The number of votes cast in the vice-presidential elections of 2016 elections in the ongoing recount by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) is bound to be different from the official count of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
This is because the Comelec followed one rule in the counting of votes. And the PET is following another rule in the ongoing recount in the election protest filed by former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Maros Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo. There is yet no question of cheating or any other irregularity involved here. It is just a matter of rules that must be followed.
In the previous election of May 10, 2010, the Comelec had promulgated Resolution No. 8804 on “Rules of Procedure on Disputes in an Automated Election System” in which it said ”marks or shades which are less than 50% of the oval shall not be considered as valid votes.” At the same time, however, the Comelec said that in a recount, “the will of the voters reflected as votes in the ballots shall, as much as possible, be given effect, setting aside any technicalities.” A check mark, for example, would not meet the 50 percent rule but it could be accepted as an indication of the voter’s will.
Vice President Robredo said that in 2016, the Comelec issued a letter in which it said voters were instructed to shade fully the ovals in the ballots and “the shading threshold was set at about 25 percent of the oval space.” The vote-counting machines thus counted ballots with ovals shaded 25 percent and this was confirmed by the Random Manual Audit Committee, she said.
The PET, however, said it was not aware of any Comelec resolution allowing a 25 percent threshold in determining the validity of a vote. It stood by the original Comelec resolution for 50 percent oval shading. This early, we must resign ourselves to the prospect of differing results in the PET recount, which is bound to follow the 50 percent rule, thus ignoring even a check mark by a voter.
After the first 210 precincts in Camarines Sur, some 5,000 Robredo votes were nullified in the PET recount. Still left to be recounted in the Marcos protest are over 1,200 ballot boxes from Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental. Then there are 30,000 more precincts in which Marcos won, which are covered by a Robredo counter-protest.
If the PET proceeds with a recount in all these precincts, it may take the PET about 60 more weeks – one year and two months. And that is if there is no further dispute to delay the proceedings.
Some 5,000 Robredo votes were nullified in the last two weeks because of the PET ruling. At the end of the entire count in another 14 months, will the present trend continue? And will it be enough to overcome Robredo’s present margin of 263,473 votes over Marcos?
The entire nation continues to follow developments in the protest. We hope the PET will be able to complete the recount and issue a decision before the entire protest is overtaken by the next presidential election in 2022.
The PET – which is really the Supreme Court – appears determined to complete its task and thus set a record. No other protest on this level has ever progressed beyond the initial stages. Whatever its eventual ending, It will be a significant part of the history of elections in our country.