Friday, October 19, 2018
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The Long View

An empty drum

In this country, the saying goes that no one ever loses elections. Those who got the most votes become elected officials, and the second, third, or fourth placer thunders and shrills about having been cheated.

This idea is best highlighted in the history of election protests, specifically for the presidential and vice presidential elections. Since the inauguration of the Fifth Republic, almost all close presidential and vice presidential elections have been challenged in the Supreme Court.

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Starting in 1992, President Fidel V. Ramos, for most of his presidency, had to deal with allegations of cheating in the polls from his closest rival, Miriam Defensor Santiago. Ramos won the presidency by garnering 5,342,571 votes over Santiago’s 4,465,173. Santiago filed an election protest on July 20, 1992—almost a month after Ramos was sworn into office as the 12th president of the Philippines. Years later, in 1996, the Supreme Court dismissed Santiago’s protest because she chose to vie for a seat at the Senate in the 1995 midterm elections.

In 2004, actor Fernando Poe Jr. filed an election protest against incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for allegedly manipulating the 2004 polls. Poe, garnering 11,782,232 votes, lost to Arroyo, who officially got 12,905,808. This protest did not last long, as a year later Poe passed away. His widow, Susan Roces, subsequently filed a motion to continue the case despite the demise of her husband, but it was denied by the Supreme Court.

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In the same year, then Vice President Noli de Castro also faced an election protest from his closest rival, Loren Legarda. De Castro got 15,100,431 votes to Legarda’s 14,218,709. The protest ended with the Supreme Court dismissing the case because Legarda ran for, and won, a Senate seat in 2007.

In 2010, the country held its first automated elections, which saw President Benigno S. Aquino III and Vice President Jejomar C. Binay elected to the highest positions in the land. Despite the overall exercise being hailed as fraud-free, an election protest was still filed by Mar Roxas against Binay.

Roxas, who lost, got 13,918,490 votes as opposed to Binay’s 14,645,574. This protest dragged on throughout the term of Binay, and was eventually decided in August 2016, two months after the end of Binay’s term. In its decision, the Supreme Court said the case had become moot and academic since the term being contested had already lapsed.

On to our present-day protest, Bongbong Marcos still insists that he won the vice presidential elections against Vice President Leni Robredo. He alleged a change in the “hash code,” which turned out to be a fix for the letter “ñ,” since the letter originally appeared as a “?”.

He also claimed that square marks on the ballots were suspicious, when they turned out to be new features introduced in the 2016 ballots. He later pointed to some ballots being wet, and that audit logs did not contain a tally of votes—only to be told by a former Commission on Elections commissioner that audit logs are not found in ballot boxes as they are held in the custody of the election officer.

Looking at the history of electoral protests, we can surmise that time is of the essence when it comes to these cases. Either you run for another position, or time overtakes you, as in the case of Poe and Roxas.

This begs several questions, considering that the Marcos protest is still looking for evidence to justify itself as the Duterte administration approaches the half-way mark. Why are Marcos supporters further delaying their own case, with Solicitor General Jose Calida asking the Supreme Court for an extension to comment on the motion for reconsideration filed by Robredo’s camp? (By the way, Calida is a pro-Marcos advocate mentioned by President Duterte himself: another conflict of interest to add to the pile.)

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Why do Marcos supporters keep on insisting that the protest is already over, when we know that the Presidential Electoral Tribunal has historically never decided on any PET case?

These questions troublingly lead to suspicions of an ulterior motive. Being out of office creates the need to find ways to stay relevant and remain in the news cycle. Perhaps all the noise is a preparation for something bigger. Something that might come around four years from now.

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TAGS: Elections, electoral protests, Manuel L. Quezon III, Presidential Electoral Tribunal, Supreme Court, The Long View
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