• Marcos-Robredo electoral protest: Where is it heading?

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    AL S. VITANGCOL III

    THE Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) held on Tuesday the preliminary conference in PET Case No. 005, the poll protest of former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and the correlative counter-protest of Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni Daang Matuwid” Robredo.

    Marcos anchored his protest on the nullification of votes cast in three provinces—Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao—hoping to overturn Robredo’s lead of a mere 263,473 in the recount process. In his protest, Marcos assailed the election results in 39,221 clustered precincts, 36,465 of which he prays for a manual recount and the remaining 2,756 for the annulment of election results.

    The PET, which is comprised of the justices of the Supreme Court, created a panel of commissioners (composed of retired Justice Jose Vitug, veteran lawyer Angelito Imperio, and lawyer Irene Ragodon-Guevarra of the Senate Electoral Tribunal) to assist the PET in the reception of evidence. This was in response to the “urgent ex-parte motion to designate hearing commissioners” filed by Marcos on May 12, 2017.

    Marcos filed his poll protest on June 29, 2016 – more than a year ago – but the PET issued a resolution setting the preliminary conference of the case only on April 26, 2017.

    Ordinary Filipinos, who are monitoring this poll protest, can only read and know what are being peddled by the mainstream media. Meanwhile, an invisible hand is working in the background.

    Prior to this, the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) electoral contests adjudication department sent a letter dated April 22, 2017 to the PET where it “respectfully requests authority for the temporary prior custody of the ballot boxes and the contents therein, recount of ballots, other election documents or paraphernalia, including the list of voters such as the Election Day Computerized Voter’s List (EDVCL), Voter’s Registration Records (VRR), and Book of Voters (BOV), as well as the data storage devices used in the May 9, 2016 elections” for the Autonomous Region Of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

    Such a request by Comelec runs counter to paragraph (d) of Rule 37 of the PET Rules. The rule mandates that “where any of the ballot boxes, ballots, election returns, election documents or paraphernalia … are also involved in election contests before other fora, such as the Senate Electoral Tribunal or the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, the tribunal [referring to PET]shall have preferential right over the custody and revision of ballots involved in simultaneous protests.” What are these election officers thinking?

    This should raise a red flag and alarm on the part of Marcos and his supporters. Will they trust the custody of these ballot boxes to Comelec? The Comelec has a publicly perceived stained reputation and integrity when it comes to these matters. Well, there were rumors that syndicates in the Comelec “earned” a whopping P15 billion in the course of the 2016 elections alone. My insight tells me that the Comelec insiders are up to something, probably to the extent of tampering with the ballots or even switching the storage devices. I am sure the reputable election watchdogs and critics would agree with this view.

    These ballot boxes should have been retrieved and brought to the custody of the PET a long time ago. According to Rule 37 of the PET Rules, “[w]ithin forty-eight hours from receipt of the answer with counter-protest, if any, the tribunal shall, when the allegations in a protest or counter-protest warrants, order the ballot boxes and their contents with their keys, lists of voters with voting records, books of voters, the electronic data storage devices, and other documents, paraphernalia, or equipments (sic) relative to the precincts involved in the protest or counter-protest, to be brought before it.” This was not followed. Some quarters are buying time to hold in abeyance the transfer of custody of the ballot boxes to PET. For what reason? Your guess.

    By the way, are there eyes watching what is happening at the Smartmatic warehouse in Laguna?

    We can recall that Comelec-Smartmatic reported only on January 16 this year that the ceiling of its Memory Configuration Room (MCR) in its Laguna warehouse had collapsed on December 30, 2016. This seems suspicious since the MCR houses the servers that are the subject of various poll protests. One may ask, what was the effect of the collapsed ceiling on the data servers?

    Anyway, if everything goes on schedule, the revision of votes shall continue from day to day, as far as practicable, until terminated. It shall commence on the date as specified in the preliminary conference order, which the PET is yet to release.

    Does the protest end when the revision terminates? I don’t think so.

    I believe that the disadvantaged party, whether it is Marcos or Robredo, will move for a technical examination after the revision of votes.

    When this happens, the PET will appoint independent experts necessary for the conduct of a technical examination. The parties may avail themselves of the assistance of their own experts who may observe, but not interfere with, the examination conducted by the appointed experts of the PET.

    Thus, it will still be a long process, not only for Marcos and Robredo, but for the Filipino people as well.

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