By Hannah Torregoza
The Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) has dismissed the electoral protest that defeated 2016 senatorial candidate Francis Tolentino has filed against Senator Leila de Lima, the lawmaker’s camp said Thursday.
The SET also released the results of the recount of the contested ballots in the pilot precincts and ruled that there were no irregularities or fraud that supposedly led to Tolentino’s defeat.
In its Notice of Resolution No. 16-142 dated 21 Feb. 2019, but released only last April 4, the tribunal granted Tolentino’s motion withdrawing his electoral protest against the senator, thereby, closing and terminating the entire electoral protest which the former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chief filed in June 2016.
The tribunal also granted De Lima’s motion to make public the results of the revision and appreciation of the recount proceedings covering 319,228 ballots from 654 clustered precincts that were earlier examined by the SET.
“The motion for withdrawal of the election protest manifests the desistance of the Protestant from pursuing the case. There being no law or jurisprudence that prevents its approval, the Tribunal hereby grants the same,” the resolution read.
“The Tribunal, in the exercise of its discretion, (also) opted to release the results of revision and appreciation in the pilot precincts as these proceedings had already been completed,” the 31-page resolution added.
Tolentino had filed an electoral protest case against De Lima after he ranked 13th in the May 2016 senatorial elections. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) proclaimed De Lima as the winner when she ranked 12th in the senatorial race.
Later, he withdrew his electoral protest after deciding to join the senatorial ticket of the Duterte administration’s Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban) for the 2019 midterm elections.
The SET confirmed that the results of the initial determination of the concluded revision of pilot precincts did not show any proof of alleged irregularities or fraud in the 2016 polls that ultimately led to Tolentino’s defeat.
“The results negated his allegations that pre-loaded SD cards were used or that his votes were not counted,” SET noted.
“After conducting the (barcode matching and vote matching proceedings) on 532 clustered precincts, it was confirmed that the barcodes of the actual paper ballots correspond to the barcodes of the picture images, and that “the votes” appearing on the actual ballots and picture images were the votes that were counted by the VCMs,” it added.
According to the SET, the tally of votes covering 319,228 ballots from 654 precincts during revision and appreciation even resulted to an increase of 895 votes for De Lima and only 702 for Tolentino or a net gain of 193 votes in De Lima’s favor.
The tribunal also noted that votes showing voters’ clear intention, even though they failed to comply with the 50% shading threshold set by the SET, and as long as they do not have any unnecessary markings, were counted.
Tolentino had repeatedly claimed alleged fraud and irregularities as the cause of his defeat in the 2016 national and local elections even after de Lima won over him by a margin of 1.33 million votes.
In his motion dated last Jan. 3, Tolentino told SET that he “voluntarily” withdrew his electoral protest against De Lima to allegedly give his “undivided attention” in campaigning for the Senatorial post in the upcoming 2019 polls.
Aside from alleging that his votes were not counted or the SD cards were pre-loaded, Tolentino also claimed that there was an illegal by-pass of the Automated Election System (AES) which he failed to prove during the revision proceedings.
“As to the alleged illegal by-pass of the AES, the evidentiary weight of the evidence presented by the Protestant, both documentary and testimonial, was not taken into consideration by the Tribunal as the reception of evidence relative thereto was not completed,” SET pointed out.
“Tolentino waved the presentation of witnesses who would testify that they did not cast their votes during the 2016 national and local elections in the precincts where they are registered voters yet the protested precincts reported a 100% voter turnout. Protestant, thus, failed to prove the existence of the grounds that would justify the requested annulment,” the SET stated in the resolution.