Manila Standard - PET says no foot-dragging in poll protest vs. Robredo

4 September 2019

By Rey E. Requejo | Manila Standard

Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin on Wednesday assured the public the Supreme Court, acting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal, was not “foot-dragging” the resolution of the electoral protest filed by former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo.

The protest has been pending before the PET for three years now.

Bersamin stressed the PET members were aware “there is a very high public interest because it involves to an extent the stability of a government in the Philippines” and that they should resolve the case “in the earliest possible time.”

“We are aware that the public may be uneasy about our foot-dragging, but it is not really foot-dragging if you would know the effort that we have expended in the revision process. This is a combination of a protest as well as a variation of protest,” said Bersamin during his breakfast meeting with reporters covering the judiciary.

He added: “I know the impatience of the public about this case of the Vice President being protested but we should also be careful of what we do here because the credibility of our processes as well as the political system here is at stake so we are doing it slowly but we are doing it with sufficient speed.”

According to him, it might be slow in the public’s perception, but the PET was actually doing it fast already.

“Even if there is a perception is that there is delay, we are doing our share from within, reminding each other and not just the ponente of the need for results. We do not say that these results should come tomorrow or in the next month. It all depends on how we process the protest,” Bersamin said.

Marcos filed the electoral protest in June 2016 to contest Robredo’s slim lead of a little over 260,000 votes, the closest vice presidential race in recent memory.

Under the PET rules, they need to count the votes in the three pilot provinces Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental. They have also brought in revisors and three commissioners to go through the clustered ballot boxes from the 2016 elections.

Bersamin also revealed that the PET was expecting a “voluminous report” from Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguiao, who is handling the case, on the result of the preliminary revision of ballots in three pilot provinces covering the election protest filed by Marcos against Robredo.

The top magistrate said Caguiao was likely to submit his report before he steps down as head of the judiciary on October 18.

The preliminary revision covers three pilot provinces composed of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental.

After the PET finishes its recount in the pilot provinces, it will decide whether to proceed in the vote revision on 39,221 clustered precincts covering 27 provinces and cities identified in Marcos election protest.

“His submission is a prelude to the action of the Court on whether to proceed to the other aspects of the case,” the Chief Justice said.

Marcos’ protest cites three causes of action – first, that Automated Elections System was compromised, hence, the integrity of the AES cannot be relied upon to declare a legitimate winner; the second requires the revision or manual recount of the actual ballots to determine the votes cast in all the 36,465 protested clustered precincts while the third cause of action sought the annulment of election results for the VP position in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan, on the ground of terrorism, intimidation and harassment of voters as well as pre-shading of ballots in all of the 2,756 protested clustered precincts in the areas.

The PET has dismissed Marcos’ first cause of action for being “meaningless and pointless.”

“Very soon, we are expecting that the ponente who is Justice Caguiao will come up with his report and he has informed us that his report will be voluminous report and that is expected because when you have revised ballots coming from at least three provinces that were part of a protest you would expect details of whether this ballot are to be part of the counting or not to be part of counting,” Bersamin stressed.

Bersamin admitted the PET was taking a long time to resolve the election protest, but nonetheless appealed for understanding from the public.

He said the tribunal had to be very “careful” in handling the case as it involved the stability of the government.

He also told reporters that he would not divulge the progress on the third cause of action as he was not authorized to make public any result on the said aspect.

Marcos filed an election protest on June 29, 2016, claiming that the camp of Robredo cheated in the automated polls in May also year.

Robredo filed her answer in August last year and also filed counter-protest and questioned the results in over 30,000 polling precincts in several provinces where Marcos won.

She also sought the dismissal of the protest for lack of merit and jurisdiction of PET.

But the PET declined to dismiss the election protest on the ground of sufficiency in form and substance.