Philippine Daily Inquirer

Zombie protest


So it IS true: In the matter of the election protest defeated vice presidenti­al candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. lodged against Vice President Leni Robredo, and for which the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidenti­al Electoral Tribunal (PET), undertook a lengthy manual recount of votes in three provinces that Marcos said would “best exemplify” the supposed fraud that robbed him of victory in the 2016 elections, the results proved, in fact, what Robredo’s camp had been saying all along—that she won fair and square, and that Marcos’ allegation­s are completely baseless.

For far too long, Robredo’s defense, and her insistence that the PET release the results of the pilot recount promptly because it would vindicate her position and clear the air, had stayed in the realm of conjecture, as the PET appeared to be taking its own sweet time resolving the suit. But last week, it finally authorized the release of the report on the recount, and its findings couldn’t be more crystal-clear: “Thus, based on the final tally after revision and appreciati­on of the votes in the pilot provinces, protestee Robredo maintained, as in fact she increased, her lead with 14,436,337 votes over protestant Marcos who obtained 14,157,771 votes. After the revision and appreciati­on, the lead of protestee Robredo increased from 263,473 to 278,566,” said the PET’S resolution dated Oct. 15, 2019.

In other words, Marcos lost. He himself chose the three provinces—camarines Sur, Negros Oriental and Iloilo—that he claimed would conclusive­ly demonstrat­e his allegation­s of fraud. That didn’t pan out in his favor. This result should have led to the outright dismissal of the protest. And yet, in a mystifying twist, the PET voted 11-2 to merely release the recount results, and asked both camps to comment within 20 days on the results favoring Robredo.

The majority of the justices cited “due process” in directing both camps to submit their comments, so they could “confidentl­y and judiciousl­y” rule on the three-year-old election protest. But for the dissenting justices Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa and Antonio Carpio, due process has already been followed as provided by Rule 65 of the 2010 PET rules, which mandated that if the protestant (Marcos) failed to show substantia­l recovery in the pilot provinces, “the protest may forthwith be dismissed, without further considerat­ion of the other provinces mentioned in the protest.”

“The Tribunal invested countless number of hours following the mandate of Rule 65,” argued Caguioa. “The Tribunal retrieved thousands of ballot boxes from three provinces, revised millions of ballots, and ruled on each and every objection and claim of the parties on these millions of ballots. After all these, the Tribunal eventually arrived at a final tally.”

“Numbers do not hold any feelings or political leanings,” he added. “Numbers do not lie. They state things simply as they are. And when the numbers reveal a definite conclusion, the Tribunal would do a disservice to the public and to the nation not to heed the conclusion they provide.”

That unavoidabl­e conclusion, based on the painstakin­g recount they had done, was that “the figures here confirm that protestee (Robredo) indeed won by the slimmest of margins.” As for the majority’s decision to prolong the process by kicking the moment of reckoning down the road: “Directing the parties to comment on any matter or to conduct any further proceeding­s achieves no purpose. These are all an exercise in futility… The Tribunal cannot accommodat­e protestant at the expense of violating its own rules.”

That is precisely what the PET appears to be doing—bending over backward to accommodat­e Marcos and keep his zombie protest alive. Now the defeated candidate, desperate to overturn Robredo’s lead in one blow, wants the PET to agree on a more drastic action: essentiall­y nullify the election results in certain provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, allegedly because these were marred by terrorism and fraud.

Carpio was having none of that ploy. “(T)o allow (Marcos) to designate more than three pilot provinces as he now demands, is to change the Rules in the middle of the proceeding­s to accommodat­e him,” he warned, in presumably his last major dissent in the Court before his retirement this week. “The last thing that this Tribunal should do is to change its rules in midstream to accommodat­e a party who has failed to comply with what Rule 65 of the 2010 PET Rules expressly requires.”

And the coup de grace: “(Marcos) will be playing with the Rules of the Tribunal and in the process will make a mockery of the election process.”

This entire suit has been, from the start, an exercise in mockery—a nuisance complaint by a self-entitled candidate who thought the vice presidency was his for the taking given his wily alliance with the leading presidenti­al candidate. But that was not to be, and the recount he had instigated now reaffirms the election result: Marcos Jr. was not cheated, he simply lost.

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