Leni-Bongbong race tension mars first canvass day

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The tension caused by the hairline lead in unofficial tallies of vice-presidential frontrunner Rep. Leni Robredo over Senator Bongbong Marcos was palpable on the first day of Congress sitting as the National Board of Canvassers for President and Vice-President.

The first battleground in the canvassing of votes for the presidential and vice-presidential race in the 2016 elections was marred by moves to separate the canvassing of votes and proclamation of winners in the two positions.

A Marcos ally, ABAKADA party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz, objected to the proposal to approve the canvassing rules. Dela Cruz said the certificates of canvass (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.

Dela Cruz later told reporters that the winner of the presidential race can be proclaimed ahead, even possibly as early as Wednesday, since the race is already uncontested.

Presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte enjoys a huge lead over his closest rival Mar Roxas. Roxas, Senator Grace Poe, and Vice President Jejomar Binay conceded the race on election week.

"There are a number of things I had wanted to amend including the canvass of votes, the proclamation proper. There are at least five amendments I wanted to incorporate in the rules. Unfortunately, I was outvoted," Dela Cruz said.

He added that he will raise his concerns with the joint canvassing committee.

Dela Cruz said Marcos was in the premises but he didn't attend the session. He also insisted there are two separate COCs for the country's highest positions.

Leni-Bongbong race tension mars first canvass day 1
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. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Senate earlier approved the 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.

Sotto later explained his proposal. "My real intention is to make sure that if there are any issues or objections concerning any particular candidate or candidates, hindi makakaaapekto dun sa mga kandidato na wala namang issue na in this case, the two levels of the two positions which (are) President and Vice-President. Kung may mga kwestyon sa Presidente or sa VP COCs, eh dapat 'di mapektuhan iyung sa Presidente para 'di tayo magkaroon ng sinasabing mamaya eh madelay. So I just wanted to make sure that that was incorporated into the rules."

Sotto said he doesn't want an entire COC to be deferred just because of a question on one position. "Depende, iyan ang tinatawag na we have to play it by ear, case-to-case basis iyan, COC to COC basis iyan. Depende, kung 'di naman glaring or may objection iyung abugado ng isang kandidato, depende. Tignan natin kung may dahilan sa objection or may ebidensiya."

Sotto also believes that the winner for the uncontested position may be proclaimed ahead. "No delays. Kung walang problema, pwede na i-proclaim isang posisyon. We proclaim sabay kung pwede," he said. "Ayaw natin magkaroon ng vacuum. We will abhor a vacuum."

He said the committee will not entertain baseless objections.

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 the 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 named 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.