- Just faces changing, not pace of justice

7 March 2017

By Marichu Villanueva | 

It took more than two months before President Duterte was able to fill the vacancy at the SC which by the way also convenes as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

Pending before the PET is one most important electoral protests involving the contested victory of incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo. Her closest rival, former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. filed the protest questioning the 260,000 margin of votes that won the VP race for Robredo during the May 9 elections last year.

Marcos filed his election protest at the PET on June 29 last year. Fast forward. Or eight months later, the PET has yet to schedule this single case for preliminary conference, the Marcos camp rued.

The Marcos camp, however, got the first break when the PET rejected Robredo’s motion to dismiss Marcos’ electoral protest in a resolution dated Jan. 24. The PET resolution was released by the SC only last Feb. 16. The PET ruled: "Marcos' poll protest is sufficient in form and substance but he needs to prove the allegations in due time."

However, the PET gave VP Robredo 15 days to appeal this resolution and the Marcos camp to rebut it. Through her defense counsels led by veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, VP Robredo filed a 22-page motion for reconsideration filed last week. Macalintal argued Marcos did not specifically point to poll irregularities that the latter claimed had taken place in 662 municipalities and component cities.

Meanwhile, rumors swirl around Marcos’ possible appointment in the Duterte Cabinet with the lapse this coming June of one-year ban against losing candidates in the last election. The Marcoses are known allies of President Duterte, who allowed the burial of the late dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, saying the country must move on from the past.

On the other hand, VP Robredo resigned from the Cabinet in December last year over policy differences with President Duterte. She is the highest elected official of the Liberal Party. Thus, VP Robredo is wary on the developing events.

Under Section 29 of the PET Rules, the Tribunal is mandated to set the case for preliminary conference after the filing of the last pleading. According to his battery of lawyers, Marcos submitted his last primary pleading on September 20 last year. Despite several pleadings filed by the Marcos camp to move forward the case, the PET has yet to issue an order.

Thus, the lawyers of Marcos headed by George Erwin Garcia find questionable why the PET still has to require the other party to comment on its setting when it is mandatory.

On the contrary, PET seems to be taking its time because instead of setting the preliminary conference, it ordered the camp of VP Robredo to comment on the motion of Marcos to set the case for preliminary conference.

It is quite interesting to note that Robredo in her comment to the PET resolution opposed the conduct of a preliminary conference.

A preliminary conference is crucial to the early disposition of the case. As I gathered from lawyers, this legal procedure is where the parties conduct the following – (1) the possibility of obtaining stipulations or admissions of facts and documents to avoid unnecessary proof; (2) the simplification of issues; (3) the limitation of number of witnesses; (4) the most expeditious manner for the retrieval of ballot boxes containing the ballots, election returns, certificates of canvass and other election documents involved in the election protest; and (5) such other matters as may aid in the prompt disposition of the election protest or petition for quo warranto.

After the conduct of the preliminary conference and the filing of a preliminary conference brief, the causes of action will then be tried to determine if indeed there is sufficient evidence to support the election protest. And in this particular case, declare who is the real winner in the VP race if indeed the former Camarines Sur Congresswoman or Marcos.

Like previous VP protests, this might be another prolonged legal battle at the PET eventually ending up moot and academic.

While we see new faces being named at the SC, there in nothing new in the slow pace of justice in our country.