IN AN ideal setting, the protest of former Sen. Bongbong Marcos against the election of Vice President Leni Robredo in May 2016 could be decided within this year, but this is the Philippines where such disputes are a test of endurance, resources and other variables.
The Marcos protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal – composed of the 15 Supreme Court justices — moved nearer resolution with the submission Monday of the report on the vote recount in the three provinces where Marcos claimed the worst cheating was committed.
With the report submitted by SC Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, the PET member in-charge of the case, the tribunal en banc could, if it wants, announce an early resolution and thereby remove one of the thorniest disputes adding to the political instability in the country.
Evidence will be submitted to the PET by a Hearing Commission chaired by retired SC Associate Justice Jose Vitug. Other HC members are lawyers Irene Guevarra, former Clerk of Court of the Senate Electoral Tribunal, and Angelito Imperio.
Robredo’s lead over Marcos at their proclamation was 263,473 votes. Marcos asked for the revision of the ballots in 5,415 poll precincts in Iloilo, Negros Occidental, and Camarines Sur (Robredo’s home ground) where he said the worst electoral fraud was perpetrated against him.
The public is waiting for Caguioa’s report to answer the question: Was Marcos able to recover enough lost or stolen votes to justify a wider revision of ballots to eventually overturn the poll victory of Robredo?
Brian Keith Hosaka, the SC spokesman who announced Caguioa’s submitting the report, said the decision of the en banc, set to meet this week, will hinge on Rule 65 of the PET.
Rule 65 says: “Dismissal, when proper — The Tribunal may require the protestant or counter-protestant to indicate, within a fixed period, the province or provinces numbering not more than three best exemplifying the frauds or irregularities alleged in his petition and the revision of ballots and reception of evidence will begin with such provinces. If upon examination of such ballots and proof and after making reasonable allowances, 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, without further consideration of the other provinces mentioned in the protest.”
In other electoral protests, when the revision of ballots in the pilot areas failed to show any significant recovery of votes, the protest was usually dismissed. Will the same practice be observed in the Marcos vs Robredo case? If not, why?
The Commission on Elections, the electoral tribunals of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and even Regional Trial Courts apply the “initial determination rule” — if in the pilot provinces or precincts the protestant fail to make any substantial recovery, the protest is dismissed.
• Let’s not prolong the political conflict
THE TRIBUNAL could still look beyond the Caguioa report on the pilot provinces listed by Marcos and order a recount in additional places “in the interest of justice.” This may look like a fishing expedition, but if that is what the PET wants that is what would be done.
We believe, however, that it would help cool partisan animosities and normalize the political situation if major disputes like this Marcos vs Robredo case are resolved as quickly and as fairly as possible. Let us not prolonged conflicts.
If the PET casts around for other test areas, the protest that started April 2018 will drag on for several more months. After that, it will be the turn of Robredo’s revision of ballots in her counter-protest of the results in 18 provinces. That will take probably another year.
Marcos may even ask for the technical examination of the voting records from Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Sulu and the recount of votes from other provinces until he is able to show substantial recoveries.
He protested the results in 25 provinces and five highly urbanized cities. Under Rule 65, he was asked to select three provinces that best exemplify the alleged cheating – something like “yung sa tingin niya merong pinakamatinding dayaan.”
This is to comply with Rule 65 in that the PET will make an “initial determination” of the merits of his protest based on the three pilot provinces. If Marcos does not make any substantial recovery in those provinces, his protest will be dismissed.
By coincidence, on the day the completion of the recount was announced, President Duterte lambasted Robredo in a speech as unfit to become president. It was as if he was firing a signal on the Marcos protest now ripe for decision by the SC justices.
Nine of the 15 SC members are Duterte appointees, including Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin (although first appointed to the tribunal by President Arroyo), Andres Reyes, Alexander Gesmundo, Jose Reyes Jr., Ramon Hernando, Rosmari Carandang, Amy Lazaro Javier, Henri Inting, and Rodil Zalameda.
The SC justices appointed before Duterte were Antonio Carpio and Diosdado Peralta, both Arroyo appointees; Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Marvic Leonen, Alfredo Caguioa and Francis Jardeleza, all Aquino appointees.
If the Marcos protest drags beyond this initial pilot recount, before the end of 2019 the Supreme Court will have 11 appointees of Duterte, who will name replacements upon the retirement of Jardeleza (on Sept. 26), Bersamin (Oct. 18) and Carpio (Oct. 26).
By the end of Duterte’s current term in 2022, at least 13 of the 15 members of the Supreme Court will be his appointees.