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War over wet ballots

ILOCOS Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, on behalf of her brother, 2016 vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, had reason to decry the downplaying by the camp of Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo and her sympathizers of the highly irregular discoveries on the first day of the recount of the VP ballots on Monday.

The ballots in the ballot boxes from Bato, Camarines Sur, were wet. “So what?” was the reaction of Robredo’s lawyer, Romulo Macalintal. Ballots get wet all the time, he claimed, a talking point repeated by Robredo allies in the mainstream and social media.

Was former senator Ferdinand Jr. making a mountain out of a molehill by pointing to wet ballots and other irregularities?

Macalintal’s explanations – that it must have been because of a storm – do not make sense because the last time a storm visited the area was four months ago. Why were the ballots still wet on Monday?

And if the ballots inside the boxes were, indeed, soaked in water, why were the paper labels outside the box dry, in mint condition, even?

The Robredo camp would have the public believe that wet ballots are a nothingburger, and that wet ballots per se do not mean electoral fraud occurred.

Anyway, they said, there are scanned images stored in the secured digital (SD) cards that went with vote-counting machines, and these could be used for the manual recount being conducted by the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

Any thinking person would realize straight away how dishonest and self-serving those statements were.

Macalintal should be reminded that in the protest filed by former Senator Marcos against VP Robredo, the SD cards and the counting machines themselves were put into question.

So if there’s any reason to doubt the contents of the SD cards, the revisors should be able to examine the hard copies of the ballots. But how could the revisors do that if the ballots were soaked wet?

It seems Macalintal wants the recount process to utilize the scanned images instead of the hard copies of the ballots, the best evidence, for reasons only known to him.

It should be noted that Camarines Sur, Robredo’s bailiwick, recorded an abnormally high number of “undervotes,” 290,000, resulting from voters abstaining from voting for a vice presidential candidate, or failure to shade at least 25 percent of the oval next to the name of the preferred candidate.

Macalintal claims Marcos won’t be able to wrest the vice presidency from Robredo by claiming the undervotes.

“[N]o protestant has ever won an election based on undervotes … The presence of undervotes is not because the vote-counting machines failed to count the votes [accurately]. It is due to the error committed by the voter,” he said in a television interview.

But this is where nothing becomes something to worry about. If the ballots were wet, there’s really no way to determine the veracity of the undervotes by just examining the contents of the SD cards. Could this be the reason Macalintal bet his license that there was no way Robredo would lose the recount?

In an electoral protest so controversial and so consequential as this, the public should be worried precisely when they are told by lawyers and spin masters not to.

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