Marcos camp looking at 290,000 undervotes in pilot provinces for ballot recount

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 2) — The camp of former Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos is aiming to uncover about 290,000 undervotes in the three pilot provinces for the ballot recount.

Marcos' lawyer Vic Rodriguez told CNN Philippines' "News Night" on Monday that their camp chose Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental due to the unusually high number of undervotes in the provinces.

"Kami ay naniniwala, if not all, at least substantially, most of the 290,000 undervotes dito sa tatlong pangunahing probinsya ay boto ni Senador Marcos," Rodriguez said.

[Translation: We believe that if not all, at least substantially, most of the 290,000 undervotes in these three pilot provinces were votes for Senator Marcos.]

Marcos lost to Vice President Leni Robredo in the 2016 national elections by 263,473 votes.

The recount of the votes began on Monday, two years after Marcos filed his electoral protest before the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

In granting Marcos' petition,  the PET decided on Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental as the pilot provinces for the recount.

Marcos had identified the three provinces as "best exemplifying fraud or irregularities" in his protest brief.

Robredo also listed three provinces in her own counter-protest brief: Capiz, Sulu, and North Cotabato.

The recount in the three pilot provinces chosen by Marcos will take up to six months.

"Our basis, nakita namin doon sa ballot images na resulta ng decryption process that we've asked the Court to do, ang daming boto ni Senador Marcos na hindi binilang ng makina, at doon nilagay sa category of undervote," Rodriguez said.

[Translation: We saw in the ballot images from the decryption process we've asked the Court to do that a lot of votes for Senator Marcos weren't counted by the machines, but were considered undervote.]

Robredo's lawyer Romulo Macalintal, however, said undervoting is not a ground for an election protest.

"Ang undervotes, ang ibig sabihin niyan, maaaring walang ibinoto ang botante, o kulang ang pagkakagawa dun sa balota ng mga botante," Macalintal said. "Kaya kung doon lamang nagre-rely si Vic Rodriguez, they better forget their election protest."

[Translation: Undervotes mean the voter did not vote or they failed to complete the ballot...If Vic Rodriguez relies on that, they better forget their election protest.]

Macalintal explained undervotes are not uncommon, as it happens nationwide, and even in other countries that implement automated elections.

He also said there were votes for Robredo and other candidates that were considered undervotes, as the shaded part of the ballot did not meet the 25 percent requirement of the Commission on Elections.

"It was not an error by the machine, it was an error committed by the voter himself, because the shading that he made on the ballot, did not reach the shading threshold required by the Comelec," Macalintal said.

Earlier, Marcos said there were irregularities in some ballots from Bato, Camarines Sur. He said ballots from four precincts were rain-drenched and cannot be read, while many have missing audit logs.

Macalintal said there's nothing to worry about, as ballot images may be printed for counting and the audit logs are with the Comelec.

Marcos had also questioned the appearance of "mysterious squares" on ballot images beside Robredo's name, claiming these were proof of fraud.

Robredo's camp explained that the squares were the way vote-counting machines recognized a shade on the circle next to the name of the candidate.

The PET earlier required Marcos to pay P66 million and Robredo P15 million to fund their protests and counter-protests. A petitioner needed to pay P500 per contested precinct.