VP Vote Recount: Filipinos in the Dark about PET System and Process
FRAUD AND charges of cheating have marred most Philippine elections. The 2016 national polls was no exception, with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., claiming he was cheated out of his votes for the vice presidency by then candidate Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, who was declared the second highest official of the land by a slim margin of 263,473 votes.
Marcos took his complaint in June 2016 to the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), composed of justices of the Supreme Court. Mandated as the sole arbiter of contests on presidential and vice presidential election results, the PET ordered the manual recount to begin on April 2, 2018, starting with three pilot provinces to determine whether a nationwide recount is necessary.
The recount triggered claims and counterclaims.
CMFR monitored four primetime newscasts (TV Patrol, ABS-CBN 2; 24 Oras, GMA-7; Aksyon, TV5; and News Night, CNN Philippines) and three daily broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, and Manila Bulletin) from April 2 to 6.
Speaking to media outside the Supreme Court- Court of Appeals building, the site of the recount, Marcos pointed to “irregularities” that he claimed could be proof of fraud: 1) some of the ballots from Camarines Sur, Robredo’s bailiwick were wet; 2) the audit logs of ballot boxes from 38 of the 42 precincts in Bato town, Camarines Sur were missing; and 3) some of the ballot boxes were damaged, with holes or cracks. Atty. Romulo Macalintal, Robredo’s lawyer, dismissed these claims, saying that the Marcos camp is only inventing evidence.
This set the tone for the coverage for the first week of the recount, with media simply recording the statements coming from either the Marcos or Robredo camp; each side citing rules, either from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) or from the PET, as basis of its arguments.
Presenting these rules as statements by either party makes the rules a subject of partisan rather than independent interpretation. It would help in these cases for media to try and get electoral lawyers and experts who are not involved in the case to give their views.
On April 4, the Marcos camp claimed that revisors—those making manual verification of ballots—retrieved unused and excess ballots that were pre-shaded in Leni’s favor. Some media, The Philippine Star and Manila Bulletin included, followed this narrative, citing unidentified “sources” who were supposedly inside the recount area. Media should do better in vetting such sources and letting their readers appreciate the validity of their claims. Without such qualification, such sources are worthless.
Unfortunately, developments have all been reported based on partisan sources. Media did not get anyone to speak for PET or Comelec. There was little information in newspaper or TV reports about the PET, no reports on who is in charge of the process, no description of the process as prescribed by established rules.
Expert voices on the recount process were notably absent in the discourse of primetime news programs and broadsheets.
CMFR cheers Rappler which provided a comprehensive explanation of the electoral protest process and the functions of the PET as early as January 2017. (See: “Presidential Electoral Tribunal: What happens to a protest?“)
The report remains a useful reference even for media now that the count has started in earnest. Nothing should stop editors or news directors from providing similar backgrounders for the public. These kinds of political contests require consultations with independent thought leaders who know the subject and can provide a fair evaluation of what is going on.
Our electoral system provides for a recount to address legitimate complaints. The conduct of the recount should be above partisan pressures. In reporting the complaint of fraud and the recount, media should make sure it does not serve as a vehicle for political propaganda and manipulation. CMFR has warned against media coverage that seems designed to favor one or the other side. (See: “Election Fraud Allegations: The Marcos Media Edge“)
And yet, the media needs to avoid coverage that aims to establish moral equivalence, treating all sides as equally bad or good. It should be able to provide the facts, present these in a way that renders the truth or the validity of the claims that are being made.
Journalists cannot do this when media practice instills an attitude that all political issues, including Marcos’ claims of fraud and cheating, reflect no more than a partisan political contest, a test of how well one or another politician can game the electoral system.
Now that the recount has begun, the press must fulfill the public need and help Filipinos understand the system and the process, so that the public can better evaluate for themselves the conclusions presented to them.