MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) has upheld the victory of Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento in the May 2010 congressional elections as it dismissed the electoral protest filed by his rival, Araceli Wong, the congressman said in a statement yesterday.
In a decision in HRET Case No. 10-028 dated last Feb. 8, the nine-man HRET chaired by Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. ruled that Wong failed to substantiate her allegations that she was deprived of victory mainly due to defects in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and by “lateral acts” of alleged vote-buying and voters’ intimidation by Sarmiento’s camp.
Sarmiento ran under President Aquino’s Liberal Party while Wong carried the banner of the Nacionalista Party of then presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar. Two other losers in the congressional race were former governor Leandro Verceles Jr. and former National Electrification Administration head Manuel Sanchez.
A former vice governor, Sarmiento won by a slim margin of 713 votes over Wong (50,439 votes against 49,726) and by overwhelming margins over the two others, after more than 120,000 votes in the province were tabulated.
However, the HRET recount of the contested 25 percent of the total votes questioned by Wong, had shown the lawmaker increasing his overall lead by 24 votes to 737.
The tribunal thus ruled there was no way Wong can reasonably overtake Sarmiento’s vote lead even if the remaining 75 percent of all the ballots were to be subjected to a recount.
“The inexorable conclusion is that protestant’s case, propped up by sparse evidence cannot prosper,” it said.
In its decision, the HRET also noted that most of the grounds raised by Wong were supposed ballot malpractices that could happen only in manual voting and no longer under an automated system.
The HRET also said no witness was ever presented to back up Wong’s allegations.
“This is a victory for the people of Catanduanes and I now call on all political leaders of the province to unite and move forward for the common good,” Sarmiento said in his statement.
Sarmiento is vice chairman of two key House committees: national defense and security, and transportation and communications.
He hailed the HRET decision as “a timely reaffirmation of the integrity of the automated voting,” which was first adopted nationwide in the May 2010 polls. - By Paolo Romero