MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine Congress on Wednesday started the official count of votes cast in the May 9 presidential election, though confirmation of Rodrigo Duterte's apparent victory may be slowed by disputes in the more closely fought vice presidential race.
Duterte, the 71-year-old mayor of southern Davao city, exceeded his closest rival by more than 6 million votes in an unofficial tally. All four rivals have conceded defeat to Duterte, who has said there was no major irregularity in the polls.
The unofficial tally of votes cast in the vice presidential contest showed Rep. Leni Robredo leading by more than 200,000 votes. Rival Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has disputed that nearly complete tally based on alleged elections irregularities.
As the counting began at the House of Representatives, the candidates' initial vote totals were reflected on a big screen. In the plenary hall of Congress, lawmakers and candidates' lawyers were seen checking election certificates contained in ballot boxes. If there are no objections or questions, the votes are counted from each province.
As the canvassing opened, Marcos's lawyer Didagen Dilangalen asked lawmakers to count the votes cast for president separately from the vice presidential votes so Duterte could immediately and officially be proclaimed the winner.
The lawmakers refused and proceeded to count them races simultaneously.
"I'm confident that the true result will come out, it's just a matter of time," said Robredo after she and her lawyers heard Mass at a church Wednesday. "If there are any uncertainties, these are the lies that are being floated."
A few hundred supporters each of Robredo and Marcos held separate rallies outside Congress as counting began.
Marcos is the 58-year-old son and namesake of the Philippine dictator ousted in a 1986 "people power" revolt due to widespread human rights abuses and economic plunder. He had topped most pre-election surveys, though Robredo overtook him in surveys a few days before the vote.
While the dictator's wife, Imelda, and two children, including Marcos Jr., have long managed to make a political comeback, a victory by Marcos Jr. would bring a Marcos tantalizingly close to the seat of power the strongman lost three decades ago.
The congressional count would take a few days normally, but it could last longer if Marcos's camp raises continuous objections as thousands of election returns from across the country of more than 100 million people are checked and counted.
The new president and vice president are to take their posts on June 30, when the six-year term of President Benigno Aquino III ends.
Aquino campaigned for a former member of his Cabinet, Mar Roxas, as president and the 52-year-old Robredo, a lawyer who advocates for the poor and whose husband was a popular local politician who died in a plane crash in 2012.
Aquino's father was an anti-Marcos politician who was assassinated while in military custody at the Manila international airport as he returned from U.S. exile in 1983. His mother, Corazon Aquino, helped lead the 1986 revolt, which catapulted her to the presidency. The Marcoses have a lot at stake in the vice presidential race, which could allow them to retake the presidency in six years and rewrite history to their favor, according to left-wing activists who campaigned against the young Marcos.
The Marcoses have denied any wrongdoing by the dictator although a U.S. federal jury awarded a $2 billion judgment against his estate in 1995 after finding him liable for torture, summary executions and disappearances of political opponents during his 20-year rule.