MANILA (UPDATE) – The Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, has required the Commission on Elections and the Office of the Solicitor General to comment on pending issues in the election protest filed by defeated candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo, the court's public information office said Wednesday.
The PET ordered Comelec to report on whether petitions for failure of elections were filed in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao – the 3 provinces where Marcos had sought to annul the elections due to alleged terrorism, intimidation, harassment of voters and pre-shading of ballots.
The PET wants to know if special elections were held in these areas and the results of these elections and is seeking Comelec’s comment on certain issues involving Marcos’ third cause of action on the annulment of elections.
The poll body and the OSG were given 20 days to comment on whether the PET is empowered by the Constitution to declare the annulment of elections even without special elections, and declare the failure of elections and order the conduct of special elections.
In addition, the PET is asking the two agencies if the PET’s declaration of failure of elections might infringe on the Comelec’s mandate under the Constitution to conduct polls.
The PET meanwhile required Marcos and Robredo to comment on the Comelec’s and OSG’s submissions within 15 days from receipt.
The move comes a little over 10 months since the PET released the results of the initial recount involving 3 pilot provinces which saw Robredo’s slim lead of around 263,000 votes over Marcos grow by 15,000 votes.
The initial recount covered some 5,417 clustered precincts in the provinces of Camarines Sur, Negros Oriental and Iloilo, chosen by Marcos as his pilot provinces where an initial determination of the grounds for the electoral protest were to be made.
Then-Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, who was the previous member in charge of the poll protest, said the result should have been enough to warrant the dismissal of the election protest following the PET’s own 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.
But the magistrates voted 11-2 to require both parties to comment on the results of the initial recount and on whether the PET could still look into Marcos’ third cause of action seeking to annul the elections in Maguindanao, Basilan and Lanao del Sur given the results of the initial recount and how to go about this process.
In an interview on ABS-CBN's Teleradyo, Marcos' lawyer, Atty. Vic Rodriguez, said they welcome the Supreme Court's move, but is saddened by the fact that the electoral protest has been passed down to the Comelec anew.
"Kami ay natutuwa dahil validated ang aming another cause of action, 'yung sinasabi nila na hindi naman daw kasama talaga sa aming election protest, 'yan nga ho 'yung setting aside the annulment of the election results in the provinces of Maguindanao, Basilan and Lanao del Sur," he said.
(We are happy because our cause of action, which they said is not included in the election protest, the setting aside the annulment of setting aside the annulment of the election results in Maguindanao, Basilan and Lanao del Sur, is validated.)
"Kami rin ay with extreme reservations at nalulungkot dahil ipinasa na naman ang usapin sa Comelec," Rodriguez added.
(We are saddened because the issue is given back to Comelec.)
The Robredo camp also welcomes the resolution, her lawyer, Atty. Beng Sardillo, said in the same interview.
THIRD CAUSE OF ACTION
Marcos, in his memorandum, urged the PET to re-examine the preliminary results of the recount and urged it to proceed to the third cause of action, which he said, is “separate, distinct and independent” from his second cause of action – the judicial revision, recount and re-appreciation of ballots, rejecting the application of Rule 65.
The PET, in August 2017, 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.”
Marcos had wanted to annul the election results in the 3 Mindanao provinces on the grounds of terrorism, intimidation and pre-shading of ballots.
He claimed 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.
To do this, Marcos moved that a technical examination be made of the ballots in the 3 Mindanao provinces.
A technical examination involves comparing the signatures and thumbprints of voters in the voters’ registration record (VRR) as against the election day computerized voters’ list (EDCVL).
But Robredo, in her own memorandum, insisted that Marcos himself agreed during the preliminary conference of the poll protest that if he cannot show any substantial recovery from the recount in the 3 pilot provinces, his protest will be dismissed following Rule 65.
The side of Robredo has called this a “desperate attempt” to save a “dying” election protest and will, in effect, create new pilot provinces.
According to sources, the PET vote was unanimous in favor of the recommendation of SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the member in charge of the election protest.
Leonen replaced Caguioa after Caguioa lost in the vote in October last year.
Leonen recently faced the threat of a quo warranto petition from self-confessed Marcos supporters lawyer Lorenzo Gadon and Solicitor General Jose Calida.
The Supreme Court earlier this month rejected Gadon’s and the OSG’s attempt to secure statements of assets, liabilities and net worth of Leonen, which they admitted will be used in a quo warranto petition against Leonen.
In a letter dated September 14 to Gadon, Calida himself said the OSG “takes serious note” of Gadon’s allegations of Leonen’s supposed non-filing of SALNs and if true, will not hesitate to question Leonen’s qualifications before the Supreme Court through a quo warranto petition.
Gadon had previously filed an impeachment complaint against ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on the ground of non-filing of SALNs, which eventually became the basis for Calida’s quo warranto petition vs Sereno.
Sereno was ousted in a controversial 8-6 vote in May 2018.