Last of two parts
With Senator Grace Poe’s privilege speech last Wednesday raising doubts about the results of the 2004 presidential elections, this writer’s fact-based report on the controversial polls, published in July 2011, is reprinted. On May 30, the first part covered the campaign, the voting, and the outcome. This last part looks at the protests during the canvassing in Congress and in the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
The protests. No Philippine election is complete without charges of vote-buying, count-rigging, intimidation and violence hurled by losers against winners. In the 2004 presidential race, the protests reached fever pitch during the nationally televised canvassing of votes in Congress using 176 certificates of canvass containing tallies from provinces, cities, and special voting centers here and abroad.
Any political party worth its poll watchers can dig up evidence of counting irregularities, especially in an election with more than 32 million votes tabulated by hand in 216,725 precincts late into the night and the following morning. Those election returns (ERs) were then transmitted across vast distances to provincial capitols and city and municipal halls, where canvassers compiled them into CoCs. Finally, the certificates were sent to Congress and Comelec in Metro Manila for national canvassing.
Claiming massive fraud, Poe’s Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) and the Bangon Pilipino Movement (BPM) of Eddie Villanueva demanded the opening of ballot boxes to check CoCs against statements of votes (SoVs) and precinct ERs. KNP listed 25 tallies it wanted reviewed. Rebuffed, it asked that only three or even just one CoC be recalculated based on SoVs and ERs, just to see if there was major cheating.
The demand put the ruling Lakas-led coalition in a bind. If it refused to break with the decades-old constitutionally mandated practice of canvassing only the COCs after verification with copies held by contending parties, then the opposition would claim and many people would think that K-4 was hiding irregularities.
On the other hand, if Congress agreed to check even one CoC at KNP or BPM’s request, it would have to do the same for other parties. K-4 would come up with its own list of suspect CoCs, if only to show that any fraud it was accused of was offset by the opposition’s own cheating. No doubt too, each SoV and ER would have been fiercely contested, with countless witnesses paraded in the Batasan to allege, affirm, deny or dispute anomalies.
The resulting long delay in canvassing would have created an unstable situation on June 30, 2004. Arroyo would cease to be president, but no successor and no vice-president would be proclaimed. Indeed, the tabulation of results might have stopped, since the terms of all the congressmen and some of the senators conducting the tally would also end. And letting anyone other than the duly elected president run the country might have spurred power-hungry schemers to exploit the leadership vacuum.
Hence, the ruling coalition in Congress decided to follow the longstanding canvassing practice stipulated in the Constitution, braving the barbs of oppositionists and critics that irregularities were being concealed in refusing to open ballot boxes.
Poe and Legarda promptly filed election protests with the Supreme Court in its capacity as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). They demanded a recount of votes from selected areas using SoVs and ERs contained in ballot boxes stored in Congress.
In December 2004, FPJ passed away, and after some weeks, K-4 lawyers asked for the dismissal of his PET petition. Reason: a protest is allowed only if it has interested parties who may obtain a contested position depending on the petition outcome. This is to avoid cases being filed by just anybody who doubts the official results.
De Castro and Legarda were the only remaining parties with legitimate interests in Poe’s petition under the law, since either could become president if the FPJ protest prospered and, in Legarda’s case, if her own recount succeeded. But neither of the two VP candidates continued the protest against Arroyo. (Legarda gave up her own protest against De Castro months later, after initial recounts still showed him winning.)
Thus, the PET dismissed the Poe petition in early 2005. That action of the Tribunal affirmed with finality the election of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as President of the Philippines.
(The first part was published yesterday.)