MANILA (4th UPDATE) — After close to 5 years, the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, has laid to rest questions surrounding the legitimacy of Leni Robredo as Vice President by unanimously junking on Tuesday the election protest filed by defeated candidate Bongbong Marcos.
“Today 16 February 2021, the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal unanimously dismissed the electoral protest filed by former senator Bongbong Marcos, Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo,” SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said in a press conference.
Two sources had earlier told ABS-CBN News that all 15 justices voted to junk the election protest.
Hosaka confirmed this, providing more details about the vote.
“Out of the 15 members of the Tribunal who were present in today’s meeting, 7 members fully concurred in the dismissal while 8 concurred in the result,” he said, declining to provide additional information about the reasons for junking the protest as he cited the confidentiality of the proceedings.
WHY THE ELECTION PROTEST WAS DISMISSED
A source privy to the matter cited to ABS-CBN News several reasons for the dismissal, including the failure to allege specific acts showing electoral fraud.
“[The] allegations were bare, laden with generic & repetitious allegations, no critical information as to time, place and manner of irregularities,” the source said.
The source also noted the absence of substantial recovery of votes in the 3 pilot provinces Marcos had chosen where Robredo actually gained additional votes with 1,510,718 against Marcos’ 204,512.
“Having failed in 3 pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental, Marcos cannot seek 3rd cause cause of action of annulment in Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan,” the source said, referring to Rule 65 of the PET Rules.
Rule 65 allows a protest to be dismissed “without further consideration of the other provinces” if the protestant will most probably fail to make out his case after the initial recount involving 3 provinces.
The PET initial recount in October 2019 showed that Robredo’s slim margin of around 263,000 votes increased by 15,000 votes.
But instead of dismissing the election protest, the PET by a vote of 11-2 required both parties and later on the Comelec and the Office of the Solicitor General to comment on whether the PET could look into Marcos’ third cause of action seeking to annul the elections in Maguindanao, Basilan and Lanao del Sur because the elections were supposedly tainted with terrorism, intimidation, harassment of voters and pre-shading of ballots.
The former senator had said he could still overcome Robredo’s lead of 263,473 votes because she allegedly stands to lose 497,985 votes if the election results in the 3 Mindanao provinces were annulled.
Robredo said the PET Rules were clear that failure to show substantial recovery after the initial recount should lead to the dismissal of the election protest.
Robredo also questioned the basis for Marcos’ claims of terrorism, intimidation and harassment of voters as well as pre-shading of ballots, noting that there were no reports from any government agency including the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The ruling on Tuesday settled the issue by junking the entire protest, not just one of the 3 causes of action.
The election protest, filed in June 2016, alleged 3 causes of action.
Marcos had 2 other causes of action: the revision of ballots and the annulment of election results in 3 Mindanao provinces because of alleged occurrence of more traditional modes of cheating.
In August 2017, the PET junked Marcos’ first cause of action questioning the authenticity of the results of the 2016 national elections, calling it “an exercise in futility” which would have no “practical effect.”
CAN MARCOS APPEAL?
Former SC spokesperson Ted Te said that while a motion for reconsideration is possible, it would be "extremely difficult to reverse."
Te explained that some justices voting to concur only in the result meant that they had different reasons but still had the same conclusion.
In a statement, Marcos' camp noted that the unanimous dismissal vote pertained to "our second cause of action which is the manual recount and judicial revision."
"However, as to the issue on how to proceed with our third cause of action which is the annulment of votes in Mindanao, the Tribunal has yet to decide on the matter," the statement read.
According to a source, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen is the ponente of the ruling.
Marcos, backed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, had sought to inhibit Leonen from handling the election protest, accusing him of bias against the Marcoses and of delaying the protest's resolution.
But the High Court, as the PET, junked the inhibition plea in November last year, chiding the Solicitor General for intervening in a private case.
The SC also warned him against relying on “unsubstantiated news articles” when it quoted at length articles by The Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas about Leonen’s supposed reflections on the protest.
The PET previously required the OSG and Canlas to explain why they should not be cited in contempt of court over the use of a leaked court document.
The Tribunal, however, withdrew it a week later, citing the member-in-charge’s letter which said: “forgiveness is often the more decent consequence of another’s misunderstanding.”
LAWMAKERS WELCOME PET'S DECISION
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party, welcomed the ruling, which he said he hoped came "much sooner." Robredo is the head of the opposition.
"It affirms what we have been saying from Day 1 which is that the allegations of cheating in the protest was baseless and unfounded,” he said in a statement.
The ongoing recruitment of the party, in which Robredo serves as chairperson, was not affected despite the delayed decision, he added.
Sen. Richard Gordon advised everyone to “move forward together” for the benefit of the nation’s interest.
“It’s good because it lessens the noise. But Bongbong made a very good try. I would have done the same thing that he did. But the Supreme Court has spoken,” he said.
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago also welcomed the PET ruling siding with the Vice President, and said the issue could finally be put to rest.
"Kabataan Partylist continues to stand in solidarity with the Office of the Vice President as we fight for the rights and welfare of the youth, safe and quality education, and community learning spaces amid the pandemic," the statement read.
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, meanwhile, described the ruling as a "long awaited, much awaited decision."
"As it is, the PET decision, clearly, is also a big legal slap on the Solicitor General, who even intervened in the case in support of Marcos - who is clearly a private party," Zarate said in the statement.
"This development is significant especially now that the Filipino people are pushing back yet again against tyranny," he added.
In a statement, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the magistrates' unanimous decision "appears to validate VP Robredo’s win on the basis of law and of the evidence presented before it by both parties."
Panelo pointed out that the rule of law prevailed in the decision, and that due process was observed.
"As a general rule, the electorate’s decision is to be accorded the stamp of correctness. Every rule, however, by universal practice admits of an exception," said Panelo.
"There is always another election to vindicate one’s loss or validate forever one’s rejection by the voting population. The Presidential Electoral Tribunal has spoken. It behooves everyone to abide by it. And so we must," he noted.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, meanwhile, said the Palace respects the ruling and said Marcos could appeal.
“Iyan ay desisyon ng Kataastaasang Hukuman, we respect that, and we respect also that the camp of Sen. Bongbong Marcos has a further remedy of moving for reconsideration,” he said.
(That's the decision of the Supreme Court, we respect that, and we respect also that the camp of Sen. Bongbong Marcos has a further remedy of moving for reconsideration.)
— With a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, Jamaine Punzalan, and RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News