1. Institution of Electoral Contests
The Senate Electoral Tribunal has jurisdiction to entertain and resolve two types of electoral contests against a Member of the Senate: a) petition for quo warranto; and b) election protest. Mutually exclusive, a petition for quo warranto cannot include an election protest, nor can an election protest include a petition for quo warranto.
Any registered voter who seeks to disqualify a Member of the Senate on the ground of ineligibility or disloyalty to the Republic of the Philippines must file a petition for quo warranto within ten (10) days from the proclamation of the respondent. If however, the basis of ineligibility is based on citizenship, the the petitions may be filed any time during the respondent’s tenure. If the ground is loss of the required qualifications, the petition may be filed at any time during the respondent’s tenure, as soon as the required qualification is lost. The petitioner need not be a candidate, unlike in an election protest, which can be filed only by a candidate who had duly filed a certificate of candidacy and had been voted for the office of Senator. The period for filing an election protest is thirty (30) days from the proclamation of the protestee.
Under the 2013 Rules of the Tribunal, joint election protests are not allowed, but for good and sufficient reasons, the Tribunal may order the consolidation of individual protests and hear and decide them jointly.
2. Action of the Tribunal
Depending on the allegations, issues and arguments raised in the election protest or petition for quo warranto, the Tribunal may either give due course thereto or summarily dismiss the same. The grounds for summary dismissal are set forth in Rule 23 of the 2013 Rules of the Tribunal as follows:
(1) The protest or petition is insufficient in form and substance;
(2) The protest or petition is filed beyond the period prescribed therefor;
(3) The filing fee is not paid simultaneously with the filing of the protest or petition;
(4) In case of protests where a cash deposit is required, if such deposit, or the first Two Hundred Thousand (200,000.00) Pesos thereof, is not paid within ten (10) days after the filing of the protest or petition;
(5) The protest or petition or copies thereof, or their annexes, filed with the Tribunal are not clearly legible.
However, should the Tribunal determine that the election protest or petition for quo warranto is sufficient in form and substance, summons is issued to the protestee(s) or respondent(s), who is/are required to file an answer within fifteen (15) days from receipt of the summons. In his answer, the protestee may set up his special and affirmative defenses and counterclaims, a counter protest as well as cross contests against the other protestees, if any. Answers to counter protests or cross protests must be filed within fifteen (15) days from receipt of the counter protest or cross contest. As enunciated in SET Case No. 001-01 (Enrile vs. Recto, et al.), the rule on impleading third parties found in the Revised Rules of Court does not apply to electoral protests.
Identification of Pilot Precincts
After the issues have been joined, the Tribunal may direct and require each of the protestant, counter-protestant and cross-protestants, if any, to state and designate in writing their pilot precincts. The pilot precincts are at most twenty-five percent (25%) of the contested provinces with their municipalities or cities, which said parties consider as best exemplifying or demonstrating the electoral frauds pleaded by each of them. The collection and revision of ballots as well as the reception of evidence begin with such pilot precincts.
3. Preliminary Conference
After the filing the last responsive pleading and the issues have been ***, the parties shall have identified their respective pilot precincts, they are called to a preliminary conference by the Tribunal. They are asked to consider the following matters to aid in the prompt disposition of the electoral protest:
a) the simplification of issues;
b) the possibility of obtaining stipulation or admission of facts and documents to avoid unnecessary proof;
c) the limitation of the number of witnesses; and the nature of the testimonies;
d) such other matters as may aid in the prompt disposition of the petition, protest, counter protest or cross protest.
In an election protest, the following shall also be considered:
e. The list of pilot precincts consisting of not more than twenty-five percent (25%) of the total number of contested precincts, which the party deems as best exemplifying or demonstrating the electoral fraud or anomaly pleaded;
f. The nature of the testimonies of the witnesses as to whether they relate to evidence aliunde the ballots, or otherwise;
g. The withdrawal of some contested, counter-protested or cross-protested precincts (especially those where, among others, the ballots are unavailable due to the existence of protests concerning other positions involving the said ballots or are missing and cannot be located or destroyed due to natural disasters or calamities); and
h. The matter of reception of evidence to be done simultaneously with the revision of ballots if the evidence is intended to prove such causes of action or defenses or issues which are unrelated to the ballots or election documents.
Matters not taken up during the preliminary conference shall be excluded from the evidentiary hearings.
4. Collection of Contested Ballots and Other Election Documents and Paraphernalia:
The ballot boxes and election documents from the contested areas are ordered transferred to the Tribunal premises if warranted by the allegations in the electoral protest, counter protest, or cross contest, or when in the judgment of the Tribunal, it is so demanded by the interest of justice.
First to be retrieved are the ballot boxes and election documents from the pilot precincts designated by the Protestant. As much as possible, simultaneous collection from different pilot areas is scheduled to ensure the continuous conduct of the revision proceedings. Included in the collection are the ballot boxes and their keys, Books of Voters, Lists of Voters with Voting Records, Statements of Votes by Precinct, Municipal Certificates of Canvass, Statements of Votes by Municipality and Provincial Certificates of Canvass. All necessary and incidental expenses incurred in transporting the election materials to the Tribunal and in returning them to their places of origin are borne by the party requesting the revision and paid from his cash deposit.
In undertaking the collection activity, all factors that may impact on the safe, speedy and inexpensive completion of the task are taken into consideration. A primary concern is the composition of the Collection Team,which is usually composed of a team leader and one (1) or two (2) members depending on the number of ballot boxes to be collected.
The collection team is manned by regular employees of the Tribunal. Prior to the actual performance of their mission, they are trained in the collection process and oriented on the geography as well as the customs and practices of the places of collection. The importance of honesty, prudence in the use of the parties’ cash deposits, proper deportment and neutrality at all times in dealing with other agencies and the parties’ representatives is stressed. The team leader, who acts as a special disbursing officer during the collection trip, is properly bonded. The team is provided with marine or police escorts in the collection activity and is covered by accident insurance.
Parallel preparations are undertaken. Collection schedules, itineraries of travel and estimates of expenses are carefully and meticulously prepared. They are submitted for approval of the party shouldering the collection costs. Canvass of and negotiations with trucking or shipping companies are done to secure the best price, safety and speed in the delivery of the election materials to the SET Offices at Quezon City. Prior coordination with the Commission on Elections Main Office as well as the concerned Election Officers, Municipal/City Treasurers, Provincial/City Prosecutors and the Regional Trial Courts, in cases of ballots also involved in local election protests, is done to achieve the smooth retrieval and transfer of the election materials.
The parties are properly notified of the collection schedule to enable them or their duly authorized representatives to witness the collection. However, once notified, their absence will not prevent the Tribunal from proceeding with the collection. A pre-collection conference among the parties and the Collection Team is held for proper coordination.
The Team Leader is required to submit, within two (2) weeks from arrival at the Secretariat offices, a detailed daily report on the collection process. More importantly, he is required to submit a liquidation of the cash advance received, fully supported by official receipts and other documents. Unprogrammed expenses incurred must be explained and justified and supported by official receipts and other documents; otherwise they are disallowed. These reports are reviewed by the Director of the Canvass Board Service, who upon being satisfied of the legality, necessity and reasonableness of the expenses incurred, recommends its approval to the Secretary of the Tribunal. Thereafter, they are submitted to the Commission on Audit Resident Auditor.
5. Revision of Contested Ballots and Election Documents
Revision of the ballots is undertaken as soon as there are sufficient number of ballot boxes in the custody of the Tribunal to ensure its continuous conduct. The Tribunal issues an order for its commencement, specifying the number of revision teams to be constituted and requiring the parties to submit their respective lists of revisors for accreditation by the Tribunal. The parties are also required to deposit their respective shares in the compensation of the head and alternate head revisors.
During revision, the physical count of the votes of the parties is determined. The parties, through their revisors, register their objections or claims to the ballots or votes. The grounds for the objections and claims are properly recorded in the revision forms and the objected or claimed ballots are marked as exhibits and segregated from the uncontested ballots. No appreciation of the ballots or votes is made during the revision proceeding.
The revision proceedings is involving ballots cast in manual elections conducted in accordance with the Rules and Procedures Governing the Revision of Ballots adopted and promulgated by the Tribunal in Resolution No. 01-18 dated 06 September 2001. A consolidation of the SET Revision Rules and House Rules, which the Tribunal had applied in previous revision proceedings, the Rules and Procedures Governing the Revision of Ballots are crafted to guarantee and achieve smooth and efficient conduct of the revision as well as to address, eliminate and frustrate dilatory tactics of the parties or their representatives.
The Rules regulate both substantive and procedural aspects of the revision proceedings. Among its salient provisions are the time allotted for the viewing and examination of ballots by the party revisors and the circumstances under which the forcible opening of ballot boxes by the head revisors may be done. The Rules include such administrative details as the official time and place of revision, break periods and effects of the tardiness of head and party revisors.
Revision proceedings involving ballots cast under the automated election system is governed by the 2013 Rules and Procedures Governing Revisions of ballots under the Automated Election System.
A revision team is composed of a Head Revisor designated by the Tribunal and one (1) revisor for each of the parties, designated by them. The Head Revisor is the official representative of the Tribunal in the revision proceedings. For this reason, high qualifications are required of head revisors. They must be college graduates and must meet the requirements of absolute loyalty to the Tribunal and strict sense of confidentiality and integrity. Needless to say, they must not be related to any of the parties or affiliated with any political party.
Applicants for the position of head revisor undergo written examinations and a series of interviews. Those selected for the position are oriented on their crucial role as representatives of the Tribunal in the revision proceedings as well as the purpose and mechanics thereof prior to the actual performance of duties.
Mock revisions are held as part of the orientation and training to accord the would-be head revisors hands-on experience in the revision process. Thereafter, their performance as head revisors is evaluated regularly. Those observed to be negligent, lax or otherwise ineffective in the discharge of their duties are warned to improve or suffer dismissal.
Only duly accredited party revisors and alternate party revisors are allowed to participate in the revision proceedings, and only accredited party counsel, representatives or supervisors are allowed inside the revision room. Thus, at least five (5) days prior to the start of the revision, the parties are required to submit the names, addresses and 1” x 1” ID pictures of their respective revisors, counsel, representatives and supervisors for accreditation by the Tribunal. The Tribunal is empowered under the last paragraph of Rule 34 of the Revised Rules of the Tribunal, to motu proprio or upon motion of any of the parties, withdraw the accreditation of, remove or oust a party revisor and alternate party revisor, counsel, representative or supervisor from the revision proceedings for disorderly conduct, unruly behavior or for such acts as would tend to delay, disrupt and/or disturb the revision proceedings.
The revision team files a report for every ballot box, the contents of which it has examined, on a form provided by the Tribunal. These forms are submitted to a group of appraisers, composed of Tribunal personnel, who scrutinize the revision report to ensure its completeness.
6. Photocopying of Revision Reports and Contested Ballots
A day after the start of the revision proceedings, photocopying of the revision reports are immediately undertaken for use in the preliminary appreciation proceedings. Due to the number of revision reports to be reproduced as well as the need for accuracy, an otherwise ordinary, routinary task had become a major activity of the Tribunal. A number of personnel had to be assigned full-time to oversee the procedure, to carry out the photocopying, and to check and collate the duplicate copies. Moreover, copiers had to be rented when required by the volume of work.
Full-time assignment of personnel is also required when parties request photocopies of the contested ballots and other election documents. Due to the sensitive nature of the activity, strict measures are taken to prevent the loss, destruction or impairment of the integrity of the documents being photocopied. The requesting party is required to provide his own photographic or reproduction equipment and to pay the corresponding electrical consumption.
7. Technical Examination of Ballots and Election Documents
Technical examination of ballots and election documents may be allowed upon motion of a party timely filed. The Tribunal designates independent experts to examine the ballots and other election documents under such conditions as it may impose. The technical examination is conducted at the expense of the party requesting the same, in the offices of the Tribunal or such other place as the Tribunal may designate and under the supervision of the Secretary of the Tribunal or her duly authorized representative.
The parties are informed of the schedule, duration and venue of the technical examination at least five (5) days before the start of the examination to enable them to witness the same, either personally or through their respective representatives. The parties may designate their own experts who may observe, but not interfere with the examination conducted by the Tribunal’s experts. A party’s absence will not prevent the technical examination from proceeding as scheduled.
8. Hearing and Reception of Parties’ Evidence
The hearing and reception of the parties’ evidence is usually delegated by the Tribunal to a Hearing Commissioner, who must be a member of the Philippine Bar and an employee of the Tribunal in any capacity. He is usually authorized by the Tribunal to issue subpoena duces tecum or ad testificandum to compel the submission of documents as well as the attendance of witnesses.
The hearing and reception of the parties’ evidence may be done either simultaneously with or after the revision of the ballots. Presentation of witnesses who will testify on matters or issues aliunde the ballots or other election documents, such as vote-buying, fraud, terrorism or violence, can be done simultaneously with the revision. However, if the evidence relate to matters or issues incident to or interwoven with the ballots and related election documents, its presentation is done after the revision of all, or substantially all of the ballots or election documents to which they relate.
An election protest being a time-bound proceedings, the 2013 Rules of the Tribunal gives each party a period of thirty (30) working days to complete.
The Hearing Commissioner is authorized to rule on the objections made in the course of the examination of the witnesses, subject to review by the Tribunal. The evidence presented and the transcript of the proceedings are required to be submitted to the Tribunal or the Division concerned within ten (10) days after each formal offer of evidence.
9. Preliminary Appreciation of the Contested Ballots and Other Election Documents
The purpose of preliminary appreciation of the contested ballots and other election documents is to validate the physical count of the votes of the parties as determined in the revision proceeding and to resolve preliminarily the objections and claims of the parties to particular ballots or votes therein.
Preliminary Appreciation (P.A.) Committees are organized to conduct preliminary appreciation of the contested ballots. Each committee is composed of a Chairman, Assistor, Recorder and Utility Aide. All members of the P.A. Committees are employees of the Tribunal with proven sense of loyalty to the Tribunal, independence and integrity; and except for the Utility Aide, are all college graduates. They undergo the same rigid screening and training given to head revisors. In many cases, former head revisors are engaged as P.A. Committee members as they are already familiar with the revision proceedings.
The P.A. Committee adheres strictly to the following rules and procedure in the preliminary appreciation of the ballots:
1) The Chairman, Assistor and Recorder are voting members.
2) Each examines the vote/ballot being objected to or claimed by the parties.
3) In accordance with law and the rules on appreciation, each votes on whether to admit or reject the vote/ballot under consideration.
4) The vote must be unanimous.
5) If the members do not agree, the vote/ballot is referred to the Tribunal.
The rulings of the P.A. Committees are reviewed by a panel of Tribunal lawyers. Their findings and recommendations are thereafter presented to the Tribunal for final resolution.
10. Appreciation by the Tribunal
The Tribunal validates the physical count of votes of the parties, validates the rulings of the P.A. Committee and rules on the contested ballots referred by the latter. When required by the number of ballots to be appreciated, the Tribunal organizes itself into three (3) divisions for the purpose of appreciating, and ruling on the claims and objections to the ballots. Assignment of contested areas is done through raffle.
11. Annexing of Rulings on the Contested Ballots; Collation of the Parties’ Votes
While revision and appreciation proceedings are ongoing, the votes of the parties in the different election documents are tallied to verify the accuracy and correctness of the addition. After the Tribunal shall have ruled on the claims and objections to the ballots or votes, the annexes on the rulings and the Final Tally of Votes of the parties are prepared. The Final Tally of Votes is then compared with the votes of the parties as gathered from the different election documents. This forms the basis in determining the increase or decrease in the votes of the parties.
12. Preparation and Promulgation of Decision or Resolution
A decision or resolution is prepared showing the results of the initial revision and appreciation proceedings in the pilot areas as well as the evaluation of the various election documents and pieces of evidence admitted by the Tribunal. If the Tribunal determines that the officially proclaimed results of the contested election will not be affected, the Tribunal dismisses the protest, counter or cross protest without further proceedings.
However, should the initial revision show that the protest, counter protest or cross protest has merit, the Tribunal may order the proceedings to continue with respect to the remaining seventy-five percent (75%) of the contested areas. The processes of collection, revision, appreciation, reception of the parties’ evidence and tallying of votes are then repeated until final resolution of the election protest.
The concurrence of five (5) members is necessary for the rendition of a decision and the adoption of formal resolutions. A decision of the Tribunal becomes final ten (10) days after receipt of a copy thereof by the parties or their counsel, if no motion for reconsideration is filed. The Tribunal does not entertain motions for reopening of the case and no party is allowed to file more than one (1) motion for reconsideration. Decisions and resolutions of the Tribunal may be questioned before the Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari.