By Alvin Murcia | Daily Tribune
Sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), the Supreme Court (SC) has the power to invalidate the result of the last vice-presidential elections in three provinces in Mindanao that may change the outcome of the vote for the second highest post in government, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) said in a position paper.
The PET, however, may not have the authority to order the holding of special elections, which is the domain of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The PET in September sought the legal opinion of the Solicitor General and the Comelec on the so-called third cause of action in Marcos’ petition seeking to nullify votes from Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao due to alleged poll fraud and terrorism.
It asked the OSG if the PET will infringe on Comelec’s mandate if it declares failure or annulment of elections.
In the comment released to the media on Tuesday, the OSG said voiding the results of the polls is within PET’s jurisdiction and doing so will not step on the duties of the poll body as the office cited Article VII of the 1987 Constitution. The OSG said the Constitution, however, is “silent” on the PET’s powers to call for special elections should the tribunal declare failure or annulment of election.
“The PET has the power to declare the annulment of elections or a failure of elections without infringing upon the authority of Comelec, but PET has no concomitant power to order the conduct of special elections,” the OSG wrote in its 40-page comment.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said such a possibility will happen if massive irregularities affecting the outcome of the fight between former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Vice President Leni Robredo are found.
Calida manifested his views on the matter in a comment submitted to the tribunal in compliance with its directive issued last 29 September.
3 actions sought
Three causes of action were sought in the Marcos protest, which are the — annulment of the proclamation of Robredo; recount and revision of ballots in 36,465 protested clustered precincts; and annulment of election results for vice president in the three cited provinces.
The first cause of action of Marcos was dismissed by PET for being “meaningless and pointless.”
On the other hand, the PET decided to release the committee report on the revision and recount of ballots on the three pilot provinces — Iloilo, Negros Oriental and Camarines Sur — involving 5,415 precincts.
At the same time, the PET shifted its focus on the third cause of action after it ordered the opposing parties to submit their respective memoranda on the issues raised therein.
Both the Comelec and the OSG were further directed to comment on whether the Tribunal is empowered by the Constitution to declare the annulment of elections without special elections and to declare a failure of elections and pave the way for the holding of special elections.
Jurisprudence, according to Calida, has also established and recognized the PET’s sole and exclusive power to hear election protests involving the President and Vice President.
Robredo won the vice-presidential race in the May 2016 polls with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos’ 14,155,344 votes but Marcos contested the outcome.
Victor easily determinable
Calida said even if the votes from Maguindanao, Lanao and Basilan are declared null and void, the winner of the vice-presidential race will be “easily determinable.”
“On the contrary, the ultimate winner, or the one with the majority (or plurality) of the valid votes cast, is easily determinable,” the OSG said.
The Comelec, in its own comment, agreed the PET has the power to annul the election results. But it insisted the tribunal cannot conduct special elections.
Marcos lodged an electoral protest against Robredo on 30 June 2016, questioning the results of the polls.
The tribunal, in October 2019, found that Robredo’s lead grew by around 15,000 votes or a total of 278,566 votes after a recount of ballots from the 5,415 clustered precincts in the pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental.
SC Justices Benjamin Caguioa and Antonio Carpio voted to dismiss Marcos’ electoral protest due to the violation of PET’s Rule 65, which states that a protestant should choose for recount not more than three provinces “best exemplifying the frauds or irregularities alleged in the petition.”