Supreme Court suspends ballot recount in VP protest

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has suspended the ballot recount in the electoral protest filed by former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr against Vice President Leni Robredo.

Lawyers of both camps confirmed this to Rappler on Tuesday, January 22. (READ: TIMELINE: Marcos-Robredo election case)

Robredo's lawyer Bernadette Sardillo and Marcos’ lead legal counsel George Garcia said in separate text messages to Rappler that the PET informed them about the suspension only through their respective revisors on Tuesday, but no reason was given for the decision.

Revisors are the people in charge of recounting and assessing which ballots should be considered as valid votes for the candidates involved in the electoral protest.

“Yes, just today and indefinite,” Sardillo said in a text message, when asked about the suspension.

The PET was conducting an initial ballot recount in the 3 pilot provinces that Marcos has chosen – Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental. The PET earlier ruled that the results of this initial recount would determine whether or not the rest of Marcos’ electoral protest has any merit. 

According to Marcos lawyer Garcia, a veteran election lawyer, the PET’s suspension of the recount was unusual.

“[It is] not so normal, especially if there is no prior notice,” said Garcia, who believed the PET would eventually resume the recount since there were still ballots from Iloilo that have not been recounted.

Garcia said the Marcos camp would not take any legal action for now, until they find out the reason behind the PET’s suspension of the ballot recount. 

In the case of the Robredo camp, lead lawyer Romulo Macalintal will hold a press conference on Wednesday, January 23, to discuss a supplemental manifestation they filed in relation to the recount suspension. 

But it seems there was a misunderstanding among the PET and the two parties. The PET later issued a clarification to say that the ballot recount was suspended only for a few ballot boxes “which were referred to the Tribunal for further action” as well as wet or damaged ballots. The rest of the ballot boxes from the 3 pilot provinces were already recounted as of Monday, January 21," it said.

The PET already directed the revisors to use decrypted ballot images instead to recount the votes in the wet or damaged ballots, and this will happen starting January 28.

“The revision proceedings for the remaining ballot boxes and decrypted ballot images will continue on January 28, 2019. In the interim, the Tribunal shall prepare for the use of decrypted ballot images in the revision proceedings,” said the PET.

Edgar Aricheta, clerk of the tribunal, later confirmed that the PET indeed suspended the revision proceedings in order to prepare for the use of the decrypted ballot images.

"This is to confirm the announcement made by the PET Ad Hoc Committee yesterday (January 21, 2019) regarding the suspension of revision proceedings in the above-captioned electoral protest case. This is to give way for the Tribunal to prepare for the revision using the decrypted ballots and/or election paraphernalia," said Aricheta.

The PET suspended the recount for damaged ballots a little over a month after Marcos asked the High Court to “immediately” order order the technical examination of voting records in Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao, votes from which Marcos wants the PET to nullify due to alleged widespread cheating. –  Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate 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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