Eight is enough
Published June 1st 2004 in Phillipine Daily Inquirer

Three weeks after the Filipino voters went to the polls and after one whole week of heated and often senseless debates, Congress has finally settled down to the business of canvassing the results of the presidential election. On Monday, the first ballot box, containing the certificate of canvass showing how Filipinos living in Cambodia voted, was opened before the watchful eyes of senators and congressmen as well as an increasingly impatient and exasperated nation.

For several tension-filled days, it was not clear when Congress would start its work as the National Board of Canvassers or whether it could start at all. Debates over the rules, which were initially set for two days, dragged on for three more days, punctuated by some scandalous outbursts by so-called honorable lawmakers. The seemingly interminable questions and objections raised by opposition lawmakers gave rise to suspicions that they knew that their candidate, actor Fernando Poe Jr., lost but they would rather keep the election results sealed rather than see his main rival, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, proclaimed as the winner.
The administration lawmakers, however, had the numbers and they used that to finally get the process moving by voting to approve the rules and appoint the members of the committee that would actually tally the figures appearing on the COCs. Even so, the opposition continued to gripe, saying it was not adequately represented in the committee. This led the House leadership to revise the composition of its panel to include three opposition members, increasing to eight the opposition's representation in the 22-member committee.

Still some opposition members continue to insist on equal representation. But the pro-administration majority would not hear of it, obviously knowing it could be a formula for gridlock. Even applying the principle of proportional representation by party is not going to get the opposition near the number that it wants.

But eight should be enough. Unless all of them sleep on the job, even a smaller number can be effective in checking any scheme to cheat their candidate. The majority may outvote them in committee, but it is doubtful if it can fool an entire nation into believing and accepting the results of a flawed and dishonest canvass. And the nation will be watching how the committee and Congress will conduct the canvass every step of the way.

Around this time in 1992 and 1998, the official canvass being done by Congress held nobody in suspense anymore. By then the Filipino people already knew who was going to be their next president, courtesy of the quick counts done by Namfrel and the private media.

No such luck this time. Namfrel and the private media seem to have abandoned the effort, with a substantial number of election returns still uncounted, after they were accused of manipulating their tallies to create a trend favoring one candidate or the other. Instead, all that people hear are competing claims of victory by the camps of the two top contenders for the presidency. The administration says Ms Macapagal won by about one million votes, based on its own tally of its own copies of the election returns. The opposition claims it was Poe who won, by a similar margin.

This is why it is essential to get the official canvass going-and moving fast. By June 30 the new president has to be sworn into office. Otherwise there will be a power vacuum that some adventurers might rush to fill. Then there will be no election winners, just losers--and they will include the Filipino people.