SC grants Marcos motion for panel of commissioners to hear poll protest

MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) granted the urgent motion filed by former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos to designate at least three hearing officers who will assist the Tribunal during the preliminary conference on his election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.

In a six-page resolution signed by Felipa B. Anama, Clerk of Tribunal, dated June 14, 2017 but was released to media on Friday, PET appointed retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose C. Vitug as the chairperson of the panel of commissioners. His members are Atty. Angelito C. Imperio and Atty. Irene Ragodon-Guevarra.

“The commissioners shall decide unanimously to every extent possible, provided that in the event of failure to reach a(n) unanimous decision, the majority decision shall prevail,” the PET resolution stated.

The panel of commissioners, the PET said, shall assist in the reception of evidence pursuant to Rule 55 to 62 of the PET rules.

Under the rules, the panel shall set the date for the reception of evidence of all the parties involved in the protest and counter-protest.

The same panel shall receive the affidavits of witnesses and hear their direct testimonies of witnesses as well as their cross, re-direct and re-cross examination. The hearing commissioners also has the authority to rule on the objects made in the course of the cross-examination subject to review by the PET.

After the hearing, the hearing commissioners shall submit all the evidence presented as well as the transcripts of the proceedings before the PET.

The PET said the chairperson shall receive a compensation of PHP15,000 per day of hearing or service while the members shall receive a PHP10,000 per day of hearing or service.

Marcos through his counsel George Erwin Garcia, said that the designation of hearing officers will help the 15-member tribunal to ensure “an orderly, simplified and expeditious disposition” of his electoral protest which raised three main issues.

Garcia said it is most important that a hearing officer be assigned for each cause of action “so as not to muddle the proceedings” as they intend to present a specific set of witnesses and documentary exhibits per cause of action.

The former senator said his petition challenging Robredo’s win “involves not only the adjudication of the private interests of rival candidates, but also the paramount need of dispelling the uncertainty which beclouds the real choice of the electorate.”

The first part of Marcos petition was about the Automated Election System (AES). He said the vote counting machines (VCM) which was one of the components of the automated system supplied by Smartmatic has no “demonstrated capability” nor was it ever successfully used in a prior electoral exercise either in the Philippines or in any other country.

The second part of his petition consists of the more “traditional” modes of cheating like vote buying, pre-shading, intimidation and failure of elections, among others.

He specifically asked for the reopening of ballot boxes in each of the 36,465 clustered precincts in Cebu, Province of Leyte, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Masbate, Zamboanga Del Sur, Zamboanga Del Norte, Bukidnon, Iloilo Province, Bohol, Quezon Province, Batangas, Western Samar, Misamis Oriental, Camarines Sur, 2nd District of Northern Samar, Palawan, Sibugay, Misamis Occidental, Pangasinan, Isabela, Iloilo City, Bacolod City, Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City and Zamboanga City.

Marcos also asked the PET to annul the election results in Lanao Del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao where the ballots have been pre-shaded and recount of 22 provinces and five cities.

The third part of the protest focused on the unauthorized introduction by Smartmatic’s Marlon Garcia of a new hash code (or a new script / program) into the Transparency Server as well as the effects brought about by the unauthorized change.

The tribunal composed of the same 15 justices of the SC has decided to set just one preliminary conference for the protest and counter-protest, citing Rule 3 of the 2010 PET Rules that allows adjustment in rules” to achieve a just, expeditious and inexpensive determination and disposition of every contest before the tribunal.”

Last June 6, SC spokesman Theodore Te said the high court has reset the preliminary conference from June 21 to July 11.

The SC spokesperson said both camps are also ordered to file their briefs at least five days before the date of the preliminary conference and serve the same on the adverse party.

“This is without prejudice to the Tribunal’s resolution of all remaining pending incidents,” Te said of the decision.

The preliminary conference briefs contain the following: the possibility of obtaining stipulations or admissions of facts and documents to avoid unnecessary proof, the simplification of the issues, the limitation of the number of witnesses and the most expeditious manner for the retrieval of ballot boxes containing the ballots, elections returns, certificates of canvass and other election documents involved in the election protest.

On Friday, the camp of Marcos filed Preliminary Conference Brief laying out the issues, witnesses and other evidentiary matters in his election protest.

Marcos, through his counsel George Erwin Garcia, enumerated his Admissions, Proposals for Stipulation, Issues to be resolved, List of Witnesses and Documents in support of his protest as well as Proposals for the prompt disposition of the case.

Garcia likewise enumerated the three pilot provinces for the vote recount or revision which under the Rules of Tribunal will best attest to the votes recovered or will best exemplify the merits or legitimacy of his protest. They are Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental.

In an interview, lawyer Victor Rodriguez, spokesman of Marcos, explained that the three pilot provinces were chosen because they will clearly show that there are major discrepancies in the votes cast in the ballots and those transmitted by the Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) and reported in the Certificates of Canvass (COCs).

Rodriguez explained that while Camarines Sur is the hometown of Robredo, it is highly improbable that she would get more than 80 percent of the votes cast when all of the other vice presidential candidates were either from the Bicol Region or had ties in the said region.

Robredo supposedly obtained 643,865 votes to Marcos’ 40,195 votes. The other Bicolano candidates namely: Senator Francis Escudero, who is from Sorsogon, obtained only 36,509 votes while Foreign Affairs Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano, whose wife is from Albay got 14,601 votes. Senator Antonio Trillanes, who traces his roots to Albay got 11,334 votes while Senator Gregorio Honasan, whose mother is from Sorsogon garnered only 7,005 votes.

With respect to Iloilo, Rodriguez pointed out that it is extremely implausible that Robredo obtained 573,729 votes as against Marcos’ 94,411 votes when his running mate, the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, was from the said province and they were warmly received by the Hiligaynons during their sorties there.

Negros Oriental, on the other hand, was chosen because Robredo’s supposed 248,102 votes as against Marcos’ 99,208 votes is dubious considering the fact that Marcos was supported by the biggest political families in the province.

Further, Rodriguez pointed out, the three provinces had the some of the highest undervotes recorded which raised suspicion on the results of the elections. Undervotes are ballots not counted either because the voter did not vote for a certain position or there were unclear markings in the ballot.

“According to election experts from here and around the world, the acceptable rate of occurrence of undervotes should be just 1 percent. But when the undervotes are more than 5 percent like in these 3 provinces, that should cause alarm and suspicion because it is not normal. And we are talking about a hotly contested vice presidential race, we should expect Filipinos to really vote for the said position and not just leave it blank or put unnecessary marking that would invalidate their vote,” Rodriguez stressed.

A total of 362 witnesses were listed in the preliminary conference brief who may be called upon to testify and submit supporting evidence. Some of them include Commission on Elections (COMELEC) officials led by Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, Directors Jose Tolentino, Esther Roxas, J. Thaddeus Fernan, Teopisto Elnas and Ferdinand De Leon; Smartmatic executives Marlon Ramos and Elie Moreno, election officers in the thirty three contested provinces and cities as well as election and Information Technology experts.

Marcos is contesting the results of 36,465 clustered precincts in 30 provinces and cities all over the country citing fraud under three main issues in his protest, namely: the “flawed” Automated Election System (AES), the failure of elections in several provinces in Mindanao and the unauthorized introduction by Smartmatic’s Marlon Garcia of a new hash code (or a new script / program) into the Transparency Server on the day of the elections.

Marcos earlier said he decided to file the electoral protest due to the series of frauds, anomalies and irregularities that marred the May 9 elections and that such activities made sure he would lose to Robredo, the vice presidential candidate of the administration’s Liberal Party.

Robredo won the 2016 vice presidential race with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos who got 14,155,344 votes. Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/