MANILA — The National Assembly began its third session today in an effort to count the returns from last Friday's presidential election and immediately became embroiled in procedural arguments and disputes.
"The circus is back in town," said one Western diplomat, as a committee led by Speaker Nicanor Yniguez reopened ballot boxes it locked in disagreement Tuesday night.
Under the constitution, the Assembly alone is the official counter of returns. It must decide within 15 days of convening whether President Ferdinand E. Marcos or Corazon Aquino won.
Marcos Group Dominant
The Assembly is dominated by members of Marcos' New Society Movement (KBL) and both they and opposition assemblymen have a right to challenge the returns and the certificates of authenticity accompanying them.
A flurry of challenges from both sides quickly slowed down the proceedings today while the committee was still examining the certificates. There was no sign of a swift move toward actually counting the tabulated returns from 140 collating centers across the country.
In a seven-hour session Tuesday, the only achievement was to open the ballot boxes and examine several envelopes from one of them.
Procedural delays and challenges from both sides held up progress and at one point Yniguez, 7O, said "I'm getting dizzy."
7 of 8 Rejected
The session was finally adjourned after seven of the eight envelopes containing the certificates--all of them from districts in Marcos' northern stronghold--were judged invalid and temporarily laid aside for further investigation.
One of the seals referred to the 1984 parliamentary election.
Yniguez finally ordered the boxes to be locked again and adjourned the session after the opposition said all but four of its 59 members had gone home.
The Assembly looked like a railway station. People slumped on their desks or ambled across the floor as guards relocked the ballot boxes and hauled them back to the strongroom.
"Don't go away," the announcer of a state-run television station urged viewers.
"He must have been joking. The live coverage of the proceedings was so funny I was glued to my TV," a Western diplomat said.
As each envelope was pulled out of the box, a clerk read out a description of its condition, its color, serial number, time and date of receipt and the names of the signatories.
It was then passed to members of the opposition and the ruling KBL who in turn examined it minutely.
"This does not look like the signature of our examiner," one opposition member said after examining the envelope.
"How do you know? You are not a handwriting expert," said Yniguez, a campaign manager for the KBL during the election.
Signature of Dead Man
At another stage an opposition member said, "This can't be the signature of our representative. He was kidnaped the day before he was supposed to have signed this and his body was found floating in the river."
Yniguez's stock reply to every opposition challenge was: "Let that be noted."
An opposition member examined another envelope for names attesting its authenticity and said, "There's only four signatures."
A member of the KBL team snapped back: "You're obviously blind. There are six."
The opposition member responded, "Yes, that's right. Well, that's a violation. There should only be five."