What happens when there is total failure of elections?

By DateLine Philippines

Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Monday that in case there is total failure of elections come May 10, the Senate President could become the temporary President until the new President is proclaimed.

“That’s in our Constitution. I believe that the Senate President (can) assume,” Larrazabal said. But he quickly added that the voters and candidates should see the conduct of the elections first before raising their doubts.

General failure of elections happens when no new President, Vice President, Senate President, and House Speaker are proclaimed by the time President Gloria Arroyo steps down from office on June 30, 2010.

Sitting Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is set to step down by June 30, leaving the Senate without new leadership. The Senate President is the second in line, next to the vice president, and recognized by the Constitution to takeover the presidency.

The Supreme Court had ruled the Senate is not a continuing body. This means that the sitting 12 senators cannot choose a new Senate President, since the 1987 charter does not recognize anymore that Congress is a continuing body.

In two 2008 decisions on Senate’s rules of procedures, the high court said the 12 remaining senators leave the 24-member Senate with “less than a majority to continue into next Congress.” The court said in both decisions: “The 1987 Constitution, like the 1935 Constitution, requires a majority of Senators to constitute a quorum to do business.”

Although members of Congress argued then that the legislative body is a continuing body, the SC found ambiguity with its own rules of procedures. According to the rules of both Houses, pending matters shall be terminated upon the adjournment of Congress.

Legal experts said that the 12 senators could elect a new Senate President before the May 10 elections to prevent a power vacuum. They said the Senate’s action is presumed constitutional unless challenged in the Supreme Court.

Legislative solutions have been previously suggested. Party-list group Bayan Muna proposed an extension of the succession line up to the Chief Justice, while Nueva Ecija Rep. Ed Joson passed a bill that the sitting president becomes the interim president once a failure of elections is declared.

But Larrazabal said the poll body is doing everything to prevent a failure of elections. He said such general failure of the poll is close to nil, as this has not happened in the past elections.

Meanwhile, Larrazabal advised lawmakers to quit using the “failure of elections” scenario for projecting themselves to voters, and to instead submit to the poll body the rules on canvassing and proclamation of Congress for President and Vice President.

He reiterated that the poll body will conduct the proclamation of the winning senators, party-list groups and all local candidates. Both Houses of Congress, sitting as the national board of canvassers, will proclaim winning candidates for both President and Vice President.

“Until now, Congress has not yet released the manner of canvassing and proclamation for President and Vice President. Hinihintay na po ng Comelec ‘yan [Comelec is waiting for that],” Larrazabal said over dzMM radio.

Larrazabal said the poll body has already issued its own rules on canvassing and proclamation, and is thus ready to proclaim winning candidates even days after the May 10 polls.

“So it’s up to them, it’s up to Congress kung anong (to determine) procedure on how to canvass for President and Vice President,” Larrazabal said.

The poll body made this call as lawmakers seemed to blame Comelec for possible declaration of total failure of elections.

“On May 10, suddenly when the ocean will open and all PCOS machines will be swallowed up, there will be paper ballots. They will still be counted. The counted votes will be canvassed. And, winning candidates will be proclaimed on time,” Larrazabal said.

Larrazzabal described the bantering as “propaganda,” “grandstanding” and “PR (public relations) strategies” of candidates who want their names recognized by the public in time for the May 10 polls.

“If they have legitimate concern, we will answer them. That’s for sure. Failure of elections is impossible to happen. Our mandate is to conduct credible elections. We are doing it right now,” Larrazabal said.

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