Congress starts canvass for President, VP

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte oversee the opening of the ballot boxes containing Certificates of Canvass at the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The house has begun to convene to canvass the votes for president and vice president of the recently concluded elections. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The first battleground in the canvassing of votes for the presidential and vice-presidential race in the 2016 elections has been hurdled.

This, despite an ally of vice-presidential candidate Senator Bongbong Marcos trying to insist that Congress, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers for President and Vice President, should canvass the votes for the country's highest positions separately.

Liberal Party vice-presidential candidate Leni Robredo enjoys a slim lead over Marcos in unofficial tallies. The Marcos camp is expected to scrutinize the votes for the vice-presidency, although it has no objections on the presidential race.

ABAKADA party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz objected to the proposal to approve the canvassing rules. Dela Cruz said the COCs for President and Vice-President should be separate.

He added that the joint committee can make decisions separately on the positions because there are separate COCs. Dela Cruz also asked what happens if manual and electronic COCs are not identical.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, however, said there is only one COC for President and Vice-President. Dela Cruz, in response, revealed separate COCs for the two positions from Pangasinan.

Gonzales said the issue should be raised during the joint committee. He added that the general rule is there is only one COC.

To resolve the impasse, Gonzales insisted on a vote. House Speaker Sonny Belmonte called for a viva voce vote and the House approved the canvassing rules.

The Senate earlier approved canvassing rules without any objections. Senator Vicente Sotto III initially proposed an amendment to reiterate that the canvassing committee can decide on the canvass of votes for President and Vice-President separately. Sotto proposed to insert the words "any issue involving the position of President or VP may be decided separately" to avert any delays.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Cayetano, meanwhile, said that is already an inherent power of the canvassing committee. Cayetano did not object but said it has happened in the past for other positions that in the same document when there is no objection for one position, the canvassing committee will have the power to decide on the merits of the objection. After a brief suspension and huddle, Sotto withdrew his motion.

With the rules approved, the Senate and the House created the Joint Canvassing Committee which has been authorized to start working until the canvassing is finished.

Cayetano moved to appoint senators to canvassing committee. Drilon named Senators Koko Pimentel (chairman), Sonny Angara, TG Guingona, Serge Osmena, Ralph Recto, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Tito Sotto in the 7-person Senate panel. The alternates are Cynthia Villar and JV Ejercito.

Gonzales also moved to name the House panel. Belmonte names Congressmen Neptali Gonzales II (chair), Pidi Barzaga, Miro Quimbo, Reynaldo Umali, Rufus Rodriguez, Ferdenil Castro, Silvestre Bello III. Alternates are Oscar Rodriguez, Barry Gutierrez, Rolando Andaya, and Ronaldo Zamora.

With the rules approved and the committee created, the secretaries of both chambers were ordered to open all COCs, whether manually or electronically transmitted for endorsement to the joint committee.