It is said that in the Philippines, there are only two kinds of candidates: those who won and those who are cheated. From Bonifacio protesting a “snap election” where he lost the position of president to Aguinaldo, to the electoral protest lodged by Bongbong Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo, Philippine elections indeed seemed like a battle between winners and losers who felt cheated.
Many candidates are quick to concede their electoral defeats when the margin of votes is difficult to dismiss, as the case of Jose de Venecia in 1998 and Mar Roxas in 2016. But when margins are in the mere hundreds of thousands or less, expect electoral protests to tend to last years until resolution.
Here are some of the most famous electoral protests the country has seen in the last few decades.
1992: SANTIAGO VS. RAMOS
Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s political career seemed to have reached new heights as her popularity soared before the 1992 presidential elections, as talks of another woman could take the helm of the government was high. Former President Cory Aquino, however, supported another candidate—Fidel Ramos, an important figure of the EDSA People Power I that ushered her into the presidency. As the polls closed in 1992 and the votes were tallied, Santiago suspected election fraud—she was leading the first few dates of canvassing, but Ramos overtook her in the last few days. The power shortages that occurred during the crucial moments of the canvassing led Santiago to suspect that massive cheating may have taken place.
Santiago lost to Ramos by 874,348 votes. Santiago filed an electoral protest, which was dismissed when she ran as senator in 1995. The Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) took Santiago’s senatorial bid as an indication that she is no longer interested in the protest.
2004: POE VS. MACAPAGAL-ARROYO AND LEGARDA VS. DE CASTRO
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo served the remaining term of former President Joseph Estrada when the latter was impeached, which meant she had not won her presidential position. She sought to win her presidential term in 2004 with running mate, former Senator Noli de Castro. Their main rivals were Fernando Poe Jr., a famous cinema star, and Loren Legarda, a former senator, running for president and vice president respectively.
Arroyo and de Castro were declared winners of the elections after garnering 39.99% and 39.4% of the votes respectively. Arroyo beat Poe by a margin of 1,123,576 votes, while de Castro won versus Legarda by a margin of 881,722 votes. Poe and Legarda launched their own electoral protests, alleging massive fraud akin to “dagdag-bawas,” which was also said to be responsible for the loss of Santiago to Ramos in 1992.
Unfortunately, Poe died in December 2004, which led to the dismissal of the protest. Legarda, on the other hand, ran for senator in 2007, which was taken by the PET as an abandonment of the protest when she assumed office as senator.
2007: PIMENTEL VS. ZUBIRI
After the 2007 senatorial elections, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Koko Pimentel were contesting the 12th and last seat. Zubiri ran under the then pro-Macapagal-Arroyo TEAM Unity coalition, while Pimentel was under the anti-administration Genuine Opposition (GO). The vote count was slow, but Zubiri triumphed over Pimentel with a margin of 21,519 votes. Pimentel contested that the ballots from Maguindanao were tainted, and asked the Supreme Court to nullify these votes. The Supreme Court allowed the COMELEC to count the ballots, and Zubiri was proclaimed elected.
Pimentel brought the case to the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) as an electoral protest that covered the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte, Shariff Kabunsuan, Basilan, Sultan Kudarat, and Sulu. Votes had to be recounted, which was a lengthy process, with Pimentel claiming that he was leading the recount.
The tide will continue to shift to Pimentel’s side when in 2011, massive fraud was claimed by Lintang Bedol, former Maguindanao election head, and Zaldy Ampatuan, suspended governor of ARMM. In light of these claims, Zubiri resigned to allay the allegations that he cheated, and that he has firm confidence in the elections.
Four years after the contested 2007 elections, the SET declared Pimentel as the winner and was sworn into office to serve the remainder of Zubiri’s term.
2010: ROXAS VS. BINAY
Mar Roxas was a front-runner months before the 2010 Presidential elections, but had to step aside for Noynoy Aquino, following the public clamor after the latter’s mother, former President Cory Aquino, passed away. The 2010 elections were the first time that elections in the Philippines became automated, which assumed greater fidelity in the results. Roxas ran as vice-president but lost to former Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, who led by 727,084 votes.
Roxas’ camp filed an electoral protest against Binay since it found out that 2.6 million null votes for vice president were found nationwide, even in Roxas’ turfs of Regions 6 and 7. Binay argued that the documented null votes for the 2010 elections were lowest, compared to 2007 and 2004, and that the COMELEC canvass was consistent with results of exit surveys. Binay launched his counterprotest, contesting results in over 40,000 precincts in Regions 6, 7, and Caraga, due to irregularities such as the use of illegal ballots.
The case languished in the PET, and protests were dismissed in 2016 on the ground of mootness, as well as the lack of interest from concerned parties, both of whom ran for president in 2016.
2016: MARCOS VS. ROBREDO
The latest electoral protest stemmed from the 2016 presidential elections, where Leni Robredo triumphed over Bongbong Marcos in the vice presidential race. Marcos already insinuated that cheating might happen since it was only a few days before the elections that Robredo topped the Pulse Asia survey.
Robredo snatched the lead from Marcos in the partial and unofficial canvassing of votes after the polls, and the Marcos’ camp sustained its allegations of fraud, such as the tampering of the COMELEC servers. When all the votes were canvassed, Robredo emerged as the winner with a lead of 263,473 votes against Marcos.
Marcos quickly filed an election protest to the PET, asking for a recount in 27 provinces and cities, totaling to about 36,000 precincts. Robredo filed a counterprotest, which was rejected by the tribunal, together with one of Marcos’ cause of actions to nullify the result of the vice presidential election.
Votes were recounted in pilot provinces identified in the Marcos protest, and will only continue to the rest of the provinces if the tribunal finds it necessary. The recount was indefinitely suspended in January 2019. However, the trading of barbs between the two camps continues up to this day. — JOHN LEE CANDELARIA