The Manila Times - Leni’s rule change

By Jojo Robles | The Manila Times

It’s the next big political controversy. But, as usual, the Yellow horde is setting itself up for defeat, in the same venue where it just lost miserably in the case of Maria Lourdes Sereno.

A bunch of winners of the TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) award of the Yellow persuasion have taken out a newspaper ad to urge the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, to prevent what they call the “changing of rules on vote recount” in the case of Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo. But apparently, while they were able to afford the ad, they didn’t have enough money to put in articles in their headline, which explains the choppy, ungrammatical construction.

But grammar is not really what’s wrong with the TOWNS ad. It’s the upside-down nature of the newspaper petition that’s really, to use one of Robredo’s favorite Tagalog words, “nakakabahala.”

See, the petitioners claimed a grave injustice is currently happening in the recount “that [is]indiscriminately and arbitrarily changing the rules in the middle of the game.” This, they said, “is tantamount to stealing the votes of the Filipino people.”

The petition concerns the decision of the PET to set the threshold of shading ballots at 50 percent, based on a 2010 ruling of the Commission on Elections, for a vote in favor of any particular candidate to count. The TOWNS winners said that the tribunal should adopt the 25-percent threshold set by the poll body in another resolution issued in September 2016, or four months after the May 2016 elections that Robredo supposedly won.

Therein lies the problem. And when the PET threw out a request by Robredo to use the 25-percent threshold last month, arbitrariness was likely the furthest thing from its mind.

The PET obviously decided that the September 2016 resolution adopted by Comelec, which was based on a memorandum sent by Commissioner Luis Tito Guia to the tribunal, did not have the same weight as the 50-percent shading threshold ruling of the poll body which was based on Comelec Resolution 8804 dated March 22, 2010. The all-important question is this:

Did the PET, which sought a clarification from Guia and Comelec in August 2016 while considering the protest case filed by the ex-senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Robredo, really change the rules in midstream as far as the shading threshold was concerned? I don’t think so.

First of all, Comelec issued a resolution on the 25 percent threshold only after PET sought a clarification from it. While those who are backing Robredo claim that the poll body already (if unilaterally) decided to lower the shading requirement as early as December 2015, they cannot explain why Comelec, which issued Resolution 8804 right before the first automated elections in 2010, did not release a similar ruling before the 2016 elections.

In other words, it was Comelec that changed the rules without covering its action with an appropriate resolution in time for the 2016 elections. That it issued a resolution only after the PET made an inquiry, after Marcos had already filed a protest against Robredo, smacks of an intent to make up for this omission after the fact.

I think the PET took cognizance of the “pahabol” nature of the ruling on Guia’s memorandum and decided to go with the older 50-percent rule that was used in the 2010 and 2013 polls. By the way, the 2016 resolution was issued when the fugitive Andres Bautista, who is widely believed to have engineered massive cheating in the 2016 polls, was still Comelec chairman.

Of course, no one knew before May 2016 that Marcos would contest the election results before the PET, so the Bautista commission could not have anticipated the need for a covering resolution that would allow a lowered threshold. On the other hand, by setting the threshold for shading at 25 percent, it can be argued that Robredo and others who allegedly benefited from alleged massive cheating were already preparing to count ballots with marks with a lot less than the 100 percent shading that Comelec had been telling voters to make on their ballots since 2010.

As it is, reports coming out of PET have already pointed out that thousands of ballots earlier counted for Robredo have already been nullified in the PET recount because they did not meet the 50-percent rule. If it is true, as Robredo’s supporters say, that setting the shading threshold at 25 percent would ensure that accidentally insufficient markings of all voters would still be counted, why are all the ballots shaded at only one-fourth of the allotted area – and nullified, naturally, by the PET – in favor of Robredo alone?

It stands to reason that Marcos and all the other rivals of Robredo for the vice-presidential post would get their share of votes from the ballots shaded at 25 percent, assuming that the Robredo camp’s claim is correct. But none of the candidates have made a fuss over the shading threshold except Robredo – whose camp has already been accused of defacing or even destroying ballots in the Camarines Sur precincts involved in the PET recount containing votes that may have been cast in favor of Marcos and the rest.

This is why I think that, contrary to what Robredo and her fans say, the PET is not guilty of changing the recount rules midstream. On the other hand, I am convinced that it was Comelec – in league with its automation provider Smartmatic, which changed the settings of its counting machines in 2016 to accommodate the 25-percent threshold – that did so without the rest of us knowing and without even the benefit of the legal cover that a Comelec resolution provides.

It was only the Marcos protest that discovered the belated, game-changing rule change, after the PET inquired about it. Now, who’s changing the rules in the middle of the game and stealing the votes of the Filipino people again?