Rappler – Supreme Court moves in VP protest, Comelec to weigh in on Mindanao votes

By LIAN BUAN | Rappler

MANILA, PHILIPPINES

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) will weigh in on legalities of annulment of election scenarios

The Supreme Court (SC) sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) voted 12-0 to move forward in the vice presidential electoral protest and require the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to weigh in on the contested votes in Mindanao provinces.

“The Comelec was also directed to comment within a non-extendible period of twenty (20) working days from receipt of the Tribunal’s resolution on certain issues related to the 3rd cause of action of the election protest, in particular the annulment of elections on the ground of terrorism, intimidation, harassment of voters, and pre-shading of ballots in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao,” the SC said in a briefer Wednesday, September 30.

Comelec has 20 days to submit to the tribunal its comments on the 3rd cause of action of former senator Bongbong Marcos. Marcos wants to nullify votes in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Basilan, which make up the former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), citing massive cheating there.

Vice President Leni Robredo garnered a total of 477,985 votes in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao against Marcos’ 169,160 votes. If these are nullified, Robredo’s slim lead in the national count would be wiped.

Robredo defeated Marcos by just 263,473 votes in the 2016 vice presidential elections.

To get the PET to nullify the votes, Marcos has to prove there was cheating in the first place.

The Supreme Court’s latest resolution pursues that.

“The Comelec was directed to report to the Tribunal: 1) if petitions for failure or elections were filed in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao; 2) the corresponding resolutions to the said petitions (if granted or denied); 3) whether special elections were held in areas declared to have had a failure of elections in the said provinces; and 4) the results of the special elections,” the SC said.

Comelec has a new commissioner, IT lawyer Michael Braganza Peloton who was picked by President Rodrigo Duterte to replace Luie Tito Guia. Peloton has to go through the Commission on Appointments.

OSG to weigh in on legality

The Supreme Court also required the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to weigh in on the legality of annulment of election scenarios.

The Supreme Court asked both Comelec and OSG to answer these questions:

1. Whether the Tribunal is empowered by the Constitution to declare: a) the annulment of elections without special elections; and b) the failure of elections and order the conduct of special elections.

2. Whether the Tribunal’s declaration of failure or elections and then the ordering of special elections, will infringe upon the Comelec’s mandate and power provided for in Article IX (C) (Sec. 2) of the Constitution.

The comments are required to be submitted within 20 days, after which Marcos and Robredo can submit their replies within 15 days.

This was the action of the en banc on Tuesday, September 29, which gained 12 unanimous votes. The other two justices, Associated Justices Edgardo Delos Santos and Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla, were on leave. The 15th justice seat is vacant.

Implications

The SC in its briefer said the latest action was done “in order to arrive at a full, fair, and efficient resolution.”

If Robredo was to be followed, the protest should have been dismissed in October 2019 when recount of Marcos’ 3 chosen pilot provinces widened her lead even more, giving her 15,093 additional votes.

Robredo has been invoking Rule 65 of the PET rules which says that if there is no substantial recovery from the chosen pilot provinces, “the protest may forthwith be dismissed, without further consideration of the other provinces mentioned in the protest.”

Upon the result of the pilot province recount in October, retired senior associate justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa wanted to dismiss the protest altogether.

But the winning majority said it wanted to follow due process and asked Marcos and Robredo to submit position papers on the contested ARMM votes. Marcos called that move “a good result.”

Caguioa, by virtue of his losing vote, also lost his position as member-in-charge of the case. A succeeding raffle gave the case to Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, who campaigned for Marcos in 2016, dropped Comelec as client in the earlier part of the proceedings in July 2018 when the OSG backed Marcos’ 50% voting threshold appeal. Former Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia told PET at the time it applied a 25% voting threshold during the elections.

The PET later decided it would instead rely on election returns (ERs). – Rappler.com

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