MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC), sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has ordered the creation of a panel of commissioners to preside over matters concerning the election case filed by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr against Vice President Leni Robredo.
“To aid the Tribunal in the just and expeditious disposition of the protest and the counter-protest, the Tribunal deems it necessary to already constitute a panel of 3 hearing commissioners to act on behalf of and under the control and supervision of the Tribunal,” said the June 6 SC resolution released on Wednesday, June 14.
Retired Justice Jose Vitug was assigned chairperson of the panel with lawyers Angelito Imperio and Irene Ragodon-Guevarra as members.
Vitug, founding dean of the Angeles University Foundation, retired from the SC in 2004 and has since served as chairman of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and senior member of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET).
Imperio was a senior partner of the country’s biggest law firm, SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan, until his retirement in 2004. He had also served as a mediator of civil cases pending in the Court of Appeals.
Guevarra, meanwhile, was a witness for the defense during the impeachment trial of the late chief justice Renato Corona, and also served in the SET.
The resolution comes 3 weeks ahead of the scheduled preliminary conference on July 11. The conference was initially set for June 21 but was moved to a later date due to the oral arguments on the petitions against the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
Last month, Marcos’ lawyers urged the PET to assign 3 hearing officers to “better facilitate an orderly, simplified and expeditious disposition of this electoral contest considering that there are 3 causes of action raised in this election protest.” (READ: Marcos again urges SC to speed up poll protest)
On Friday, Marcos’ lawyers filed their client’s preliminary conference brief before the PET.
The 81-page brief enumerated the list of witnesses and documents supporting Marcos’ protest. It also named the 3 provinces where the pilot recount will be conducted to prove the merit of his protest – Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental.
Marcos’ spokesperson, Vic Rodriguez, explained that the 3 provinces would show the discrepancies in the votes cast in the ballots and those transmitted by the vote-counting machines (VCMs).
The lawyer challenged Robredo’s 643,865 votes in her bailiwick, Camarines Sur, compared to the votes for fellow Bicolanos, Senators Francis Escudero, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Gringo Honasan.
The Marcos camp also claimed that Robredo’s 573,729 votes in Iloilo compared to Marcos’ 94,411 votes were also “implausible” as it is the hometown of Marcos’ presidential candidate, the late Senator Miriam Defense Santiago.
Rodriguez added that the biggest political families in Negros Oriental supported Marcos which, he said, was their basis for questioning Robredo’s 248,102 votes there against Marcos’ 99,208.
The camp also raised the high undervotes in these 3 provinces, an issue it raised during the official vote canvassing in May last year. Robredo’s lawyer, Romulo Macalintal, earlier said that undervoting cannot indicate election fraud because it is normal in any election. (READ: Undervoting in 2016 VP election: Will it help Marcos’ case?)
On Friday, Rodriguez said: “According to election experts from here and around the world, the acceptable rate of occurrence of undervotes should be just 1%. But when the undervotes are more than 5%, like in these 3 provinces, that should cause alarm and suspicion because it is not normal.”
The Vice President, through her lawyers, has also filed her brief for the preliminary conference before the High Court, where she named the 3 pilot provinces for her counter-protest: Capiz, Sulu, and North Cotabato.
Robredo’s lawyers also asked the PET to create 25 revision committees for the recount of votes.
In the prefatory statement of the 146-page brief, Robredo’s lawyers, Romulo Macalintal and Maria Bernadette Sardillo, said that “Marcos is throwing everything on the wall, hoping that something sticks.”
They also maintained that the election protest filed by Marcos is based on manufactured evidence and general allegations.
Macalintal also stressed that Marcos’ protest claims that the 2016 automated election system was defective, rendering the system null and void. (TIMELINE: Marcos-Robredo election case)
“Marcos limits his questions to one position – the vice presidency. It is clear, however, that his claim effectively attacks not only protestee Robredo’s canvassed votes but also his own,” the lawyer said. – Rappler.com
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