The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the decision of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) that declared Elmer E. Panotes as the duly elected congressman for the second district of Camarines Norte in the May 10, 2010 election.
With the ruling, the SC – in a decision written by Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes – dismissed the petition filed by former Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons-Chato.
On May 12, 2010, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) proclaimed Panotes as winner with 51,704 votes as against Chato’s 47,822 votes. Chato filed an election protest before the HRET, a constitutionally mandated office that settles disputes in the elections for the House of Representatives.
In dismissing Chato’s petition, the SC said that “the HRET disposed of Chato’s electoral protest without grave abuse of discretion, and the herein assailed decision and resolution were rendered on the bases of existing evidence and records presented before the HRET.”
In an earlier related decision involving the Panotes-Chato congressional dispute, the SC had ruled that printouts of the ballots cast through the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines are the “functional equivalent of the paper ballots filled out by the voters” and thus may be used for purposes of the revision of votes in an electoral protest.
Written by Justice Estela M. Perlas Bernabe, the SC dismissed Chato’s petition which challenged the use by the HRET of the picture images of the ballots in her electoral protest against Panotes.
In her petition, Chato claimed that the HRET abused its discretion in directing the copying of the ballots from the PCOS machines for use in her electoral protest. (Rey G. Panaligan)