Editor’s note: Jan Robert R. Go is an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines, Diliman. He handles courses on Philippine politics and government, the Philippine executive, and Philippine and Asian political thought. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The recount has begun. Two years since the national elections, much has been said about the result of the vice-presidential race. The camp of Bongbong Marcos alleged that there was rampant and systematic cheating, which caused his defeat. Leni Robredo's camp is confident with her victory. The lead is narrow, but it is a lead nonetheless. She is the current vice president.
With the commencement of the recount, what is clear is that the battle is two-pronged. On the one hand, you have the battle within the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). The PET is a constitutional body created specifically to hear and decide on cases related to the election and qualification of presidents and vice presidents. It is composed of all the Supreme Court justices. This is the legal front. Although this could be the decisive battle, it is not the only one they have to win.
On the other hand, you have the battle for public support. If one is going to be strategic, sending messages to the public, whether true or not, can sway perception not only about the election result but also about the process of a recount. Marcos and his lawyers, for example, have utilized press conferences and briefings to air sentiments about the election results and allegations of unfair treatment by the PET. Whether this is true or not, the point is that Marcos is trying to shape the public's perception of the process he is undertaking.
Of course, Robredo's camp is not without their own way of convincing the public. Initially, Marcos challenged Robredo to withdraw her motions in the PET. It turns out, she really had none, and the Marcos camp was bluffing. Robredo's lawyer even returned the challenge, to which the Marcos camp responded negatively. More recently, Robredo's lawyer dared to return his license to practice law should the other party win the case.
But these are front acts, which may add flavor and entertainment to the issue. However, the recount will have implications not only for the individuals involved but also the Filipino people. It becomes important to ask: In undertaking the process of a recount, what could it mean for various stakeholders? What could it mean for Leni Robredo? How about the Duterte administration? The Philippine electoral system in general?
What could it mean for Leni?
At the onset, the PET case filed by Marcos against Robredo can be seen as an attempt for the former to take the post from the latter. If Marcos wins the protest, it places another Marcos a step away from the presidency.
Also, if Marcos wins, could this signal an end to the political career of Leni Robredo? Robredo entered politics after her husband Jesse died. From a district representative, she jumped up high to the vice presidency. Robredo also comes from the Liberal Party (LP), which is identified with the Benigno Aquino III administration. Could this also signal the downfall of the party? Losing the recount could mean there probably was cheating, and the previous administration is likely to take the blame.
But the protest is not only for Marcos but more importantly for Robredo. The protest will affirm her being vice president. If the PET decides in favor of Robredo, her mandate is strengthened and her win is solidified. She is the vice president of the Philippines.
But there is no guarantee that this will be taken by Marcos sitting down. As early as now, Marcos is trying to discredit the process by allegations of tampered seals, wet ballots, missing audit logs, among many other things. This is already telling us another of his strategy: that if he loses his protest, he can question the process itself — still not accepting his defeat.
What could it mean for the Duterte administration?
President Rodrigo Duterte has given mixed signals about Marcos and Vice President Robredo.
There were several instances, before the elections, where Duterte expressed his preference for Marcos as his vice president. This is notwithstanding the fact that Alan Cayetano was his running mate. Duterte even made a statement that after three to six months into the presidency, he is willing to relinquish the presidency to Bongbong if he is the vice president. We would not know if he is serious, or it is one of his usual “jokes.” But we know that under Duterte, dictator Ferdinand, father of Bongbong, was buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Surely, that was no joke.
As for Robredo, Duterte, perhaps upon persistent questions from some reporters, gave her a cabinet position early in his term. Eventually, the vice president was asked to cease from attending the cabinet meetings, which led to her resignation as the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council chair. Robredo is known to be vocal against policies of the Duterte administration which are violative of human rights and due process. But there are other instances, like graduations and military ceremonies, where the president would say he misses seeing the vice president.
So, what could this recount mean for the Duterte administration? It depends on who wins. As of now, it is not very clear or certain. The presidency is largely seen independently from the vice presidency. (Note: We even elect them separately.) There is no constitutional requirement that they have to work together all the time. It is also less likely that another cabinet position will be given to Robredo, even if she wins the protest.
However, a Marcos win may change the tone of Malacañang on the vice presidency. Marcos could be offered a cabinet position and perhaps play an active role in the Duterte administration. And if Duterte decides to retire earlier, he can step down and pass the presidency to Bongbong.
What could it mean for the Philippine electoral system?
But aside from Leni Robredo or the Duterte administration, the recount definitely means a lot more for the Philippine electoral system. The automated election system is not foolproof. It has its share of limitations and problems. In the 2010 national elections, almost three million votes for vice president were deemed invalid. In the 2016 national elections, there were almost four million votes. Will the recount, then, signal the return to manual elections?
Recently, in the Senate, Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III raised the issue of cheating under the automated election system. He challenges the integrity of the 2016 elections and its results. Will the recount, in favoring Marcos, give credence to Sotto's allegations?
Much is at stake in the recount for the 2016 vice-presidential race. As mentioned, the battle is not only in the legal stream but also in the public sphere. Since the process has finally begun, there is only one thing we can do for now — wait.