Marcos 'ill-advised' over claims vs ballot images in VP protest – Robredo camp

MANILA, Philippines – The camp of Vice President Leni Robredo believes former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr was fed with wrong information when he made the “hysterical” accusation that Robredo colluded with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and vote counting machines manufacturer Smartmatic to "steal" his 2016 election victory. 

In a statement on Tuesday, February 13, Robredo’s legal counsel, Romulo Macalintal, explained the so-called “questionable” square marks Marcos was referring to in the ballot images were merely new features of the ballot introduced in 2016.

Marcos claimed the squares enclosing the voters’ shaded marks in the ballot images led to undervotes for him while Robredo got points even from supposedly voided ballots.

Ballot images are captured by the VCM once a voter feeds his or her ballot to the machine on election day. 

“Marcos was ill-advised to believe that the presence of these 'square shapes' are signs of massive election fraud and immediately went to the media to announce such a phenomenon, only to realize later that he and his adviser committed a great blunder for calling such special feature of the 2016 ballot images as irregularities to favor Robredo,” said Macalintal.

"Marcos was clearly fed with the wrong information by his adviser or a person who was as hysterical and excited as Marcos when they saw this characteristics of the ballot images. They did not know that this 'square' containing the black shading made by the voter on the ballot was a new and special feature of the ballot images for the 2016 elections,” added the veteran election lawyer.

According to Macalintal, the Comelec had explained the new features of the ballots in a meeting with the political parties held before the May 2016 polls. 

“In the 2016 elections, the Comelec set a 25% threshold or the extent of the shading a voter had to make on the ballot in order that such vote could be counted by the vote counting machines. If the shading is less than 25%, the machine will not count the vote which means that the shading must be 25% or more,” said Macalintal.

"And once the shading on the ballot met said threshold, the same is counted by the machine and the ballot image when printed will show that the shade is inside the 'square' which means that such shading was the recognized and counted by the machines," he added.

It was the same explanation offered by election lawyer Emil Marañon III in his opinion piece previously published by Rappler. He was among the counsels previously consulted by the Vice President’s camp. (OPINION: What Bongbong Marcos should understand about ballot images)

Macalintal then urged Marcos not to use Robredo’s name and his “nanghihingalong (dying)” election protest as political mileage for the 2019 senatorial polls. 

Instead, the lawyer told Marcos to “concentrate” on the upcoming vote recount from ballots in Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental on March 19.

“Marcos is clearly demonstrating what the Supreme Court said in a case 'the propensity of election losers to demand a recount of ballots or filing all sorts of petitions in an open display of unwillingness to accept defeat,” he said.

Not briefed?

Marcos lawyers Vic Rodriguez and George Garcia, however, questioned why Macalintal was giving the explanation instead of the Comelec.

“Put it this way: He is not the Comelec and he is not the competent authority to discuss and more so explain this discovery,” Rodriguez told Rappler in a text message.

Garcia also said the Marcos camp had attended all briefings called by the Comelec during the election period. But contrary to Macalintal’s statement, he said, the poll body never discussed the new features.

“We attended all briefings. No such discussion. It’s not even in any of the guidelines/rules promulgated by Comelec. Why is Atty Mac now doing the explaining for Comelec? Isn’t it that he accused us of falsification? The BBM’s camp using corrrection fluid was the one who placed these squares in the thousands of ballots. Now, he is practically eating his words, so to speak,” said Garcia.

“Don’t we deserve and the Filipino people a well-[deserved] apology? Wow, mali (it's a mistake)!” he added. 

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, however, said they properly briefed all political parties regarding the new ballot features by holding a VCM roadshow last year. 

“There was not one briefing, but rather multiple demonstartions as part of the VCM roadshow. With regard to 'squares,' I believe those were covered during [the] extensive source code review for political parties and other interested parties, held in La Salle, 2015-2016,” Jimenez said in a text message. 

Jimenez was still double checking the attendance of the candidates’ representatives, including the Marcos camp, during the said VCM road show as of posting time.

Robredo defeated Marcos by just 263,473 votes during the 2016 elections. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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