SC affirms Leni ’16 win: Marcos’ election protest junked due to lack of merit

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    VP Leni

    THE Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), yesterday unanimously junked due to lack of merit the electoral protest filed by defeated vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo, ending an almost five-year legal battle that started after the 2016 national elections.

    Marcos filed his electoral protest on June 29, 2016 after he lost the vice presidential race to Robredo by 263,473 votes.

    In a press briefing, SC spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said seven justices fully concurred with the dismissal of the protest, while eight concurred in the results.

    Hosaka did not provide additional details about the PET’s ruling.

    Asked why it was important to stress the full concurrence and the simple concurrence of the magistrates in the ruling, Hosaka merely explained that concurring with the decision means that the eight justices agreed with the outcome of the case but not necessarily with the rationale or doctrine. He did not elaborate.

    He declined to identify the seven justices who fully concurred in the junking of the electoral protest, as well as the eight who concurred only with the results.

    The full copy of the PET decision was expected to be uploaded in the SC website last night.

    In a briefer distributed to reporters later on Tuesday, the PET said its ruling covered the entire electoral protest, including Marcos’ third cause of action.

    “With regard to PET Case No.005 (Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, protestant vs Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo), the 15 members of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal unanimously dismissed the entire electoral protest as follows: Whereas the PET dismisses the election protest filed by protestant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for lack of merit,” the SC briefer stated.

    Marcos’ complaint had three causes of action: the first alleging that the Automated Election System was compromised, hence its integrity cannot be relied upon to declare a legitimate winner. In his second cause of action, the former senator cited alleged fraud in the conduct of the 2016 vice presidential election and asked for a recount of the results in the pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental.

    Marcos lost his first and second causes of action in 2019. A recount of votes in the three provinces even widened Robredo’s win over him by more than 15,000 votes.

    Marcos filed a third cause of action, this time calling for the annulment of the elections held in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan, where he claimed the polls were tainted with terrorism, intimidation, harassment of voters as well as pre-shading of ballots.

    Marcos said he could easily surpass Robredo’s lead as she stands to lose 497,985 votes in the election results in the three Mindanao provinces.

    MOVE ON

    Robredo said it’s now time to “move on” from the distraction caused by Marcos’ electoral protest and focus on addressing the greatest threat that the country is facing now, the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “Let’s put this rancor behind us, let’s move forward together. The country is facing a lot of things now, a lot of hardships so let’s set aside our grudges, misunderstandings and bickering,” she told a press conference early last night in a mixed of English and Filipino.

    Robredo extended her hand of reconciliation to her political enemies, saying the whole country should “unify and join us in focusing on the work in front of us especially in this time of crisis.”

    “This affirmation that we have received from the PET today would allow us to focus on work (which is) observing our people,” she said.

    Marcos’ lawyer Vic Rodriguez said they have yet to receive a copy of the PET decision.

    “The information that we have are primarily sourced from our media friends and not from any official notice or information emanating from the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. We shall issue a statement on the matter as soon as we have established the facts based on official document or pronouncement from the PET,’ Rodriguez said.

    “Based on the official pronouncement made by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal today, the court unanimously voted to dismiss our second cause of action which is the manual recount and judicial revision,” he said.

    In another statement issued late Tuesday afternoon, Rodriguez said that “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.”

    The PET had responded to this in its briefer, where it said that the entire electoral protest was dismissed due to lack of merit.

    RESPECT DECISION

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Malacañang respects the PET’s decision. He expressed doubt, though, if the ruling would improve the current relationship between President Duterte and Robredo.

    “I don’t think it makes any difference because the President has always referred to VP Leni as the Vice President,” Roque said.

    Roque likewise said there was no change in the President’s preference of Marcos as vice president over Robredo. “I think the preference remains but the fact is the Vice President has become the de jure Vice President,” he said.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the “unanimity of decision by the PET appears to validate VP Robredo’s win on the basis of law and of the evidence presented before it by both parties”.

    He said while the supporters and those who voted for Marcos may not agree with it, “they have to accept the verdict no matter how wrong or unacceptable to them.”

    He said it is the rule of the majority and the public should accept that “the Presidential Electoral Tribunal has spoken. It behooves everyone to abide by it. And so we must.”

    Robredo’s allies at the Senate welcome the PET decision.

    “The PET decision should put the issue to rest. I enjoin all parties involved to respect the decision. Let us begin the healing process now and focus on what is before us — the COVID-19 pandemic,” Drilon said.

    Sen. Francis Pangilinan “wished” the decision was made much sooner as it affirms “what we have been saying from Day 1” that allegations of cheating during the last elections was baseless.

    Sen. Risa Hontiveros said it now time to move forward: “It’s good that this issue has come to an end.”

    Former SC spokesman and now UP College of Law Prof. Theodore Te said while a motion for reconsideration is possible, it will be “extremely difficult” to get a reversal of the decision considering that the decision was unanimous.

    “While it can still be subject of a motion for reconsideration, the unanimous vote makes it extremely difficult to reverse, even if some justices voted to concur only in the result,” Te said.

    He said concurring only with the results mean “they have different reasons but the same conclusion.”

    The PET decision concluded an almost five-year court litigation, which has been marked by attempts to make the justice-in-charge inhibit from the case, from Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa to Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

    Marcos and Solicitor General Jose Calida have earlier sought the inhibition of Leonen from the case, accusing him of being bias and hostile against the Marcos family. The SC threw out the petitions late last year.

    Leonen was likewise the subject of an impeachment complaint filed at the House of Representatives, which was endorsed by Marcos’ cousin, Ilocos Norte 2nd District Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba. – With Wendell Vigilia, Raymond Africa and Jocelyn Montemayor