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Manila Standard - The Marcos-Robredo electoral protest

News & Interviews
16 September 2019

By Tony La Viña | Manila Standard

"The country expects no less than this from our highest court."

In 2016, former Senator Ferdinand Marcos sought to contest his defeat to Vice President Leni Robredo in the 2016 elections. Marcos had claimed that "massive cheating" caused him to lose to Robredo in the 2016 vice presidential race by some 260,000 votes. She denied this.

On the eve of Robredo's oath-taking, Marcos filed an election protest seeking to contest the results in 27 cities and provinces, covering 39,221 "clustered" precincts which are composed of 132,446 "established" precincts. He also sought the nullification of votes in Basilan, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur, where massive poll fraud allegedly occurred.

On Aug. 29, 2017, the Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, issued a resolution that dismissed Marcos’ first cause of action to annul Robredo’s proclamation. The PET reasoned that even if the protestant were able to successfully prove his first cause of action, this does not mean that he has already won the position of vice president as this could only be proved via manual recount of all votes in all precincts. Thus, allowing the nullification of Robredo would be an exercise in futility. However, the second and third causes of action—i.e. on the matter of revision and recount and on the matter of massive fraud in certain specified areas, were allowed to remain. Thus as a consequence, the PET ordered the retrieval of ballot boxes and other election documents for the revision and recount.

In March 2019, the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) has set the start of the manual recount of votes for the election protest which shall cover Marcos’ pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental.

In September 2019, The Supreme Court (SC) sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) announced that it will release a report on the initial recount of three provinces in the election protest. Earlier, VP Robredo’s lawyer claimed victory, saying that the initial recount does not show no substantial recovery of ballots and that the recount in three pilot provinces selected by Marcos has given her 15,000 more votes, based on unofficial numbers from the electoral tribunal. Based on recount from pilot provinces Camarines Sur, Negros Oriental, and Iloilo, the Robredo camp is claiming that the lead has become 279, 215 or an increase of around 15,000 votes. According to Robredo’s own motion, the revision, recount and reappreciation of ballots would now give Robredo 1,492,544 votes and Marcos 202,184 votes from election returns; and 1,475,989 to Robredo and 200,467 to Marcos in the physical count. The PET dismissed Robredo’s motion to dismiss the protest on the ground that Robredo’s claim is merely speculative.

Further, it ordered the Commission on Elections to explain the lack of ballot images in two clustered precincts in Camarines Sur, one of the pilot provinces. It also refused to investigate voting records in Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao—as what Marcos wants—because it has to resolve the three pilot provinces first. Marcos insists that the recount of ballots should continue even outside the 3 pilot areas to which the PET declined.

The big issue now for resolution is whether there is substantial discrepancy. With the upcoming announcement of the final report on the recount on the three pilot provinces, the PET will then decide whether to continue with the recount of the ballots in the rest of the clustered precincts in the country.

The PET has previously been called upon to resolve a number of electoral protests involving presidential and vice presidential candidates. It is the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice President of the Philippines. The PET was created under Republic Act No. 1793 in 1957 and re-constituted under Batas Pambansa Blg. 884 (National Law No. 884) in 1985 and authorized by the 1987 Constitution as an independent body to resolve electoral protest involving these officials. In the past we have the case of Miriam Defensor Santiago vs. Fidel Ramos in 1992 where the tribunal dismissed Santiago's petition after Santiago ran for a Senate seat in 1995 and won. The case of Fernando Poe Jr. against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004 which dismissed Poe's petition after he died in late 2004. Then there is Loren Legarda vs. Noli de Castro in 2004 which was dismissed after a retabulation didn't affect the result, and after she ran for a Senate seat in 2007 and won. In 2010, the PET dismissed Roxas’s electoral protest against Jejomar Binay after the later’s term ended in 2016 without the case being resolved.

The PET, as in all other adjudicative bodies, can only come up with a credible and fair decision of this Marcos electoral protest if it adjudicates on the basis of fact and law. Rocket science is not needed to decide this protest. As in all its cases, it must be able to resist improper influences, inducements, unwarranted threats or interferences from any quarter; decide with utmost independence, impartiality, neutrality and maintains conduct beyond reproach. The country expects no less than this from our highest court.