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Manual count begins soon; when will it end?



The Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) order to former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Vice President Leni Robredo to cease all publicity efforts in connection with Marcos’ election protest is most welcome.

For some time now, we have had too many news reports on claims of the contesting officials and their lawyers, almost as if they were fighting their case in public, rather than in the PET, which is composed of members of the entire Supreme Court.

The unkind would say the protagonists or their minions were seeking to win public support for their rival causes. They were, after all, politicians who would need public support when they run again in some future election.

But the PET has now finally put a stop to all these media operations. Henceforth, under the Sub Judice rule, litigants and their lawyers are not to make comments or disclosures on their cases which are pending before the PET. Fair and accurate reporting of what actually took place in open court is excluded from the Sub Judice rule. This is to ensure that when the PET finally decides the case, it will be on evidence presented before it, “uninfluenced by bias, prejudice, and sympathies.”

Robredo defeated Marcos by only 263,473 votes in 2016. Marcos claimed he was cheated and filed a protest on June 29, 2016. He contested the results in 132,446 precincts in Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental. Robredo filed a counter-protest on August 15. 2016, questioning the results in over 30,000 precincts in several provinces where Marcos won.

In the months since Marcos filed his protest, the two camps have been holding press conferences and issuing statements on various aspects of the case They argued over the service fees they had to pay – P66 million for Marcos and P15.43 million for Robredo – and spoke on their efforts to raise the money with the help of sympathetic groups.

In October, 2017, the Commission on Elections started to decrypt and print ballot images from Marcos’ three pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental. Marcos recently held a press conference in which he showed some ballots with questionable markings, in support of his protest claim of pre-shading of ballots, misreading of ballots, pre-loaded digital cards, etc.

With the PET Sub Judice order, there will be no more press conferences, no more presentations of evidence in public forums. Henceforth, it will be only before the PET itself that any claims will be made and any new material presented.

The PET will convene on March 19 to begin the manual count of votes cast in the three provinces named by Marcos. The count in itself will be a long and arduous process, considering that there are 132,446 precincts whose ballots will be examined and counted by hand. The counts per precinct will be checked against the machine count. There will be disputes along the way over the visual assessment of the ballots. And then, after they finally agree on the manual results, the counter-protest of Robredo covering 30,000 precincts will begin.

When will the count be completed to the satisfaction of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal? Nobody can tell at this point. We just know that no vice-presidential protest has ever succeeded, largely because of time. The last VP protest was that of Mar Roxas on the election of Jejomar Binay in 2010. Time ran out on the process and he chose to drop the protest to file his candidacy for president in 2016.

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