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With Due Respect

Will Bongbong replace Leni?

President Duterte’s grim announcement during a speech before the Filipino community in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Dec. 14 that he may not finish his six-year term, overheated the already viral media hype on the alleged attempt to “steal the vice presidency from Leni Robredo.”

Marcos petition. The revelation from no less than the President himself about his sad state of health (Buerger’s disease, daily migraine, terrible back pains) has riveted attention on Bongbong Marcos’ claim of election fraud and irregularities.

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To calm public anxiety, let us briefly examine the election case. To be sure, Marcos’ 1,000-page petition, backed by over 20,000 affidavits, raised many issues including alleged “violations in using the Vote Counting Machines (VCMs)… which have not demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise.”

If this allegation were true, then all the victors in the 2016 elections, including Rodrigo Duterte, would be dislodged. This is simply preposterous given that the 2016 elections were generally peaceful, orderly and credible.

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Another issue, the “introduction… of a new hash code into the Transparency Server” which supposedly caused unauthorized changes in the vote count, has been repeatedly debunked by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, and several technology experts as an unfortunate incident that did not affect the integrity of the results.

Alleged cheating. However, what apparently caught the immediate attention of the Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), are the allegations on the “traditional modes of cheating” (like vote-buying, pre-shading, intimidation of voters, erroneous counting, etc.) in 39,221 clustered precincts involving 97,366 VCMs in 25 provinces and five cities.

Thus, the PET issued a preliminary precautionary order requiring the Comelec to collect, preserve and safeguard the devices and documents used in the protested precincts, including the VCMs, the automated ballots and the secure data cards (SD cards).

In a resolution dated Dec. 6, 2016, the PET noted that the turnover to the Comelec of the 97,366 leased VCMs subject of the protest may impel the Comelec to pay Smartmatic, the owner of the VCMs, “a total of P2,078,304,225.76.”

Why the Comelec would have to pay this staggering amount is beyond me. I think Marcos should pay it. In fact, I think the VCMs need not be used in the recount. Feeding the ballots into these machines would be impractical and time-consuming because of their exposure to dust, water and the like while they were kept in the warehouses.

After all, the SD cards contain images of the ballots cast in the polling places concerned and can be decrypted in special laptops in the Comelec, in the presence of the parties and their lawyers. If properly preserved and safeguarded, they are the speedy source of the election data.

No light yet. Even if the VCMs are no longer used, the process will still be costly and tedious because, as of today, the PET has not even begun the revision of the ballots.

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To do this, 1) the election documents will have to be gathered from all over the country by the Comelec with the help of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, and 2) several revision committees—composed of regular and alternate revisors to be compensated from deposits to be paid by Marcos pursuant to PET rules—will have to be created.

To revise or recount the ballots in the protested 39,221 clustered precincts (composed of 4.3 established precincts on the average) may take at least two years.

Robredo’s counterprotest involving 8,042 clustered precincts in 13 provinces may require at least one year more.

At this point, without judging the merits of the protest, the inevitable conclusion is that, in the normal course, it will take a few more years of hard work before we see light in the case. Incidentally, two of the brightest election lawyers are facing each other here—George Garcia for Marcos and Romulo Macalintal for Robredo.

Comments to [email protected]

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TAGS: Bongbong Marcos, Filipino community, leni robredo, President Duterte
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