“How will the HRET act?”
We wrote recently about the contested result in the 2019 congressional election in the 3rd district of Camarines Sur. Here’s an update on the issue.
The camp of the late Luis Villafuerte Sr. wants the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) to immediately resume its hearings on the contested congressional fight between the deceased and former Naga Vice Mayor Gabriel Bordado Jr.
The Villafuerte camp is appealing to the HRET to release the revision report, or the results of its manual revision or recount of the actual ballots in the 2019 electoral race in the province’s third district.
Moreover, they want the HRET to declare the late Luis Villafuerte Sr. as the true winner in May 2019 polls, unseat Gabriel Bordado and appoint a caretaker congressman for the third district to serve in the remaining months of the 18th Congress.
The recount, done by the HRET’s revision committee last December, showed that the real winner in the congressional contest in CamSur’s third district was the late Villafuerte, who was the recognized political kingpin of Bicol for many years.
A motion filed by the Villafuerte camp, represented in the HRET by Lalaine Villafuerte-Abonal, seeks to dismiss for “lack of merit and legal basis” Bordado’s appeal for the decryption of the SD cards containing the ballot images and election documents.
Bordado’s last-ditch move, according to the Villafuerte family, appears to be a mere tactic to delay the Tribunal’s final decision and stop the House from unseating him as congressman.
Bordado’s motion is the result of the HRET’s December 10, 2021 order directing both parties “to file their respective motions for the decryption of the SD cards and the printing of the ballot images and other election documents contained in the SD cards.” The HRET gave both parties a 5-day deadline.
The HRET revision panel was at that time in the middle of its recount or complete examination of the physical ballots in the 99 clustered precincts whose results had been formally contested by the Villafuerte camp.
The order of the HRET chaired by Justice Marvic Leonen (as the most senior member of the bench in the House poll tribunal) came as a complete surprise to the Villafuerte camp because earlier Supreme Court rulings found this to be an unnecessary move.
The Villafuerte camp is now asking why Justice Leonen, a former dean of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, issued such an order when the SC itself had already ruled in two similar cases—Jaime Torres vs House of Representatives and Ninfa Garin in 2001 and Batul vs Bayron and Commission on Elections in 2004 —that the official ballots comprise the “primary,” “best evidence” or “most conclusive evidence” of the voters’ will.
In the case of Rosette Lerias vs HRET and Roger Mercado, the high court said: “In an election contest where what is involved is the correctness of the number of votes of each candidate, the best and most conclusive evidence are the ballots themselves,” and that only where or when the ballots cannot be produced or are not available, can the election returns serve as the best evidence.
In Fernando Batul vs Lucilo Bayron and Comelec, the SC again cited the case of Lerias vs HRET and Roger Mercado in affirming that ballots serve as the primary evidence of the election results.
Given these SC rulings, the Villafuerte camp asked, what was the basis of the Leonen-chaired HRET’s order, considering that all the official physical ballots are intact and untampered, and were accessible to the House panel for its complete examination?
The manual recount of the ballots in the 99 clustered precincts took place from December 6 to 15, and the preliminary copies of the revision reports prepared by the HRET revision committee—and countersigned by the revisors—showed that the proclaimed results of the poll were “overcome” by a margin of 1,507 votes.
The recount or complete examination of the ballots in the contested precincts revealed that Villafuerte led by 23,132 votes as against Bordado’s lead of 21,625 votes in the 2019 tally.
What this means is that Bordado is not the legitimate congressman for the third district as he was not actually the one whom the majority of the electorate had voted for in the May 2019 balloting in the province. Thus, he should be unseated at once in favor of a legitimate congressperson, even if the replacement will just serve for barely five months.
On December 16, the Villafuerte camp filed a motion for the release of the true copies of the HRET’s report of its manual revision or recount of the ballots.
The Bordado camp countered the day after with a motion seeking the decryption of the SD cards to check for possible “tampering of the physical ballots.”
For the Villafuerte camp, Bordado’s motion is absurd and intended merely to hold in abeyance the HRET proceedings—and unduly delay his ouster as the erroneously declared congressman for the third district.
Hence, the right thing for the HRET to do now, according to the Villafuerte camp, is to uphold the sovereign will of the voters in the third district of Camarines Sur, dismiss outright Bordado’s motion to examine the ballot images, resume and conclude its hearings, and proclaim the real winner of the 2019 balloting in the province.
Will the HRET act on this motion by the Villafuerte camp? Let’s wait and see. (Email: [email protected])