CNN Philippines - SolGen on VP poll protest: Tribunal allowed to declare annulment of elections

News & Interviews
3 November 2020

By CNN Philippines

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 3) — The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) weighed in on the steps the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), can take in response to the poll protest filed against Vice President Leni Robredo by her defeated opponent, former Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

The OSG, led by top government lawyer Jose Calida, said the tribunal has the power to declare a failure or annulment of elections, but stressed it cannot order for special elections to be held.

The PET in September sought the legal opinion of the Solicitor General and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on the so-called third cause of action in Marcos' petition seeking to nullify votes from Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao due to alleged poll fraud and terrorism. It asked the OSG if the PET will infringe on Comelec's mandate if it declares failure or annulment of elections.

In the comment released to the media on Tuesday, the OSG said it is within PET's jurisdiction and doing so will not step on the duties of the poll body — citing the Section 4(7), Article VII of the 1987 Constitution. The OSG said the Constitution, however, is "silent" on the PET's powers to call for special elections should the tribunal declare failure or annulment of election.

"The Presidential Electoral Tribunal has the power to declare the annulment of elections or a failure of elections without infringing upon the authority of Comelec, but PET has no concomitant power to order the conduct of special elections," the OSG wrote in its 40-page comment.

In his electoral protest filed a month after the 2016 election was held, Marcos urged the high court to nullify the votes from the three Mindanao provinces for "massive fraud." He also casted doubts on the poll results following his claim of "widespread presence of terrorism, violence, threats, coercion, force, intimidation and harassment of voters as well as pre-shading of ballots in all of the 2,756 clustered precincts."

The Solicitor General also said that even if the votes from Maguindanao, Lanao, and Basilan are declared null and void, the winner of the vice presidential race will be "easily determinable."

"On the contrary, the ultimate winner, or the one with the majority (or plurality) of the valid votes cast, is easily determinable," the OSG said.

The Comelec, in its own comment, agreed the PET has the power to annul the election results. But it insisted the tribunal cannot conduct special elections.

Robredo received 477,985 votes in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao against Marcos' 169,160 votes. Annulling the votes from these provinces would effectively wipe out Robredo's lead during the May 2016 elections.

Marcos lodged an electoral protest against Robredo on June 30, 2016, questioning the results of the polls. Robredo was proclaimed vice president after clinching a lead of 263,473 votes against Marcos. A recount began in April 2018 covering polling precincts in Iloilo, Camarines Sur — Robredo's bailiwick — and Negros Oriental, which were areas handpicked by Marcos' camp.

The tribunal, in October 2019, found that Robredo’s lead grew by around 15,000 votes or a total of 278,566 votes after a recount of ballots from the 5,415 clustered precincts in the pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental.

Supreme Court Justices Benjamin Caguioa and Antonio Carpio voted to dismiss Marcos' electoral protest due to the violation of PET's Rule 65, which states that a protestant should choose for recount not more than three provinces "best exemplifying the frauds or irregularities alleged in his petition."