THE LEGAL FRONT
By JUSTICE ART D. BRION (RET.)
The electoral contest between Senator Bongbong Marcos and Vice President Leni Robredo appears to have entered Wonderland and has become curiouser and curiouser, to use the words of Alice.
Last October 15, after three long years of waiting, the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, issued a per curiam resolution that the public had expected would finally resolve the long-running electoral dispute.
The court, however, merely required the parties to comment on the report on the revision of votes in the three pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental, and only with respect to the dispute’s Second Cause of Action.
Additionally, it asked the parties to now disclose their positions on the Third Cause of Action that relates to the annulment of election results in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, and Basilan, as articulated in the Preliminary Conference Order.
What appears certain, for now, is the court’s uncertainty on how to fully resolve the election dispute — it appears unready to dismiss the protest under Rule 65 of the PET rules; it lacks the clear conviction, after the revision of votes, that the protestant will most probably fail to support his case.
As well, the court is now open to the possibility of looking into the annulment of election results in other listed provinces, on the ground of terrorism; intimidation, and harassment of voters as well as pre-shading of ballots.
Curiouser and curiouser has this case indeed become, as the third cause of action brings the dispute into a completely new ball game; it raises annulment-related questions that potentially require new rules and new perspectives.
The game gets triply curiouser (i.e., curiouser, curiouser, and curiouser) when the recent Palace moves are factored in. The President has recently offered to make the vice president the anti-illegal drugs czarina, with full powers to resolve the drug menace that so far eluded a complete solution. The President, apparently, has begun to react to the vice president’s political sniping; he would now want the vice president to prove that she can really operate, on the ground, on her own, and do better.
The President’s move and thoughts, interestingly, come in perfect cadence with the judicial developments and provide the occasion for those with long memories to verbalize long-unvoiced thoughts about the last elections, the vice-presidential results, and the vice president’s competence to lead and guide the nation.
Keen election watchers would recall the unusual developments at the Comelec prior to the election – such as the change in the Spanish “n” that Smartmatic should not have done on its own and without the consent of the Comelec. The watchers must have really wondered what the change was all about and why the Comelec did not even chastise Smartmatic for the unauthorized act.
People who watched the 2016 counting of votes must have likewise become suspicious when they saw the massive Marcos lead on tabulation night, overtaken and reversed overnight. This development, by itself, must have led people to think back to the Spanish “n” and tales of election machines found in unusual places, as well as the close proximity of the Smartmatic and the Liberal Party operating locations.
These suspicions were not at all allayed by reports involving the domestic squabble between Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista and his wife; allegations of unexplained funds in the chairman’s possession; indirect ties between the chairman and Smartmatic; and the chairman’s unexplained disappearance and “whereabouts unknown” status in the US despite live local questions about vast and consistently flowing deposits at the Luzon Development Bank on or around election time. All these remain and have so far remained unquestioned and unexplained.
Truly, the wizardry Chairman Bautista demonstrated could have only been achieved if there had been a master magician behind him, masterfully whisking his moves into place. Who was the master magician, many had asked, but no satisfactory answers have so far been given.
These past developments and the questions that the President himself raised, as well as old and emerging doubts in the public mind, must have awakened sleeping questions on succession that the President inadvertently implied.
Those fond of speculation asked: What kind of successor would Vice President Robredo be, if and when the unthinkable happens. This possibility, of course, is not an idle one, and is the Constitution’s reason in providing for a vice president.
Let me extend this trip into Wonderland further, by asking: Can these thoughts be far away from the minds of our justices when they sat down (and when they will again sit down) to deliberate on how to meet the legal challenges that the Marcos-Robredo election dispute pose for the nation?
Lest I be misunderstood, I am not referring to conscious and deliberate judicial acts to favor one side or the other. Our magistrates are bound by the Constitution and by sworn ties of obligation to the nation. They are presumed to act impartially; they can only consider proven facts and must strictly apply the law to these proven facts.
In the Marcos-Robredo dispute, they appear in fact to have acted very carefully; one justice even pointedly explained to the media, outside of the court’s resolution, that they simply intended to satisfy the requirements of due process.
When I mentioned the court and its decision-making thought process, my own thoughts, of course, were in the realm of the Wonderland – that the unconscious mind, without the participation of conscious thoughts, could impel people to act and to see things differently from what the disciplined conscious mind perceives.
This influencing factor is not wholly speculative in Wonderland and can take place, given the suspicious and unexplained 2016 election developments; the vice president’s consistent contrarian stance on national concerns; her patent willingness to bring the President down, even before international fora; her obvious lack of experience and track record in governance; and the doubts that have begun to surface – both in the regular and social media – regarding her competence.
Could I be acting and thinking like Alice?