“Your presence will mean a lot. You should be ready to sacrifice.” Thus, said Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento as he encouraged Kapampangans to be more vigilant and diligent in monitoring the recount process.
Speaking at a Public Forum on the Recount held last September 5, 2009 (Saturday) at the University of the Assumption Auditorium, Commissioner Sarmiento explained the on-going recount process that stemmed from an election protest filed on May 25, 2007 by losing gubernatorial candidate Lilia “Baby” Pineda against incumbent Pampanga Governor Eddie Panlilio.
The Public Forum was organized by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) – Pampanga and the Archdiocese of San Fernando (ASF)-Pampanga in response to a clamor for accurate information and guidance on the raging recount issue which Panlilio supporters tagged as a “moral issue” and a “threat to democracy in Pampanga”.
Citing Section 255 of the Omnibus Election Code of 1985 (OEC) as the legal basis for the recount, Commissioner Sarmiento emphasized that the COMELEC is just an implementor of the law, as mandated by the Philippine Constitution which provides that “election contests will be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the COMELEC.” If we are after electoral reforms, then we should start with legal reforms,” said Commissioner Sarmiento as he pointed out that OEC is 24 years old and needs to be reviewed and amended to make it more relevant to modern times.
The forum was attended by 337 representatives from various civil society organizations, church-based groups, academe, youth groups, commissions and parishes of the ASF. Pampanga Prelate and Forum Convenor, Abp. Paciano B. Aniceto, D.D. graced the event with Auxiliary Bishop and University of the Assumption President Roberto C. Mallari.
Apu Ceto, as Abp. Aniceto is fondly called, noted that the recount “is a secular process and the church will respect it”. He challenged the laity to take the lead in secular matters. He, likewise, challenged Panlilio’s supporters to sustain their involvement and accompany him as he confronts this issue.
For his part, Fr. Francis Dizon, Executive Director of the Social Action Center of Pampanga and PPCRV-Pampanga Chairman, vowed to give the public factual information on the progress of the recount/revision. He revealed PPCRV-Pampanga’s Plan of Action which includes posting of observers to monitor the process and holding of an audience with Commissioner Nicodemo T. Ferrer of the COMELEC 2nd Division every Wednesday for regular updates on the status of the recount. These updates will be posted on the following websites: www.rcasf.com; www.sacop.org.ph ; www.ppcrvnamfrel.blogspot.com; www.hrp-sac.blogspot.com; and www.parokya-santalucia.org.
The physical recount (e.g. sorting and segregation of ballots) is expected to be accomplished in 45 days starting August 12, 2009, after the Supreme Court ordered the COMELEC to proceed with it. Commissioner Sarmiento emphasized, though, that the battle does not end with the revision. After the COMELEC 2nd Division issues a resolution on the case, any of the parties can file a motion for reconsideration – a move which can wind up to the Supreme Court before the decision becomes final and executory.
Bp. Bobet Mallari delivered the closing remarks and reiterated the call to “offer ourselves as sacrificial lambs” and “to inquire and observe - for truth to triumph and the will of God to shine brightly”. Earlier during the open forum, 73-year old Lucila Valdez of Angeles City pledged to help start a fundraising campaign with a 10-centavo contribution to help the beleaguered Governor pay for his revisors.
It may be recalled that Panlilio recently filed a motion for the halting of the recount due to lack of funds to pay for his revisors. On the other hand, petitioner Lilia Pineda paid the P 4M plus deposit in August 2007 and provided trucks to haul the ballot boxes to the COMELEC warehouse in Manila for the recount. Panlilio’s motion was junked by the COMELEC. xxxxx
Understanding the Recount Process
Contrary to a popular notion that the recount involves a simple re-counting and re-tallying of votes, what Commissioner Sarmiento described was a long process of checking and validating results. Applied to the Pineda vs. Panlilio case, the recount process is as follows:
Timeline of the Case
• On May 25, 2007, defeated candidate Lilia Pineda through her legal counsel, Atty. George Garcia filed an election protest against Gov. Panlilio on allegations of: a) mis-appreciation and misreading of ballots and b) fraud and irregularities such as massive cheating, vote-buying and harassment of teachers and pollwatchers of the rival camp;
• Pineda’s petition specifically asked for a recount, where misread or misappreciated votes were to be counted in favor of Pineda. All ballot boxes from all the polling precincts in Pampanga (except Angeles City) were to be brought to Manila for the recount. In the event that the recount will yield a result favorable to her, Pineda has asked the COMELEC to proclaim her as Governor and annul the proclamation of Gov. Panlilio.
• Gov. Panlilio, through his legal team, filed a counter-protest on June 12, 2007 followed by a Motion to set Affirmative Defenses for Dismissal of Petition on July 2, a move that was denied by the COMELEC on July 23, 2007.
• Gov. Panlilio’s legal team filed a Motion for Reconsideration on July 31, 2007. The division’s presiding commissioner, Florentino Tuason Jr., dismissed the motion on August 1, 2007 and issued a notice of order to do the recount and revision. Pineda issued a check dated July 31, 2007 in the amount of P4,000,886.00 as deposit for the revision.
• A legal battle ensued and the issue was elevated to the Supreme Court (SC). The SC En Banc, on July 15, 2009, ordered the COMELEC to proceed with the recount. The process started on August 12, 2009 with a 45-day timeframe for its completion.
• Twenty one (21) Revision Committees, each consisting of six (6) revisors were constituted. All the ballot boxes from the province’s twenty towns and one city (City of San Fernando) were brought to Manila and distributed among the twenty one revision committees
• On the first day of the revision, the ballot custodian opened the ballot boxes and observed the condition of these boxes and their contents (taking note of the serial number, the condition of the padlocks and inner seal, and the documents contained therein). The observations were noted in the minutes of the proceedings.
• The ballots were segregated according to vote (per candidate – Panlilio, Pineda, Lapid and Stray Votes). Stray votes include those earlier declared as null and void (e.g. name of candidate not written on the proper space; name written on the ballot not accepted initially such as Nanay for Baby Pineda or Among for Gov. Panlilio).
• As the process progresses, ballots with Pineda votes are given to the revisors of Panlilio and ballots with Panlilio votes are given to the revisors of Pineda. It is up to the revisors to validate and register any objection (e.g. presence of unnecessary markings, etc.). It is also up to the revisors to claim votes for the candidate they are representing or contest the votes of the opponent. Objections and claims are noted down, collated and submitted to the Chairperson of each revision committee who is tasked to prepare a revision report for the precinct/cluster of precincts assigned to his/her committee.
• The physical revision is expected to be finished by September 2009 following the 45-day timeframe set by the COMELEC. After the revision, all reports will be collated by the counsels of both parties and will be offered as evidence to the 2nd Division of COMELEC.
• The 2nd Division will study the reports and in the event of any doubt on the veracity of these reports will go back and examine the ballots for validation. After studying the revision reports, the 2nd Division will issue a resolution.
• After the 2nd Division issues a resolution, any of the contesting parties can file a motion for reconsideration. In this eventuality, the case is to be elevated to the COMELEC en banc and raffled off among the COMELEC Commissioners, one of who will be responsible for deciding whether to sustain or to reject the resolution. In case of a tie in the voting on the case, the COMELEC Chairman will break the tie.
• After the COMELEC en banc’s decision is issued, the losing party can file a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court which will make the final decision on the matter.
The public is advised to stop believing in unfounded claims that this or that candidate is gaining edge over his/her rival. Results of the recount/revision will not be final until after the resolution is issued by the COMELEC En Banc (and Supreme Court En Banc if the case is elevated to the SC). Factual information from PPCRV (which coordinates directly with the COMELEC 2nd Division in monitoring the recount process) can be accessed at the following websites: www.rcasf.com; www.sacop.org.ph ; www.ppcrvnamfrel.blogspot.com; www.hrp-sac.blogspot.com; and www.parokya-santalucia.org or call the PPCRV-Pampanga Secretariat at tel. nos. 860-53-38 or 961-41-12.