No-proc nightmares

SOMETIME ago, Comelec chairman Jose A.R. Melo confessed his nightmare of a failure of elections due to possible automation glitches and “sabotage.” With the Lakas-Kampi now merged, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assures that elections in 2010 will take place. But Melo’s horror is not just “no-el.” It is also “no-proc,” that is, no one is proclaimed winner.

President JPE siguro (perhaps)? His nightmare proved to be contagious. It led many readers to ask: If, for whatever reason, no winner is proclaimed during the 2010 presidential polls, who will run the country?

Sec. 7, Art. VII of our Constitution gives the doctrinal answer: “Where no President and Vice President shall have been chosen or shall have qualified, or where both shall have died, or become permanently disabled, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall act as President until a President or a Vice-President shall have been chosen and qualified.”

Theoretically then, the presidential order of succession is limited to the vice president, the Senate president and the House Speaker. However, the present reality makes this theory difficult to implement. You see, Vice President Noli de Castro, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and Speaker Prospero Nograles are, like President Macapagal-Arroyo, ending their terms of office on June 30, 2010. Who then shall act as president on July 1, 2010 onwards?

President RSP kaya (maybe)? Some think that Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, being the fifth highest official of our country, should take over. However, there is no law authorizing him to do so. In fact, lawyer de campanilla Romulo Macalintal argues that a statute naming the Chief Justice as acting president will be unconstitutional because the Charter (Sec. 12, Art. VIII) prohibits Supreme Court justices from being “designated to any agency performing quasi-judicial or administrative functions.”

Moreover, I think that, even granting such law to be constitutional, it is insufficient to quiet the readers’ nightmares because CJ Puno will exit on May 17, 2010 when he reaches the compulsory retirement age of 70 years. Can his successor become acting president?

Unfortunately, Sec. 15 of Art. VII of the Constitution bars President Arroyo from appointing Puno’s successor. It states that “[t]wo months immediately before the next presidential elections up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”

To repeat, the Constitution prohibits President Arroyo from making appointments within a period lasting from two months prior the election until the end of her term. That period falls on March 10-June 30, 2010 which encompasses Puno’s exit. The exception allowing GMA to exercise her appointing power during the prohibited period refers only to temporary ones in the Executive Department, not to permanent appointments in the Judicial Department like that of the chief justice.

President GMA pa rin? Should this no-proc scenario happen, President Arroyo may insist on staying as president based on the hold-over doctrine (see Señeres vs Comelec, April 16, 2009) that incumbent officials shall continue to discharge the functions of their office until their successors shall have been chosen and qualified.

In fact, Macalintal suggests that Congress should pass a law to authorize expressly the “incumbent elected president to act as president until the duly elected president or vice president is proclaimed or qualified.” But that precisely is causing nightmares to many people, the extended stay of GMA.

The better solution, I believe, is to be absolutely sure that the automation of our 2010 election succeeds. If, for any reason, full automation is not possible or full automation fails, Comelec should indeed have alternative plans, including a quick shift to manual elections. Otherwise, the country could face a constitutional crisis of unprecedented proportions that could result in uncharted chaos.

No-proc could open the country to civil strife, military adventurism, revolving juntas, emergency rule, martial law, holdover by President Arroyo, people power or even the “communal action” spoken of by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

President MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan) na lang? On the other hand, the nightmare could awaken us to a fresh morning-after that would call for non-traditional politicians like business whiz Manuel V. Pangilinan or Catholic born-again Mike Velarde. Who could have thought that those demos during those balmy days in February 1986 would topple a cocky and well-entrenched dictator, and catapult a reluctant and politically inexperienced housewife to the presidency?

Could no-proc be one reason why GMA’s allies have given up on Charter change (Cha-cha)? Months ago, Speaker Nograles gave himself until the adjournment of Congress to effect Cha-cha. Well, Congress will adjourn on June 5 but I do not see his proposal getting the required three-fourths vote in the House and, separately, in the Senate.

Two weeks ago, Representative Luis Villafuerte, the most ardent promoter of a Senate-less constituent assembly (con-ass), already mourned Cha-cha’s demise. Earlier, my April 19 column foresaw the derailment of the Cha-cha express unless the Palace actively intervened and greased it. Well, the Palace did not, and the train is stuck up on its rails.

Should our people now brace for no-proc?

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