VP issue divides Congress
Can the winning presidential candidate in the May 9 elections be proclaimed ahead of the winning vice presidential candidate?
The leaders of the canvassing panels of the House of Representatives and the Senate are divided on the matter, but the decision ultimately rests with the members of Congress.
The question arose on Tuesday when Congress convened as the national board of canvassers (NBOC) to count the votes for the country’s top elective posts amid the landslide win of Rodrigo Duterte in the presidential race and the hairline lead of Leni Robredo over Bongbong Marcos in the vice presidential contest based on an unofficial quick count.
Marcos has raised suspicion about the quick count by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the citizens’ arm of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, head of the House canvassing panel, said he could not see how separate proclamations could be done.
He noted that the certificates of canvass (COCs) contained the votes for both President and Vice President so that questioning the result for one position would mean questioning that for the other.
But Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, head of the Senate canvassing panel, said separate proclamations could be done “theoretically,” although it did not happen before for the positions of President and Vice President.
But Pimentel told reporters that he saw no legal impediment to the idea of proclaiming the President earlier.
Sen. Vicente Sotto III, a member of the Senate canvassing panel, also believed the President could be proclaimed ahead of the Vice President.
“What we don’t want is for there to be a vacuum. We abhor vacuums,” Sotto said in an ambush interview.
He said there could be separate proclamations because the Senate leadership made it clear that under the canvassing rules, the board could tackle separately the issues or objections concerning the votes for President and the votes for Vice President in the COCs.
This means that there would be no delays with regard to the positions where the COCs have not been questioned.
Sotto initially moved during the joint Congress session to include in the canvassing rules the separate handling of the issues concerning the votes for President and Vice President.
But Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said Sotto’s proposal was already included in the inherent powers of the NBOC. Sotto withdrew his motion.
But Gonzales said the COC for one province or city contained the votes for President, Vice President and even the senators. If the execution of a COC for a province is OK, then it is OK for all the positions, he added.
“You can’t be blind about the observations for the votes for President and then have your eyes open for the observations for votes for Vice President,” he told reporters.
The Senate and the House formed the canvassing committee during a joint session on Tuesday and approved the rules that would govern the proclamation of the country’s next leaders.
For the Senate, the panel will be headed by Pimentel. Its members are Senators Sonny Angara, Ralph Recto, Teofisto Guingona III, Sergio Osmeña III, Juan Ponce Enrile and Sotto.
The alternate members are Senators Cynthia Villar and JV Ejercito.
For the House, the panel will be headed by Gonzales and its members are Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, and 1BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello.
The alternates are Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya and San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora.
Marcos had indicated that there were COCs from several provinces that his camp intended to challenge for supposedly questionable results.
The areas included the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, where he said there were reports that people were not allowed to vote and that ballots were preshaded.
The ballot boxes containing the COCs were brought to the House from the Senate early on Tuesday morning. They had been housed in the Senate since May 9.
Marcos has questioned the alteration of the script in the transparency server used by the PPCRV, contending that poll officials did not present proof that the change only resulted in a cosmetic and not substantial change.
Last week, Marcos sent a formal letter to the Comelec demanding that his camp be allowed to conduct a systems audit to determine the extent of the effect of the supposedly unsanctioned change in the data packet for a transparency server on the night of Election Day.
He has been suggesting that because of the change in the script in the data packet, supposed irregularities in the count of votes in the vice presidential race occurred.
Earlier, Comelec and its technology partner Smartmatic had explained that the minor change in the script only involved substituting “?” that appeared in the names of certain candidates with “ñ” and that this did not affect the counting of the votes.
The Marcos camp claims that the change in the script may have allowed Robredo to overtake him in the PPCRV count.
The senator was trailing Robredo by more than 200,000 votes when the PPCRV ended its quick count last week, with 96.17 percent of election returns counted.
Gonzales said it would be up to the canvassing committee, made up of designated members of both houses of Congress, to decide what action to take on any observations or protests that the camp of Marcos may raise.
But he also said the NBOC was tasked with tabulating the votes, not to investigate alleged fraud.
Not board of inquiry
Quoting Senator Enrile’s statements during a previous canvassing, Gonzales said the board’s mandate was to canvass and tabulate the votes.
“It’s not a board of inquiry,” he added. With a report from Jocelyn R. Uy
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