Poll tribunal: Look at total vote count in classifying VP poll results

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 26) — The Presidential Electoral Tribunal has directed its head poll revisors to refer to the election returns in classifying votes in the contested vice presidential elections.

The Supreme Court, sitting as PET, said the head revisors should refer to the electoral returns - the printed document that contains the total vote count of a polling precinct - to segregate and classify ballots in the protest filed by losing candidate and former Senator Bongbong Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo.

"The Head Revisors are hereby directed to refer to the election returns to verify the total number of votes as read and counted by the vote counting machines," the dispositive portion of the 21-page resolution issued on September 18 read.

It added, "The segregation and classification of ballots shall be done by referring to the election return generated by the machine used in the elections."

Segregating and classifying ballots will give the Marcos and Robredo camps the opportunity to register their objections on the votes. PET clarified there is no final vote counting yet.

"It is only after the Tribunal has deliberated and ruled on the validity of the objections or claims that a deduction or addition of votes will take place," Justice Alfredo Caguioa said in the resolution.

Former Comelec Commissioner Sixto Brillantes said the focus should be on the election returns, not the shading threshold.

"Sinasabi nila (PET) na tignan natin ang election returns. Importante be ang threshold? Sa ngayon hindi pa," he told CNN Philippines.

Shading threshold

PET has amended its old rule on the 50 percent threshold shading and recognized the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ballot shading threshold of 25 percent in the recount of the 2016 poll votes.

"From the foregoing, for purposes of the 2016 elections, the fifty percent (50%) shading threshold was no longer applied. It is likewise clear however that a new threshold had been applied," it said.

The Tribunal added, "In examining the shades or marks used to register the votes, the head revisor shall bear in mind that the will of the voters reflected as votes in the ballots shall, as much as possible, be given effect, setting aside any technicalities."

PET said it was not informed that Comelec has set a 25 percent shading threshold during the 2016 national elections. It said it only knew about it when Robredo filed her motion.

Brillantes said the PET ruled to follow the threshold used by Comelec in the 2016 polls.

"Since ang ginamit ng Comelec na threshold ay 25 percent, ang lalabas sa election returns ay based on the shading based on 25 percent," he told CNN Philippines.

Bongbong Marcos, who protested Robredo's election, pushed for a 50 percent shading threshold after he claimed the Comelec did not declare the change in shading threshold rules. The Office of the Solicitor General also echoed Marcos' plea, even dropping its client Comelec in favor of Marcos.

Meanwhile, the PET resolution also denied Marcos' opposition to using decrypted ballot images in the revision process. Marcos earlier claimed the images were "compromised."

"He has not submitted any proof or evidence to show that the decrypted ballot images are compromised or that they are dubious or questionable. Mere allegations are not proof," it read.

The decision also stated Marcos' representatives were allowed to observe Comelec's process of decryption, adding they were even required to authenticate the images which they called dubious.

Robredo camp celebrates

Robredo, who heard of the PET resolution Tuesday afternoon, said the decision was a big relief.

"Parang natatawa kami sa sarili namin earlier, kasi parang two years dumaan, parang lahat na lang bad news for us," she said in a media briefing Wednesday.

[Translation: We found it funny, because it's been two years, and it's a been a slew of bad news for us.]

She then said the ruling also belied Marcos' claims on the ballot images and the shading -- adding that the ruling upheld the voter's intent.

"Ultimately kami 'yung nakikita na nagsasabi ng totoo {we are the ones seen telling the truth}," Robredo said.

Robredo's legal counsel, Romulo Macalintal, repeated no election protest has been one based on the manual recount of the ballots. He said the results of the manual recount must tally with the result of the vote counting machines.

"We are now confident that the physical count will now tally with the election returns," he said.

Macalintal called the development a "significant legal and political victory" on Robredo's behalf.

Marcos camp eyes clarification

While the Robredo camp celebrates, the camp of Marcos said it may seek a clarification from the PET about its ruling.

Lawyer Vic Rodriguez told CNN Philippines the Tribunal's ruling is clear there is no basis to change the 50 percent shading threshold for the vote recount in the vice presidential race.

"Malinaw sa ruling ng Tribunal na ibinasura ang kaniyang motion for reconsideration regarding the threshold. Klarong-klaro at sinasabing ang threshold is 50 percent," he told CNN Philippines.

But Macalintal countered Rodriguez, saying the PET will not order the retraining of revisors if there are no changes that will be implemented.

Malacañang, meanwhile, deferred all actions to the PET.

"None, because the President is not a party to the protest... Let the PET do its job," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.