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.