Wet ballots, missing forms raised in recount

Vice President Leni Robredo poses for a selfie with supporters at the St. Scholastica’s College chapel. The SC, convening as an electoral tribunal, began a recount of the May 2016 vice presidential elections yesterday. Edd Gumban

Wet ballots, missing forms raised in recount
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - April 3, 2018 - 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — The camp of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. quickly questioned missing audit logs and wet ballots as the Supreme Court (SC), sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), yesterday started its recount of votes in the 2016 vice presidential race.

In an interview with reporters, Marcos revealed that 38 out of 40 ballot boxes from Bato town in Camarines Sur – one of the three pilot provinces he identified for the recount – did not have audit logs, as discovered by revisers.

“At the outset of the recount, we already discovered these missing audit logs. They couldn’t tell where those audit logs went. This means somebody opened the ballot boxes and took the audit logs before closing them again,” he alleged.

Marcos, who has challenged the victory of Vice President Leni Robredo, explained that audit logs are very important in the case as they recorded transactions made in specific clustered precincts.

“(An) audit log is a record of when the (vote-counting machine or VCM) is opened, when the ballot was inserted, when the votes were transmitted to the server and when the VCM was again closed. But almost all the logs there in that town are missing. The question is, why?” he stressed.

The former senator believes this discovery bolstered their suspicion over the conduct of the elections, especially following the recent revelations of Sen. Vicente Sotto III that there were early transmissions of votes before election day based on some audit logs given to him.

Aside from the missing audit logs, it was also discovered that four ballot boxes had wet ballots inside.

“If these ballots had been wet since election two years ago, these should have dried up by now. But this means the ballots were dampened only when they were transferred here,” Marcos further alleged.

The already illegible wet ballots were set aside, he bared.

Under PET rules, wet ballots may still be revised or recounted if they are still readable. Otherwise the tribunal will refer to the ballot images for the revision of votes.

A total of 40 revision committees were formed to conduct the revision of votes. Fifty revision committees were originally set to conduct the revision of votes but this was reduced to 40.

Marcos said it may take more than three months to finish the revision of his three pilot provinces – Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental.

“The pace of the recount seems to be slow. But this has just started and we expect it to speed up once the process is streamlined,” he commented.

Marcos inspected the venue for the recount at the gym of the SC and Court of Appeals before greeting hundreds of his supporters who gathered in front of the SC compound.

The recount would be conducted daily, Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by revision teams composed of three members – a head from the PET and one representative each from the camps of Marcos and Robredo.

Under PET rules, revision of votes covers verifying physical count of ballots, recounting votes of parties, recording objections and claims and marking of contested ballots.

Earlier, both camps agreed to withdraw all the motions they had filed before the PET to be able to proceed with the recount.

Marcos filed the protest last June 29, 2016, claiming that the camp of Robredo cheated in the automated polls.

In his protest, Marcos contested the results in a total of 132,446 precincts in 39,221 clustered precincts covering 27 provinces and cities. He sought a recount in Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental covering a total of 5,418 clustered precincts.

Robredo filed her answer in August 2016 as well as 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 the PET.

Robredo won the vice presidential race with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos’ 14,155,344 votes. But the Vice President’s camp downplayed the issues raised by Marcos, including the alleged wet ballots and missing audit logs.

Romulo Macalintal, lead counsel of Robredo, maintained that the supposed wet ballots and missing audit logs would not affect the results of the recount.

“These (wet ballots) cannot be avoided, but we have a remedy – you go to the ballot images because the ballot images will show you the same results. There’s nothing to worry about,” Macalintal said in a press conference in Manila.

Marcos, along with his sister Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, went to the SC yesterday to observe the recount.

The son of the late dictator also alleged that 38 out of 42 clustered precincts in the same town had no audit logs. His lawyer, Vic Rodriguez, clarified later that Marcos meant 39 over 40 precincts.

Macalintal said the ballot boxes most likely got wet when storms battered the province in the last two years.

He stressed that 80 percent of election protests all over the country involved wet or soiled ballots.

“It depends on the areas these (ballots) were stored. Because these are not modernized rooms, the ballots are not well protected,” Macalintal said.

He also said Marcos’ representatives should have noticed the ballot boxes were water-damaged when these were retrieved from Camarines Sur last January.

Macalintal believed that the ballots did not get wet in the SC. With regard to the missing audit logs, Macalintal said these could also be reprinted.

“There’s no problem with the missing audit logs, these can be easily printed because the (Commission on Elections) has records of these,” he said.

Marcos’ concerns will be manifested in their objections, which will be recorded by the head revisor in each revision committee.

Macalintal said they are ready to answer Marcos’ objections.

“Why do you think Mr. Marcos and not his lawyer is the one making such claims? Because (Rodriguez) is also an election lawyer like me, it would be a big embarrassment for him to say that the wet ballots are a proof of cheating. He does not deserve to be called an election lawyer then,” he said.

Macalintal added that the recount would only underscore Robredo’s victory and disprove Marcos’ allegations of cheating.

“We’re a sure winner. In two months’ time we will know the results,” he said.

If Marcos could not prove any substantial recovery from these three pilot provinces, his protest will be dismissed for lack of merit, Macalintal said.

Robredo also expressed confidence in her victory in the vice presidential elections, after she attended mass early yesterday at the St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, a few kilometers from the SC, where the recount was being held.

“We’re lifting everything to the Lord. We have nothing to fear. There’s no reason to weaken our resolve,” Robredo told hundreds of supporters.

“To all our supporters and our friends who are here today, our lawyers want to tell you that we have nothing to fear because we’re fighting for the truth,” she said.

She appealed to her supporters to just keep on fighting for the good of the people and have faith amid adversity.

“We see that this is the time of fear – fear of what is going to happen next – but let us keep our faith. Let’s just continue what we’ve been doing,” Robredo said.

“And so many people are looking up to us – for us to fight for them, so let’s just continue our fight,” she added.

As this developed, Malacañang is leaving it to the PET to handle the recount.

“The Palace welcomes the recount to settle the long festering dispute. Other than that, this is a judicial matter, this is before the PET already, so we leave it to a co-equal branch to handle that,” senior deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a press briefing yesterday. – Helen Flores, Alexis Romero

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