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The Manila Times - The way forward for Bongbong Marcos’ protest

News & Interviews
16 January 2018

By Antonio P. Contreras | The Manila Times 

IT is easy to be angered by the delaying tactics of Leni Robredo and her camp, abetted by the inordinate delay by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) under the leadership of Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, the member charged to oversee the resolution of the election protest of former senator Bongbong Marcos.

However, this is an expected development. Electoral protests in the country have always been a long process, that sometimes the rightful winner is proclaimed only days before his or her term would end. What is happening to the case of Bongbong Marcos is not entirely new. If at all, one has to at least thank the universe that it has reached the point where it is now, not that it is at all optimal and desirable.

The problem is structural, and it needs structural remedies in the entire electoral system of the country. In other jurisdictions, like some states in the US, there are state-mandated automatic recounts whenever the margin of votes falls within a specified range. In such situations, there is no more need to file a protest case and have protracted hearings. Leni Robredo’s margin over Bongbong Marcos is less than 1 percent of the total votes cast. That is an extremely thin margin that would have triggered an automatic recount in the US.

Unfortunately, our election laws appear to have not adjusted to the changing times. Even if it is computerized, the basic structure of the laws, including those for the resolution of electoral protests, still appears archaic and stuck in its tradition of manual elections. It is almost driving on high speed in low gear.

There is suspicion tending to cast doubt on the objectivity of Justice Caguioa. The remedy here is to file a formal motion asking him to inhibit, citing arguments defining the bases from where doubts about his objectivity arise.

On the more substantive aspect of the protest, the focus of the effort must be to reinforce a constituency of doubt over the outcomes of the elections. May 2016 has already passed and gone, and many people have forgotten the main issues that surrounded the election controversy. Some people are not even entirely clear on what the issues are.

Hence, if there is a media campaign relating to the protest, the messaging must be focused on refreshing the memory of the people about the dubious outcome of the elections.

It is essential to resurrect the anomalous data trends manifested in straight lines, and of abnormal levels of undervotes despite the high voter turnouts. It is important to hammer the message of the unlikelihood of people walking long distances and braving the heat to line up to vote, only not to vote for a vice president in a hotly contested race, which is exactly the layperson’s translation of an undervote.

It is also important to impress on the people the anomalous results of having zero votes for Bongbong Marcos, and other candidates, more so in areas where there are block voters like members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo.

The narrative must be populated by stories of fraud, and of actual evidence from people themselves.

It is imperative to convince the populace that there have been cases of pre-shading of ballots in many parts of ARMM, where elections have failed in that they did not occur at all. Some boards of election inspectors (BEI) did not even convene. Election returns were already finished on the eve of the elections.

The focus of the effort should be less on Bongbong Marcos, but on the fraud that denied him the seat he won. If there is anger, it should be those of the people who have been robbed of their votes.

There is also a need to address those who would diminish the value of a recount. This is to help reinforce the building of the constituency of doubt over the election results.

Certainly, the camp of Mrs. Robredo would counter these narratives, and the best retort would be to remind them that if they truly believe that she won fairly, then she should not fear a recount. She must help expedite it to finally remove any doubt about the legitimacy of her occupancy of the post of Vice President.

There are those who would argue on the basis of their hatred towards the Marcos brand. The best way to deal with these people is to point out that in a democracy we should respect the rights of people, and the right of the majority to determine outcomes of elections. Since most of these people are probably advocates of human rights, it may help to remind them that Item 3 of Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically states that the will of the people shall be the basis of the autonomy of government, and such will be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be held by secret ballot or by an equivalent free voting procedure. Hence, a free election is a basic human right. Electoral fraud is a violation of that right.

In the end, the focus of any media campaign should be to remind the people the reasons why a recount is necessary, and why anyone who values democracy must support it.

This is not the time to focus on Bongbong Marcos as if he is still a candidate. After all, he is no longer running for office, but simply reclaiming the seat that is denied of him. Any media campaign should not focus on him as if he is still trying to win the approval of the people. He has already won that vote. Instead, the focus must be on the fraud that occurred that undermined the people’s right to have a Vice President elected by the majority of the people.

Hence, the strategy to move forward should be to create enough constituency of doubt that is so compelling as to force the PET to move fast in resolving the case.