The Philippine Star - Bersamin: No rigging of decision on VP poll protest

10 October 2019

By Edu Punay | The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin is reassuring the public that there is no manipulation of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET)’s decision on the vice presidential election protest.

“This is something I can tell you: we are expected to have a result by next week. It may not be what you expect. We are still discussing many other things so that is all I can tell you. Don’t worry, ’di ko niluluto, ’di pwede lutuin yan (I’m not manipulating it, it can’t be manipulated),” Bersamin said yesterday on the sidelines of the launching of the Judiciary Memorabilia Hall.

When asked if the PET would come out with a ruling on Tuesday when the SC sitting as PET would convene as a whole, the Chief Justice said, “Probably… We cannot tell. There may be a decision; there may not be a decision. But the reality is we are still considering whether there is already enough before us.”

He stressed that no undue influence can sway PET members when they cast their vote on the petition filed by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. questioning Vice President Leni Robredo’s winning in the 2016 vice presidential race.

He explained he was intentionally being vague about his answers to questions regarding the case in compliance with rules on non-disclosure. “I am bound by confidentiality,” he said.

“We have certain rules to follow on non-disclosure and I am very careful not to infringe those rules because I am the leader of the Court,” he said.

The PET twice deferred releasing a ruling on the petition, last Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.

On protest activities by Robredo’s supporters outside the SC complex on Padre Faura on previous Tuesdays, the Chief Justice said he and fellow magistrates do not let themselves get pressured. SC magistrates meet as a whole every Tuesday.

“We do not feel the pressure. We know there is pressure there but we are very mature members of the Supreme Court, so if anyone of us feels pressured we would just help the pressured member. I tell you, all of us are pressured to some degree but the pressure we experience is bearable because if not, we should all just resign,” he added.

Robredo got 14,418,817 votes, or 263,473 votes more than the 14,155,344 received by Marcos during the May 2016 polls. Marcos filed his election protest against Robredo on June 29, 2016.

In his petition, Marcos wanted PET to declare Robredo’s victory null and void and for it to conduct a recount of ballots in all of the 36,465 protested clustered precincts in 27 cities and provinces.

He is also asking PET to declare the election results in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan as null on the grounds of terrorism, intimidation and harassment of voters.

In his electoral protest, Marcos was allowed to designate three pilot provinces – Iloilo, Camarines Sur and Negros Oriental – where manual recount of votes would be made on account of alleged fraud. The PET will use the result as basis for proceeding with a recount on all areas protested or abandoning such undertaking altogether.

Delays raise concern

Meanwhile, some party-list lawmakers said further delays in the release of the SC’s ruling on Marcos’ poll protest are casting doubts on the integrity of the democratic process.

“The delays not only raise concerns to the parties involved but also to the Filipino public. Let us put an end to speculations that only tarnish the integrity of the 2016 elections, and thereby our democratic institutions,” Rep. Manuel Cabochan III of Magdalo said.

The lawmaker said the tribunal “should finally deliberate” on the case following the manual recount on pilot provinces chosen by Marcos in his protest.

“President Duterte has repeatedly made no secret of his preference for Bongbong Marcos as vice president, since he has enjoyed the support of the Marcoses. Hence, we would not be surprised if votes were in favor of Marcos in this issue. This situation demands transparency; PET report on poll protest initial recount must be released,” Rep. Sarah Elago of Kabataan said.

She warned a “wholesale rehabilitation into power of the Marcoses” will follow a PET victory for the former senator.

“There can be no justice, there can be no ‘moving on’ until billions of ill-gotten wealth plundered from the coffers of the country are returned and until thousands of victims of human rights violations have attained compensation and justice for crimes of the Marcoses. Thus, we vehemently oppose any attempt at the wholesale rehabilitation into power of the Marcoses,” Elago stressed.

Cabochan and Elago reiterated their support for Robredo.

“The Magdalo party-list stands by the truth and will of the Filipino people. We stand in solidarity with Vice President Leni Robredo,” Cabochan said.

“The youth were at the forefront of protests against the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in Libingan ng mga Bayani. The youth will once again flex their might to oppose this blatant move to monopolize power,” Elago maintained.

The STAR learned that SC justices, sitting as members of PET, have split opinions on the case.

Earlier, Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, member-in-charge of the case, submitted a draft decision recommending the dismissal of the protest after Marcos supposedly failed to prove his case after a recount in the three pilot provinces.

Robredo’s camp earlier claimed that after the recount of votes from the three provinces, her lead even rose to 279,215 or an additional margin of 15,742 votes.

But during deliberations on the case last Tuesday, several justices submitted another opinion, saying the case cannot be dismissed yet as Marcos also raised allegations of cheating in three other provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, according to insiders. – With Evelyn Macairan