MANILA, Philippines?As far as the country?s highest court is concerned, there is no more legal obstacle to the holding of the Philippines? historic first automated national elections.
In a special en banc session Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court dismissed two petitions seeking to postpone Monday?s elections after technical glitches in the vote counting machines cropped up earlier this week, raising fears that the automated balloting might lead to chaos.
?It?s all systems go,? court administrator and spokesperson Midas Marquez told reporters when asked what the impact of the court?s action was.
The 15-member high court unanimously dismissed the petition that ousted President Joseph Estrada filed a few hours earlier asking the tribunal to order the Comelec to postpone the elections for a maximum of 15 days and to revert back to manual polls.
Marquez said the magistrates found ?no grave abuse of discretion? on the part of Comelec and did not even require poll officials to officially comment on the petition for postponement.
Estrada should have gone to the Comelec first, Marquez said.
Another presidential aspirant, televangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva, still has a pending petition with the Comelec urging the poll body to postpone Monday?s balloting.
The Comelec has not acted on Villanueva?s petition and has given no indication it would act on it before Monday?s vote.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the commission has not scheduled any hearing this weekend.
The Supreme Court found that Estrada raised ?speculative arguments? and ?factual issues? about the state of the voting machines which the court could not rule on, Marquez said.
The Supreme Court dismissed a similar petition asking for postponement filed by the Philippine Computer Society.
It also dismissed a petition filed Wednesday by a group led by University of the Philippines professor Harry Roque asking the court to compel the Comelec to conduct manual elections but without asking for postponement.
A petition filed by the group Compact for Peaceful and Democratic Elections to reinstate ballot safeguards was also dismissed for ?failure to exhaust remedies,? according to Marquez.
?The Court is dismissing the petitions, there being no grave abuse of discretion and for failure to exhaust all remedies because these cases should be filed before Comelec,? he said.
Marquez said that Estrada and the Philippine Computer Society should have gone to the Supreme Court only after the Comelec had denied their petitions.
?The Court of course saw the urgency but these (petitions) suffer from material defects so they were dismissed,? Marquez said.
On Estrada?s allegation that the machines did not read the ballots correctly during trial runs, Marquez said: ?I don?t think they were concerned with that because petitioners were not able to substantiate their allegations. It wasn?t established before the Court that there were defects and that Comelec wasn?t able to remedy those defects.?
Malacańang welcomed the high court?s action.
?We?re pleased with the high court?s decision, and we hope this will serve to further reassure our countrymen and encourage them to actively support and participate in this exciting milestone in our country?s history on Monday,? deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said in a statement.
Estrada, through his lawyers, had asked for a temporary restraining order from the court.
In a nine-page petition, Estrada asked the court to order the Comelec to stop all preparations for the automated elections and to start working for the holding of manual elections.
Estrada referred to the widespread failure of the PCOS machines during mock elections and during the testing and sealing phase as the reason for his petition. During the tests, votes for some candidates weren?t credited to them by the machines.
?These failed tests, serious and flagrant as they are, created a reasonable ground to believe that the automated elections scheduled for May 10, 2010, are headed towards a chaotic, if not, total failure of elections,? said Estrada?s petition, filed by lawyers Roberto Cabredo and Maria Leah Lara.
?Various sectors have expressed fears that this chaos, confusion and turmoil may become so unmanageable that it could place the country in a state of emergency,? the petition added.
Estrada?s petition also adverted to an Inquirer report on mock elections in six towns in Oriental Mindoro where votes for presidential candidates Manny Villar and Benigno ?Noynoy? Aquino III were counted for Gilbert Teodoro Jr. of the administration party.
Estrada said a failed automated election ?may lead to a ?failure of elections,? which in turn, might lead to more serious complications.?
?We dare not venture to guess what ... effect to the Filipino people and to the nation another ?people power? would bring,? he added.
?Doctorates in daya-logy?
Another presidential candidate, Sen. Richard Gordon, the author of the country?s automation law, warned that a shift back to manual counting could lead to cheating, a problem that has hounded the country?s previous manual elections.
Gordon said that the goal of the automated election was to help prevent cheating and that a return to manual counting would allow those with ?doctorates in daya-logy? to be active again. With a report from Edson Tandoc Jr.