MANILA-- The Supreme Court (SC) sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) on Tuesday started the preliminary conference on the election protest of former senator Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo.
The camps of Marcos and Robredo faced each other for the first time as the PET tackled issues to be resolved in the protest and counter-protest in a two-hour closed-door hearing which ended around 4 p.m.
The tribunal, composed of the same 15 justices of the SC, has decided to set just one preliminary conference for the protest and counter-protest, citing Rule 3 of the 2010 PET Rules that allows adjustment in rules" to achieve a just, expeditious and inexpensive determination and disposition of every contest before the tribunal."
Marcos together with his lawyers were in attendance while Robredo is not around but were presented by her lawyers.
Marcos is contesting the results of 36,465 clustered precincts in 30 provinces and cities all over the country citing fraud under three main issues in his protest, namely the flawed Automated Election System (AES), the failure of elections in several provinces in Mindanao and the unauthorized introduction by Smartmatic's Marlon Garcia of a new hash code (or a new script / program) into the Transparency Server of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on the day of the elections.
Marcos earlier said he decided to file the electoral protest due to the series of frauds, anomalies and irregularities that marred the May 9 elections and that such activities made sure he would lose to Robredo, the vice presidential candidate of the administration's Liberal Party.
Robredo won the 2016 vice presidential race with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos who got 14,155,344 votes.
After the hearing attended by eight justices, the tribunal is expected to issue ruling on the pending motions of the parties.
Before the start of preliminary conference, Marcos completed the payment of the P66. 02 million required by the PET for his electoral protest against Robredo four days ahead of the July 14 deadline for the payment of the second installment.
Marcos' lawyer George Garcia said they made the payment of PHP30 million to the Tribunal on Monday adding that most of the amount came from the former senator's friends.
He received support from his friends, Garcia said adding that Marcos even sold a condominium unit to defray the cost of his electoral protest though he said he does not know the full details of the sale.
Last April, Marcos paid the first tranche amounting to PHP36,023,000, which his camp said came from contributions from supporters.
Robredo also earlier paid PHP8 million for the first tranche of the PHP15.43 million bond required by PET for her counter-protest against Marcos.
Her camp said she is set to pay the remaining PHP7.43 million on the deadline of payment set by the tribunal on Friday.
After the hearing, Marcos hold a press conference said he is pleased that the process on his protest has been moving.
"We're happy to see na tuloy tuloy na ang proseso. Ang maliwanag ang mga justices ng tribunal they are very interested in proceeding to their arguments and finally to the revision of the counting of the votes kaya nagpapasalamat kami sa mga justice na para sa kanila, interesado din sila na mapabilis ang proseso, nang makita ng ating mga kabayayan ang naging bilang sa boto, the former Senator told reporters during the press conference held at a Citystate Tower Hotel in Manila.
Garcia said the camp of Robredo tried to delay the process by raising issues that should have not been part of the case.
"Good thing the tribunal really wanted to open the ballot boxes because they really wanted to find out the truth," he noted.
Ang importante sa amin makapagsimula na, inexpect namin magkakaroon na ng collection of ballot boxes in the next few weeks at least dun sa 3 provinces na pilot provinces naming. Every now and then ipapatawag ang mga parties para i-consult lagi kung ano ang gagawin ng tribunal para we are likewise be guided, he added.
The supporters of Marcos hold a vigil in front of the Supreme Court along Padre Faura in Manila since Monday night until the Tuesday afternoon to show support.
For her part, Robredo's lawyer Maria Bernadette Sardillo said that the justices raised questions during the hearing but have not resolved yet the pending motions earlier filed by both camps.
Sardillo said that several justices raised concerns on the feasibility and practicability of the plea of Marcos' camp for recount and revision of voting results.
"One of the justices said it would be logistically hard for the tribunal to conduct the recount," Sardillo told reporters during interview outside the SC
She also cited the comment made by another justice that it might be hard to reexamine the results in the vice presidential contest without considering the implications on the results in other key positions given that the elections were automated.
Sardillo further bared that the justices wanted to limit the witness to three per contested clustered precinct.
The lady lawyer concluded that they always been confident that the Vice President has legitimately won the 2016 elections.
In his protest, Marcos contested the results in a total of 132,446 precincts in 39,221 clustered precincts covering 27 provinces and cities.
Robredo filed her answer in August last year and also filed counter-protest and questioned the results in over 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.
But the tribunal, in a ruling earlier this year, junked Robredo's plea and proceeded with the case after finding of sufficiency in form and substance in the protest.
Last June 14, the PET granted the urgent motion filed by Marcos to designate at least three hearing officers who will assist the Tribunal during the preliminary conference on his election protest against Robredo.
In a six-page resolution signed by Felipa B. Anama, Clerk of Tribunal, PET appointed retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose C. Vitug as the chairperson of the panel of commissioners. His members are Atty. Angelito C. Imperio and Atty. Irene Ragodon-Guevarra.
The commissioners shall decide unanimously to every extent possible, provided that in the event of failure to reach a unanimous decision, the majority decision shall prevail, the PET resolution stated.
The panel of commissioners, the PET said shall assist in the reception of evidence pursuant to Rule 55 to 62 of the PET rules.
Under the rules, the panel shall set the date for the reception of evidence of all the parties involved in the protest and counter-protest.
The same panel shall receive the affidavits of witnesses and hear their direct testimonies of witnesses as well as their cross, re-direct and re-cross examination. The hearing commissioners also has the authority to rule on the objects made in the course of the cross-examination subject to review by the PET.
The PET said the chairperson shall receive a compensation of PHP15,000 per day of hearing or service while the members shall receive a PHP10,000 per day of hearing or service.
The former senator said his petition challenging Robredo's win involves not only the adjudication of the private interests of rival candidates, but also the paramount need of dispelling the uncertainty which beclouds the real choice of the electorate.
The first part of Marcos petition was about the Automated Election System (AES). He said the vote counting machines (VCM) which was one of the components of the automated system supplied by Smartmatic has no demonstrated capability nor was it ever successfully used in a prior electoral exercise either in the Philippines or in any other country.
The second part of his petition consists of the more traditional" modes of cheating like vote buying, pre-shading, intimidation and failure of elections, among others.
He specifically asked for the reopening of ballot boxes in each of the 36,465 clustered precincts in Cebu, Province of Leyte, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Masbate, Zamboanga Del Sur, Zamboanga Del Norte, Bukidnon, Iloilo Province, Bohol, Quezon Province, Batangas, Western Samar, Misamis Oriental, Camarines Sur, 2nd District of Northern Samar, Palawan, Sibugay, Misamis Occidental, Pangasinan, Isabela, Iloilo City, Bacolod City, Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City and Zamboanga City.
Marcos is also asking the PET to annul the election results in Lanao Del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao where the ballots have been pre-shaded and recount of 22 provinces and five cities.
The third part of the protest focused on the unauthorized introduction by Smartmatic's Marlon Garcia of a new hash code (or a new script / program) into the Transparency Server as well as the effects brought about by the unauthorized change. (Christopher Lloyd T. Caliwan/ Monica B. Guevarra
Source: Philippine News Agency