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The Manila Times - Indeed, numbers don’t lie; they could be the smoking gun

News & Interviews
22 October 2019

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

NUMBERS don’t lie, say the supporters of Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo as they celebrate her winning margin widening by 15,093 votes in the initial recount. They now urge the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) to dismiss the protest of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for his failure to substantially recover votes from the pilot areas, which he identified.

I already debunked this claim on two grounds. There is no single mention of “substantial recovery” in Rule 65 of the PET. And that the word used is “may” be dismissed, and not “shall” be dismissed, thereby making the dismissal only an option and not mandatory, and only after the PET has taken into consideration all circumstances. It is not only the recount that may be the basis to determine the probability that Marcos will not be able to make out his case. Other proof and related circumstances need to be considered. Certainly, wet ballots, tampered ballot boxes, and missing or out-of-sequence digital ballot images could count as significant circumstances.

Robredo, her lawyers and supporters are now grounding their claim to victory on the basis of the increase in her lead to as much as 15,093 in the recount in the three pilot provinces. This is now being used as a battering ram to assail the decision of the PET not to dismiss outright Marcos’ protest.

However, if only Robredo, her lawyers and supporters would step back and think clearly, they would realize that the 15,093-increase in margin for Robredo during the recount is even a possible smoking gun that could point to an anomalous result.

Indeed, it is tempting to speculate that if she was able to increase her lead by 15,093 votes after the manual recount, then this is a clear indicator that the vote counting machines (VCM) did not accurately count the votes.

But another explanation of this increase is revealed when one examines the results released by the PET. Before the protest, Robredo had 1,492,658 votes in the pilot provinces to Marcos’ 202,085, or a margin of 1,290,573. After revision, Robredo had 1,476,378, while Marcos had 200,495. Her vote margin was reduced to 1,275,883, or by 14,690 votes. After deducting sustained objections, Robredo had 1,475,530, while Marcos had 200,397. Her vote margin was now 1,275,133, which declined further by 750 votes. Thus, after revisions and sustained objections, Robredo’s lead was down by 15,440 votes.

It was only when the PET considered claims from stray ballots, ambiguous votes, over-votes (or ballots with more than one vote for VP) and ballots rejected by the VCMs that Robredo regained and even widened her lead. Robredo garnered 34,648 votes, while Marcos had only 4,115. Hence, when these were added to the tally, it gave Robredo 1,510,178 and Marcos 204,512. Robredo’s margin therefore grew to 1,305,666, effectively reversing her loss of 15,440 votes from actual revision and sustained objections and added 15,093 votes more to her lead.

In short, Robredo’s additional votes came from ambiguous votes, stray ballots, over-votes and ballots rejected by the VCMs. As described by PET, ambiguous votes included those ballots that were insufficiently shaded.

The consideration of a lower minimum shading threshold was a much-debated issue during the earlier part of the proceedings. The information campaign launched before the 2016 elections clearly reminded voters to fully shade the ovals in the ballots. It was only in September 2016, after Marcos filed his protest, that we learned that the minimum shading threshold that is used during manual recount is 25 percent, which is also what is used in the random manual audit done on selected precincts after the elections to check for the accuracy of the count.

The Commission on Elections happily reported that the manual audit using 25 percent yielded very negligible discrepancy from the actual count. And yet, Robredo’s vote margin increased by 15,093 after the manual recount in the three pilot provinces. This increase is no longer a negligible discrepancy, since it is above 5 percent of the overall margin of Robredo over Marcos in the national tally, and we are just talking of three provinces.

The explanation is found in what was revealed by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio in his dissent. Carpio explained that the PET even considered votes that were shaded below 25 percent. In fact, a check mark, if consistently used, was also counted by the PET. Dots and check marks were counted as long as the markings were consistent, even if these were not counted by the VCMs for the other candidates.

It is safe to hypothesize that the average rational voters complied with the reminder that they should completely shade the ovals, and that they followed instructions and used shading instead of checks. This is validated by the results of the random manual audit where results of machine counts were not significantly different from those from manual recounts.

If under-shading and use of check marks were not products of a fraudulent gaming of the elections, it would have been distributed in proportion to the voters for all candidates. The same would have been the case for stray and over-votes, and VCM-rejected ballots. The fact that Robredo’s vote margin increased by 15,093 in three provinces that are her bailiwicks is a significant circumstance that needs to be considered. It now appears that the preponderance of ambiguous votes, stray ballots, over-votes and VCM-rejected ballots were more pervasive among Robredo voters compared to Marcos voters in the three pilot areas, to a point that when the PET decided to count dots and check marks, Robredo recovered and even widened her lead over Marcos.

Robredo supporters claim that numbers don’t lie. But this could also work against her. In fact, the 15,093 may just be the smoking gun to prove that she benefited from the fraud that effectively robbed democracy of a clean and fair election.