VP electoral protest

EXPLAINER: The fuss about Bongbong Marcos’ push to annul Mindanao votes

Lian Buan

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

EXPLAINER: The fuss about Bongbong Marcos’ push to annul Mindanao votes

VP PROTEST. A file photo of former senator Bongbong Marcos filing a motion asking for the inhibition of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen from the proceedings of his election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo at the Supreme Court on November 9, 2020.

Photo by KD Madrilejos/Rappler

The Marcos camp is insistent that their 3rd cause of action, to annul votes in Mindanao, is still undecided. Rappler's sources say otherwise.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous dismissal of Bongbong Marcos’ electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo is being disputed by pro-Marcos bloggers and personalities, saying it isn’t over yet.

The dispute is rooted in this controversial 3rd cause of action – to annul votes in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao due to alleged fraud. Annulling votes there would benefit Marcos, who lost by only 263,473 votes in the 2016 vice presidential elections.

We explain the fuss.

First, two sources privy to the decision confirmed to Rappler that the 3rd cause of action was junked in the unanimous dismissal – the reason being that, there was no sufficient justification to annul the votes in those 3 Mindanao provinces.

But that has yet to be officially declared by the Supreme Court. What the Public Information Office (PIO) has said, so far, is this: “The 15 members of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal unanimously dismissed the entire electoral protest.”

We put emphasis on the word “entire” because it addresses what the Marcos camp had alleged. The PIO statement was issued after Marcos’ lawyer Vic Rodriguez said this: “As to the issue on how to proceed with our third cause of action, which is the annulment of votes in Mindanao, the Tribunal has yet to decide on the matter.”

Even as the PIO already clarified that the entire protest had been dismissed, Rodriguez was still not satisifed. For Rodriguez, an entire protest means only recount and revision.

What is an electoral protest?

Rodriguez told ANC’s Headstart: “When we speak of electoral protest in its strictest legal, it has acquired strict legal meaning. Electoral protest pertains solely to manual recount and judicial revision.”

He added: “But remember we have two pending causes of action before the tribunal. One is the manual recount and judicial revision, which is strictly electoral protest, and the other one, third cause of action, the annulment of election results in the 3 provinces of Mindanao.”

So for him, when the PIO said the “entire” electoral protest had been dismissed, the actions pertaining to recount and revision were dismissed, but not the action pertaining to annulment.

But Rule 14 of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) rules doesn’t list annulment of elections as a separate contest. It lists only two ways of contesting the presidency and the vice presidency.

Rule 14 says: “An election contest is initiated by the filing of an election protest or a petition for quo warranto against the President or Vice President. An election protest shall not include a petition for quo warranto. A petition for quo warranto shall not include an election protest.”

Robredo’s election lawyer Emil Marañon said: “All that Atty Vic Rodriguez needs to do is to read is the 2010 PET Rules to realize that his arguments are downright foolish.”

“There is no independent action for annulment of election results under the PET rules. There being none, a prayer for annulment is usually tucked as part of an election protest, as what Bongbong Marcos’ election lawyers have done in his case,” said Marañon.

Ang hirap kasi sa kampo ni Mr Marcos ay hindi talaga marunong tumanggap ng pagkatalo,” he added. (The problem with the camp of Mr Marcos is that they really don’t know how to accept defeat.)

Annulment of elections

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said that all causes of action were discussed in the decision.

“All the issues were tackled, you are referring to the 3rd? That was tackled in the decision,” said Peralta in a chance interview with reporters on Friday, February 19, after he was conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the Tarlac State University.

Peralta did not reveal how he voted – as 7 justices concurred fully, and 8 justices concurred only with the result. Concurring, or agreeing with the result, means agreeing with the outcome (to dismiss the entire protest), but not necessarily with the rationale.

Peralta did say that an issue raised in the decision is his own dissenting opinion in the case of the 2013 midterm elections where Harlin Abayon won against Raul Daza as representative of the first legislative district of Northern Samar with a slim margin of 52 votes.

Daza moved to annul the votes in some precincts, alleging widespread fraud and terrorism. The House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) favored Daza, annuled the votes there, and proclaimed him the winner.

Peralta dissented in the HRET decision, saying that “evidence is utterly weak, unclear and unconvincing.” Peralta believed that to annul an election was a big move that could disenfranchise voters, and so to do that, the tribunal must follow high standards, such as that illegality of the ballots must affect more than 50% of the votes cast.

Abayon appealed to the Supreme Court as a whole, where a special en banc reversed the HRET. It agreed with Peralta and proclaimed Abayon the true winner.

“I was the one who wrote the dissenting opinion when I was with the HRET where I lost to the majority, but when it reached the Supreme Court, my dissenting opinion was sustained,” said Peralta on Friday.

Peralta said he would write a separate opinion, but still did not reveal how he voted.

Annulment of elections is a power held by the PET, separate from the power of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to declare failure of elections.

The Comelec had junked all petitions for failure of elections in Marcos’ contested Mindanao provinces, but conceded that to annul votes would be the sole power of the PET.

In a pleading sent to the PET before they reached a decision, the Comelec told justices to be careful of this power. “The power to nullify an election must be exercised with the greatest care with a view not to disenfranchise the voters, and only under circumstances that clearly call for such drastic remedial measure,” said the Comelec.

Peralta said that Marcos can always file a motion for reconsideration.

In an earlier tweet, former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te said “while it can still be subject of an MFR (motion for reconsideration), the unanimous vote makes it extremely difficult to reverse.”

Replying to Rappler’s question on whether they would indeed file an appeal, Rodriguez said: “I cannot make any intelligent comment yet unless we read the entire text and be informed and knowledgeable of the facts and the law on which the decision was based.” – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.