By Rey E. Requejo | Manila Standard
The Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, has the power to annul the results of elections subject of a pending poll protest before it, but it should comply with the “strictest standards and procedures of law” if it is convinced there is need to nullify the election, according to the Commission on Elections.
In a 30-page comment, the Comelec asserted that the PET, as the sole judge of all contest relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice President, also “has the attendant power to annul the election results in order to give full effect to its constitutional duty to determine the winning candidate in the contested position.”
The comment was a compliance of the PET’s order on September 29, 2020 requiring the poll body to submit its position on issues relative to former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. protest against Vice President Leni Robredo, particularly the third cause of action that seeks for the annulment of elections in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan in the 2016 national elections on the ground of terrorism, intimidation, harassment of voters, and pre-shading of ballots.
Citing the Supreme Court 2016 ruling in the case of Harlin C. Abayon vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Raul A. Daza, which the high court affirmed the HRET’s power to annul election results “if in its determination, fraud, terrorism or other electoral irregularities existed to warrant the annulment.”
“However, as to give highest importance to the thousands of votes cast in the elections, the strictest standards and procedures of law must be set in place if the PET becomes strongly and positively convinced to annul the results of the elections,” the Comelec stressed.
According to the Comelec, three requisites must be satisfied to justify such a drastic action of nullifying the election: illegality of the ballots must affect more than 50 percent of the votescast; the impossibility of differentiating the lawful and unlawful ballots; and clear, convincing, and strong evidence that the protestee is accountable for the illegal acts.
The poll body insisted that annulling elections would only be to “determine who among the candidates garnered a majority of the legal votes cast.”
The PET earlier required the Comelec and Office of the Solicitor General to submit their respective comments on the third cause of action in the election protest filed by Marcos against Robredo, which seeks to annul election results in the three Mindanao provinces.
One of Marcos’ other sought actions, a recount of votes from Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental, resulted in Robredo’s lead over him widening by over 15,000 votes.
The Robredo camp and two SC justices argued that the result of the recount in the three pilot provinces should have been enough reason to dismiss the entire protest, but the majority of the tribunal, citing due process, voted to ask the parties for their comments on issues over the “third cause of action.”
Its separate comment, the OSG earlier asserted that PET has the power to declare a failure of elections but not to order the conduct of special polls.
The Comelec, on the other hand, said that while the PET was empowered by the Constitution to declare annulment of elections without special elections, it cannot declare a failure of elections and conduct special elections, this being within the Comelec’s “exclusive jurisdiction.”
Again citing the Abayon case, the Comelec said the SC has explained the differences in purpose and consequences between electoral tribunals’ annulment of elections and the Comelec’s declaration of failure of elections.
The Comelec suggested that the PET “revisit its rules and the case of Abayon to fill in the gaps in order to preserve the true will of the electorate in every protest case lodged before it.”