MANILA, Philippines - The Senate and the House are scheduled to meet in joint session at the Batasang Pambansa on Tuesday at 2 pm to approve the rules for canvassing the votes for president and vice-president in the May 10 elections.
Both houses of Congress expect the actual canvassing to begin thereafter, by Tuesday or Wednesday.
House Speaker Prospero Nograles said on Monday he does not see any problem with the approval of the rules, adding both panels only have to approve it formally after either house threshed them out and deemed them acceptable.
"If we finish approving the rules by 2 p.m., we may start with Overseas Absentee Voting," Nograles said. " We want to fast-track this. We don't want the public to think there's a plot to delay the proclamation of the winning candidates. I'm the Speaker and I will not allow it, and I don't think Senate President Enrile will also allow it as far as the Senate panel is concerned. I think we are one in saying we want to stabilize the situation as early as possible and not let the nation keep on guessing if we will proclaim or not. We will proclaim but we have to do our constitutional duty in the sense we have to make sure the figures on which we base the proclamation are accurate."
Senate, House panels
On Monday, the House of Representatives and the Senate formed separate 9-member panels, which will form the National Board of Canvassers, which will count the votes for the president and vice president.
The lower House panel is composed of House Speaker Prospero Nograles, Art Defensor, Mat Defensor, Jack Duavit, Boying Remulla, Roilo Golez, Boyet Gonzales, Ronnie Zamora and Didagen Dilangalen.
Meantime, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Rodolfo Biazon, Alan Peter Cayetano, Aquilino Pimentel, Gregorio Honasan, Edgardo Angara, Bong Revilla and Joker Arroyo will make up the Senate panel.
But even as Congress has yet to begin the official canvassing of votes for president and vice-president, lawmakers may already be facing a problem.
The computer server that will be used by Congress in the electronic canvassing has 256-million registered voters, but the actual number of registered voters in the country is only 50 million! Computer experts are fixing the problem.
This is among the technical details lawmakers may have to contend with come canvassing time.
One of the problems, which will be discussed, is what to do in case there is a difference between the printed Certificates of Canvass (COCs) and the electronically-transmitted COCs.
Under the draft rules, the content of the compact flash cards used in the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines will be compared with the secure digital cards or SD cards of the consolidation and canvassing system, the audit logs, printed election returns (ERs), Statement of Votes (SOVs) of every precinct, as well as the Certificates of Canvass and COVs in every municipality, city, and province.
In the event of any discrepancy between the figures, the canvassing panels will order the opening of ballot boxes of several selected precincts and summon the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) and board of canvassers of the disputed precincts and cities to explain.
Another challenge for lawmakers is how to determine the authenticity of COCs.
The panels expect to proclaim the country's new president as early as possible, but not vice-president since it remains a tight race between Senator Manuel "Mar" Roxas II and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay.
The pace will depend on how many COCs the candidates wish to be examined.
'No more bears'
While the joint panel can listen to any protest from the camps of the different candidates, Enrile and Zubiri said the electoral tribunals would still be the proper venue for election protests pertaining to votes for president and vice president.
"We do not want bears, whether it's koala or polar bear, or brown bear or black bear or black berries," Enrile said, alluding to the masked whistle-blower "Robin" or "Koala Bear" who surfaced last week and bared allegations of vote-rigging in favor of certain candidates.
"We cannot allow anyone to derail the democracy of our nation. We can't stop the canvass just because one person claims there was cheating in the elections," Zubiri added.
Citing recent news saying the camp of former President Joseph Estrada would come out with evidence of tampering in the national level, Nograles said they will only allow representatives of the candidates to attend the canvassing of votes.
"We are allowing their lawyers to watch the canvassing but not the candidates. It's not in the rules," Nograles said.
'Pregnant with possibilities'
Nograles admitted the automation system is "pregnant with possibilities," citing the case of suspected vote-tampering in Davao which prompted him to file an election protest before Comelec against his rival in the mayoral race in Davao City. He wants Comelec to revoke the proclamation of Sara Duterte, daughter of incumbent Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
But Nograles insisted they will not allow anyone to get in the way of their work and keep them from proclaiming the winning presidential and vice-presidential candidates at the soonest possible time.
Enrile said they can proclaim the new president on June 4 at the earliest, and on June 15 at the latest.
"We can assure the public we will not entertain dilatory tactics. The evidence of fraud won't be entertained in the canvass because according to the rules and the Constitution, we shall be limited only to the due execution and authenticity of the Certificates of Canvass (COCs) given to us by the Comelec, manually transmitted to the Senate, and the digitally transmitted canvass of votes to the server in the House," Nograles said.
"We can't stop people from talking, but the small committees will tackle the issues. If the Senate and House panels don't agree, the Speaker and Senate President will decide, and that's the end of it." -- with a report from ABS-CBN's Willard Cheng, and ANC's "The Rundown"