CITY OF SAN FERNANDO ? Time is the fundamental problem in the recount of votes in the 2007 Pampanga gubernatorial polls that the Supreme Court has ordered the Commission on Elections to conduct.
There is ?no more time to recount,? Romulo Macalintal, a lawyer of Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone Friday. ?If ever, it will only be a waste of time and money,? he said, estimating that the collection of ballot boxes and inventory of election returns and official ballots from 19 towns and a city could take the Comelec a month to do.
According to Macalintal, the creation of committees may take another month, the actual revision and recount about five months, and the review of the ballots by three commissioners of a division a year.
Even Rosve Henson, the election campaigner of Panlilio?s closest rival Lilia Pineda, said ?the time element is another concern.?
?Nevertheless, the protest issue must still be given conclusion,? Henson said, describing the high court?s order as ?a welcome development.?
?Whatever will be the outcome in favor of either party will bring closure to this political issue. It was left unclear because of the electoral protest, which has yet to be decided with finality,? he said.
Only 10 months left
In Manila, Comelec Chair Jose Melo said the poll body?s second division composed of Commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer, Elias Yusoph and Lucenito Tagle would conduct the recount ?as soon as possible.?
Melo declined to give a definite date on when the recount would start, but acknowledged that time was running out on the contending parties.
?We should do this fast because there are only 10 months left in the contested term,? he said. ?I am almost sure that whoever wins in the recount will ask for the writ of execution immediately to implement the order.?
The votes actually cast in Pampanga during the May 2007 gubernatorial election totaled 779,100 out of 1,128,411 registered voters, a check by the Inquirer with the provincial poll body showed.
Panlilio, a Catholic priest, garnered 219,706 votes, notching a margin of 1,147 votes over Pineda?s 218,559 votes.
In a recount case filed in July 2007, Pineda, a member of the Pampanga provincial board and a known ally of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, accused Panlilio and his supporters of buying, padding and shaving votes and having fake ballots with the name of Panlilio counted by the board of election inspectors.
Panlilio has also filed a case for election fraud against Pineda, whose husband, Rodolfo ?Bong? Pineda, is said to be behind an illegal numbers racket in Pampanga and was investigated by lawmakers in the past.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court lifted the status quo order it issued in February 2008 which stopped the Comelec from acting on Pineda?s petition for a recount.
According to Macalintal, more time may be consumed if an aggrieved party takes its appeal to the Comelec en banc and then to the Supreme Court.
?By that time, the 2010 polls would be over and a new or the same governor of Pampanga would have been elected,? he said.
Macalintal said the recount case filed by Pineda was ?a wake-up call for all for the need to automate the polls so protests can be resolved fast via automated recount.?
Neither Pineda nor her lawyer has issued a statement on the Supreme Court order. But Pineda deposited with the Comelec a P4-million check as a requirement for the recount as early as July 2007.
Panlilio said he had ?full confidence? in his lawyers ?to handle the situation.?
?Let them do what is to be done. I hope it will work to our advantage. But I am just surprised why [the high court?s order] came up at a time when people are preparing for the  elections.?
Provincial Comelec supervisor Temie Lambino said the ballot boxes, including the election returns and official ballots, had remained with the office of the treasurers in Pampanga?s 19 towns and one city.
He said these were inventoried right after the 2007 elections.
Lambino said the recount would be conducted at the Comelec central office in Manila, not in Pampanga. ?My responsibility is to transport the ballot boxes and other forms. Nothing more,? he said.
Melo said the final resolution of the recount case would not end in the announcement of results by the Comelec?s second division.
He said that under the law, the losing candidate could still seek remedies to delay the implementation of the results, which could drag on the case for some time.
?Almost everyone who loses in this kind of case elevates it to the commission en banc and eventually to the Supreme Court. That is why this could take a while,? Melo said.
Ferrer, the second division?s presiding officer, was more pessimistic in his outlook on the resolution of the gubernatorial contest.
?I read in the newspaper that the lawyer of Panlilio will file a motion for reconsideration [of the high court?s order]. We will have to wait for that,? he said.
But even if Panlilio?s camp does not appeal, it will not exactly hasten the recount process, Ferrer said.
?A recount is a misnomer. We don?t just open the ballot box and count the votes. We have to appreciate each ballot and resolve the objections,? he said.
Ferrer stressed that a province-wide recount, where every precinct will be scrutinized, was a complicated process.
He said the Comelec would have to retrieve all the ballot boxes and convene at least six revision committees to examine the results.
Asked if the recount would go beyond 10 months, he said: ?We cannot predict that. There are procedures that could cause delays.?
Asked whether the recount would breach the ban on the Comelec on acting on certain electoral contests within a year before the next polls, Melo said the constitutional provision only applied to a petition for a recall election.
Panlilio is also facing a recall petition filed by a nongovernment organization. But Melo said it would be impossible for the poll body to act on that petition because of lack of time and resources.