The election protest lodged by ex-senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against the sitting Vice President, Leni Robredo, has been pending for over three years now at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), which is composed of all the justices of the Supreme Court.
At first, the reason why the election protest has been lingering in the PET for the longest time was a mystery to many. Now, it seems clear — the PET is wasting time on the interpretation of its own rules of procedure.
It will be recalled that the Marcos camp protested the proclamation of Robredo as the winner in the May 2016 vice-presidential election. According to the supposedly official count, Robredo won by a very thin margin of a little more than 200,000 votes. In an election derby where millions of votes were cast, Robredo’s lead is certainly a very close shave.
In his election protest, Marcos identified the voting precincts in a number of provinces where, according to him, the computerized canvassing was rigged. His camp also sought a revision of ballots in the contested areas. In election law, a revision is a recount.
This is where a certain Rule 65 of the rules of the PET comes in. It provides that if the party filing the election protest is unable, after the initial stage of the revision, to show a substantial increase in the number of votes in his favor, then the PET has the discretion of dismissing the election protest outright.
According to the Robredo camp, the figures arrived at from the initial stage of the revision has not shown any substantial increase in the votes in favor of Marcos. The Robredo camp even told the media that, so far, the figures from the initial revision indicate an increase by more than a hundred thousand in the votes cast for Robredo.
There are, however, problems with the Robredo camp’s position.
First, the so-called figures cited by the Robredo camp are not official. They are based on statistical inferences made by her lawyers in the course of the PET case. In a television interview last Thursday morning, Robredo’s lawyer admitted that their figures are based on their inferences.
Second, if those 100,000 of so votes supposedly in favor of Robredo were not included in the actual computerized counting in May 2016, then the results of the so-called official canvass in those contested precincts are fraudulent.
Being so, then there is actually good reason for the PET not to dismiss the election protest, but to grant the prayer of the Marcos camp for a complete revision of the ballots in those contested precincts. That revision, to be done in the presence of representatives of the PET and both the Marcos and Robredo camps, will be the only way to judiciously ascertain the correct number of ballots cast for the two contenders.
Jurisprudence on rules of procedure favor the Marcos camp.
Like any rule of procedure, Rule 65 of the PET rules should be a means by which justice, and in this case, electoral justice, may be attained in the least cumbersome way.
Rules of procedure cannot be used to subvert substantial justice. The power of a tribunal to create rules of procedure includes the power to suspend those rules if the strict enforcement of the same will lead to injustice and inequity.
Since the supposed lead enjoyed by Robredo over Marcos is a little more than 200,000 votes, logic and good reason dictate that a complete revision of ballots in the contested precincts is the only just and fair way to find out, once and for all, who truly won the mandate of the sovereign Filipino voters in the May 2016 vice-presidential election.
The sovereign Filipino people have the right to know who is the real vice president of the country. That should be enough reason for the PET to refrain from resorting to technicalities in resolving the election protest now pending before it.
In other words, the PET should resolve the three-year-old election protest on its merits by proceeding with a complete revision, and concluding the same, all without further delay. The public interest demands it.