Image via WikipediaAfter passing the Bar in 1991, I almost 'served' during all national elections in the Philippines, except the last May 10 elections. Not because that I lost my patriotic spirit or the offer was not worth the time, but I wanted a break. Really, a good break from the seemingly mercenary work lawyers do during elections. I also lost my appetite as a result of the senseless Maguindanao massacre, where lawyers were 'conveniently used', so to speak, in a political power struggle by local warlords.
Leading to the May 10 elections, many lawyers were at a loss on their supposed role in the counting and canvassing of votes, as these were taken over by the precinct count optical machines. In the past manual elections, lawyers' role was magnified by their participation in the counting and canvassing votes, so much so that proclamation of local candidates could be delayed or even prevented by lodging a pre-proclamation contest.
Now, politicians could not use election returns and other election documents to protest or halt the proclamation of the winning candidates in the May 10 elections. If a candidate cries foul over perceived irregularities in the counting, he or she can only challenge the election documents after the Comelec has proclaimed the winner of an electoral contest. The change was adopted after the Commission on Elections trimmed down the grounds for pre-election protests, which effectively eliminated the questioning of election documents to protest the count.
In an en banc Resolution dated March 22, 2010, the Comelec said a candidate or a political party can only halt the proclamation of the winner if there is “illegal composition” or “illegal proceedings” in the Board of Canvassers (BoC).
At the municipal level, the BoC is composed of an election officer, the city or town treasurer, and the school district supervisor. At the city and provincial levels, the treasurer is replaced by the city or provincial prosecutor. Under the new rules, the Comelec identified forms of illegal proceedings as precipitate canvassing, terrorism, improper venue, and lack of sufficient notice to the members of the BoCs.
In past elections, candidates could delay the proclamation of a candidate if there appeared to be irregularities in the counting of votes as seen in the election returns and certificates of canvass. These documents, according to past rules, could be challenged and could be used as basis for further election protests. The new guidelines basically have eliminated this avenue of protest, limiting it to the conduct of the BoC during the canvassing of votes.
The new electronic method of counting the election results, unfortunately, made the hiring of many lawyers useless, as manual counting and tallying of votes were already done by machines. The scenario made legal services during last May 10 elections a losing and costly proposition for many ill-advised local candidates.
In the manual system, the Board of Election Inspectors and the BoCs themselves counted the ballots and wrote the tallies on the election documents, which paved the way for various forms of electoral fraud and tampering. In the electronic balloting system, the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines will automatically read the ballots and print out the election returns at the close of voting.
The results would be transmitted electronically to the next canvassing center, removing from the process human intervention, especially participation of election lawyers, which poll officials said was the root of most of electoral cheating that led to proclamation delays and a multitude of protests.
I have a very close lawyer friend who posted in his Facebook account his well intentioned pose pointing to the PCOS machine, as if blaming the electronic gadget of the misfortunes of his profession. But he seemed not unhappy, not at all. As the election losers would have their say, these machines are being blamed of rigging and manufacturing results, and even of transmitting incorrect data.
Now, who says that the services of lawyers would be dispensed or reduced, especially in the light of the fact that for most Filipino politicians, there are only two election results - those who won and those who were cheated.