POSTSCRIPT / February 18, 2021 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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SC cuts Bongbong fishing expedition

THE SUPREME Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, dismissed in a unanimous decision Tuesday the five-year-old election protest of ex-senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo.

The decision took the wind out of Marcos’s sails as he pressed his third cause of action to annul the 2016 elections in Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao on the grounds of terrorism, intimidation, harassment of voters, and pre-shading of ballots.

The apparent idea behind the projected shift to far-away Mindanao is to invalidate all votes cast in three provinces there and thereby wipe out the 263,473-vote nationwide lead of Robredo when she was proclaimed winner in 2016.

Way back on Oct. 17, 2019, or 16 months ago, we asked: “How long will the venerable Supreme Court be willing to go fishing with Marcos?” It looks like we just got the answer to that.

We quote from our 10/17/2019 Postscript:

“Sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, the SC seems to be allowing itself to be used by ex-senator Bongbong Marcos in fishing for evidence that he was cheated by Vice President Leni Robredo in the 2016 elections. https://tinyurl.com/y3pos4hw

“The recount and revision of ballots, as provided under the PET’s Rule 65, in the three pilot provinces picked by Marcos himself as the areas with the worst cheating has yielded no substantial recovery of lost or stolen votes. On the contrary, the recount gave Robredo some 15,000 additional votes.

“This means that when Marcos filed his protest, either he was not sure how/where he was cheated and was just guessing – or the recount/revision of the ballots in his pilot areas (Negros Oriental, Iloilo, and Camarines Sur) was rigged under his very nose and under the PET’s supervision.

“A fishing expedition is a kind of ‘Protest now, Prove later’ trip. Eleven SC magistrates including Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin voted to go with Marcos, but Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Benjamin Caguioa dissented and voted to dismiss the protest based on PET’s Rule 65.

“With the blessings of the Bersamin Court, Marcos now wants to cast his fishing net in other areas, this time in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, in the hope of catching any indication or proof that he was cheated there three years ago — and therefore nationwide.

“Assuming he stumbles on signs of cheating or fraud there, he still has to prove that it was Robredo who committed it and against Marcos specifically. To mete out penalty, the crime will have to be pinned on who did it, not sprayed indiscriminately scatter-gun style.

“The ‘initial determination’ stage in the three pilot provinces under Rule 65 is meant to filter out nuisance protests or fishing expeditions by losers who may have no good reason but enough resources to cast around for evidence to prop up a chancy complaint.

“xxx The contending camps were also directed to comment on a Marcos petition to subject to technical examination the 2016 election records in the ARMM provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao.”

Three days later, on Oct. 20, 2019, we said in Postscript:

“The Supreme Court has given ex-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. https://tinyurl.com/y67nadaw

“The Court, as the PET, could have dismissed Marcos’ protest under its Rule 65 after he failed to gain substantial vote recovery in the pilot provinces (Negros Oriental, Iloilo, and Camarines Sur 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 his pilot provinces 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, 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.

“xxx Nullifying the votes in the three ARMM provinces would result in the disenfranchising of 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.”

But Bongbong, confident as ever, decided to press on. And now this shocking unanimous SC/PET decision dismissing his protest for lack of merit.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 18, 2021)

* * *

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