Comelec hands off in answering issues raised in PET protest

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – As the Supreme Court (SC) tackles the high-stakes vice presidential electoral protest, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) distanced itself from commenting on the issues raised by the High Court involving the annulment of election results in 3 Mindanao provinces, saying it was not for the poll body to decide on.

"It is not for the Comelec to make this decision. Comelec enforces the outcome of things like this," Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said in a press conference on Thursday, October 24.

Jimenez was responding to questions asking the poll body whether the SC, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), could annul election results as sought by defeated 2016 vice presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr in his electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo. (READ: Why Marcos wants SC to investigate election materials in 3 Mindanao provinces)

Marcos' third cause of action seeks the nullification of votes in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao due to supposed widescale cheating. (His first cause of action questioning the integrity of the 2016 elections was denied. His second cause of action, which involves the recount of votes in 3 pilot provinces, has yet to be decided, though results showed Robredo widened her lead over Marcos.)

Along with his second cause of action, the PET has yet to decide if it will proceed with Marcos' third cause of action. Its latest decision released October 18 only required both parties to submit position papers on several issues it raised in relation to Marcos' third cause of action.

Among the issues included questions on how the PET should act such as what the effect of nullifying election results would have on other elective positions, if it would be necessary to call for special elections, and if so, who would have the "competence" to call for special elections. (DOCUMENT: SC asks Robredo, Marcos to comment on recount of votes in VP protest)

"Comelec, certainly, is not the one who's supposed to answer that. Because the Comelec's job was to hold the elections. In this case is practically a party itself.... Hindi kami 'yung nagde-decide (We're not the ones who decide)," Jimenez said.

Jimenez said it was still "premature" for the Comelec to dicuss the PET's jurisdiction to nullify elections as proceedings have not yet tackled Marcos' 3rd cause of action. 

"It's really premature to talk about the wisdom of this, because the wisdom of this will be debated by the [Presidential Electoral] Tribunal itself. It's the tribunal that will have to be the forum for discussing whether or not they will claim this power [to annul election results]," he added.

Refrain from commenting 

Robredo's legal consultant Emil Marañon III earlier urged the Comelec to refrain from making statements after Jimenez said the poll body was "ready" to hold special elections if needed. Marañon said there were several issues to consider – not just Comelec's "willingness" to conduct elections.

"The question of special election remains a very remote possibility, existing as of yet in the realm of academic discussions. Marcos has yet to hurdle Rule 65, and his protest is still facing dismissal given PET's confirmation of his failure to show any recovery," Marañon said.

"This discussion is better reserved when that day comes," he added.

Robredo's position is that Marcos' request should be denied without question as it would be a departure from Rule 65 of the 2010 PET rules. Rule 65 says that if there is no substantial recovery from Marcos' chosen 3 pilot provinces, "the protest may forthwith be dismissed, without further consideration of the other provinces mentioned in the protest."

Robredo defeated Marcos by just 263,473 votes in the 2016 vice presidential elections, prompting the latter to allege cheating and file an electoral protest against her. With an additional 15,093 votes from the recount of votes in the 3 pilot provinces, Robredo's lead in the national count widened to 278,566 votes.

In Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao, Robredo garnered a total of 477,985 votes against Marcos' 169,160 votes. If these are nullified, Robredo's slim lead in the original national count would be wiped out. Marcos would lead by 45,352 votes, plus or minus any votes that either side recovers courtesy of the lowered shading threshold. – Rappler.com 

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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