MANILA, Philippines - Presidential rivals Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III of the Liberal Party and Sen. Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party on Wednesday opposed proposals to postpone the May 10 polls, saying it may lead to President Gloria Arroyo extending her stay in power or a leadership vacuum.
Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro also opposed a postponement, calling it "irresponsible" since it had no legal basis.
At least three presidential candidates backed a proposal to postpone the elections despite fears that it may lead to a failure to proclaim a new president before the end of Arroyo's term on June 30.
Presidential bets Joseph Estrada, Eddie Villanueva and Nick Perlas supported the proposal of Atty. Romulo Macalintal, President Arroyo's election lawyer, to postpone elections for 2 weeks to allow the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to fix glitches in the automation process.
Villanueva and Perlas said delaying the elections for 2 weeks is necessary to prevent the possible outbreak of violence if there is widespread failure of the May 10 polls.
Villar fears GMA term extension
In a statement, Villar said postponing the elections "could result in bigger problems, including a possible term extension of President Arroyo." He said the people "cannot allow any term extension for the President."
If the elections are deferred by 2 weeks as proposed by Arroyo's election lawyer, Villar warned that the Philippines may plunge into a "political turmoil."
"Nahihirapan na po ang mga kandidato. Talagang hinihintay na lamang nila ang election. Kung i-extend naman iyan, ewan ko kung papaano tatanggapin ng local officials," he said in a phone interview with DYHP-Cebu of the Radio Mindanao Network.
"While I hope things will go well with the automated elections, we cannot help but feel anxious about the electoral exercise given the ways things are now unfolding," Villar said.
Noynoy: No to postponement
Aquino, who is leading in the presidential surveys, on Wednesday pushed for a manual count of the elections and insisted that the voting push through on Monday.
"Elections must push through on Monday, May 10, as mandated by law. Our people want a new leadership," he said.
"The risk of elections not pushing through at all becomes much greater with a postponement. It is our sacred obligation to say 'NO' to these proposals to postpone elections to a later date. Each postponement increases the possibility of yet another postponement, bringing us closer to a potentially disastrous crisis of a leadership vacuum on June 30," Aquino added.
The Liberal Party demanded the Comelec begin preparations for a full manual count, which, it believes, can prevent a total failure of the elections.
"We demand that Comelec begin preparations for a full manual count and present their contingency plan to the public as soon as possible. Under the law, this is allowed. We know that they have made initial preparations for a manual count. Thus, there should be no obstacle to prevent elections from taking place this Monday," Aquino said.
"What is important is the integrity of the process and its final outcome. If full manual counting is the practical solution, then let us do it, no matter how long it takes to finish," he added.
Erap says 'why not'?
For his part, Estrada said he is amenable to a 10-15 day delay but only if the Comelec reverts to a manual count of the elections.
"If there will be a delay, it should only be to put the manual counting into effect. If there will be a delay of 10-15 days but this will ensure clean and reliable elections, then why not? Anyway, within 15 days that is still within Arroyo's term and the only fear of the people is that her term will not be extended. So if the postponement is just another 10 - 15 days but it will decrease the risks of fraud and failure of elections, then we should consider it," he said in a statement.
For his part, Teodoro said postponing the election would be the "height of irresponsibility" in the part of Comelec.
Teodoro urged Comelec to resolve the problems in poll automation. He said the Comelec was given enough time to prepare a contingency plan for manual elections.
Calls for a delay of the nationwide elections mounted Tuesday after Comelec and poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM admitted that faulty software in memory cards for more than 76,000 vote counting machines would have to be replaced.
Palace: Don't blame us
A Malacañang spokesman on Wednesday said he favored a postponement of the election but backtracked after Comelec said the memory cards will be replaced in time and the election will be able to go ahead.
Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar also said the Palace should not be dragged into the problems with the vote-counting machines.
He said critics should "remember that the Comelec is a constitutional body wherein Malacañang cannot interfere and does not interfere in its decisions and operations."
"Those critics should look at their books and study the Constitution before casting their blame on the Palace. We have been consistent in our support and advocacy for fair, free, orderly and credible elections," Olivar said.
Postponement allowed only for local polls?
A noted constitutionalist and an administration senator, meanwhile, opposed the suggestion to delay the May 10 polls.
Lawyer Joaquin Bernas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, said the Omnibus Election Code does not have a provision that allows a delay in the national election.
"Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code states that Comelec is authorized to postpone in any local subdivision. There's nothing in the law about national election. It would seem the power is only in local elections," he said.
He said that while the issue can be brought before the Supreme Court, many people may oppose the idea of a delayed election because they distrust the Arroyo administration. "It will probably increase their distrust in the system," he said.
Postponement and failure
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, meanwhile, said that while the Omnibus Election Code does not allow postponement of elections nationwide, it allows the Comelec to declare a failure of elections nationwide.
“There is a big difference between postponement of elections and declaration of failure of elections. In the case of postponement, the law allows it only in a political subdivision, such as a town or a province. In the case of failure of elections, the law allows it nationwide,” she told reporters.
Santiago also said that unlike postponement of elections, the provision on failure of election allows the Comelec to call for a new election within 30 days after the failure of elections.
“If we proceed with the elections as scheduled, in case there is serious cause, the Comelec can still declare a failure of elections. The causes for the declaration of a failure of election may occur before, or after, the casting of votes or on election day,” she said. -- with reports from Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak; Ces Drilon, Jay Ruiz, Sheryll Mundo, Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News