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Manila Standard - Stick to the 50-percent rule

News & Interviews
5 June 2018

By Jonathan Dela Cruz | Manila Standard

The Presidential Electoral Tribunal should dismiss outright the motion for reconsideration filed by sitting Vice-President Leni Robredo regarding the tribunal’s earlier decision imposing the 50-percent shaded ballot rule.

Under this PET ruling, only those ballots shaded at least 50 percent will be counted in the ongoing snail-paced recount of votes in the contested vice presidential race. Reports quoted Robredo’s counsel, lawyer Romy Makalintal, as arguing that the PET should reverse itself and consider the lower 25-percent mark which, according to their camp, was advised as proper by the Commission on Elections albeit belatedly last September 2016, or four months after the May 2016 elections.

Makalintal’s argument is not only baseless. It is ridiculous. In the first place, all voters and the public have been constantly bombarded months before the elections by Comelec, Congress and even by the private electoral watchdogs that the ballots should be 100-percent shaded. Not 50 percent, and most definitely not 25 percent.

In fact, the last Comelec resolution on this shading business reiterated what it had decreed earlier that for the ballots to be counted, the same should be properly and fully shaded up to 100 percent.

On the campaign hustings all candidates urged the voters to complete their shading of the ballots, otherwise the same would be declared null and void. A veteran election lawyer, Makalintal, admonished the campaign staff of his clients, many of whom are friends of mine, to tell their “captive” voters to ensure that they fully—meaning 100 percent—shade their ballots. No ifs and buts about it.

Makalintal should, in fact, be thankful the PET lowered the standard to 50 percent so those half-shaded votes for Robredo could be counted. Otherwise, if the PET stuck to the 100-percent rule, she might lose more votes than what she is losing now. So, why is Makalintal now busily arguing for an even lower set up?

Is he afraid, given the latest revelations in the recount, that a good number of the votes cast for Robredo were just minutely shaded as if done on the run? Were the machines in the priority provinces being contested by former Senator Bongbong Marcos programmed to accommodate those minutely (25 percent?) shaded ones? Given Makalintal’s hyperbolic assertions, I am inclined to believe that indeed the Robredo camp is up to something out of sync.

In any event, this 25-percent appeal based on a so-called September 2016 Comelec resolution which was hidden from the public and the parties in the May 2016 elections until the PET issued its 50-percent ruling makes the MR even more ridiculous. Clearly, this is an afterthought belatedly certified by Acting Chairman Louie Guia and the poll body’s Executive Director, Jun Tolentino. There is no en banc resolution backing it up. There is no log in the body’s work calendar which clearly states that the same was ever discussed at all. There is no public notice during the entire 2016 and 2017 which the Comelec should have issued to justify the amendment of the earlier 100-percent shading rule for transparency and accountability. None. Zero.

Considering the impact of this ruling not only on the ongoing VP recount but in the other pending electoral contests, it stands to reason that the Comelec should have bombarded the public with this bombshell announcement. But no such thing happened.

That it came out only after the PET’s 50-percent ruling makes Makalintal’s petition even more suspicious. Even more ridiculous is his aside that Marcos will also lose votes if the 25-percent rule is not upheld. Well, Marcos is not biting and is not joining him in this diversion—so why is he bothered?

This and other silly assertions makes it imperative for newly installed Comelec Chairman Abas, Congress and the other investigating bodies and probably even the PET itself to inquire into the provenance and circumstances surrounding this September issuance at this point.

Indeed, given all the silliness associated with this petition, it should now be dismissed to spare the PET from spending precious time and resources on a decidedly unworthy case.

Which brings us to another point. It is very possible that this petition is actually meant to divert public and the PET’s attention from the ever increasing number of irregularities being uncovered by that body’s revisors in the ongoing recount.

How so? Well, over the past few weeks, as the revision of votes was finally initiated after almost 18 months of being held back by all kinds of excuses by the ponente, Justice Caguioa, we were witness to very disturbing discoveries on the actual state of the retrieved ballots.

In Camarines Sur, the first province protested by former Senator Marcos where Robredo had an almost —500,000 vote lead, the revisors found out wet ballots, ballots splashed with battery acid, slashed ballot boxes, boxes with glass splinters and grass, boxes without voters registry, etc. etc.—all pointing to the fact that these ballots were tampered with. Well, surprise, surprise. In Iloilo, the second province in Marcos’protest, the discoveries were even more deeply disturbing. Aside from the signature Camarines Sur discoveries, it was reported that some ballots were placed inside plastic containers not in official sealed ballot boxes.

There were also reports about ballot boxes with broken seals, boxes with damaged covers and metal boxes with no padlocks. With such discoveries, it does not take rocket science to presume that this MR on the 50 percent shading rule has come in handy to divert public attention from the out-and-out irregularities committed in the May 2016 elections.