More than three long years have passed since 2016 when vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. filed an election protest before the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). Marcos Jr. contested the victory of the Liberal Party’s Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo in the vice-presidential race held that year.
The final tally showed Robredo winning by more than 200,000 votes, a slim margin considering past elections.
At the start of the national canvass, Marcos Jr. was leading Robredo by more than a million votes. As the days went by, however, that lead steadily diminished until Robredo ended up with an upset victory.
Robredo’s proclamation notwithstanding, the Marcos camp argued that the systematic fraud perpetuated by the LP and their cohorts in the highly unreliable Commission on Elections shaved off votes from Marcos Jr. and added to the votes garnered by Robredo. Marcos identified several voting precincts where Robredo’s victory was allegedly manipulated, including her bailiwick, Camarines Sur.
From the start, the election protest was marred by controversies.
First, the election protest was raffled off to Justice Alfredo Caguioa, who automatically became the writer of the final ruling of the PET. This did not sit well with the Marcos camp because it was established that Caguioa’s wife was actively involved in the partisan political campaign of Robredo. Accordingly, the Marcos camp sought the voluntary inhibition of Caguioa from further involvement in the election protest.
Instead of voluntarily inhibiting himself from the election protest, Caguioa went through both a supposed soul-searching process and the charade of consulting his colleagues in the PET if he should inhibit. When the other PET members practically let him decide on his own, Caguioa used that as his excuse not to inhibit.
Observers scored Caguioa for his charade, and analysts maintained that Caguioa should inhibit, considering that he cannot be perceived by the Marcos camp and others as an impartial judge.
Apparently, Caguioa’s lack of delicadeza prevailed, and he did not inhibit. Being an appointee of ex-President Benigno Aquino III, Caguioa may not have wanted to disappoint his political patron, especially in a case involving a member of the Marcos family against whom the Aquinos have encouraged a hate campaign for the past four decades.
Next came a controversial outing of the PET personnel in 2018 held at a resort located at Pansol, Laguna. It was discovered that a revisor from the Robredo camp was an invited guest of the group. A revisor is one who is in charge of the recounting of the contested ballots in an election protest.
The Marcos camp requested the PET to conduct an investigation into the incident, but the PET apparently saw nothing to worry about the invitation.
Obviously, as long as Caguioa is in charge of the PET election case, Marcos cannot expect a fair deal, unless the rest of the PET justices do not agree with Caguioa’s findings and recommendations.
The news reports have it that Caguioa is already done with his report and is set to submit it to his colleagues.
So far, although the Marcos camp is certain that Caguioa will side with Robredo, they are optimistic that he will not be able to convince his colleagues in the PET, particularly the justices who are appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte, to his side.
As if Caguioa’s continuing participation in the PET is not disturbing enough, even more disturbing is the possibility, as reported in the news, that the PET can, at this juncture, order an outright dismissal of the election protest on the ground that the protestant has not shown substantial anomalies in some of the protested precincts.
Hopefully, resort to mere technicalities will not take place.
The PET should not be unmindful that an authoritative pronouncement on the merits of the election protest is awaited by an anxious electorate, if only to know who really won the 2016 vice-presidential derby. A dismissal of the election protest on a mere technicality will deride public faith in our electoral justice system.