the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines are credible and accurate.

“The law specifies this type of automated election. Before, there were many complaints against manual elections, so we went with automated elections. Now that we’re automated, they’re saying, ‘Let’s go manual,” Larrazabal observed.

A random manual audit means the Comelec randomly will choose 5 PCOS machines from 5 precincts in each of the 222 legislative district to compare the manual results with the results reflected in the ER.

Last Friday, or two days before the April 25 deadline, the Comelec and its elections supplier, Smartmatic TIM Corp., completed the printing of 50.7 million machine-readable ballots for the computerized balloting for national and local posts.

On Saturday, the Comelec and Smartmatic TIM began the delivery of the voting machines, ballots, and ballot boxes to the regions.

On May 10, an estimated 50 million Filipinos will cast their votes for president and other posts using machine-readable ballots.

The ballots will be fed into the PCOS machines, which will record and count the marks on the ballots.

At the end of Election Day, the machines will automatically count the votes, print the results, and transmit these to the canvassing centers.

Counting at the canvassing centers will be done electronically.

Delay in proclamation

The Comelec said it expected results in local contests in less than 24 hours. Official tallies for national posts will be done in two days, a far cry from the old system that took more than a month to complete.

Proponents of the parallel manual count said it would guarantee the accuracy of the tallies computed and transmitted by the PCOS machines.

They said it would also prove that there were no malicious bugs in the PCOS software that could manipulate the election results.

But Jimenez said the parallel manual count had been “already considered” by the Comelec and did not guarantee a total and accurate reflection of the votes cast.

“The purpose of automation is to get accurate immediate results,” he said. “The parallel manual count is essentially just a regular manual election. And remember, every time we had manual elections, there were jitters that we won’t be able to finish [the count] by June 30.”

Jimenez also said the manual count scheme had many “ramifications” on the conduct of the automated polls and was “not a simple matter,” as argued by its proponents.

“Just because we are good at arguing for it does not mean the Comelec would immediately follow it. The parallel manual count should be studied. It has logistical, cost, and personnel implications,” he said, adding that it would also delay the proclamation of winners.

Larrazabal said the parallel manual count was similar to the Open Election System proposed by IT expert Gus Lagman in 2009, which the Comelec studied and rejected. (Lagman is one of the proponents of the parallel count.)

Comelec officials also stressed that the count of the PCOS machines could be audited. Larrazabal said the machines would generate a paper trail immediately after the end of the voting, which could be used in a comparison with the transmitted tallies.

‘Why only now?’

Larrazabal and Jimenez questioned the timing of the concerns raised by some civil society groups.

Jimenez said the Comelec’s critics had years to raise their fears.

“Why only now?” he said. “Is it to cause a disruption of the proceedings, to torpedo the elections?”

Jimenez also raised the possibility that the Comelec’s critics were setting the scene to question the credibility of the results.

Gary Olivar, a deputy spokesperson of President Macapagal-Arroyo, said a parallel manual count would “set us up for a very contentious outcome” of the elections.

“I will side with the Comelec on this one… Because the Comelec is the institution that is authorized and knowledgeable on this aspect, we will support [its] position on this,” Olivar said in a radio interview.

He said a parallel manual count would violate the law that requires the election process to be automated and might undermine the credibility and integrity of the process.

“What if the two counting systems came up with different outcomes, and the law says the automated count should prevail? he said.

Olivar dismissed doubts on the credibility of automated polls, saying the Comelec had “already done well, going beyond the requirements of the law by instituting the higher sample of voting units for a random manual audit.”

Target completion date

Smartmatic Asia president Cesar Flores said the company’s target was to complete delivery of key election materials and equipment by May 3.

“From now on, every day, there will be ballots leaving for different regions until May 3, when the ballots for the NCR [National Capital Region] will leave the warehouse. It’s going to be 100,000 different movements and operations,” he said.

Flores said Smartmatic TIM would track the ballots, PCOS machines, and ballot boxes until they reach the local offices.

Yesterday, ballots for 5,000 precincts in Lanao del Sur, Zambonga, Zamboanga Sibugay, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Bukidnon were delivered.

The PCOS machines and ballot boxes will be sent to the precincts a week or so before the elections for testing and sealing.

Under the law, the tests are scheduled 3-7 days before the elections. With a report from Gil Cabacungan