Comelec sides with Robredo, holds ballot shading threshold at 25 percent

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 26 2018 03:42 PM | Updated as of Jul 26 2018 05:08 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has urged the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) to reconsider its junking of Vice President Leni Robredo's plea to lower the ballot shading threshold percentage in the vote recount prompted by former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos' protest against her May 2016 victory. 

The PET is currently holding a manual recount of votes covering Marcos’ pilot protest provinces of Iloilo, Camarines Sur, and Negros Oriental. 

In a 13-page comment, the poll body maintained that while it recognizes the tribunal’s constitutionally vested power to promulgate its own rules in resolving election contests for the presidential and vice-presidential positions, the standard used in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines' determination of valid votes during the 2016 polls should be used in the PET recount.

The Comelec explained that in the 2016 elections, PCOS machines were programmed to read ovals with at least 25-percent shading as valid votes.

This change from the 50-percent threshold used during the 2010 automated polls was intended to shorten queuing time at the polling centers as election inspectors returned to voters ballots that contained partial shadings of between 25 percent to 49 percent, then considered as ‘ambiguous marks.’

This process of returning the ballots to voters so they could shade the ovals adequately contributed to longer lines, the poll body said. 

“Among the powers of the PET as the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the president and vice-president is to promulgate rules and regulations relative to the matters within its jurisdiction… Comelec is also endowed with a similar constitutional power and authority to administer the country’s election and to decide all questions affecting thereof," the poll body said. 

“In deciding election disputes, like election protest, decisions should be based on the standards and procedures used during the conduct of elections and in ascertainment of election results. To use [a] different standard would be erroneous and may result [in] unnecessary questions on the legitimacy of all elected officials, from the President down to the last Sangguniang Bayan member,” the Comelec stated. 

The Comelec said the Random Manual Audit (RMA) process it employed to audit the accuracy of the PCOS count “used a diagrammatic guide which is consistent with a 25-percent shading mark when seen by human eyes.”

The poll body maintained that under the RMA Guide on the Appreciation of Markings, which was also submitted to the PET, “[a]lthough the voters are told through the voter information efforts of the Commission to shade the ballots fully, the shading threshold was set at about 25 percent of the oval space.”

The Comelec stressed that the 25-percent threshold was set “to ensure that votes are not wasted due to inadequate shading or that no accidental or unintended small marks are counted in order to reflect the true intent of the voter,” an argument also raised by Robredo. 

The PET had junked Robredo’s plea on the shading threshold on April 10, as the tribunal stood by its 2010 Rules which provide that the threshold percentage in determining valid votes for presidential and vice-presidential contests should be at 50 percent. 

Marcos and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), acting as Tribune of the People instead of lawyering for the Comelec, supported the PET resolution and opposed Robredo’s motion for reconsideration. 

Both Marcos and the OSG argued that the power of the PET to set its own rules stems from the constitution and its grant to the tribunal as the “sole” judge in resolving poll contests involving the country’s top two posts. 

Both also supported the PET’s position that the imposition of the 50-percent threshold is based on the inability of the human eye to distinguish the 25-percent threshold.

Alleging irregularities, Marcos filed a poll protest against Robredo after losing to her by merely 263,473 votes, making the 2016 vice-presidential race the tightest in recent Philippine history.