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Siling Labuyo: The Vice Presidential Vote Recount

The vote recount asked for by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. from the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) has finally began after nearly two years of waiting and maneuvering. By Philippine standards, this is quick compared to previous vice presidential electoral protests. Marcos lost to VP Leni Robredo by less than 264,000 votes out of 29 million votes cast for the VP race. The painstaking manual recount will initially cover 5,418 precincts of three provinces: Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental. Marcos being the protestant picked these precincts and paid P66 million plus for vote recount in 132,446 precincts nationwide. If the outcome points to a possibility of overcoming such deficit, then a larger vote recount will be conducted. For two years, VP Robredo’s camp tried to get the electoral protest trashed first for using the wrong venue (Congress as National Board of Canvassers versus the PET) then claimed that Marcos’ protest did cite specific narration of facts of alleged irregularities but the PET junked both arguments and sided with Marcos’ claim that cheating, fraud, and voting irregularities might have taken place and ruled that the protestant’s submission was sufficient in form and substance. Having hurdled the questioned legalities of the protest, the ballot boxes from the contested precincts were finally delivered to Manila and the manual recount is finally underway. This is going to be a long and tedious process and it would be months before the final numbers are determined. But before then, each side will try to gain the upper hand in laying a case before the public. Marcos will have to paint a discredited electoral process capable of allowing cheating, fraud, and voting irregularities. The Robredo camp will try to fend off such negative portrayal by claiming her election was legit and that the numbers in the end will bear out the truth. This early, Marcos is already winning the public relations (PR) campaign by almost daily claiming some voting irregularities has taken place. First, four head vote revisers quit before any vote was even manually counted. There was no reason given, just that the four quit. Then this was followed by revelations that wet ballots were found in two Camarines Sur towns: Bato and by Baao. Furthermore, completed audit logs were supposedly missing from 38 of 42e ballot boxes from Bato. Now, the Marcos’ camp revealed another supposed anomaly that ballot boxes from Balatan, Camarines Sur were missing voter’s receipts. VP Robredo’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, a savvy and expert election lawyer is rather flat on his counter punches. His responses came across as playing down or belittling the wet ballots and missing audit logs claims. “There was a typhoon in December 2016 that probably got the ballot boxes wet,” according to Macalintal. And on the missing audit logs, there was no requirement for them to be in the ballot boxes. Macalintal even suggested that soft copies of these could easily be reproduced. Well fine, but remember this is a campaign (albeit, PR) all over again but this time, to keep Robredo’s VP seat. Macalintal is not aggressive enough and is allowing the Marcos’ camp to control the narrative. On the typhoon claim, yes, there was a super typhoon that indeed visited Camarines Sur on Christmas Day in 2016. Typhoon Nina was a Category 4 typhoon that made second landfall in Camarines Sur after Catanduanes. But in the public mind, if this was true then there was attendant negligence on the LGU that housed these ballot boxes and being in Camarines Sur, Robredo’s home turf, the insinuation would be that these was an effort to hide the truth by “allowing them to be wet.” The wisdom that as Robredo would often claim, “the truth is in our side,” then all the more these ballots should have been protected to show the truth. The fact that it has been over a year since they got wet and remained wet up to this point escapes incredulity. Besides, it is really not up to Macalintal to offer an explanation for the LGUs of Bato and Baao. Robredo’s camp should also show outrage instead of offering excuses as to why these ballot are wet. It’s not Robredo’s negligence but the LGU who was entrusted to protect these ballot boxes for safekeeping. By offering excuses, Macalintal was owning the problem. In PR crisis management, the first golden rule is to take responsibility, if it is yours. Manage the situation by taking responsibility and not try to cover up. By arguing with the Marcos’ camp’s wet ballots theory, Macalintal should have disowned the problem instead and publicly asked for accountability for the LGUs concerned. The second rule is to be proactive. The Robredo camp should talk to the LGUs to come out with a statement. Typhoon Nina was a destructive typhoon that brought a lot of rains. The LGU can show where it was housed and whether it was actually destroyed or if indeed exposed to heavy rainfall. If it can be shown (and Marcos can easily find this out and use it to its own advantage too!) that the storage location was safe from the typhoon, then Robredo should demand an investigation to find out who deliberately destroyed the ballots by getting them wet. By getting ahead of the story, Robredo would already own number three of the golden rules of PR crisis management. The whole idea here is that “we have nothing to hide and that the Marcos camp has every motive to make it appear that cheating did occur.” With Social Media going into overdrive, Macalintal’s belittling of the wet ballots already became viral. The monkey of the wet ballots is not for Robredo to carry so let the rightful zoo carry them. Start thinking strategic and see if mayors of LGUs might have a motive that complements the Marcos’ camp. Include President Duterte in the calculus. If LGUs will be currying favors from the administration in the upcoming local elections, all the more that the Robredo camp should be ahead of the stories. Finally, recognize that this is a PR campaign and getting ahead of the story is a critical part of a PR plan. Even if you win the final count but if Marcos raises reasonable doubt due these negative stories, then Robredo’s legitimacy will remain in question. Instead of constantly reacting to every Marcos pronouncement of poll irregularity, start taking control of the narrative. Aside from the manual recount, there are other issues in play. First, Chief Justice Sereno is fighting for her post and five justices have shown bias by appearing before the House Justice Committee. Robredo should establish if there is a nexus between this and Duterte. These are the same justices who would decide Robredo’s fate. Months ago, Senators Tito Sotto and Francis Escudero came out with cheating allegations in the 2016 senatorial election and has encouraged the Senate to investigate. They alleged manipulation of the automated election count by Smartmatic. Bongbong Marcos actually made similar allegations regarding the manipulation of votes through an outside server. The implication of these allegations fuses into one escapable conclusion, that the Aquino administration and the Liberal Party for that matter, must have something to do with the automated cheating (through COMELEC chair Andy Bautista) to ensure an electoral win for both Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo. The ballots being recounted are the same ballots used for the president, vice president, and senators in 2016. Will the ballot recount open up a can of worms with unpleasant surprises for parties involved?

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