Had Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile bowed to pressure, especially from some of his colleagues, to elect a new Senate head before the May 10 elections to avert a leadership vacuum in the executive branch, that would have been a futile exercise. The proposed change in the Senate leadership stemmed from fears of a failure of the automated elections.
It turned out that those fears were unfounded. As they announced the initial results of the polls, officials of the Commission on Elections adjudged the automated system a success. However, such rosy assessment may be premature at this stage unless it could be ascertained that no digital “dagdag-bawas” (vote padding and shaving) and no tampering of the counting process took place.
In the event of a failure of elections, the Senate president would have served as acting or caretaker president of the republic in accordance with the constitutional line of succession. But since Enrile’s term will end June 30, he would have been obliged to give way to any the 12 senators whose term will be good up to 2013. While some senators were almost in a state of panic and paranoia over what they foresaw as a looming disaster, the 86-year-old parliamentarian from Cagayan was picture of calm and sobriety. Convinced that the possibility of an election fiasco was remote, Enrile initially resisted the unorthodox scheme broached by his peers. Subsequently, he agreed to have his successor elected but only after May l0 when the nation would have already known the poll outcome. Enrile did not want critics to say he was clinging to his post like a leech, impervious to the threat of a leadership crisis.
Now the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives, can buckle down to work in canvassing the votes cast for the presidential and vice presidential candidates as mandated by the Constitution. The two chambers of Congress are scheduled to convene on May 31 to canvass the certificates of canvass from all provinces and cities and to proclaim the incoming president and vice president. But Enrile said they could hold the joint session much earlier. He called on House Speaker Prospero Nograles to support him on this point.
Under Enrile’s guidance, Senate and House lawyers crafted the rules and procedures for the canvassing of votes. The Senate is ready to receive the CoCs that are contained in sealed plastic boxes and these will be brought to a storage room in its own building that are guarded round the clock by Senate security aides. The boxes of election documents will be transferred to the House-Batasang Pambansa building in Quezon City before the canvassing starts. At 5 p.m. Monday, Enrile went to the House to insert the security token to the Consolidation and Canvassing System machine to allow the reception of the electronic transmittal of CoCs.
Cassandras and doubting Thomases painted doomsday scenarios if the automated elections failed. Without an elected president by June 30 when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo steps out of Malacañang, the military were allegedly poised to seize power and establish a junta. There were talks that a civilian-military junta was in the works. Will President Arroyo have any role in the junta? Her detractors claimed that was precisely why she appointed her most trusted general, Delfin Bangit, as chief-of-staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. This was supposedly part of a blueprint to keep Mrs. Arroyo in power and shield her from prosecution for offenses she allegedly committed in office.
As early as last year, then-National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, now Secretary of Defense, has floated the idea of a transition government that would run the country during the post-Arroyo period. But Gonzales sounded vague on the composition and purpose of the transition government. The formation of the transition government presupposes a failure of the 2010 elections. He tried to sell the outlandish idea to Chief Justice Reynato Puno, leaders of Congress and Catholic bishops. But there were no takers.
A day before Monday’s elections, a presidential candidate revealed to a group of senior journalists an alleged plot to impose martial law in the event of failure of the automated elections. The martial law will supposedly last for only 30 days. And it is supposedly intended to prevent the country from being plunged into chaos. The candidate, who declined to be identified, claimed that he learned of the plot from a “highly reliable source.”
A recourse to martial law is a dangerous proposition because it implies dictatorial rule. Will the dictator or cabal of military and civilian rulers abolish Congress like the late President Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972? And once martial law is in place, it will be very hard to discontinue it and return to civilian rule. In all likelihood, freedom-loving Filipinos would oppose it and risk their lives if necessary. This will prompt them to go to the streets and mount another people power. You can expect a civil war breaking out.
If indeed, it is true that there are scheming political leaders and military men with martial law in their minds, they are out of touch with reality and merely obsessed with power. They may see it as the key to political survival. On the contrary, it is the route to political suicide.
While the battle for the presidency was raging on, a group of concerned citizens put up an organization aimed at promoting the moral renewal of Filipinos regardless of who emerges as the duly-elected occupant of Malacañang. Spearheading the Yellow Movement for Moral Recovery are Roger Aquino, chairman; Orly Armoleda, honorary chairman; and Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, honorary chairman.
The movement, which now has a membership of 300, is anchored on the belief that the efforts of any president to uplift the nation from its woes are bound to end up in frustration unless the Filipinos reform and cleanse themselves of negative traits. In other words, unless we imbibe such virtues as discipline, honesty, nationalism, hard work and self-reliance, the drive to enhance excellence and competitiveness and stamp out corruption will be reduced to a mere rhetorical and hopeless exercise.
Roger Aquino, a literary writer, is a fervent admirer of the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., father of Liberal Party presidential bet Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. Ninoy’s assassination on Aug. 21, 1983 left a deep imprint in him. He was among a large group of civilians who braved military harassment in trooping to the Manila International Airport to welcome Ninoy on his return after years of self-exile in the United States. While waiting at the entrance to the airport, a relative of Ninoy brought them the news of the tragedy.
Since that day of infamy, Roger counted himself among the legions of citizens who have taken upon themselves the role of perpetuating Ninoy’s legacy of patriotism. He did his share in the campaign to dismantle the Marcos dictatorship. In the process, he exposed himself to a lot of risks. Tagged as an enemy of the regime, he was even arrested by the military, incarcerated at Camp Crame and criminally charged before a military commission.
With the results of the presidential race being tabulated and transmitted to the Comelec in Manila with unequaled speed through the magic of automation, the victory of Senator Noynoy Aquino appears to be a foregone conclusion. Former President Joseph Estrada may have lost his return bout for the presidency, but the fact that he showed his pulling strength and came next to Aquino in the grueling contest must have been a source of comfort and even vindication to him.
Two months into the campaign, Estrada was treated like a mere “saling-pusa” (minor player) in the nine-cornered fight in the media. Television and newspapers focused their attention on Aquino and Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party, just because they were topping the surveys. By mid-April, the former president had overtaken Villar for second place. From there, Estrada surged ahead, and fast. But at that point, Aquino was still ahead of Estrada by 19 points and to catch up with the front-runner would take a miracle. By late April, the PMP’s internal survey revealed that Estrada had narrowed Aquino’s lead to only five points. A stream of local candidates and political leaders from the Villar and Gibo Teodoro camps were reported to be defecting to Estrada.
Barely a week before May l0, Estrada joined other groups in calling for a postponement of the elections to enable the Comelec to prepare for a parallel manual count in the wake of the malfunctioning of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines during a test-run. He was deeply worried of being victimized by electoral fraud. But the Aquino camp strongly objected to the proposal. Was it because they feared that a deferment would have allowed Estrada to gain more ground to the point of dislodging him from the top? –Fel V. Maragay, Manila Standard Today