VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Pro-Marcos YouTube channel mixes fact with false claims on VP vote recount

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A video that has gained over 130,000 views fused together facts with false and misleading information regarding the ongoing vote recount between Vice President Leni Robredo and former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Posted June 20 on the YouTube channel “Bagong Lipunan,” the 14-minute footage bore the headline, “The dishonest man behind the delay of VP Recount.” The video accused Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa of “bias.” Caguioa is member-in-charge of the 2016 electoral protest Marcos filed with the SC sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

Bagong Lipunan described the video as follows:

1088 days na ang ELECTORAL PROTEST ni BBM at di pa rin tapos ang VP recount ng PET ng Supreme Court dahil sa isang dishonest at maka-dilawan na Associate Justice(BBM’s electoral protest has been going on for 1088 days and the VP recount of the Supreme Court’s PET remains unfinished because of a dishonest and pro-yellow Associate Justice).”

Source: Bagong Lipunan YouTube channel, June 29, 2019

The video is a composite of three different clips, the first four minutes focused on what it calls “the top nine ways Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Caguioa has pooped on the judicial system.” It also used clips from a 10-minute June 2018 vlog published by Marcos’ official Facebook page and a Jan. 22 Rappler report on the vote recount.

Bagong Lipunan, named after the political party of Marcos’ father former president Ferdinand Marcos, is a nine-year-old channel that broadcasts pro-Marcos videos to over 28,000 subscribers.

In September 2018, PET issued a resolution junking the former senator’s petition for the inhibition of Caguioa as member-in-charge of his protest. Marcos claimed the magistrate was biased.

The High Court likened Marcos’ claims to “conspiracy theories.” It also “sternly warned” the former senator’s camp that “any unfounded and inappropriate accusation made in the future will be dealt with more severely,” according to several news reports.

VERA Files Fact Check looked into Bagong Lipunan’s claims, identified 10, and sorted through what is factual and what is downright false.

1. On the opening of ballot boxes for the recount

Per PET’s last press release on the matter in January, the revision of ballots from 5,417 clustered precincts in the pilot testing provinces of Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental “was completed, except for a few ballot boxes… and the wet or damaged ballots.”

According to a 2015 SC administrative order, the revision of ballots refers to the “physical counting and segregation of ballots” and the recording of any objections and claims to them.

Further disproving Bagong Lipunan’s claim, the beginning of the manual vote recount on April 2, 2018, was also marked by statements made by both Robredo and Marcos’ camps. That day, the vice president told her supporters who had rallied near the SC to “have no fear” and that the truth will be borne from the recount. Meanwhile, Marcos alleged poll fraud, citing a ballot box opened from Camarines Sur supposedly bearing excess or unused ballots.

2. On the preliminary conference on the electoral protest

The claim that Caguioa intentionally delayed setting the preliminary conference -- where the issues of the case are simplified and some details of the revision of ballots are ironed out -- is unsubstantiated.

There is also no “PET rule” stating that the conference needs to be set “10 days after receipt of Robredo’s answer.”

Rule 29a of the 2010 Rules on PET states the Tribunal should order a preliminary conference “after the last pleading” has been entered by the parties involved. However, it did not set a specific time frame for when the conference must be held.

PET Rules specify a 10-day deadline only for the submission of pleadings, counter-protests, and motions for reconsideration, and for the payment of necessary cash deposits.

Marcos filed his protest on June 29, 2016. He filed a petition at the SC on Jan. 26, 2017 urging the PET to set a date for the preliminary conference.

The Marcos-Robredo preliminary conference was held on July 11, 2017, after being moved from its original date of June 21, 2017.

The last postponement happened the same time several petitions were filed at the Supreme Court challenging the validity of President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao. Both Robredo and Marcos issued statements expressing their understanding for the delay.

3. On retrieval of ballot boxes

PET Rules show that the order for the retrieval of the ballot boxes shall be issued within two days after a protestee files his or her answer, if warranted by the protest or counter-protest:

“Within forty-eight hours from receipt of the answer with counter-protest, if any, the Tribunal shall, when the allegations in a protest or counter-protest warrants, order the ballot boxes and their contents with their keys, lists of voters with voting records, books of voters, the electronic data storage devices, and other documents, paraphernalia, or equipments (sic) relative to the precincts involved in the protest or counter-protest, to be brought before it.”

Source: Rule 37, A.M. No. 10-04-29-SC

However, in a response to VERA Files queries on the matter, the SC Public Information Office (PIO) said the 48-hour period was “not a rigid requirement” because of the qualifying phrase: “when the allegations in a protest or counter-protest warrants.”

It noted that PET already issued a Precautionary Protection Order (PPO) on July 12, 2016, which ordered COMELEC to “preserve and safeguard” the integrity of the ballot boxes and other election documents used in the 2016 elections.

Before issuing the retrieval order, the SC PIO said PET had to ensure first the logistical and security requirements needed for the retrieval of the ballot boxes.

The retrieval order refers to “procedures that should be observed when the questioned ballot boxes and election documents are ordered brought before the Tribunal,” the SC PIO said.


4. On the payment of filing and other legal fees

Under PET Rules, both Marcos and Robredo are required to make cash deposits for their electoral protest and counter protest, respectively. Marcos was ordered to pay about P66.02 million; Robredo, almost P15.443 million.

Both camps were given the same payment scheme and deadlines through a March 21 resolution that ordered them to pay in two installments, with the first deadline set for April 14, 2017, and the second installment for three months later on July 14.

The two camps’ April deadline fell on a Good Friday, so PET extended payment of the fees until the following Monday, April 17. Marcos was not the only one tasked to raise millions during Holy Week, as Bagong Lipunan misleadingly claims.

Robredo’s “late payment” was due to an April 12 petition she filed to defer payment until Marcos provided “sufficient basis” for his protest. PET rejected Robredo’s motion on April 25 and ordered her to pay P8 million by May 2, rendering false Bagong Lipunan’s claim that Caguioa and PET gave her an “open-ended grace period.” Robredo met PET’s new deadline.

5. On the deadline of Robredo’s second cash deposit

In a resolution dated Aug. 8, 2017, PET granted another motion filed by Robredo seeking to postpone payment for her remaining balance of P7 million. However, contrary to Bagong Lipunan’s claim that the High Court “indefinitely” postponed her payment, it ruled that Robredo was to pay the balance "only after initial determination has been made that the protestant has made substantial recovery in his designated three pilot provinces."

There are no news reports or official documents so far about PET announcing a new deadline for Robredo’s payment.

6. On the 8,000 witnesses for Marcos

Among Marcos’ prayers in his protest is to nullify votes from Maguindanao, Basilan, and Lanao del Sur, after claiming, among others, that ballots were “pre-shaded” in 2,756 clustered precincts in the said areas.

It was PET, not Caguioa, that ordered Marcos through an Aug. 29, 2017, resolution to provide three witnesses per clustered precinct -- or around 8,000 witnesses -- as evidence of his claim of poll fraud in Maguindanao, Basilan and Lanao del Sur.

The Tribunal did give him five days to comply. However, this directive follows after Marcos failed to meet PET’s earlier deadline to provide his list of witnesses by July 21, 2017, as indicated in the resolution PET issued immediately after the July 11 preliminary conference.

The former senator submitted 181 names on Sept. 11, 2017, six working days after his office received on Aug. 31 PET’s resolution.

In a Sept. 19, 2017, notice, the Tribunal noted its receipt of Marcos’ list of witnesses. However, it also ordered him to “STRICTLY COMPLY” with their order to identify three witnesses from each of the concerned clustered precincts.

Marcos’ camp supplied the rest of the names on Oct. 9.

The Bagong Lipunan YouTube channel also misleads in saying that Caguioa “deferred to act on the case.” PET did not “defer” action on Marcos’ submission of names. Instead, it deferred action on a different petition of Marcos to conduct a “technical and forensic examination” of poll materials in the three provinces.

7. On the PET’s quick response to Robredo’s motions

PET’s Nov. 22, 2016, resolution granting Robredo’s Nov. 15, 2016, motion to decrypt vote counting machine SD cards in Laguna found to have had data prior to the elections was indeed granted in a week. However, PET’s response was not “unusually fast” like Bagong Lipunan claims.

Records from Marcos’ Protest Watch micro-site in his official website, which monitors the progress of his protest, shows the Tribunal has responded to motions he has filed -- to use Bagong Lipunan’s words, “in his favor” -- within, and even in under, a week.

Filing date

Petition

Response date

Response

Source

Days elapsed

November 23, 2016

Receive minutes of the proceedings and/or transcript of stenographic notes during stripping activities; results of SD card decryption in Laguna

November 29, 2016

Granted

https://www.bongbongmarcos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/BBM-RESOLUTION-11.29.16.pdf

6

March 2, 2017

Ex Parte motion to secure ballot images and other election paraphernalia in Siruma, Camarines Sur

March 7, 2017

Granted

https://www.bongbongmarcos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/BBM-Resolution-dated-03.07.17.pdf

5

January 16, 2018

Motion requesting Marcos' official representatives be allowed to observe retrieval activities in Camarines Sur

January 23, 2018

Granted

https://www.bongbongmarcos.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/BBM-Reso-dated-01.23.18.pdf

7

8. On Marcos obtaining election documents and Robredo being a ‘freeloader’

It is not true that Marcos was “not given a single copy” of decrypted ballot images.

His Nov. 21, 2017, petition to get the “official, printed and authenticated” copies of decrypted ballot images, election returns, and audit logs from the pilot testing provinces of Iloilo, Camarines Sur, and Negros Oriental was denied by PET on Jan. 10, 2018, but he was allowed to obtain soft copies and photocopies of the documents.

While it was indeed through PET’s Aug. 29, 2017, resolution to grant Marcos’ June 1, 2017, petition that made possible the decryption of the ballot images in the three provinces, the Commission on Elections said on Oct. 23, 2017, the day the decryption began, that requests for the images and copies shall be made with PET.

Robredo, who had told PET earlier that June that she opposes Marcos’ motion to decrypt the ballot images because it was “premature” and practically gives him a chance to “fish for evidence,” filed a petition that Oct. 23 to secure soft copies of the decrypted images. The Tribunal granted her request on Nov. 7, 2017.

Meanwhile, Marcos filed his petition only on Nov. 21, 2017.

A Dec. 1, 2017 story by GMA News Online said “no reason was given by PET” on why it granted Robredo’s request for copies.

9. On the first ballot revision delay

The start of the revision or manual counting of ballots, initially scheduled for Feb. 8, 2018, was moved by PET to March 19, 2018, following the PET’s instructions for head revisors of the recount to undergo a psychological examination.

The newly introduced procedure tested the revisors’ “bias and prejudice,” said PET ad hoc committee member Atty. John Lemuel Arenas, in a story by GMA News Online.

While PET Rules do not outrightly require psychological tests for revisors, Rule 39(c) states they should perform their duties with the “highest degree of integrity” and shall take “precautionary measures to prevent the loss, disappearance or impairment” of the ballots and other election documents.

10. On the second ballot revision delay

Five days before the vice presidential vote recount was supposed to begin on March 19, 2018, the camps of Marcos and Robredo both announced that PET once again re-scheduled, this time for April 2, 2018.

PET itself did not say the reason for the delay. Instead, it was the camps who relayed to the public the circumstances of the postponement.

Marcos’ camp announced that PET said only 42 of the 50 intended head revisors passed the psychological test. Robredo’s team, on the other hand, said PET cited “logistics” as the reason for the delay.

Bagong Lipunan, however, cited only the Marcos camp’s announcement. -- Celine Isabelle Samson


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(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)


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