Friday, March 03, 2006

PET recount shows 'widespread cheating'

PET recount shows 'widespread cheating'
First posted 00:45am (Mla time) Mar 03, 2006
By Neal H. Cruz

SPEAKER Jose de Venecia is an expert at having himself elected as leader of the House of Representatives, but he is not acting like a true leader to the congressmen under him. When policemen arrived to arrest five party-list representatives, the Speaker, instead of putting his foot down and telling them the Constitution prohibits any member of Congress from being arrested while Congress is in session, negotiated with the cops for the lawmakers be put in his custody temporarily, after which they would be surrendered to the police.

That made many congressmen very angry. "He should not have negotiated with the police," Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. angrily said during the session. "He should have told them: 'No, you cannot arrest them!'"

The Constitution is very clear: No member of Congress charged with an offense whose penalty does not exceed six years can be arrested while Congress is in session. Congress is in session, isn't it?

The lawmakers are not asking for any special treatment, only what the law mandates. Like any ordinary citizen, they don't want to be arrested unless there is a warrant of arrest. And no arrest warrant can be issued unless a preliminary investigation has been conducted. And no such thing has yet been done.

The law is clearly on the side of the five congressmen and the House, so why is its Speaker being so namby-pamby? I know: he is afraid his actions might anger President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and she may renege on her promise to support Charter change, without which De Venecia's ambition to become prime minister will not be realized.

But if De Venecia will behave the way he is behaving now when he becomes PM, who will vote for him? If he wants to be the leader, said a congressman, he should act like one.

* * *

A staff member of the Speaker, by the way, wrote a letter to the editor to comment on a recent column exposing the bogus awards given by De Venecia to visiting heads of state and other foreign dignitaries. The award, called the "Congressional Medal of Achievement," has been awarded to the presidents of China, Pakistan and India as well as other dignitaries. But there is no record of it having been created by Congress, said former Sen. Francisco Tatad.

The citation says: "Award is bestowed on behalf of the Filipino nation and in accordance with Resolution No. 453 of the House of Representatives, Congress of the Philippines."

But Resolution 453, Tatad said, was filed by Representatives Crispin Beltran, Rafael Mariano, Teodoro Casiño, Liza Maza, Satur Ocampo and Joel Virador (the same party-list representatives who have either been arrested or whom the police want to arrest) directing the committees on labor and employment and foreign affairs to conduct a joint congressional inquiry on the status of the implementation of the government's ban on deployment of Filipino workers to Iraq. Nothing about a Congressional Medal of Achievement, Tatad said.

In his letter, the Speaker's spokesman said the two versions of Resolution 453 were filed in different years. He also said that the award is given by the House of Representatives alone, and that is why Senate President Franklin Drilon has no signature on it.

Question: Why then is it called "Congressional Medal of Achievement"? It should be called "House Medal of Achievement" or, more accurately, "Speaker's Medal of Achievement," shouldn't it? And why does the citation say that it "is bestowed on behalf of the Filipino nation" when it is bestowed only on behalf of De Venecia?

The same column said De Venecia also created, on his own, the Philippine-Taiwan Parliamentarians' Friendship Society, with all the members of the House as members. In so doing, Tatad said, De Venecia officially recognized the government of Taiwan and violated the Philippines' One-China policy and risked getting the ire and a diplomatic protest from Mainland China, which has always insisted that there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it.

The letter from the Speaker's office is deathly quiet on that one.

* * *

President Arroyo has said in a speech that the recount in the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) shows she won the 2004 elections "fair and square."

False, said oppositionist vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda at the Kapihan sa Manila forum last Monday. On the contrary, the ongoing recount shows widespread cheating both in the vice presidential and presidential tallies, she said.

Two of her lawyers, Rufus Rodriguez and Sixto Brillantes, said that when the ballot boxes were opened, the election returns there were found to have been substituted. They do not tally with the copies from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the citizens' election watchdog Namfrel and the opposition party. Copies from these three tally with one another, but the copies in Congress (which were the ones canvassed by the legislators) don't, although they have the same numbers. (There are seven copies of election returns, or Ers, one each for the different election bodies, one for Congress, and one each for the major political parties. They should all be the same since they are supposed to be copies of the same ER.)

Furthermore, the ballots seem to have been written by one person. The full names of the candidates, including the middle initials, were written on the ballots. That is not normal, the two lawyers said. Voters usually write only the last names.

What's more, the ballots do not contain the watermark of genuine ballots from the Comelec, they added.

Did Ms Arroyo and Noli de Castro win fair and square? You be the judge.

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