MANILA (4th UPDATE) - The Presidential Electoral Tribunal has upheld the 25-percent ballot shading threshold in the recount between Vice President Leni Robredo and former Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
The Vice President's camp hailed the resolution as a "victory," adding that they were no longer expecting major hurdles from the poll protest.
“Parang lahat nakahinga na,” Robredo.
(It feels as if we can now all breathe.)
“Sana tuloy-tuloy na, sana mapabilis na para maka-move on na talaga tayo," she added.
(We hope this will go all the way so that the election protest can be fast-tracked and we can all move on.)
In its resolution, the Supreme Court acting as the PET said the 50-percent shading threshold "was no longer applied" in the 2016 elections.
The tribunal said the election returns, which were based on the 25-percent threshold, will be used in their proceedings.
“In view of the foregoing, the head revisors are hereby directed to refer to the election returns to verify the total number of votes as read and counted by the vote counting machines,” the PET said.
During the 2016 elections, automated ballots contained blank ovals that voters had to shade to indicate their chosen candidates. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) calibrated vote counting machines to recognize ballots where ovals are shaded by at least 25 percent.
Robredo's camp said it received Tuesday a copy of the PET resolution to use the Comelec shading threshold during its manual ballot count for Marcos' protest contesting his defeat in the 2016 vice presidential race.
Robredo's lawyer Romulo Macalintal said Marcos “may consider withdrawing his election protest” since “the bulk of his issue” is based on invalidating votes for Robredo based on the shading threshold.
Marcos lost to Robredo by 263,473 votes, making the 2016 vice-presidential race the tightest in recent Philippine history. He had alleged that various irregularities led to his defeat.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
The former senator had identified 3 pilot provinces -- Negros Oriental, Camarines Sur and Iloilo -- where he got unfavorable results that were canvassed with the 25-percent shading threshold.
It is uncertain how many ballots may be affected if the PET would use a 50-percent threshold. But assuming that at least 5 percent would and therefore be junked, Robredo may lose as much as 65,000 votes from the 3 pilot provinces, former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban said in an Inquirer opinion piece.
Given Robredo's narrow lead in the canvassed results, the votes she may lose "would be significant or substantial and could constrain the manual recount of the 22 remaining protested provinces with about nine million votes," said Panganiban.
The 50-percent threshold could therefore "have the unintended consequence of overturning Leni’s lead, not because of cheating but because of a mere shading loophole that disenfranchised proportionately many more of her voters than of Bongbong’s," he added.
This, he said, would be unfair to Robredo and the electorate.
MARCOS CONTESTS ROBREDO CLAIM
Marcos' camp, however, has a different interpretation of the ruling, claiming it was their victory.
"We're very happy that the Supreme Court upheld Mr. Marcos' position that the proper threshold appreciation is 50 percent, and not 25 percent being peddled by Mrs. Robredo through her live press conference," Marcos' lawyer Vic Rodriguez told ANC.
As justification, Rodriguez quoted this excerpt from page 6 of the resolution:
"The Tribunal was never informed of any official act of the COMELEC adopting the twenty-five percent shading threshold prior to the Subject Motion; hence it had no sufficient basis to amend its rules."
The PET in April junked Robredo's bid for the use of the 25-percent threshold. She then filed a motion for reconsideration to overturn this ruling.
Comelec last July also urged PET to reconsider Robredo's plea to lower the ballot shading threshold.
PET, in its latest ruling on the issue states that Comelec adopted the alleged 25-percent threshold through Resolution 16-0600.
"It is only now, through the Subject Motion that the Tribunal is informed of the existence of Resolution No. 16-0600," it said in the resolution.
The tribunal said its examination of Comelec resolutions and other documentary evidence show that "what was adopted was a range of twenty percent (20%) to twenty-five percent (25%) shading threshold."
"From the foregoing, for purposes of the 2016 elections, the fifty percent (50%) shading threshold was no longer applied. It is likewise clear however that a new threshold had been applied," it added.