THE recount of votes for the vice presidential race in the 2016 elections hit a snag Tuesday after several heads of revision committees resigned for unknown reasons.
This prompted former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Leni Robredo to express concern because this could delay the proceedings to resolve the election protest.
Only a day after the recount started, four of the 40 head revisors assigned by the Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, resigned.
A head revisor leads a three-member committee, composed of the head revisor himself and one representative each from the Robredo and Marcos camps.
“We are surprised and concerned with the withdrawal of the four head revisors for no apparent reason. I hope this will not result in another round of delays, especially now that we have started to uncover clear signs of fraud,” Marcos said in a statement.
“They are no ordinary revisors, having undergone rigid psychological test and meticulous screening by the PET. They must have a compelling reason for backing out and I am one with the Filipino people in asking why,” he added.
The former senator said the PET had already postponed the recount twice—from February to March and then from March to April—because of the difficulty in securing the required number of revisors.
The PET had initially planned to constitute 50 revision committees but was only able to fill in 40 committees with their head revisors.
Marcos earlier bewailed the slow pace at the start of the recount last Monday, believing that it could take more than three months to finish the revision of his three pilot provinces--Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental—with a total of 5,418 clustered precincts.
The former senator expressed hopes the manual recount would speed up once the process is streamlined.
Robredo’s lawyer Bernadette Sardillo shared the concern of Marcos, saying the resignation of the revisors was “unfortunate as this will once more cause delay in the proceedings.”
Meanwhile, the PET has discovered two more wet ballot boxes on the second day of the recount, bringing the total to six—two from the town of Baao town and four a day earlier from Bato town, both in Camarines Sur.
Marcos said the wet ballot boxes were suspicious because they meant they got wet only upon transfer to the PET.
The wet ballots, which were illegible, were set aside, he said.
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.
Earlier, Marcos also questioned the missing audit logs from clustered precincts in Bato town discovered by revisors upon opening of the ballot boxes.
He revealed that 38 out of 40 ballot boxes from the town in Camarines Sur did not have audit logs.
A revision of votes is conducted to verify the physical count of ballots, to recount the votes of parties, to record objections and claims, and to mark the contested ballots.
Marcos filed the protest on June 29, 2016, claiming that the camp of Robredo cheated in the automated polls in the May 2016 national 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 won the vice presidential race in the May 2016 polls with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos’ 14,155,344 votes.
The Commission on Elections said Tuesday it would investigate the allegations made by Marcos.
“The Comelec takes the matter of former senator Marcos’ allegations seriously,” said Comelec spokesman James Arthur Jimenez.
“We will be looking into these claims closely, taking into account, the published general instructions governing the conduct of the 2016 national and local election,” he said.
Marcos claimed that 39 out of 40 ballot boxes from Bato town in Camarines Sur did not have audit logs and “this means somebody opened the ballot boxes and took the audit logs before closing them again.”
But former elections commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said paper audit logs must be submitted to election officers and not placed inside ballot boxes.
“Based on the procedure, teachers must submit the printout to the election officer and it should not be placed inside the ballot box,” he said.
Larrazabal said the counting machines record all of their activities on audit logs, including the opening and closing times of precincts and the times when votes are fed into the machine. “It’s like a black box [of an airplane].”
Digital copies of audit logs, stored in each machine’s SD cards, are kept by the Comelec’s central office.
Larrazabal also said the Board of Election Inspectors turns ballot boxes and the ballots inside them over to the city or municipal treasurer, who retain custody over them until retrieved for a protest case.
Larrazabal said each ballot box contains the ballots of a clustered precinct, which may be a single precinct or a combination of several established precincts.
Sometimes boxes were stored outside, or maybe the roof of the office leaked, which may have caused water to seep into the ballot boxes, Larrazabal said.
“Remember that custody of the ballot boxes after the electoral exercise is with the city or municipal treasurer, not with the local Comelec election officer,” he added.
But Larrazabal said the statistics cited by the Marcos camp should not be disregarded and must be checked against ballot images.
Marcos said this discovery only reinforced their suspicion over the conduct of the elections, especially following the recent revelations of Senator Vicente Sotto III that there were early transmissions of votes before Election Day based on some audit logs given to him.
Robredo’s lawyer, Romulo Macalintal, played down the significance of wet ballots and said these would not affect the accuracy of the vote count.
“That news does not matter at all. Mr. Marcos, your representatives already knew about the wet ballots,” he said. “The ballots got wet during a typhoon in the province.”
Marcos’ lawyer, Vic Rodriguez, said they expected Robredo’s camp to play down the wet ballots.
“We expect them to say that such was not a big deal because definitely, that would be unfavorable [to them],” he said.
“Why is it that the ballots were wet? That’s unusual and from our studies, we saw only four were wet [in areas] where the so-called undervotes were that high,” he added.
He also denied Macalintal’s claim that they knew ahead of time about the wet ballots, saying he had no knowledge of them until the boxes were opened on April 2.
“We cannot even take a glimpse of the ballots since they are inside the ballot boxes. And remember, that’s [for] the purpose of the manual recount. Before the manual recount, we should look into the physical attributes of ballot boxes,” he said.
“We look into the integrity of the ballot boxes before you can proceed with checking the ballot itself.”
Macalintal also twitted the Marcos camp for its claim that the audit logs were missing.
“Mr. Marcos was ill-advised. He was not provided with the information by his advisers that an audit log should not be placed inside the ballot box,” he said.
Macalintal said Marcos must apologize to the Board of Election Inspectors, including teachers, for accusing them of ignorance of the election guidelines.
The opposition Liberal Party, meanwhile, described the election protest as a “desperate attempt to rewrite the history of the Marcos dictatorship,” referring to the former senator’s late father, the strongman Ferdinand Marcos who presided over a martial law regime starting in 1972.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said the recount would merely confirm that Filipinos chose Robredo over Marcos.
“It is our collective goal that the true sentiments of Filipinos would prevail in the result of the recount,” he said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta