By Llanesca T. Panti | The Manila Times
THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) will tap the services of Solicitor General Jose Calida in filing a comment on the pending appeal of the Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo asking the Supreme Court—sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET)—to set the valid vote threshold for the manual counting of votes in the 2016 Vice Presidential race at 25 percent, a PET insider told The Manila Times on Tuesday.
The PET insider, who has been observing the ongoing poll recount, questioned Comelec’s decision to get Calida involved in the matter when the poll body has issued a September 2016 Resolution setting the valid vote threshold for the manual counting of shaded ovals of ballots at 25 percent—a Resolution issued in response to an August 2016 request from the High Court asking for Comelec’s guidance on what should be the valid vote threshold for the manual recount of votes stemming from the protest former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. filed against Robredo.
The Supreme Court ordered the camps of Marcos and Comelec to comment on Robredo’s appeal last April 24. Marcos has complied with the Supreme Court’s directive, but the Comelec has yet to file its comment.
“The OSG, which will be filing the comment in behalf of Comelec, has asked for [an]extension in filing the said comment. I am not sure why Comelec is resorting to that since the Solicitor General is a known supporter of Marcos,” the PET insider said.
The PET insider was referring to Calida being one of the campaigners of Marcos when he ran for vice president in 2016. Calida was also part of AlDuB — Alyansang Duterte-Bongbong.
“Besides, the OSG’s request for extension is indefinite. Given the indefinite nature of such extension, this begs the question, what is taking the Comelec so long to file a comment when they already issued a September 2016 Resolution stating that the valid vote threshold for the manual counting of votes for the Marcos protest at 25 percent?,” the PET insider said.
Calida and Marcos have yet to reply to The Times.
Calida’s involvement in Marcos’ poll protest against Robredo is seen as crucial, given that it was Calida who filed a quo warranto petition against then chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno that questioned the validity of her appointment. The Supreme Court granted the petition that effectively ousted Sereno, preempting the impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives and raising questions on the constitutionality of such an action because the incumbent, under the 1987 Charter, was an impeachable official.
Other high-profile cases that Calida defended and the Supreme Court favored were: the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to bury former president Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and extending martial law implementation in Mindanao to a year or until December this year.
The Times sought out Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez at least three times since May 23 to confirm the date of Comelec’s filing of a comment on Robredo’s appeal, but Jimenez has not answered.
“The delay in Comelec’s compliance of the Supreme Court order for them to comment is puzzling to say the least, considering that it only took them a month to comply to the previous Supreme Court order asking for guidelines on setting the valid vote threshold for manual counting of votes back in 2016. Now, it has been more than a month and they haven’t complied. To delay such comment is as good as failing in their mandate,” the PET insider said.
Robredo’s appeal is not in the calendar of the Supreme Court en banc today, Tuesday, so no resolution is expected.
The Supreme Court won’t conduct an en banc session next week, June 12, a holiday.
This means that the Supreme Court may resolve Robredo’s appeal, at the earliest, on June 19.
Camarines Sur voters and Bicol law students have asked the High Court to adopt the 25 percent threshold for manual counting of votes for the Vice Presidential race so as not to disenfranchise the voters.
Ateneo law students also called on Calida to do the same to protect the sanctity of the ballot.
Robredo beat Marcos, her closest rival, by 263,473 votes in the May 2016 polls.
The ongoing recount, however, only covers Camarines Sur, Negros Oriental and Iloilo chosen by Marcos as those “best exemplifying poll fraud” in accordance with PET rules.
Robredo beat Marcos in those three provinces by over 900,000 votes.
Marcos would need to have significant recovery of votes in the ongoing manual poll recount for the PET to consider his other course of action in his poll protest: nullifying the results in the three Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao.