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PET: Comelec must shoulder storage fees incurred by foreign posts

The Supreme Court (SC), sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has ruled that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should pay for the expenses incurred by the country's diplomatic posts for the safekeeping of poll materials used in the May 2016 elections.

Denying the Comelec's request for payment, the PET said the poll body's argument that it did not instruct the return of to Manila of election materials and paraphernalia from at least 20 Philippine foreign posts due to its compliance to the precautionary protection order (PPO) issued by the PET on July 12, 2016 had no basis.

The PPO was issued in line with the electoral protest filed by former Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo.

"The PPO directed the Comelec and its agents to preserve and safeguard the integrity of the ballots and other paraphernalia used in the 2016 elections for the position of Vice President. There is nothing in the PPO that prohibited the physical transfer of the election materials and paraphernalia; the Comelec was merely required to preserve and safeguard their integrity," the PET said in a resolution dated October 10.

The PET added that the Comelec, "on several occasions" since the PPO was issued, had moved and transferred election materials and paraphernalia covered by the order after securing permission from the tribunal.

"As to why it would treat differently the materials and paraphernalia in the custody of the posts escapes this tribunal as the PPO did not make such distinction. Indeed, the Comelec could have simply secured permission from the tribunal for their transfer to the Comelec Central Office. The Comelec made no such request," the resolution read.

The resolution stemmed from the July 10, 2017 letter of Director Maria Lea Alarkon of the Comelec Office for Overseas Voting forwarding to the PET requests for payment of storage facilities and other expenses from Philippine foreign posts including Hong Kong (HK$90,000) and New York (US$24,768.50).

In his comment, Marcos said the Comelec has the duty to safeguard the integrity of the election materials and paraphernalia. He also said that under the 2010 PET Rules such expenses cannot be charged against his cash deposit.

The tribunal agreed with Marcos' view, saying ordering Marcos to pay for such expenses is unwarranted since he did not ask to prevent the poll body from removing the materials from the foreign posts.

"Rather, it was the Comelec that made the decision not to instruct the posts to transmit the election materials and paraphernalia to the Comelec Central Office, despite the absence of any prohibition for the same. Had the Comelec made such instruction, the subject expenses would not have been incurred," the resolution stated.

"Accordingly, the Comelec must bear the responsibility of paying for the subject expenses incurred by the posts."

Marcos’ camp welcomed the PET resolution.

"This is certainly a very positive development for Senator Marcos. As you can see, our opponents are making things more difficult for us by trying to delay the case and making us pay left and right without any basis. We are glad that the PET denied these unfounded and unnecessary moves so our case can finally move forward," Marcos’ spokesperson, Victor Rodriguez, said.

Marcos lost to Robredo by 263,473 votes in the May 2016 elections, which the former senator claimed was marred by fraud. — RSJ, GMA News