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Delays in election cases encourage poll fraud

Until a solution is arrived at to solve the problem of these delays in election cases, political scoundrels will continue to exploit the existing election protest system designed in their favor.

Victor Avecilla

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After five long years, the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) finally resolved last week the election protest lodged by ex-Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against the sitting vice president, Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, regarding the results of the 2016 vice presidential election.

The PET dismissed Marcos’ election protest on the ground that he failed to substantiate his allegations that fraud took place in the precincts identified in his protest.

This essay will not discuss the merits of the PET ruling. It will focus on the delays and expenses involved in an election protest or similar proceeding pertaining to high public office.

The cost of an election protest filed with the PET depends on the number of election precincts where the anomalies supposedly took place. Thus, the more precincts, the costlier the fees.

From the available information, Marcos spent more than a hundred million pesos in the entire five-year protest, and another undisclosed amount for attorney’s fees.

Then there is the long and agonizing wait. With no legislated deadline to meet, the decision of the PET can take anywhere from several months to several years. Waiting for a long time is difficult enough; not knowing how long one should wait can be an ordeal. Protestant and protestee must both undergo that ordeal.

The question to ask in the wake of the Marcos-Robredo PET case is — Are election protests, no matter how valid they may be, really worth pursuing?

Election law jurisprudence is rich with instances when candidates for the House of Representatives won their election protests with just one day left of the contested term. Jurisprudence also states that the compensation due the disputed office goes to whosoever was actually in office.

Then there are the expenses to reckon with by the party filing the election protest. If the protesting party is willing to spend for his election protest, expect the winning party to spend even more in order to stay in office.

The winning party does not even need to win the election protest. If he is able to delay the poll protest proceedings long enough, he gets to stay in office and enjoys the perks of power for the larger part of the term.

Election protests concerning the presidency and the vice presidency are lodged with the PET. Poll protests involving congressional seats are resolved by the electoral tribunals of each house of Congress. Cases pertaining to other elective posts are filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) or the local trial courts, depending on the office involved.

Since the PET is actually the Supreme Court sitting as an electoral tribunal, its members are lawyers. The same observation applies to trial courts handling election cases. Being lawyers, they are expected to be familiar with the rudiments of election law and jurisprudence.

On the other hand, not all the members of the Comelec and the electoral tribunals of Congress are lawyers. There is a good chance that the non-lawyers in these agencies do not have a solid grasp of election law and jurisprudence.

Adding to the problem is that members of the electoral tribunals of Congress do not need to cite any legal basis for the way they decide election cases, like what happened to the disqualification cases filed against Senators Grace Poe and Aquilino Pimentel III.

Even the rules of the electoral tribunals of Congress are designed to make it almost impossible to file an election protest or a disqualification case. The filing fee of P50,000 is prohibitive, and the election case must be filed within several days after the proclamation of the senator or representative sought to be unseated.

No doubt, the foregoing realities are enough to discourage losing candidates from pursuing even the most meritorious of election protests, and to prevent concerned citizens from seeking the ouster of winning candidates who are disqualified from office in the first place.

The existing system suggests that it pays to circumvent election laws and to just delay the proceedings in the ensuing election protest or disqualification case.

Until a solution is arrived at to solve the problem of these delays in election cases, political scoundrels will continue to exploit the existing election protest system designed in their favor.

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