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Poll protests: It may be up to Congress

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The slow pace of election protests in the country was discussed at a meeting of the Philippine Constitution Association  (Philconsa)  last Friday, with  former Rep. Glenn Chong of Biliran  blaming  alleged flaws in the electoral process.

“On  the  average,” he said,  “election protests covering the  presidential polls take about three to four  years to get resolved, and in all cases,  the protest is overtaken  by the next elections.”  The  petitioner often runs for another post in the next election, rendering the protest moot and academic. This was the case of former Secretary Mar Roxas’ protest against Vice  President  Jojo Binay  after the election of 2010.  When, in the succeeding election of 2016,  Roxas filed his candidacy for president.  His protest was set aside by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

At  the  Philconsa  meeting and in previous other forums, fears have been expressed by the camp of former Sen.  Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.  that his protest against Vice President  Leni  Robredo  may  meet the same  fate. Marcos has repeatedly asked the PET – whose members are all the members of the Supreme Court —  to  speed up the process, including the appointment of three hearing commissioners  to look into the election results in 39,221 clustered precincts  in  22 provinces and five highly urbanized cities.

This is a formidable task that requires the examination of the 36,465 counting machines provided by Smartmatic  for the use of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the 2016 elections and the over 17 million paper ballots they processed. The situation  is  complicated by the fact  that  the voting machines were merely rented by the Comelec,  which has to return them to  Smartmatic  or pay P2 billion to buy them.

The Marcos camp alleged irregularities such as pre-marking of ballots, preloading of digital storage cards, misreading of ballots by  the machines, other malfunctions  in the counting by the machines, and an “abnormally  high“ number of unaccounted votes and under-votes for the position of vice president.

And then, Vice  President  Robredo has her own counter-protest. She has questioned the results in 8,042 clustered precincts nationwide.

Former Congressman Chong said the case filed by Marcos has not gotten  past  the preliminary conference stage after one year. One reason for the delay,  which was pointed out by Vice President Robredo  in another forum the other day, is that  the Supreme Court  has to attend to so many  other crucial cases, notably the petitions filed on President  Duterte’s proclamation of martial law in Mindanao.

Corazon  Akol  of the National Movement for Free Elections  (Namfrel)  said  the group has been meeting with several lawmakers on a bill for a new automated election scheme  that  should  do away with many of the irregularities that have been alleged in poll protests.

While the Judiciary,  through  the PET,  struggles  with the ongoing poll protests, it may be up to Congress to find a  more comprehensive answer to doubts and questions about  the present system of automated elections in our country – perhaps a hybrid system of manual voting and counting with automatic transmission  of results, for an easier paper trail to follow in case of disputes and protests.

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