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Macalintal: 'Walang forever' when it comes to canvassing of votes

MANILA, Philippines –  The catchword exists in local television soaps and even some real-life love stories but as far as the legal team of Liberal Party (LP) vice presidential bet Leni Robredo is concerned, there can't be a "forever" when you're talking about  the canvassing of votes for the second-highest post in the land.

Veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, Robredo’s chief legal counsel for the canvassing of votes, told media on Wednesday, May 25, that the process can take as short as two days.

Kahit na dalawang araw, matatapos yan, eh kung halimbawa walang issue….Pero depending on the candidates, talagang matatagalan 'yan (It can be done in two days if there are no issues. But it depends on the candidates if the process lengthens). It also depends on the leadership of the House and Congress,” Macalintal said in a press briefing hours before the start of canvassing at the House of Representatives.

But there’s another factor that could stretch the process, Macalintal added.

Kung marunong tumanggap ng pagkatalo ang ating mga kandidato, e madaling matapos 'yan. Ang problema kasi, wala halos tumatanggap ng pagkatalo (If candidates know how to accept defeat, this will be over quickly. The problem is almost nobody knows how to accept defeat),” quipped the lawyer, a clear allusion to Robredo’s chief rival, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

While the results of the 2016 presidential race have long been accepted, it’s the vice presidential race that’s hotly-contested. Robredo has a narrow lead over Marcos in the partial, unofficial tally based on transmissions straight from voting machines all over the country.

Marcos has questioned this lead, accusing Robredo and the ruling LP of manipulating the transmission.

It’s Congress, convened as the National Board of Canvassers, that will do the official count and eventually, the proclamation for the post of president and vice president.

The Robredo camp had earlier announced it was “mathematically improbable” for Marcos to catch up with Robredo’s narrow lead of over 200,000 votes, citing figures from the Certificates of Canvass (COC).

Still, Robredo’s legal team, headed by Macalintal and senator-elect Leila de Lima, are prepared for an intense legal battle against Marcos’ own legal team, which had earlier vowed to “scrutinize” or contest “each and every” COC for vice president.

“We are prepared for the debate over these particular issues. At present, we are very very confident that Ms Robredo will be proclaimed as the duly-elected vice president of the country,” said Macalintal.

Air allegations elsewhere

Macalintal and De Lima are part of the 5-lawyer team representing Robredo at the canvassing. The others are Marlon Manuel, Beng Sardillo, and Carlo Vistan.

Marcos’ camp had earlier insisted the vice presidential race should be decided last.

The Robredo camp expects its rivals to "exhaust all means” during the canvassing of votes, especially given the allegations they’ve hurled against the LP bet since the partial, unofficial results began transmitting.

But as far as Macalintal and De Lima are concerned, the proper avenue for these complaints and allegations, would be the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

That means Robredo must first be proclaimed the winner of the vice presidential race before Marcos can lodge his appeal.

De Lima insisted there were “no grounds” for Congress to defer canvassing or the proclamation of winners.

“While their duty is indeed to ascertain the true and accurate results of the election, their duty is also...to guard against unreasonable delay. That is very clear under existing jurisprudence. Hindi puwedeng basta-basta na lang nilang sasabihing (They cannot just say) we are going to object to each and every COC or to most of the COCs being presented on any ground imagined; frivolous, baseless grounds. I'm sure the joint committee will not go for that,” said De Lima.

De Lima also opposed moves to proclaim the president separately from the vice president.

Unless talagang malinaw na hindi puwede tanggapin ang resulta, hindi puwedeng hiwalayin (Unless it’s really clear that the results are unacceptable, you can’t separate the proclamations),” said De Lima, who has lawyered for several politicians, including incumbent senators.

Same trend in canvassing?

While confident of a win, Macalintal said he expects Marcos to lead in the early parts of the canvassing, similar to the unofficial count. Based on data from the transparency server, vote counting machines from nothern Luzon – Marcos’ bailiwick – were able to transmit their results first.

Visayas and Mindanao – where a bulk of Robredo’s votes came from – transmitted much later.

Marcos led the unofficial count in the hours after the closing of polls, leading by as much as 900,000 votes. But Robredo overtook the Ilocano senator in the wee hours of May 10.

Kasi ang naunang maka-canvass ang naunang nareceive ng board of canvassers so expect the same trend. The first week, talagang mauuna si Marcos (They’re going to canvass what the board of canvassers received first so expect the same trend. During the first week, Marcos will be leading),” said Macalintal.

It’s a pattern, he insisted, that would only prove that there was nothing anomalous in the transmission of votes during the unofficial count. – Rappler.com