By Antonio P. Contreras | The Manila Times
THE Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) cannot be faulted for following the law. The Commission on Elections issued Comelec Resolution 8804 in 2010, which is the procedure it adopted for the manual recount of ballots, where it specified that ballots with shades less than 50 percent will not be counted as valid votes. There is no record of any Comelec resolution which changed this minimum threshold to 25 percent, not even Comelec Resolution 9164 which amended Resolution 8804. The rule is that when an amendment is silent on a provision, the earlier provision stands. The PET also correctly pointed out that the Random Manual Audit Guidelines and Report is not sufficient proof that the minimum threshold for manual recounts has been lowered. Not only that, but a random manual audit is not legally the same as a manual recount. It is also a fact that the threshold of 25 percent was just mentioned in the minutes of an en banc meeting of the Comelec on September 6, 2016, four months after the election and when the electoral protest of Bongbong Marcos had already commenced, and not as a numbered resolution like Resolutions 8804 and 9164 which were promulgated before the elections.
And yet, Robredo partisans and supporters keep on insisting that the fiction of a 25 percent minimum threshold be recognized despite its lack of any legal ground to stand on. The thing about Leni Robredo, however, is this.
With a mandate already hanging on the thread of insufficiently shaded ballots, there seems to be other things that can cause her more sleepless nights.
Former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. inadvertently detonated a deadly and incriminating bombshell. He admitted that the Comelec has in fact used a lower threshold not only once but twice in the 2013 and later in the 2016 elections but kept this information away from the public, and even from the candidates and the political parties, and without formally approving this in a numbered resolution. In effect, Brillantes admitted that the Comelec had violated its own rules. What is fishy is that it appeared that only Leni Robredo has benefitted from this secret alteration, considering that when the PET revisors used the legally determined higher threshold of 50 percent, her lead over Bongbong Marcos dwindled, enough for her to sound the alarm and appeal that the secretly determined lower threshold, as claimed by Brillantes, be used instead.
Lawyer Glenn Chong, a former member of the House of Representatives and an anti-election fraud crusader, believes that Robredo may have benefited from pre-shaded ballots which were accomplished either through the use of templates with smaller holes, or were deliberately shaded insufficiently to avoid physical detection by vigilant watchers and voters. If Brillantes’ admission is indeed correct, these were then read as valid votes by the vote counting machines (VCMs) that were already pre-programmed to do so.
What is fishy about this is that in the minutes of the September 6, 2016 en banc meeting, Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino appeared to be clueless about any earlier decision to use a lower threshold. This is contrary to Brillantes’ claim that the Comelec had decided to lower the threshold to 25 percent before the elections, with the intention of revealing this to the public after. It behooves us to ask then why was it that an important resolution such as lowering a threshold was kept secret, even for its own Executive Director.
Furthermore, it would appear that even the Comelec en banc was not aware of this decision alluded to by Brillantes, that there was no outright affirmation of such a decision in its en banc meeting. If they had made a collective decision on such a threshold and decided to deliberately keep it secret from the public and the parties, it would have been easier for them to instantly produce such a resolution when the PET requested for such guideline without asking for the opinion of Director Tolentino and Commissioner Louie Guia.
A lowering of the threshold is such an important matter, more so that it effectively amended an election rule.
Hence, this would have required a formal en banc resolution, considering that VCMs have to be pre-programmed with the information. With the apparent cluelessness of the en banc on the issue, then it is valid to speculate that perhaps, the decision to lower the threshold was indeed a secret and top-level decision. And it is possible that not all VCMs were pre-programmed to read insufficiently shaded ballots, but only those that were located in strategic places where the alleged pre-shading operations would have been implemented. And the pre-programming may not have occurred prior to the elections, but on the day of the elections itself and only on those selected VCMs. There is reason to suspect that this may have been done to VCMs that malfunctioned and were brought in for repairs or replacement.
And Camarines Sur becomes once again a possible epicenter for electoral fraud. It was the revision of votes in this province that revealed the preponderance of insufficiently shaded ballots which reportedly were set aside as possible invalid votes and would have the effect of reducing Robredo’s lead over Marcos.
As per the analysis of 1,816 audit logs, 253 VCMs from Camarines Sur were replaced on election day.
Commissioner Robert Christian Lim further admitted that there were only 101 extra VCMs on standby for the entire province, which meant that 152 additional replacement VCMs were used but did not pass through a rigorous vetting process. It is also interesting that 253 VCMs being replaced out of 1,816 amounts to an abnormal rate of 14 percent compared to the national replacement rate of 4 to 5 percent. In addition, it is most disturbing that CCS laptops in Calabanga and Tinambac towns had to be reconfigured in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, which is about 8 to 10 hours away, instead of being brought to the regional hub in Bicol which is much closer.
All of these are mere suspicions, but with the gravity of the matter facing us, it is incumbent upon the Republic to follow the lead provided by these footprints of a massive electoral fraud with possible top-level complicity even within Comelec. It is about time that the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) on elections look into this matter.
And it is time to demand for the return of Andy Bautista and compel him to tell everything he knows.