PET junks Marcos plea for original copy of ballot images

MANILA -- The Supreme Court (SC), sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), denied the plea filed by former senator Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos, Jr. to secure original copies of decrypted ballot images and other documents in the three pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental. This is in connection with the electoral protest filed against Vice President Maria Leonor Leni Robredo.

In a four-page resolution dated Jan. 10 but was released to media on Thursday, the PET denied Marcos' request to get original copies of the documents for the duration of the recount. But it allowed him to secure soft copies and photocopies of the decrypted ballot images, election returns and audit logs from contested clustered precincts of the pilot provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental, subject to the payment of incidental costs.

The tribunal said it was keeping the original copies of the documents and while it allowed Marcos to get copies, it ruled that he should again pay for the incidental costs of securing the soft copies and the photocopies.

..(t)he Tribunal Resolved to allow protestant to secure photocopies or soft copies of the decrypted ballot images, election returns and other reports for the protested clustered precincts of the pilot provinces, subject to the payment of incidental costs, the Resolution stated.

It added, (h)owever, the custody of the official, printed and authenticated copies of the decrypted ballot images, election returns and audit logs from the protested clustered precincts of the pilot provinces should remain with the Tribunal for the conduct of the revision proceedings pursuant to the 2010 PET Rules.

Atty. Victor Rodriguez, Marcos' spokesperson, said the recent resolution was a confirmation of the bias of the case's ponente, Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, in his handling of Marcos' election protest.

Senator Marcos had already made public last week the obvious bias of Justice Caguioa in his case and he said he would not be surprised if this kind of resolution would come out and he was correct. This is another clear confirmation that he is indeed biased against Senator Marcos and in favor of Mrs. (Leni) Robredo, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez explained that while the PET is a collegial body composed of 15 justices of the SC, it is Caguioa, as the ponente in charge of the case, who decides and issues the minute resolutions regarding his protest.

Caguioa, an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III, who recommended to the tribunal the actions to be taken regarding Marcos' protest and Robredo's counter-protest.

Rodriguez said that he could not find any logic why the PET would deprive Marcos of the documents that the tribunal required him to pay only to give the same documents to Robredo for free.

It was Senator Marcos who moved for the decryption and Mrs. Robredo even opposed it. When Tribunal granted it, it required Senator Marcos to pay for the cost of decryption which has now amounted to P7 million and still counting. But Justice Caguioa does not want to give us the documents we paid for saying the same should stay with the Tribunal and if we want copies, we should pay again, Rodriguez said.

By comparison, the tribunal had granted as early as November 7 last year Robredo's motion to secure the soft copies without ordering her to pay a single centavo.

Marcos appealed the PET ruling but the tribunal rejected it also on January 10.

Indeed, Senator Marcos has not been given justice in his election protest, Rodriguez said.

Last week, Marcos in a news forum in Manila condemned the obvious bias of Caguioa as he enumerated some resolutions he issued which he said were indicative of a pattern of bias against him and in favor of his opponent.

Aside from the inordinate delay in his election protest, Marcos said some of the clear manifestations of Caguioa's bias were requiring him to pay his PHP36 million protest fee during the Holy Week break, ordering to produce 8,000 witnesses within a non-extendible period of only five (5) days, deferring his motion for technical evaluation of the Election Day Computerized Voters' List (EDCVL) without offering any explanation, among others.

In contrast, Caguioa has been so lenient with Robredo - giving her time to pay for her protest fee when the Rules provide that non-payment may be a ground for dismissal of the counter-protest, resolving her motions after only a few days from filing and giving due course to all her motions that are clearly dilatory.

They have delayed the case for almost two years without any clear reason. We have complied with all the orders despite the inequity of some it. But until now we have yet to see a single ballot box. Certainly our case does not stand on an equal footing here and it is obvious that our ponente is playing favorite. This kind of injustice has no place in a court of law, especially in the Supreme Court, Rodriguez said.

The SC Public Information Office has since declined to comment on what it viewed as political statements.

Marcos filed the protest on June 29 last year, claiming that the camp of Robredo cheated in the automated polls in May that year.

He sought the annulment of about a million votes cast in three provinces � Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao.

In his protest, Marcos contested the results in a total of 132,446 precincts in 39,221 clustered precincts covering 27 provinces and cities.

In his preliminary conference briefing, Marcos also sought for a recount in Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental.

Robredo filed her answer in August last year and filed a counter-protest, questioning the results in more than 30,000 polling precincts in several provinces where Marcos won.

She also sought the dismissal of the protest for lack of merit and jurisdiction of PET.

The high tribunal, in a ruling earlier last year, junked Robredo's plea and proceeded with the case after finding the protest sufficient in form and substance.

Robredo won the vice presidential race with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos' 14,155,344 votes.

Source: Philippine News Agency