“Laws governing election protests should be revisited and amended.”
The 18th Congress is about to end its tour of duty in less than six months and yet justice still seems elusive for the late Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte. If the results of manual recount of the votes in his district conducted by the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal would only be honored, he appears to have been robbed of his chance to serve in the Lower House for the last time, which in effect, has also deprived the people of Camarines Sur their rightful representative in the august body.
This piece of news on the update of Villafuerte’s protest former Naga City Mayor Gabriel Bordado, Jr., who was declared winner in the 2019 congressional elections for the 3rd District of Camarines Sur, was actually written by esteemed columnists Alex Magno of the Philippine Star and Ernesto Hilario of our very own Manila Standard.
Both Magno and Hilario bared that based on the HRET manual revision of 25 percent of the contested votes in Bombon, Canaman and Calabanga in Camarines Sur showed Villafuerte emerging victor by a slim margin.
For the record, the Commission on Elections proclaimed winner in 2019 the Camarines Sur’s 3rd District over Villafuerte, winning by a margin of 21,625 votes.
Villafuerte immediately placed the results under protest. And in December last year, almost three months after he passed away, the HRET finally conducted a manual revision of votes which showed Villafuerte gaining 13, 561 votes with Bordado losing 8,875 votes and another 696 votes from the fake ballot bearing his name which were discovered during the manual revision, which would give Villafuerte a winning margin of 1,507 votes.
Enough to reverse Comelec’s proclamation of Bordado in 2019, and instead give the seat to Villafuerte’s daughter, whom the HRET had allowed to substitute for his father, but not enough to convince the HRET to issue its decision.
According to sources within the HRET, Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, in his capacity as HRET chairperson, has refused to recognize the results of such manual count and instead ordered Bordado’s counsel to file a motion for the decryption of the SD cards of the VCMs (which would take months to be completed).
This however, according to legal experts, is against the law as jurisprudence shows that decryption can only be ordered if there are signs of tampering and irregularities in the ballot boxes, which there were none.
Further, sources say Leonen has been issuing orders, resolutions and decisions on HRET-related matters arbitrarily, contrary to rules they should all be collegial in nature.
In almost all instances, the sources say, these orders were unilaterally issued by Leonen, although they bore the initials of the Secretary of the Tribunal, Girlie Salarda, which gives rise to two possibilities – either Leonen did these things on his own and asked Salarda to prepare the Orders, or Salarda initiated the Orders and asked Leonen to sign them.
Now, the funny thing is that despite the fact the manual revision shows Villafuerte emerging as winner, Bordado’s camp was said to have filed a Motion to Dismiss the election Protest on the flimsy ground the protestant is dead, disregarding Salarda’s Order dated 30 September 2021, approving the substitution of Villafuerte’s daughter.
So, what now happens to Villafuerte’s protest? To be mooted again just like the Bongbong Marcos election protest and all other protests before them, are headed to be overtaken by political developments? To be rendered moot and academic by virtue of the results of the coming May 9 polls?
Again I say, the laws governing election protests should be revisited and amended and should contain a provision penalizing those who would be found responsible for deliberately delaying the rendering of decisions on such matters.
But then, I also believe the conditions would be ripe after June 30 this year for another round of impeachment cases. At least, although indirectly, it would somehow give Villafuerte the justice he was seeking before he joined the Almighty Creator last year.