PET grants Marcos plea for retrieval of ballot boxes in 3 provinces


MANILA – The Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has granted the plea of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., seeking the retrieval of ballot boxes in three contested provinces cited in his election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.

In a 34-page resolution dated Aug. 29 but was released to media on Tuesday, the Tribunal ordered the retrieval of all the ballot boxes and election paraphernalia in the provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental to start the revision and recount.

“Thus in consonance with Rule 65, the Tribunal hereby orders that the retrieval of ballot boxes and other election documents, revision of ballots and reception of evidence can already begin with, but shall first be confined to, only the provinces that have been designated by protestant, namely Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental,” the Tribunal ordered.

It also granted the motion of Marcos to decrypt and print the ballot images from the SD cards of the three pilot areas in order to help the Tribunal in the prompt disposition of the protest and assist protestant in the preparation of the recount proceedings and the presentation of his evidence.

“The Tribunal resolves to partially grant protestant’s Motion for Decryption and Printing of ballot images dated June 1, 2017 only insofar as all the precincts in the provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental are concerned and direct Comelec to inform the Tribunal of its recommended procedures, logistics, schedule and estimated costs for the activity within a non-extendible period of ten (10) days from receipt of the Resolution,” it stated.

The three pilot provinces were chosen from the 27 provinces and highly urbanized cities listed in the election protest of Marcos.

The PET, however, deferred action on Marcos’ request to conduct a technical and forensic examination of all ballots from the provinces of Basilan, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur.

Marcos originally wanted ballot boxes to be retrieved in 22 provinces and 5 highly-urbanized cities for the vote recount.

Lawyer Victor Rodriguez, spokesman of Marcos, said while they would have preferred for the Tribunal to look into the alleged anomalies in the implementation of the Automated Election System (AES) under the first cause of action, they would abide by the Tribunal’s decision in the interest of expediency.

“We respect the Tribunal’s decision and we will abide by it. We are glad that the Tribunal share in our desire to expedite the disposition of this case the soonest possible time in interest of all the Filipino people especially those whose votes were not counted,” Rodriguez said.

He added, “(w)e have the case exactly where we wanted it to be, the conduct of manual recount and judicial revision and annulment of election result in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan.”

“This will not stop us from exposing the many sins, the manipulations, fraud and irregularities committed by Smartmatic in our election system. Our fight against the conspirators does not stop with this decision,” Rodriguez said.

In the same resolution, PET set aside the first issue raised by Marcos in his protest against Robredo for impracticality and lack of necessity in resolving the case.

“Even if protestant (Marcos) succeeds in proving his first cause of action, this will not mean that he has already won the position of Vice President as this can only be determined by a manual recount of all votes in all precincts,” read the ruling.

“And if this is a relief protestant has clearly stated he is not praying for, then, allowing the first cause of action to continue would be an exercise in futility and would have no practical effect,” it stressed.

The former senator’s first cause of action specifically sought to declare null and void Robredo’s proclamation as duly elected vice president because the certificates of canvass (COCs) generated by the Consolidation and Canvass System (CCS) are not authentic due to several violations of Republic Act No. 8436 or the Automated Election System (AES) Law which rendered the whole automated election system unreliable, and consequently, the election results as well.

During the preliminary conference, the PET noted that Marcos’ lawyer Garcia admitted that even if his client would be able to prove the first cause of action, this would not mean that he would have proven to be proclaimed as vice president, as there would still be a need to do a manual recount of all the votes to determine who obtained the highest votes for the said contested position.

The PET held that the first cause of action may be dispensed with for “judicial economy” and for the speedy resolution of the case.

The Tribunal described judicial economy as “efficiency in the operation of the courts and the judicial system” such as to minimize duplication of effort and to avoid wasting the judiciary’s time and resources.

It also did not give weight to the claim of the Marcos that the first cause of action is “complementary” to the Second and Third Causes of Action.

The Second Cause of Action requires the revision or manual recount of the actual ballots to determine the votes cast in all the 36,465 protested clustered precincts while the Third Cause of Action sought the annulment of election results for the VP position in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan, on the ground of terrorism, intimidation and harassment of voters as well as pre-shading of ballots in all of the 2,756 protested clustered precincts in the areas.

In his protest, Marcos raised the issue on integrity of the AES and asked the tribunal to declare as unauthentic all the certificates of canvas used in proclamation of Robredo as the winner with a margin of over 200,000 votes.

But the PET held that such question could put in question the election result not only of Robredo in the vice presidential posts but also of other national and local elective posts.

The tribunal further pointed out that Marcos’ camp has admitted that even if the first cause of action is granted, the former senator cannot be proclaimed as the winner because a manual recount has to be conducted nationwide.

Robredo’s lawyer Romulo Macalintal immediately welcomed the PET ruling.

“We are very, very happy with the results of this resolution of the PET, because from this resolution of the tribunal, it only shows that indeed, the protest of Mr Marcos has no basis. It is only based on some speculations and conclusions,” he said in a press conference.

‘We look forward for an early dismissal of the case of Mr. Marcos,” the veteran poll lawyer stressed.

Meanwhile, Robredo’s camp has filed an urgent motion asking the PET to require Marcos to post a cash deposit of PHP2 billion for the retention of the 92,509 vote counting machines used by the Commission on Elections during the May 2016 polls.

The vice president’s camp cited as basis for the latest plea the various manifestations of Marcos asking the tribunal to direct the Comelec to retain custody of said VCMs because he intends to subject them to “technical examination, forensic investigation, verification and analysis” which the PET granted when it issued a Precautionary Protection Order on June 12, 2016 directing Comelec to preserve and safeguard said equipment.”

“The same request and reason for retention of these VCMs was reiterated by Marcos’ lawyer George Garcia during the preliminary conference at the PET on July 11, 2017”, Macalintal added.

“Thus, we asked the PET to immediately resolve our earlier and pending clarification whether Marcos should be held liable for the PHP2 Billion cost of the retention of said VCMs by the Comelec or a resolution be issued directing Marcos to deposit the said amount,” the lawyer pointed out.

Marcos filed the protest on June 29 last year, claiming that the camp of Robredo cheated in the automated polls in May also year. He sought annulment of about a million votes cast in three provinces – Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao.

In his protest, Marcos contested the results in a total of 132,446 precincts in 39,221 clustered precincts covering 27 provinces and cities.

In his preliminary conference brief, Marcos also sought the recount in Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental.

Robredo filed her answer in August last year and also filed counter-protest and questioned the results in over 30,000 polling precincts in several provinces where Marcos won.

She also sought the dismissal of the protest for lack of merit and jurisdiction of PET.

But the tribunal, in a ruling earlier this year, junked Robredo’s plea and proceeded with the case after finding of sufficiency in form and substance in the protest.

Robredo won the vice presidential race with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos who got 14,155,344 votes. Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/ PNA