THE SUPREME Court has given former senator Bongbong Marcos more space and time to work out an honorable exit, if he wants it, from what looks like a daunting election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.
The Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, could have dismissed Marcos’ protest under its Rule 65 after he failed to gain substantial vote recovery in the three pilot provinces that he himself chose to prove his claim to have been cheated in the 2016 elections.
The PET-supervised 18-month recount/revision of ballots in the test areas failed to prove his case. The recount in Negros Oriental, Iloilo and Camarines Sur even gave Robredo more votes to improve to 278,566 her total lead from the 263,473 at her proclamation in 2016.
Dismissal of a protest is the usual step after a failure to show substantial recovery in the “initial determination” recount. This is the practice also in the electoral tribunals of the House (HRET) and the Senate (SET) as well as in the lower courts hearing protests of local officials.
Rule 65 says that if the tribunal is “convinced that, taking all circumstances into account, the protestant or counter protestant will most probably fail to make out his case, the protest may forthwith be dismissed.”
But the tribunal’s 13 members (one has retired and another was absent) did not snuff out in one blow the flame flickering in the breast of the son and namesake of the late President Ferdinand Marcos who has some following in the Court.
On a vote of 11-2 on Tuesday, the PET gave Bongbong more time to sort out his options. It directed both camps to comment in 20 days on the recount/revision results in the pilot areas, as well as on his bid to annul the votes in three other provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
There is nothing that anyone can do to alter the recount score in the initial test areas, but the technical examination of the voting records in Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao in the ARMM opens an entirely new legal battleground.
Nullifying the votes in the three ARMM provinces would result in the disenfranchising of the innocent voters there, without due process, and creating in effect a failure of election. To compound the problem, it is three years too late to hold new polls.
Besides, it has not been shown that Robredo, one of several candidates for vice president, was responsible for whatever may have marred the ARMM elections.
Why penalize by nullifying his/her votes, without due process, any candidate who has not been proved to be culpable for the alleged terrorism, intimidation of voters and pre-shading of ballots in 2,756 clustered ARMM precincts?
And then, failure of election is a matter that should be brought before the Commission on Elections, not the PET, within 30 days of the failed elections – a deadline which is long past.
Bongbong can rethink his slippery position, nurse back his bruised pride, and work out an honorable withdrawal after which he can quietly prepare for the bigger 2022 presidential election and recover lost ground.
• What they say about BBM-Leni row
LISTEN to what responsible individuals/sectors are saying about the protracted dispute that has been helping fuel partisan animosities the past three years.
The Makati Business Club: “(The MBC) welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to release the report on the test recount in the 2016 vice presidential election protest. We hope this is a step toward dismissing the protest, and reducing the political and judicial uncertainty that came with—uncertainty that manifests risk premiums for those who would invest in Philippines jobs and industries.
“We further believe that putting the protest to rest would free both the (Supreme) Court and the Office of the Vice President to focus on pressing issues with great impact on the well-being of the Filipino people.”
Former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban: “One option is to adopt the Comelec’s technical examination of 200 precincts in another case, and if sufficient to overcome Leni’s lead, proclaim Marcos the winner. However, this deprives Leni of due process because she was not a party in that other case and thus was not given her ‘day in court.’ Besides, it is doubtful if the invalidation of the results in those precincts will overturn Leni’s original lead of 263,473 votes.”
Former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Marcos should file a petition with the Comelec instead of the PET if he wants a failure of elections declared in three ARMM provinces: “It’s too late. The general rule is you file it within 30 days after the election was conducted. In certain circumstances you can file it even after if the threat, intimidation, and violence have not yet ceased.”
Former Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said there is no need for a special election, because there is a difference between annulment of elections and annulment of votes: “Annulment of votes is not necessarily failure of elections. Therefore, pag nag-annul ka ng boto o ballots hindi na kailangan ng special elections.” Brillantes said Marcos should have followed that path instead of the recount.
Robredo’s lawyer Romulo Macalintal: “Marcos lost heavily in the recount of the pilot provinces. Had he won he would not ask for another chance to prove his protest by opening the voting records of Basilan, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur for technical examination. If he loses there again, he will ask for revision in other provinces? When will this fishing expedition end?”
Marcos’ lawyer Vic Rodriguez: “We never seek for a declaration of failure of election. No way. Never. Klaro po ‘yun na ang hinihingi namin as our originally second cause of action ay ‘yung annulment of the election results in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao.”