By Rey Panaligan
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo has asked the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) to resolve immediately and reconsider its ruling that only ballots which were shaded at least 50 percent on the oval space should be counted as valid votes in the contested 2016 vice presidential election.
Robredo earlier said allowing a 50 per cent threshold would disenfranchise voters because votes that fell below the 50 per cent threshold have already been counted as valid by the vote counting machines (VCMs) and confirmed by the Random Manual Audit Committee.
In a pleading filed through her lawyers, Robredo opposed the 45-day extension sought by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to file its comment in behalf of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Case records showed that the PET – composed of all Supreme Court (SC) justices – directed both the Comelec and former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to comment on Robredo’s motion to reconsider the tribunal’s April 10 ruling on the shading of ballots.
Robredo said that the OSG, in behalf of the Comelec, received a copy of the PET’s resolution requiring comment on May 17. The 10-day comment would have been due on May 27.
But she said the OSG filed a motion for a 15-day extension to file its comment. Thereafter, she added, the OSG filed its second and third motions for a total of 30-day extension, the last to expire on July 11.
“While it may be true that there is heavy pressure of work in other equally important cases, courts shall give preference to election contests over all other cases, except petitions for habeas corpus and for the writs of Amparo and habeas data,” Robredo said.
“The continued failure of the OSG to submit the comment for and in behalf of the Comelec has resulted to a delay in the disposition of the urgent motion for reconsideration… with reiterative prayer to immediately direct the head revisors to use the 25 per cent threshold percentage in the revision, recount and re-appreciation of ballots…,” she added.
In seeking the use of the 25 per cent threshold on the shading of a ballot, Robredo cited the Random Manuel Audit Visual Guidelines and the Random Manuel Audit Report and that “Rule 43 of the 2010 PET Rules has been superseded by the 2018 Revisor’s Guide.”
But the PET, in an April 10 ruling said Robredo’s “claim that the Comelec, as purportedly confirmed by the Random Manual Audit Guidelines and Report, applies the 25 per cent threshold percentage in determining a valid vote is inaccurate.”
The PET said it “is not aware of any Comelec Resolution that states the applicability of a 25 per cent threshold; and the Tribunal cannot treat the Random Manual Audit Guidelines and Report as proof of the threshold used by the Comelec. In fact, COMELEC Resolution No. 8804, as amended by COMELEC Resolution No. 9164, which is COMELEC’s procedure for the recount of ballots in election protests within its jurisdiction, does not mention a 25 per cent threshold.”
But Robredo cited a 2016 Comelec letter stating that while voters were instructed to shade fully the ovals in the ballots, “the shading threshold was set at about 25 per cent of the oval space.”
“In other words, when a mark covers at least 25 per cent of the oval, said mark is supposed to be considered a vote by the system,” she said.
About 5,000 votes in 210 precincts may be deducted from Robredo as a result of the PET ruling that only ballots which were shaded 50 per cent should be counted as valid votes.
She stressed that with the PET’s ruling, “the physical count is now running inconsistent with the results based on the Election Returns, Statement of Votes by Precinct, Ballot Images and the Voter’s Verifiable Audit Paper Trial (VVPAT).”
The manual recount and revision of ballots in the protest filed by Marcos against Robredo started last April 2 at the SC-Court of Appeals gymnasium in Ermita, Manila.
The proceedings are being conducted behind closed doors by 36 sets of revisors supervised by a three-man ad hoc panel designated by the PET.
Being manually recounted and revised are ballots in 1,400 boxes in 5,418 clustered precincts in the provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental – provinces identified by Marcos in his protest.
Results of the manual recount and revision of ballots in the three provinces would determine if the PET would proceed with the Marcos’ protest that covers 132,446 precincts in 27 provinces and cities.
Based on election results, Robredo was declared winner in the 2016 vice presidential election with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than the 14,155,344 votes garnered by Marcos.
Robredo also filed a counter-protest against Marcos. The two cases had been consolidated by the PET. (With a report from Raymund Antonio)