MANILA, Philippines—The so-called null votes could reach as high as 3
And the camp of Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, who is struggling to
wrest the lead from Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay in a tight vice
presidential race, Wednesday demanded that these votes be counted.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec), however, said if votes were
considered null, they couldn’t be counted even if Roxas filed a protest
case and secured an order to count votes manually from the Presidential
Electoral Tribunal, the venue for protest cases arising from the
presidential and vice presidential elections.
“You can’t count votes that are not there,” said Election
Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal.
Lawyer Joey Tenefrancia, deputy national coordinator of the group
Aquino-Roxas Bantay Balota (ARBB), estimated that up to 3 million votes
would be wasted if the Comelec continued to refuse to canvass 2.6
million null votes and 300,000 votes that were not tallied in
certificates of canvass (CoCs), official documents that record election
results in provincial, city and municipal levels.
Tenefrancia said while the ARBB, which had been formed to guard votes
for Aquino and Roxas, recognized the risk of Roxas’ struggle delaying
the proclamation of Sen. Benigno Aquino III as the country’s next
president, “we do not want any single voter to be disenfranchised.”
“We want Aquino to be proclaimed as our duly elected president as
quickly and timely as possible and without a question,” Tenefrancia
“But the vice presidential race is a tight contest, and all the votes
will matter in this race,” he said.
Accurate and fair
According to Tenefrancia, his group’s ultimate objective was not
making Roxas win but to ensure “the canvassing process is accurate and
Roxas, considered unbeatable until a late surge by Binay drastically
changed the vice presidential race’s configuration, had been quoted as
predicting that about 200,000 votes would decide the race.
According to Tenefrancia, up to 3 million votes would be nullified if
votes cast in the vice presidential race were declared null for three
reasons—voters shaded more than one oval in their ballots’ space for
vice president, voters didn’t shade the ovals properly, or votes were
not tallied in CoCs because of incomplete transmission.
He said counting the null votes wouldn’t have any effect on the
presidential race because Aquino’s lead over pardoned plunderer Joseph
Estrada, who is running a far second to Aquino and is running mate of
Binay, was insurmountable.
He said his group also noticed that the number of null votes in the
vice presidential race was unusually high, especially in areas
considered bailiwicks of Roxas.
A study he described as exhaustive and made by ARBB showed 10-15
percent of votes in Roxas’ strongholds were null.
In Western Visayas and Central Visayas, considered Roxas strongholds,
at least 500,000 votes were declared null, Tenefrancia said, adding
that if 50 to 60 percent of these were for Roxas, then the Liberal Party
candidate would have lost 250,000 to 300,000 votes.
Tenefrancia said Congress, now acting as the national canvassing
board, should consider a manual audit to examine all null votes.
A proposal by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to form a technical
working committee to inspect all compact flash (CF) cards and precinct
count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the May 10 elections “could
be the mechanism by which we can inspect all the ballots.”
Comelec officials, however, said the null votes would be useless for
Commissioner Larrazabal said null votes were the equivalent of stray
votes when the election process was still manual.
The Comelec, he said, would not treat null votes any differently than
it did stray votes in the past.
“Nullified votes can mean a stray vote or a person simply does not
want to vote for a particular candidate for a particular position,”
PCOS machines, he said, won’t count more than one vote for vice
president but continue to count votes for other positions in ovals that
are properly shaded in the ballot.
“How do you determine if an over-vote should be counted for one
candidate or the other?” Larrazabal said.
“You cannot second-guess the voter,” said Election Chair Jose Melo.
Rules on stray or null votes would apply even if votes were manually
counted in an electoral protest, Melo said.
“It has to be machine (count). No human appreciation,” he added.
The Philippines held its first automated elections using PCOS
machines and machine-readable ballots supplied by Smartmatic-TIM Corp.
Instead of writing down candidates’ names in blank spaces, voters shaded
ovals beside candidates’ names.