MANILA, Philippines – Nearly a month after the elections, president-apparent Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and vice president-apparent Jejomar Binay will finally be proclaimed tomorrow.
The proclamation is a day behind the original schedule.
The delay resulted from the decision last night of the joint Senate-House canvassing committee to defer the tallying of votes from Lanao del Sur for today.
The committee, co-chaired by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Prospero Nograles, made the decision during a closed-door caucus in which it also turned down the request of Aquino’s lawyers that he be proclaimed ahead of the winning vice presidential candidate.
“We wait for Lanao del Sur tomorrow, so proclamation is on Wednesday,” Nograles said in a text message after the caucus.
“We will canvass Davao City tonight and Lanao del Sur tomorrow, and make the proclamation of the winning presidential and vice presidential candidates on Wednesday,” House Majority Leader Arthur Defensor told reporters.
Enrile said the canvassing committee could not disregard the votes from Lanao del Sur as this would disenfranchise the more than 350,000 who cast their ballots in the province.
“After we canvass Lanao del Sur tomorrow, we would have accounted for all provinces and cities and absentee votes…,” he said.
Before it held its caucus at 6 p.m., more than four hours into its session, the panel had canvassed three of the five certificates of canvass (COCs) that remained to be tallied.
These were the COCs from Bacolod City, Mt. Province and Eastern Samar.
After the Davao votes were tallied, Aquino padded his lead over former President Joseph Estrada to 5.6 million votes from 5.5 million last Thursday. He had 15,072,053 votes against Estrada’s 9,471,029.
The other presidential candidates and their votes are Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., 5,484,747; Gilberto Teodoro Jr., 4,065,524; Eddie Villanueva, 1,122,896; Sen. Richard Gordon, 498,414; Vetellano Acosta, 180,839; Nicanor Perlas, 54,256; Sen. Jamby Madrigal, 46,041; and JC de los Reyes, 44,031.
In the vice presidential race, Binay kept his lead with 14,501,371 votes against Sen. Manuel Roxas’ 13,889,416.
Sen. Loren Legarda remained in third place with 4,212,152; followed by Bayani Fernando, 1,014,846; Edu Manzano, 803,738; Perfecto Yasay Jr., 363,912; Jay Sonza, 63,914; and Dominador Chipeco, 52,275.
The canvassing panel took some time discussing what to do with the votes from Davao City and Lanao del Sur.
The Davao City canvassing board had transmitted both the electronic copy of its COC to the Congress server and the hard copy to the Senate but failed to send the required statement of votes by precinct.
Nograles demanded to see the statement of votes, but Commission on Elections (Comelec) executive director Jose Tolentino told him that the document was stored in a server kept at the Cabuyao, Laguna warehouse of Smartmatic, Comelec’s automation contractor.
He said the document consists of 10,000 pages and it would take some time to print it.
To cut the discussions short, Enrile asked Smartmatic chief Cesar Flores to look for the server in Cabuyao and start printing the statement of votes that Nograles wanted to see.
In the case of Lanao del Sur, the problem was that there were 28 precincts in eight towns where a special election would still be held.
Because of this, Comelec officials told the canvassing committee that their provincial board of canvassers could not yet send both the electronic and hard copies of its COC.
Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said the votes in 32 towns had already been tallied and that the 28 precincts where a special election would still be held would affect only 12,000 registered voters.
In fact, he said the Comelec submitted a “canvass report” indicating the votes for president and vice president for purposes of the joint committee’s tally.
However, Enrile asked the Comelec to instruct its canvassing board in Lanao del Sur to submit both the electronic and hard copies of the provincial COC today.
“We cannot be held hostage by the special election (in 28 precincts). We have to finish this canvass this week. We have to use the coercive powers of this board if we have to,” he said.
Melo said the Comelec would comply with the request.
Before canvassing the three additional COCs, the committee delved again into the existence of a “national support center” run by Comelec and Smartmatic until May 18.
Flores told the committee that under Smartmatic’s contract with the Comelec, his company was required to set up a call center, which processed inquiries sent through text by their 48,000 technicians as well as the center’s responses to such messages.
He said the inquiries had been mostly about problems in the operation of the precinct optical count scan (PCOS) machines.
“Our call center did not receive any electoral data like election results,” he said.
“Your Honors, many people do not understand this, but it’s just a simple call center that processed calls. It was open to the public. In fact, we invited the media to the center,” Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. resented Larrazabal’s statement, telling him, “Yes, we don’t understand it, that’s why we are asking questions.”
It was Enrile’s turn again to cut the debates short. He asked Flores to open the call center’s records for examination “to erase suspicions that it was used for something else.”
“We have no problem with that. But we think there is no need for it. However, we will comply with the request,” Flores said.