MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino III supported the move of his defeated running mate, Senator Mar Roxas, in filing an electoral protest questioning the victory of Vice President Jejomar Binay, a Palace official said.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said it was the President who urged Roxas to file the protest, citing Aquino himself believed that he was a victim of vote-shaving.

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"We respect the right of Senator Roxas to file an electoral protest. It is his discretion to do so," Lacierda said.

He added that the President wanted to know if there was cheating during the first automated elections last May 10.

Lacierda clarified there will be no legal implications on the possible appointment of Roxas in Aquino's Cabinet should his electoral case prosper.

"It has no bearing on the election protest. The election protest will take quite some time, they just filed it before the Supreme Court acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). So the protest, normally would last more than a year," he said.

He said Aquino maintains his plan to include Roxas in his Cabinet after the one-year ban.

Roxas on Friday morning filed a petition seeking to nullify the proclamation of Binay as the duly elected vice president.

The protest paves the way for the Supreme Court (SC) to convene as the PET, the body which resolves election contests relating to the presidential and vice presidential races.

Manual revision of votes

In a 102-page petition filed through lawyers Bienvenido Somera Jr. and Joe Nathan Tenefrancia, Roxas urged the PET to conduct a manual revision of votes and order a complete recount of votes, especially those that were considered stray or null votes.

He also asked the SC to constitute a panel of independent experts that would conduct a comprehensive, system-wide forensic analysis and comparison of the country's first automated election system (AES).

Roxas said the certificates of canvass that formed the basis of Binay's proclamation were not duly and properly authenticated as these failed to meet all legal requirements for the determination of authenticity and due execution of the COCs for vice president, in violation of the Constitution.

"The vice presidential contest was marred by various manifestations of fraud, anomalies, irregularities and statistical improbabilities," the petition read.

"It is anomalous that for the vice president alone, approximately three million votes were disenfranchised to be null votes. Incidence of null votes was interestingly high in provinces where protestant won while curiously low in provinces where Binay won," the petition added.

The petition said the votes intended for Roxas were also unaccounted for, as there were several Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines from several clustered precincts transmitting not the actual election results but the final testing and sealing (FTS) results.

It added that the election results that were used as basis for Binay's proclamation did not reflect the actual votes for the race due to the following:

* The high incidence of null votes in the certificates of canvass, totaling to 2,612,207 votes;

* The lowering of the canvassing threshold in at least 145 clustered precincts nationwide (92,740 votes);

* The erroneous uploading of the FTS results from clustered precincts to affected city/municipal/provincial consolidation and canvassing systems, Comelec central and backup servers and the KBP server (169,849 votes); and,

* Fraud, anomalies and statistical improbabilities in certain clustered precincts, particularly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm), which were too glaring to ignore.

The petition noted that in the Armm, 578 PCOS machines reported an average voter turnout of 97.85 percent; in Kalinga, 33 PCOS machines reported a province-wide turnout of 98.47 percent; and in the Cordillera Autonomous Region, 44 PCOS machines had a region-wide turnout of 98.54 percent.

It said determining the will of the electorate thus renders imperative a forensic analysis of the hardware and software components of the Automated Election System (AES), including the source code, PCOS machine, compact flash (CF) cards and transmission data and protocols, as well as a proper manual audit as required by law.

The AES source code, the petition added, was not subjected to independent review that would have ensured that said source code was not compromised, manipulated or altered, while the CF cards were configured not to read votes for protestant.

"It is worse that despite official data on these, the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) blindly disregarded the same and imposed upon the people a proclamation infirmed by such fundamental fraud and anomalies," the petition read.

The former senator's petition also said that the anomalously high incidence of misread votes is not only relevant but also crucial for the vice presidential race considering the narrow margin of just 727,084 votes.

Binay to answer protest

The camp of Vice President Binay said the election protest filed by Roxas could undermine the people's renewed faith in the election process.

"Mr. Roxas is well within his right to file a protest. Unfortunately, his action tends to undermine the people's newly restored faith in the electoral process," said Binay's spokesman lawyer JV Bautista said.

"It also shows that the old adage that there are no losers in Philippine elections, only those who were cheated, is still very much with us," he added.

The lawyer said Binay's camp would answer Roxas's protest at the proper time, adding that they have yet to receive a copy of the electoral protest.

"We will respond extensively to the election protest of Mar Roxas at the proper time. Our lawyers have yet to receive a copy of said protest," Bautista said.

While it recognized Roxas's right to file a protest, the Binay camp said the former senator should be prepared to lose for a second time.

Binay's spokesperson said there is a reason for the null votes. "Comelec Chairman Jose Melo himself asked the rhetorical question: 'How can you count votes that are not there?'"

Bautista said the 2010 national elections have been "fair, honest, peaceful and transparent."

"The national results also reflect the result of the exit polls conducted by reputable survey companies and media entities. In fact, the Social Weather Station (SWS) exit poll results had a variance of less than one percent with the actual results," he said.

Last June 9, the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) proclaimed Binay as the winner of the vice presidential contest, with 14,645,574 votes obtained, as against Roxas's 13,918,490.

In filing his protest Friday, Roxas's camp paid a filing fee of P100,000 and an initial deposit of P200,000, the principal amount of which will still have to be determined by the PET.

PCOS machines determine winners

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said it would be the PCOS machines that will determine the winner in automated polls.

He noted that existing rules on electoral protests state that the automated count of the PCOS machines would be the ones given weight in recount proceedings.

"I think, at the end of the day, since this is an automated elections, it would be the examination done by the PCOS machines that will prevail," Sarmiento said.

He also mentioned the provisions of the rules of both the Comelec and the courts in handling electoral protests, wherein the machines will be used to authenticate the ballots, especially to determine the threshold of the votes cast.

However, he said the PET is not required to follow the existing rules since it has the authority to formulate its own rules.

"I am sure the rules of PET will not divert from these rules. I believe, more or less, the same procedure will be followed by PET," he added.

He explained that it will not be illegal if the PET would eventually decide to manually appreciate the votes "in the course of the recount."

"Yung appreciation, pwede maging liberal ang PET... one possibility is they could resort to a visual examination of the ballots."

On the other hand, Sarmiento said they respect the decision of Roxas to file an electoral protest against the proclamation of Binay before the PET. (Jill Beltran/JCV/AH/FP/Sunnex)