SC paves way for Zubiri’s proclamation

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Supreme Court yesterday denied an appeal to stop the canvassing of votes for Maguindanao province, paving the way for the proclamation of the 12th and last winning senatorial candidate.

Genuine Opposition candidate Aquilino Pimentel III had asked the court to issue a restraining order to stop the Commission on Elections from canvassing the votes amid reports of widespread poll fraud in the province.

Without the Maguindanao tally, Pimentel held a 100,000-vote lead over his next closest rival, Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri. Earlier reports said the Maguindanao vote would push Zubiri past Pimentel by 17,000 votes.

Following the court’s ruling, Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos said the poll body would proceed with the canvassing and proclaim the winning candidate.

“If the Maguindanao votes arrive, we will canvass them,” Abalos said, adding a winner could be proclaimed last night or today.

After hearing the oral arguments from Pimentel and Zubiri’s lawyers, the 12 justices led by Chief Justice Reynato Puno voted unanimously not to issue a temporary restraining order. Two justices were on leave.

Pimentel said the court’s ruling meant the battle had shifted to the Comelec.

Zubiri thanked the court and said he was “delighted… that democracy prevails.”

Initial tallies showed that Zubiri would get more than 150,000 votes from 16 of the 22 towns in Maguindanao, enough for him to overtake Pimentel.

During the oral arguments, Associate Justice Cancio Garcia pointed out that Pimentel had admitted that he had no concrete evidence that the poll documents from Maguindanao were fabricated.

Garcia said the court could not allow more than 200,000 voters from the 22 municipalities in Maguindanao to be disenfranchised on Pimentel’s “assumption” that the municipal certificates of canvass were spurious.

The associate justice also brushed aside Pimentel’s argument that the certificates of canvass could have been fabricated since the Comelec did not follow established procedures in canvassing the votes.

“You’re imputing irregularity on the documents but… have no proof whatsoever that the documents were themselves irregular, tampered or doctored,” Garcia said.

Garcia suggested that the Comelec be allowed to finish the canvassing of Maguindanao votes since the loser still had another remedy of questioning the authenticity of the ballots before the Senatorial Electoral Tribunal.

He said if the court granted Pimentel’s petition, it would be tantamount to a violation of the people’s right of suffrage.

Associate Justice Renato Corona shared Garcia’s view. “If the people in Maguindanao voted and were excluded, what is the remedy of the people to exercise their right to vote?” he said.

Justice Antonio Carpio also reiterated the need to include the votes of Maguindanao in the national canvassing based on Pimentel’s admission that an election took place and that the Comelec had already proclaimed the winning local officials in the province.

Other justices told Pimentel that the court had no jurisdiction over his claim of “statistical improbability” involving the result of the re-canvassing where 18 out of the 37 senatorial candidates received no vote.

Justice Minita Chico Nazario said the issue was a factual one that the court had no jurisdiction over, since it was not a trier of facts.