Why Marcos wants SC to investigate election materials in 3 Mindanao provinces

MANILA, Philippines – Despite much anticipation, the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, October 15, delayed ruling on former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr's electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.

The justices voted to instead release the report on the results of the recount in the 3 pilot provinces in chosen by Marcos: Negros Oriental, Iloilo, and Camarines Sur, and asked both parties to submit their comments on this and another cause of action sought by Marcos: the nullification of results in Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao.

To get to the nullifying part, Marcos first has to prove that massive cheating was committed against him in those provinces in the former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). 

To prove cheating, Marcos has asked the PET to investigate election records – not just ballots – from the 3 ARMM provinces.

To understand why Marcos is zeroing in on those areas, we need to look into an older election protest filed by ex-Sulu vice governor Abdusakur Tan against former ARMM governor Mujiv Hataman, questioning the results of the 2016 gubernatorial race.

A rundown of Tan vs Hataman

In filing a motion with the SC in December 2018, Marcos cited findings from the poll body's Election Records and Statistics Department (ERSD), which were related to Tan's election protest against Hataman filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in 2016.

The Comelec has no decision yet on the Tan case, and no ruling on whether the ERSD's findings would be admitted as evidence of cheating.  

Tan had earlier filed an electoral protest against Hataman, claiming widespread fraud and irregularities in the May 2016 ARMM polls. Tan lost the ARMM gubernatorial race as he garnered 345,280 votes compared to Hataman's 875,200.

While the Comelec has yet to decide on Tan's protest vs Hataman, Comelec Commissioner Luie Tito Guia – who heads the poll body's second division – ordered the voters identification division and election records and statistics department of the poll body to do the following:

Determine whether or not thumbprints and signatures found in voter registrations records (WRRs) of all voters in the 508 established precincts in 127 baranagays under protest matched with the thumbprints and handwriting/signatures found in the the election day computerized voters list (EDCVL).

After a technical examination, findings from the Comelec's dactyloscopic and questioned document reports dated June 5, 2018, showed that 40,528 signatures and 3,295 thumbprints on the EDCVLs “are not identical” with the VRRs.

Based on this, the Comelec's document and fingerprint examiners concluded the “2016 National, Local and ARMM Elections has been marked with different forms of election fraud such as massive substituted voting.”

Marcos said Tan had provided a copy of this and told his camp about the findings on election materials in the 2016 ARMM polls. It formed part of an annex to Marcos' December 2018 motion. 

For Marcos, the "staggering latest development" paved the way for his request for the PET to "preserve and safeguard this vital documentary evidence" crucial to his 3rd cause of action. (2016 Bongbong vs Leni poll protest: What ARMM 'election fingerprints' say)

Robredo garnered a total of 477,985 votes in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao against Marcos' 169,160 votes. If these are nullified, Robredo’s slim lead in the national count would be wiped out. Marcos would lead by 45,352 votes.

What happens next? In line with the probe of election materials from the 3 former ARMM provinces, Marcos asked the PET to do 3 things:

Robredo's lawyers fought hard against a probe of election materials from Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao, arguing it was a belated move that would violate the PET's own rules.

On the eve of the PET's ruling, Robredo urged justices to "not change the rules in the middle of the game."

"You have to rise and fall on the basis of those [3 pilot] provinces. Kapag 'tinuloy mo 'yung annulment sa Lanao, Basilan, at Maguindanao, naging 6 provinces na ang kinuha mo, that would violate the [PET's] 3 provinces rule," Robredo's lead lawyer Romulo Macalintal said.

(If you push through with the annulment of Lanao, Basilan, and Magindanao, you would have 6 provinces [for pilot]. That would violate the [PET's] 3 [pilot] provinces rule.)

He added, "Pagkatapos ng annulment, wala ka pa ring nakita, 'Ay, teka muna, meron pa kaming 27 other provinces, magpapa-revise ulit kami. Puwede pa ba?' Wala nang magiging katapusan ito."

(If after the annulment you still can't find anything, you could say, "We have 27 other provinces, we want to revise those too. Is it still allowed?" This will never be finished.) – Rappler.com 

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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