Electoral tribunal orders Comelec to comment on VP poll protest

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 30) — The Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, has asked the Commission on Elections to respond to the unresolved issues in the 2016 election protest lodged against Vice President Leni Robredo by her defeated opponent, former Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

PET on Tuesday responded to the so-called third cause of action in Marcos' petition seeking to disregard votes from Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao due to alleged poll fraud and terrorism.

The 12 justices who were present unanimously ordered the poll body to report if there were petitions filed for failure of elections in these contested provinces. If petitions were lodged, it asked Comelec for updates if these were granted or denied. It also asked Comelec to submit the results if special elections were held in these areas if there was a failure of elections during the 2016 national polls.

In his electoral protest filed a month after the election day. Marcos urged the high court to nullify the votes from these the Mindanao provinces for "massive fraud," citing Comelec's technical examination of the results. He also casted doubts on the poll results following his claim of "widespread presence of terrorism, violence, threats, coercion, force, intimidation and harassment of voters as well as pre- shading of ballots in all of the 2,756 clustered precincts."

The tribunal gave Comelec 20 days upon receipt of its order to submit their comment.

The poll body and the Office of Solicitor General Jose Calida were also directed to give their legal opinions to "arrive at a full, fair, and efficient resolution." PET asked them if the tribunal can declare an annulment of elections without special elections and if it can declare failure of elections and order the conduct of special elections. They were also asked if PET will infringe on Comelec's mandate if it declares failure of elections.

Robredo and Marcos were given 15 days to reply after receiving the Comelec and OSG comments.

Marcos lodged an electoral protest against Robredo on June 30, 2016, questioning the results of the polls. Robredo was proclaimed vice president after clinching a lead of 263,473 votes against Marcos. A recount began in April 2018 covering polling precincts in Iloilo, Camarines Sur — Robredo's bailiwick — and Negros Oriental, which were areas handpicked by Marcos' camp.

The tribunal, in October 2019, found that Robredo’s lead grew by around 15,000 votes or a total of 278,566 votes after a recount of ballots from the 5,415 clustered precincts in the pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental.

Robredo received 477,985 votes in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao against Marcos' 169,160 votes. Annulling the votes from these provinces would effectively wipe out Robredo's lead during the May 2016 elections.

Caguioa and Carpio previously voted to dismiss Marcos' electoral protest due to the violation of PET's Rule 65, which states that a protestant should choose for recount not more than three provinces "best exemplifying the frauds or irregularities alleged in his petition."

Delay in PET decision?

Robredo's camp said they will comply with the court's requirements. They remain confident the electoral tribunal will rule in their favor as Robredo has already won the elections and the recount of ballots.

"Dalawang beses nang nanalo sa bilang si VP Leni. Matagal nang tapos ang boksing. Matagal nang talo si Marcos. Tapusin na natin ito," her lawyer Beng Sardillo said.

[Translation: VP Leni has already won twice. The fight is over. Marcos has lost. Let's end this.]

While the Vice President's team viewed the development as a way to speed up the resolution of the protest, the camp of Marcos said they have "extreme reservation" on the route taken by the justices as it adds another layer to the process, causing a "tremendous delay," which may stretch it closer the next national elections in 2022.

"Considering the very thin time left in the term of the contested position, our protest is under real threat of becoming moot and academic by events leading to 2022 such as the filing of candidacy, campaign and national election that would reduce the clamor and right of the people to know who really won the vice presidency illusory," spokesperson Vic Rodriguez said in a statement.