Poll automation: Disaster or new era?

Posted at 09/10/2009 8:47 PM | Updated as of 12/16/2009 3:24 PM

First of Two Parts

MANILA - At the Supreme Court’s oral argument on the case seeking to nullify the automation contract, Justice Antonio Carpio pointedly asked UP law professor Harry Roque what would be the scenario in case of a massive failure of elections in the May 2010 polls and that not one elective official is proclaimed by June 30, 2010.
 
Without hesitation, Roque said that since the Constitution did not contemplate a failure of elections, where the constitutional successors are unable to assume office, the obvious beneficiary would be President Arroyo, although there is no provision for a holdover capacity under the Constitution. 
 
As the incumbent, Mrs. Arroyo could still use her vast powers to avert a leadership crisis and assume as chief executive until a new president or vice-president is elected.
 
“It is a perfect (means) to extend of her term,” commented a justice.
 
Roque stopped short, however, of saying how Arroyo would legitimately justify her continued stay, given the single term limit  for the president under the 1987 Constitution. But this shouldn't be an obstacle. Arroyo’s appointees cram the SC, and the Tribunal’s say would be Arroyo’s least concern.
 
A massive failure of elections is when, on a national scale, voters are not able to vote for national and local posts, or in the case of automation, when the votes cast are not properly counted due to machine malfunction or some other reason.
 
Critics of automation fear the possibility exists under this system. Comelec officials, however, insist that such fear is unfounded.
 
Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said a “total failure of elections is a remote possibility.” If there will be failure of elections, “these probably could happen in certain areas only.” Failure of elections in these areas could be addressed by holding special elections, he said.
 
The assurances of Comelec, however, have not stopped doomsday predictions. It does not help that the credibility of Comelec has been tattered following the "Hello Garci" scandal that occurred during the 2004 presidential race.
 
With a Comelec failing to instill trust, critics have warned of a looming constitutional crisis in case of massive failure of elections. 
 
Constitutional succession
 
The 1987 Constitution lists the vice-president, Senate president and the House Speaker in the line of succession in case there is a leadership vacuum because of death or disqualification.
 
However, the charter is silent on who should act as President in case all above officials are not available due to failure of elections.
 
Carlos Medina, national co-convenor of the election watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), said the 1987 Constitution removed the chief justice of the Supreme Court from the equation to insulate the judicial branch from a potential conflict of interest. Before the 1987 Constitution, the chief justice was fourth in line of succession.
 
The constitutional succession poses no problem in case of the President’s death or disqualification, but it's trickier when it involves failure of elections.
 
Consider these scenarios: total poll failure happens; by June 30, not a single candidate has been proclaimed; the vice-president’s post is  empty; the same situation extends to the Senate President, currently held by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, as well as the post of House Speaker Prospero Nograles.
 
Unless they get to be re-elected, Enrile’s six-year term as senator ends on June 30, and Nograles’ three-year term also expires on the same date. With no elective officials proclaimed by June 30, the Senate President and the House Speaker’s posts would be considered vacant.  

Senate solution
 
To remedy the potentially chaotic scenario, some lawmakers in the House of Representatives are now considering passing a bill that will allow the remaining 12 senators whose terms have not yet expired, to elect among themselves a Senate president who will be the acting President at the same time.
 
Election lawyer Sixto Brillantes told abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak that the Senate is a continuing body where 12 members remain.  “Maybe they could elect among themselves who should be Senate president and become acting President in case of a leadership vacuum.”
 
Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, chair of the House committee on revision on laws, believes that the remaining 12 senators may help solve the constitutional impasse. “They are the logical choice,” he said.
 
Already, a bill filed by Nueva Ecija Rep Edno Joson may undergo a revision to address massive failure of elections scenario, to include the 12-senator solution.

Joson’s House Bill 3194 provides the manner by which the acting president shall be selected in case the line of succession fails to address the leadership vacuum.
 
However, the Senate rules provide that the Senate president should be elected by 13 members, leaving the remaining 12, whose terms end on 2014, one vote short.
 
But Brillantes said the acts of the 12 senators “may be considered valid until that act is questioned.”
 
By the time the SC resolves the issue, the acting president/Senate president would have been able to address the problem by calling for special elections for the president and the vice-president.