Senator Francis N. Tolentino — PHILSTAR

THE COUNTRY’S Highest Court has affirmed the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) and the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) denial of the petition of Senator Francis N. Tolentino to refund a P3.3-million payment relating to his 2016 poll protest against another senator.  

In its decision dated May 11 and made public on July 25, the Supreme Court (SC) held that the SET acted within its authority “when it desisted to rule on the issue concerning the alleged invalidity or unconstitutionality of Section 6.9 of the AES (Automated Election System) Contracts.”  

In 2016, the SET asked Mr. Tolentino to pay Comelec P3.3 million to cover the cost for the retention of custody and possession of 151 vote counting machines, six laptops, Secure Digital cards, and other materials beyond Dec. 2016 for Mr. Tolentino’s electoral protest against Senator Leila M. de Lima.  

Mr. Tolentino eventually withdrew the protest he filed to focus on his new senatorial campaign in 2019.  

The equipment were rented by the Comelec from Smartmatic through an AES contract which states under Section 6.9 that “(a)ll Goods still in the possession of Comelec as of 01 December 2016 because of any election contest or audit requirement shall be considered sold to Comelec.”  

The SC also explained that the poll body cannot use its own funds to pay for the cost in question because under the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines, “(g)overnment funds or property shall be spent or used solely for public purposes.” — Bianca Angelica D. Añago