Stop demonizing the Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines—I was advised not to worry about the delays in the “physical” preparations for the 2010 polls and the logistical nightmares I wrote about last week. I was assured that Comelec has contingency plans to manually count the automated ballots.

Inadequate contingency plans. With due respect, I believe these plans are sorely inadequate. For example, if the wrong automated ballots are delivered to the wrong town, all the voters there would be disenfranchised because the candidates printed on the ballots cannot be voted for in that town. Ballots tailored for Cagayan de Oro are useless if delivered to Cagayan province. Here, the contingency plan will not work because there are no automated ballots to count.

Both the automated ballots and the PCOS are precinct-specific. They must be delivered to the correct town at the correct time. Delivering them too early or too late will risk their safekeeping and integrity. Up to today, the couriers for these ballots and the PCOS have yet to be chosen.

Another example. This week, Comelec started to disqualify many candidates. But the Supreme Court may reverse Comelec, as it recently did with Ang Ladlad. Consequently, it cannot order the printing of the automated ballots till after all appeals are decided. Appeals take time to mature.

Since there are 47 million voters, at least 47 million ballots must be printed by special printing machines, which—unfortunately again—have not all been procured. There are 1,630 different versions of the ballot because each of the 1,630 towns in the country has different candidates. The contingency plan is useless if Comelec fails to print correctly and on time all the different ballots.

Final example. Comelec purchased 82,000 PCOS machines, which need to be calibrated into 1,630 different ways to read the 1,630 types of ballots to be printed. To date, only 30,000 of them have been delivered to Comelec. When tested, the machines accepted only 30 out of the 600 ballots inserted. That is a measly 5-percent passing rate. Yet during the bidding process, Comelec required 99.999-percent accuracy! When a new jet crashes during its test flight, no explanation can convince passengers to ride the next plane. How then can I be persuaded that the PCOS will work properly during the real run?

There are many other examples, like warlords “back hoeing” the ballots, early voters spilling water on the machines, etc. My point is: Imagine these scenarios repeated in several provinces and districts. And any plain folk would see a failure of proclamation for president, vice president and senators when the votes in all those failed areas will be determinative of the final results for these offices.

I know the many objections against the super-slow old manual system. But our common dream of automating our elections is fading due to delays and untested logistical nightmares. It is better to deal with an old known evil than a new unknown devil.

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Stop demonizing the SC. The proposal urging President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to appoint the chief justice now but effective after the present chief retires on May 17 is politicizing the Supreme Court and eroding its credibility as the bastion of blindfolded justice and the last bulwark of democracy.

I appeal to Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno to use his persuasive powers, as head of the Supreme Court and the Judicial and Bar Council, to stop this erosion of trust in the Court. He is equipped with enough powers and moral ascendancy to help abate this divisive political wrangling. (The uninitiated may see my December 23 column for the CJ’s functions.)

I appeal to the President to stop this circumvention of the noble intent of the Constitution to prevent “midnight appointments.” The Supreme Court is effective only as long as it is perceived to be independent. A tainted Court cannot effectively shield her from political slings and criminal prosecutions once she steps out of power.

Pervez Musharraf was dethroned as president of Pakistan because he brazenly violated the independence of the Supreme Court and used legal hocus-pocus to oust its chief justice, forcing the Pakistani bar to flood the streets with protests. I think the Filipino lawyers are no less militant.

Ferdinand Marcos lined up several justices on the seniority ladder so they could in time become chiefs. But the Edsa revolution intervened. And outsiders like Pedro L. Yap, Marcelo B. Fernan and Andres R. Narvasa unexpectedly rose to the top.

The chief justiceship, like the presidency, is a precious gift from God. Let destiny award it without the interference of bedeviling politics and nasty intrigues.

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Diplomat’s diplomat. The bounden duty of diplomats is to promote and protect the interest of their country in the host state. How to accomplish this duty without rankling the local people is the ultimate test of every envoy. By this standard, US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, who is ending her stint here, graduates summa cum laude.

Judging by the accolades showered on her during her many despedidas (I attended those hosted by Inquirer’s Marixi Prieto and Sandy Romualdez, by Tower Club’s Wash Sycip and Joey Cuisia, and by Ambassador Kenney herself at her Forbes Park home), or during UAAP basketball games (where she was seated alternately on the blue and green benches), or during parades of the Armed Forces, I am convinced that she is the most admired and most loved diplomat here. Indeed, she is the diplomat’s diplomat.

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