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The Roxas dilemma

Political analysts will be poring over the manner in which vice presidential frontrunner Manuel Roxas II knocked Loren Legarda out of the race, only to end up running neck and neck against Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay in what has turned out to be an unprecedented cliffhanger of a contest.

Less of a cliffhanger was the aftermath of the elections when, in the reporting of results, Binay emerged leading Roxas. The lead remains reflected in the official canvassing of votes by Congress. However, Roxas has not conceded the election, basically on two grounds.

The first is that as far as the official canvass is concerned, there remains about a million votes still to be officially counted, which exceed the current lead of Binay over Roxas. The second is the issue of “null-votes,” that is, what the machines recorded as either no votes cast (the ovals left blank), overvotes (two or more ovals shaded for the vice president slot), or improperly shaded ovals.

Obviously uncontroversial are ballots in which voters, like Joseph Estrada, declined to vote for any vice presidential candidate, or where voters voided the ballot they cast by overvoting. This still leaves the question of whether voter intent—voters making a mark for the vice presidency, but the PCOS machines not accepting those votes—justifies going back to the ballots and re-checking the improperly shaded ovals.

The real question, however, is this. In an unquestionably close election, to what extent, and where, should Roxas and his party-mates pursue their insistence on every vote being counted?

Procedurally, it seems clear that Congress, in joint session assembled as the National Board of Canvassers, is not the proper venue. Congress’ role is ministerial, virtually ritualistic: it is mandated to officially tabulate results submitted by the Comelec, inquiring only into the completeness and authenticity of the documents submitted by the electoral commission. The venue for questioning the official results is the Supreme Court.

But this presumes that everyone trusts the documents and the agency that produced them.

There is another danger and that is: in pursuing its objections, the Liberals might severely erode not only the credibility of the mandate of whoever would be proclaimed vice president (including Roxas), but also that of the winner of the presidential race. The LP has carefully pointed out that the null votes for the presidency amount to about 1.5 million, while 2.6 null votes are involved in the vice presidential race.

Clearly even if all the null votes in the presidential contest weren’t for the frontrunner, this couldn’t alter the results. So logically null votes and the presidential mandate are a non-issue. But in politics as in other human activities, logic doesn’t necessarily hold sway. The 2.6 million null votes in a tight vice presidential contest clearly require some sort of resolution; but how, and without tainting separate contests by association?

The LP pointed out that the results in a precinct in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao, and in Tabuan-Lasa in Basilan showed Binay getting 99 and 98 percent of all votes, respectively, suggesting a statistically improbable result from the party’s point of view. But these arguments are a double-edged sword.

One source from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao pointed out that Binay got 100 percent of the votes in one clustered precinct (CP8 0014A). Total votes: 63. However, according to the same source, in another clustered precinct (CP17 0026A) in the same town of Bumbaran, Roxas’ running mate, Noynoy Aquino, also got 100 percent of the votes. Total votes: 32.

To give a concrete example of the nuances involved, consider the following information from our source. In one Moro barangay, Kadingilan in Midsayap, a town in North Cotabato, the Midsayap-wide poll results showed that Estrada got 62.97 percent of the votes. Yet in Clustered Precinct 46, Estrada received only 00.76 percent while Aquino garnered 68.06 percent.

In the end this is about trust: not only in Congress, but in electoral protests filed before the Supreme Court. Roxas faces the dilemma of legitimately fighting not only for himself but also for his voters, or of doing an Al Gore and throwing in the towel for the sake of peace and stability for his running mate, Aquino. Having already sacrificed his ambition for Aquino, he must consider whether he is required to do so again, in order to avoid an acrimonious start for the Aquino presidency. By:

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