Comelec backs Robredo plea on 25% shading threshold in poll recount

MANILA The Commission on Elections (Comelec) echoed Vice President Leni Robredo's appeal to uphold the 25-percent shading threshold in the ongoing ballot recount for the May 2016 vice presidential race.

"To reiterate, for purposes of the May 9, 2016 national and local elections, Comelec, in order to ensure that votes are not wasted due to inadequate shading or that not accidental or unintended small marks are counted as votes in order to reflect the true intent of the voter, had set the ballot shading threshold at 25 percent," the Comelec said in its 13-page comment submitted to the Supreme Court (SC), sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

The poll body also insisted on its constitutional power to not only administer the conduct of elections and decide all questions related or affecting elections, even as it acknowledged the authority of the Tribunal to be the sole judge of all election protests relating to the presidential and vice presidential race.

Likewise, the Comelec cited its Random Manual Audit Guide on Appreciation of Markings as factual basis for the 25-percent threshold rule.

"It cannot be overemphasized that the threshold issue as it is now being presented is more an issue of fact than a question of law. Otherwise stated, it is more an issue of what was used to appreciate, count votes and proclaim winners, than an issue of which rule, as between those of Comelec and the Supreme Court, should prevail, the Comelec further explained.

The poll body submitted its comment after Solicitor General Jose Calida dropped it as a client and file its own position on the issue as a tribune of the people".

In its manifestation and motion, the OSG asked the PET to affirm its ruling last April, upholding the 50-percent shading threshold in determining the validity of votes in the 2016 vice presidential race.

The OSG argued that there is no basis for the High Court to grant Robredo's motion.

Not taking sides

The poll body, meanwhile, clarified that their comment submitted to the PET affirming the 25-percent threshold applied to all electoral protest cases.

In a formal Comment submitted to the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, the Comelec today (Thursday) affirmed that the 25-percent threshold is used in all protest cases relative to the May 9, 2016 National and Local Elections filed with and are pending before the Comelec, in the exercise of both its original and appellate jurisdiction, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said in a separate statement.

Jimenez also noted that they are not supporting any party to the poll protest case.

Comelec did not back any party to this protest. This characterization is wrong and misleading. The 25 percent threshold is applied to all protests, even before it became an issue in the VP protest, the poll body official explained.

Jimenez added that the 25-percent threshold was used to prevent incidents that the voting counting machines do not read the votes or being rejected.

Despite instructions to fully shade the ovals, voters in the 2010 National and Local Elections still tended to inadequately fill in the spaces. This resulted in ballots with ovals shaded within the range of 25 percent to 49 percent being rejected, on election day, by the counting machines for being ambiguous, and returned to the voters for correction, he said.

However this procedure was discontinued in subsequent elections as it resulted in longer queuing times in the polling place; instead, the ambiguous range was eliminated and the threshold of validity reset to 25 percent, the Comelec official added.

Jimenez said that the threshold was set to help ensure that votes are not lost due simply to inadequate shading, while at the same time ensuring that no accidental or unintended marks are counted as votes.

In a resolution dated April 10, the PET denied Robredo's plea to direct the head revisors to apply the correct threshold percentage as set by the Comelec in the revision, recount and re-appreciation of the ballots, to expedite the proceedings for lack of merit.

Last April 19, Robredo filed a motion for reconsideration, asking the PET to set aside its April 10 resolution, denying her plea for the 25-percent threshold to be applied.

The threshold adopted by the Comelec is designed to scan every oval on the ballot and count as a valid vote those that contain appropriate marks based on pre-determined sharing threshold.

On the other hand, Marcos is pushing that votes shaded by 50 percent should be counted as valid.

Marcos lost to Robredo in the May 2016 vice presidential elections by only over 200,000 votes, which prompted him to file the election protest in June 2016. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency