By Kristine Joy Patag | The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines — Weighing in on pending issues in the vice presidential poll protest, the Commission on Elections said that the Presidential Electoral Tribunal has the power to annul election results but it must do so under the “strictest standards.”
The Comelec submitted its Comment in compliance with the tribunal’s order to answer pending issues on former Sen. Bongbong Marcos’ election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo. Marcos’ third cause of action in his petition alleges massive electoral fraud in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao.
Comelec told the tribunal that it received and dismissed eight petitions for declarations of failure of elections related to the 2016 national elections filed relative to the provinces of Lanao Del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao.
All except in a case involving Northern Kabuntalan, Maguindanao were issued their respective Certificates of Finality.
“Accordingly, no special elections were held or conducted in the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao in connection with the 2016 [National and Local Elections],” it added.
The Comelec was told to submit a separate comment from the Office of the Solicitor General that told the PET that even if the votes in the three provinces are nullified, there will be no failure to elect and the ultimate winner is that with majority of votes. Following Solicitor General Jose Calida’s notion, this would mean wiping out of Robredo’s slim margin over Marcos.
The Comelec said that it is clear that the PET is empowered by the Constitution to declare annulment of elections without special elections, but it cannot declare failure of elections and conduct special elections, as this would be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the poll body.
While the Comelec also said PET can annul election results following its mandate, it stressed: “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.”
Requisites in annulling election
The Comelec said that the tribunal has laid down elements to justify “the extreme act of annulling the results of elections in Abayon v House of Representatives,. These are:
- Evidence that more than 50% of votes were cast illegally
- Impossibility of differentiating the lawful and unlawful ballots
- Clear, convincing, and strong evidence that the protestee is the one accountable for the illegal acts
The poll body said that the SC has consistently held that nullification of elections or declaration of failure of elections is an “extraordinary remedy.”
Comelec stressed: “The power to nullify an election must be exercised with the greatest care with view not to disenfranchise the voters, and only under circumstances that clearly call for such drastic remedial measure.”