POSTSCRIPT / September 24, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Not using PET rule will set precedent

LAST Sunday, a day usually devoted to light reading, we buried at the bottom of our column a brief update on the poll protest of former Sen. Bongbong Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo before the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

We now bring up the subject again with focus on the crucial preliminary issue of “initial determination” of whether or not there is a case, whether to dismiss the protest at this point or proceed to a wider revision of more ballots.

The PET has Rule 65 which, in effect, tells the protestant to pick from his list of disputed areas three pilot provinces where the worst cheating allegedly occurred — and if he fails to gain significant recovery of lost or stolen votes in the recount-revision in those areas, the protest is dismissed.

This is similar to the preliminary investigation of criminal complaints by prosecutors to determine if there is probable cause, if there is a case worth pursuing. Rule 65 of the PET is quite clear about three pilot provinces and the action to take if there is no significant vote recovery by the protestant.

The result of the recount has been submitted to the PET by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, the member in charge of the revision of the ballots. The tribunal has not disclosed the results, although unconfirmed reports are rife that Marcos has failed to recover enough votes to prop up his protest.

For reference, here is Rule 65: “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.”

Judges in the lower courts who are also handling local election protests must be watching. How the SC acts on the “initial determination” issue in the Marcos vs Robredo case will set a precedent. There are some 60 poll protests in the lower courts that could be influenced by the action of the SC.

In the lower courts, instead of three pilot provinces as required by the PET, the protestant is made to pick for initial determination 20 percent of the poll precincts whose results he is contesting. If he fails to gain significant vote recovery in those precincts, the protest is dismissed – as has been the practice.

Marcos disputed the results in 25 provinces and five highly urbanized cities, but he was made to pinpoint, under Rule 65, three pilot provinces. He chose Iloilo, Negros Occidental, and Camarines Sur (Robredo’s home ground) where he said he experienced the worst cheating.

Hypothetically, if the SC/PET sets aside Rule 65 and orders the revision of more ballots in other disputed provinces until the protestant scores a convincing recovery, that could set a dangerous precedent.

Some lower courts might then also set aside their 20-percent initial determination rule, providing a flexibility for fixing poll protests. We are not saying that local judges are corruptible, but they should not be exposed to temptation, such as by the SC’s changing the rules in the middle of the game.

For the SC/PET to cast around for more votes to count beyond the pilot provinces “in the interest of justice” or whatever reason could look like a fishing expedition that the tribunal may not want to over-exert to undertake.

Wherever the initial recount in the three agreed pilot provinces takes the Marcos vs Robredo case, so be it.

A simple situation of respecting numbers and following the set rules should not be made any more complicated. Early resolution of the high-profile protest would help cool partisan animosities and normalize the political situation.

 Work from home to avoid traffic

PRACTICALLY all possible ways of easing traffic in Metro Manila have been suggested and discussed to death – to no avail.

But with media colleagues talking yesterday of the expected spike in gasoline prices and the hopelessly tangled traffic, we are resurrecting an old suggestion that may apply to us and professionals in other fields.

Media and related businesses that are heavy users of electronic devices and the internet should seriously consider allowing more staffers to work from home or from the field, connected to the base electronically.

It is just a matter of streamlining procedures, upgrading equipment and adjusting work attitude. Fewer workers commuting or driving to the office lessens the horde battling traffic and losing precious man-hours. Operating costs will drop with the shrinking of office and parking space, and of expenses for utilities.

For media, there are no more physical or geographical boundaries. It does not matter if one is in the next room or in another continent so long as he delivers the assigned materials on time. The exchange can be supplemented by teleconferencing.

But of course, it won’t be the same old environment as when one walked into the newsroom to be met by his editor’s bawling him out for some error. We would miss that rough chiseling that actually helped polish many of us.

… One lazy Sunday, we will tell you more of those olden times before electronics and traffic changed the way we in mass media worked.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 24, 2019)

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