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Barry Gutierrez: Getting ready for possible PET ruling

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In a news conference earlier this week, Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin stated that the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), expects to release a report “soon” on the results of the recount in the three pilot provinces identified by losing candidate Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos, Jr. in his electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.

The release of this report could potentially herald the dismissal of the Marcos protest, particularly if, as earlier reports would have it, the recount does not result in any “substantial recovery” for Marcos.

Marcos identified three pilot provinces for the purpose of establishing his claims of alleged “fraud.” The idea is that if the recount in these three provinces – Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental – results in a substantial recovery of votes for Marcos, then the PET will have reason to proceed with a further recount in the rest of the 25 provinces specified in the protest. On the other hand, if the recount results in the lack of any substantial recovery, then the PET will have basis to throw out the protest.

Lawyers for VP Leni have previously stated that the recount in the three pilot provinces has NOT resulted in any substantial recovery for Marcos, and has in fact established an INCREASE in VP Leni’s lead by over 15,000 votes. If this final result is affirmed by the PET report that CJ Bersamin has said will come out “soon,” then there should be no reason why the protest should not immediately be junked and dismissed.

While these developments may seem to establish sufficient cause for optimism, especially for supporters of VP Leni, many are nonetheless understandably wary given the unprecedented level of unpredictability within the world of Philippine law over the past few years. A recent interview with Marcos lawyer, Atty. George Garcia, during which he expressed the “hope” that the “real winner” of the 2016 elections would be declared by the PET before Chief Justice Bersamin retires in October, has only heightened this wariness, and fueled speculation in some quarters that something is already “cooking” as regards the protest.

I, for one, would still like to rely on the integrity and professionalism of the PET, particularly with respect to the actions it will take as soon as the report on the recount in the three pilot provinces is released. The PET has acted fairly and judiciously in resolving previous issues that have come up in the course of the protest – such as, for instance, in upholding the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) ruling establishing the 25% threshold in shading for appreciating votes – and I trust that this will continue.

Still, given the importance of this issue and its bearing, not only on the integrity of the 2016 elections but on the current political situation in our country, calls for vigilance and continued scrutiny from concerned Filipinos are definitely not misplaced. Especially in the context of unrelenting attempts to harass VP Leni – through threats of impeachment, a ceaseless barrage of fake news on social media, and, most recently, a clearly baseless criminal complaint for sedition – keeping ourselves informed of current developments and being always ready to take the necessary action to protect our democratic rights and uphold the rule of law is always a must.

Ultimately, the firmest guarantee of accountability for our public institutions is an informed, active, and engaged citizenry, and the matter of the protest against VP Leni is no exception. This Tuesday, the PET will meet, and possibly release the report on the initial recount.

Let us be aware. Let us be vigilant. Let us be ready.

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