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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[G.R. No. 155618. March 26, 2003.]

EDGAR Y. SANTOS, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS (FIRST DIVISION) and PEDRO Q. PANULAYA, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N


YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:


Petitioner Edgar Y. Santos and respondent Pedro Q. Panulaya were both candidates for Mayor of the Municipality of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental in the May 14, 2001 elections. On May 16, 2001, after the votes were counted and canvassed, the Municipal Board of Canvassers proclaimed respondent Panulaya as the duly elected Mayor.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Petitioner filed an election protest before the Regional Trial Court of Misamis Oriental, Branch 26, which was docketed as SPL Election Protest No. 1-M(2001). After trial and revision of the ballots, the trial court found that petitioner garnered 2,181 votes while respondent received only 2,105. Hence, on April 2, 2002, it rendered judgment as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered declaring and proclaiming protestant/petitioner Edgar Y. Santos as the duly elected Municipal Mayor of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental, in the mayoralty elections held on May 14, 2001 with the plurality of Seventy Six (76) votes over and above his protagonist-protestee Pedro Q. Panulaya setting aside as null and void the proclamation of protestee made by the Municipal Board of Canvassers on May 16, 2001, ordering to pay protestant/petitioner the costs and expenses that the latter incurred in this protest in accordance with Section 259 of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines (B.P. 881) and Section 7 of the COMELEC Resolution 1566, to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

x       x       x.

The Clerk of Court of this Court is hereby directed to furnish copy of the DECISION to the following: Office of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC); Office of the Commission on Audit; Office of the Department of Interior and Local Government; Office of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Misamis Oriental, in accordance with Section 15 of the COMELEC Resolution 1566.

SO ORDERED. 1

Petitioner thereafter filed a motion for execution pending appeal. Meanwhile, before the trial court could act on petitioner’s motion, respondent filed on April 22, 2002 with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) a petition for certiorari, docketed as SPR No. 20-2002, assailing the decision of the trial court. 2 Likewise on April 22, 2002, respondent appealed the trial court’s decision to the COMELEC, where it was docketed as EAC No. A-12-2002.

The COMELEC, in SPR No. 20-2002, issued a Writ of Preliminary Injunction, which effectively enjoined the trial court from acting on petitioner’s motion for execution pending appeal. Subsequently, on August 19, 2002, the COMELEC dismissed SPR No. 20-2002 after finding that the trial court did not commit grave abuse of discretion in rendering the assailed judgment. Moreover, the COMELEC held that the remedy from the decision of the court a quo was to file a notice of appeal, which respondent precisely did in EAC No. A-12-2002. Hence, it directed the trial court to dispose of all pending incidents in SPL Election Protest No. 1-M(2001) with dispatch, to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Commission (First Division) RESOLVED as it hereby RESOLVES to DISMISS the instant petition for lack of merit.

ACCORDINGLY, the Writ of Preliminary Injunction issued on 16 May 2002, as well as the Order issued on 27 April 2002 by the Commission (First Division), are hereby set aside and lifted, respectively. The Court a quo is hereby directed to dispose with immediate dispatch all pending incidents in SPL Election Case No. 1-M (2001) entitled "Edgar Y. Santos, Petitioner/Protestant versus Pedro Q. Panulaya, Respondent/Protestee."cralaw virtua1aw library

No pronouncement as to cost.

SO ORDERED. (Emphasis ours) 3

Thus, on August 20, 2002, the trial court issued an Order as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, premises considered, this Court hereby upholds and approves the Motion for Execution Pending Appeal. Further, finding good reasons therefor, the Court hereby directs and orders the immediate execution of the Decision promulgated on April 18, 2002, and as prayed for install protestant/petitioner EDGAR Y. SANTOS as the duly elected Mayor of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental, to take his oath of office and assume the functions and duties of Mayor after he shall have filed a bond of One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000.00).

SO ORDERED. 4

After petitioner posted the required bond, the trial court issued the Writ of Execution, 5 thereby installing petitioner as Municipal Mayor of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. Accordingly, petitioner took his oath of office and thereafter assumed the duties and functions of his office.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

On August 21, 2002, respondent filed with the COMELEC a motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of his petition in SPR No. 20-2002. 6 After five days, or on August 26, 2002, he filed a supplemental petition in SPR No. 20-2002, 7 wherein he prayed:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, foregoing premises considered, petitioner [herein respondent] respectfully prays unto this Honorable Commission that the following Orders of the public respondent:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

1. Resolution dated 20 August 2002;

2. Order dated 20 August 2002;

3. Writ of execution dated 21 August 2002;

Be nullified and set aside.

It is further prayed that in the event that the public respondent has carried out its Order of ousting petitioner [herein respondent] from his position as Mayor of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental, that the same be nullified and considered of no legal effect. It is likewise prayed that a STATUS QUO ANTE ORDER be issued by the Honorable Commission in order to reinstate the petitioner to his rightful position as Mayor of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental.

Other reliefs, just and equitable are likewise prayed for. 8

Barely two days later, on August 28, 2002, and while his motion for reconsideration and supplemental petition in SPR No. 20-2002 were pending, respondent filed another petition with the COMELEC, docketed as SPR No. 37-2002. 9 The petition contained the same prayer as that in the supplemental petition filed in SPR 20-2002, viz:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, foregoing premises considered, petitioner [herein respondent] respectfully prays unto this Honorable Commission that immediately upon the filing of the herein petition, the following Orders of the public respondent:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

1. Resolution dated 20 August 2002;

2. Order dated 20 August 2002,

3. Writ of execution dated 21 August 2002;

Be nullified and set aside.

Pending trial and final judgment, and soon after the issuance, but during the effectivity of the Temporary Restraining Order, a Writ of Preliminary Injunction be issued prohibiting, restraining and/or enjoining the public respondent from further implementing the highly unjust, irregular and oppressive Orders above-quoted;

It is further prayed that in the event that the public respondent has carried out its Order of ousting petitioner [herein respondent] from his position as Mayor of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental, that the same be nullified and considered of no legal effect. It is likewise prayed that a STATUS QUO ANTE ORDER be issued by the Honorable Commission in order to reinstate the petitioner to his rightful position as Mayor of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental.

Upon due notice and hearing, judgment be rendered in favor of the petitioner [herein respondent] and against the respondent [herein petitioner] as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

1. Making the Writ of Preliminary Prohibitory Injunction permanent;

2. Declaring Resolution dated 20 August 2002, Order dated 20 August 2002, and Writ of Execution dated 21 August 2002; as null and void for being highly unjust, irregular and oppressively prepared in utter violation of the Constitutional provisions on equal protection of the laws and due process, and for having been rendered with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.

3. A writ of Prohibition be issued specifically commanding public respondent to cease and desist from further implementing the highly unjust, irregular and oppressive Orders above-mentioned are concerned (sic); and

4. Ordering the respondents to pay the costs of suit.

Such other reliefs and remedies, as are just and equitable in the premises, are likewise prayed for. 10

On September 3, 2002, the COMELEC issued the assailed Order directing the parties to maintain the status quo ante and enjoining petitioner from assuming the functions of Mayor. Pertinent portion of the Order reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

In the interest of justice and so as not to render moot and academic the issues raised in the petition, the Commission (First Division) hereby directs the parties to maintain the status quo ante, which is the condition prevailing before the issuance and implementation of the questioned Order of the court a quo dated August 20, 2002 and the Writ of Execution issued pursuant thereto dated August 21, 2002, in SPL. ELECTION CASE NO. 1-M (2001) entitled "EDGAR Y. SANTOS versus PEDRO Q. PANULAYA." Accordingly, effective immediately, private respondent EDGAR Y. SANTOS is hereby ordered to cease and desist from assuming the duties and functions of the office of Mayor of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental until further orders from this Commission. 11

Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration of the above Order. However, the COMELEC First Division did not refer the said motion to the COMELEC En Banc. Hence, Petitioner, citing our ruling in Kho v. COMELEC, 12 brought the instant special civil action for certiorari with this Court.

Meanwhile, on September 9, 2002, petitioner filed an "Omnibus Motion (1) To Dissolve The Status Quo Order As It Was Based On An Unverified And Dismissed Petition With Pending Motion For Reconsideration; And (2) To Refer This Motion To The Commission En Banc Under Section 2, Rule 3 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure." 13 On October 14, 2002, the COMELEC issued a Resolution in SPR No. 37-2002, the dispositive portion of which states:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Petition is hereby GRANTED. Accordingly, the August 20, 2002 Resolution of the respondent judge granting the Motion for Execution Pending Appeal as well as his Order also dated August 20, 2002 directing the issuance of the Writ of Execution and his Writ of Execution dated August 21, 2002 are hereby set aside. Private Respondent Edgar Y. Santos is enjoined from assuming the function of mayor of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental until the final determination of the election appeal case.

This resolution shall be immediately executory.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is hereby requested to assist in the peaceful and orderly implementation of this Resolution.

SO ORDERED. 14

The petition is impressed with merit.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

It is at once apparent from the records, as shown above, that respondent was guilty of forum-shopping when he instituted SPR No. 37-2002 with the COMELEC. Forum-shopping is an act of a party against whom an adverse judgment or order has been rendered in one forum of seeking and possibly getting a favorable opinion in another forum, other than by appeal or special civil action for certiorari. It may also be the institution of two or more action or proceedings grounded on the same cause on the supposition that one or the other court would make a favorable disposition. For it to exist, there should be (a) identity of parties, or at least such parties as would represent the same interest in both actions; (b) identity of rights asserted and relief prayed for, the relief being founded on the same facts; and (c) identity of the two preceding particulars such that any judgment rendered in the other action will, regardless of which party is successful, amount to res judicata in the action under consideration. 15

In the case at bar, respondent obtained an adverse decision when his petition in SPR No. 20-2002 was dismissed by the COMELEC. He thereafter filed a motion for reconsideration and a supplemental petition, praying for the nullification of the trial court’s order for the execution of its decision pending appeal. Two days after filing the supplemental petition, and while the same was very much pending before the COMELEC, he filed a wholly separate petition for certiorari, docketed as SPR No. 37-2002, wherein he pleaded the same reliefs prayed for in the supplemental petition. This is plainly evident from the respective prayers in the supplemental petition and the petition for certiorari as reproduced hereinabove. In doing so, respondent, before allowing the COMELEC to fully resolve the incidents in SPR No. 20-2002, both of which were at his own instance, sought to increase his chances of securing a favorable decision in another petition. He filed the second petition on the supposition that the COMELEC might look with favor upon his reliefs.

Forum-shopping is considered a pernicious evil; it adversely affects the efficient administration of justice since it clogs the court dockets, unduly burdens the financial and human resources of the judiciary, and trifles with and mocks judicial processes. 16 The most important factor in determining the existence of forum shopping is the vexation caused the courts and parties-litigants by a party who asks different courts to rule on the same or related causes or grant the same or substantially the same reliefs. 17

Considering that respondent was indubitably guilty of forum-shopping when he filed SPR No. 37-2002, his petition should have been dismissed outright by the COMELEC. 18 Willful and deliberate forum-shopping is a ground for summary dismissal of the case, and constitutes direct contempt of court. 19

The petition for certiorari in SPR No. 37-2002 assailed the trial court’s orders for the execution of its decision pending appeal. The grant of execution pending appeal was well within the discretionary powers of the trial court. In order to obtain the annulment of said orders in a petition for certiorari, it must first be proved that the trial court gravely abused its discretion. He should show not merely a reversible error committed by the trial court, but a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. "Grave abuse of discretion" implies such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction, or where the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility which must be so patent and gross as to amount to an invasion of positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law. Mere abuse of discretion is not enough. 20

We find that no grave abuse of discretion was committed by the trial court. In its order granting execution pending appeal, it held:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

It is of judicial notice that for the public official elected last May 14, 2001 elections only a short period is left. Relative to this Court’s jurisdiction over the instant case, the settled rule that the mere filing of the notice of appeal does not divest the trial court of its jurisdiction over the case and to resolve pending incidents, i.e., motion for execution pending appeal (Asmala v. COMELEC, 289 SCRA 745) need not be overemphasized. 21

However, the COMELEC set aside the aforesaid order, saying that shortness of term alone is not a good reason for execution of a judgment pending appeal. We disagree.

While it was indeed held that shortness of the remaining term of office and posting a bond are not good reasons, we clearly stated in Fermo v. COMELEC 22 that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

A valid exercise of the discretion to allow execution pending appeal requires that it should be based "upon good reasons to be stated in a special order." The following constitute "good reasons" and a combination of two or more of them will suffice to grant execution pending appeal: (1.) public interest involved or will of the electorate; (2.) the shortness of the remaining portion of the term of the contested office; and (3.) the length of time that the election contest has been pending (Italics supplied). 23

The decision of the trial court in Election Protest No. 1-M(2001) was rendered on April 2, 2002, or after almost one year of trial and revision of the questioned ballots. It found petitioner as the candidate with the plurality of votes. Respondent appealed the said decision to the COMELEC. In the meantime, the three-year term of the Office of the Mayor continued to run. The will of the electorate, as determined by the trial court in the election protest, had to be respected and given meaning. The Municipality of Balingoan, Misamis Oriental, needed the services of a mayor even while the election protest was pending, and it had to be the candidate judicially determined to have been chosen by the people.

Between the determination by the trial court of who of the candidates won the elections and the finding of the Board of Canvassers as to whom to proclaim, it is the court’s decision that should prevail. This was sufficiently explained in the case of Ramas v. COMELEC 24 in this wise:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

All that was required for a valid exercise of the discretion to allow execution pending appeal was that the immediate execution should be based "upon good reasons to be stated in a special order." The rationale why such execution is allowed in election cases is, as stated in Gahol v. Riodique, 25 "to give as much recognition to the worth of a trial judge’s decision as that which is initially ascribed by the law to the proclamation by the board of canvassers." Thus:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

Why should the proclamation by the board of canvassers suffice as basis of the right to assume office, subject to future contingencies attendant to a protest, and not the decision of a court of justice? Indeed, when it is considered that the board of canvassers is composed of persons who are less technically prepared to make an accurate appreciation of the ballots, apart from their being more apt to yield to extraneous considerations, and that the board must act summarily, practically racing against time, while, on the other hand, the judge has benefit of all the evidence the parties can offer and of admittedly better technical preparation and background, apart from his being allowed ample time for conscientious study and mature deliberation before rendering judgment, one cannot but perceive the wisdom of allowing the immediate execution of decisions in election cases adverse to the protestees, notwithstanding the perfection and pendency of appeals therefrom, as long as there are, in the sound discretion of the court, good reasons therefor.

To deprive trial courts of their discretion to grant execution pending appeal would, in the words of Tobon Uy v. COMELEC, 26

bring back the ghost of the "grab-the-proclamation-prolong the protest" techniques so often resorted to by devious politicians in the past in their efforts to perpetuate their hold to an elective office. This would, as a consequence, lay to waste the will of the electorate. 27

Thus, the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion in giving due course, instead of dismissing outright, the petition in SPR No. 37-2002 despite the clear showing that respondent was guilty of forum-shopping; and in setting aside the trial court’s order granting execution pending appeal.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the instant petition is GRANTED. The Order dated September 3, 2002 and the Resolution dated October 14, 2002 of the Commission on Elections in SPR No. 37-2002 are ANNULLED and SET ASIDE and the said case is ordered DISMISSED on the ground of forum-shopping. The Order dated August 20, 2002 of the Regional Trial Court of Misamis Oriental, Branch 26, granting the execution pending appeal of its decision in Election Protest No. 1-M(2001), and the Writ of Execution dated August 21, 2002, are REINSTATED. The full enforcement of the said Writ must forthwith be made. The court of origin shall transmit immediately to the Commission on Elections the records of SPL Election Case No. 1-M(2001), and the Commission on Elections shall dispose of the appeal in EAC No. A-12-2002 with deliberate dispatch.

This Decision shall be immediately executory.

Costs against private Respondent.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr ., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr. and Azcuna, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:



1. Rollo, pp. 106–107; penned by Presiding Judge Joaquin M. Murillo.

2. Rollo, pp. 42–84.

3. Rollo, pp. 126–132, at 131; First Division composed of Presiding Commissioner Rufino SB. Javier, Commissioner Luzviminda G. Tancangco and Commissioner Resurreccion Z. Borra; Commissioner Tancangco, ponente.

4. Rollo, pp. 102–104, at 104.

5. Rollo, pp. 106–108.

6. Rollo, pp. 85–91.

7. Rollo, pp. 92–101.

8. Id., at 98–99.

9. Rollo, pp. 31–41.

10. Id., at 37–38.

11. Rollo, p. 28; First Division composed of Presiding Commissioner Rufino SB. Javier and Commissioners Luzviminda G. Tancangco and Resurreccion Z. Borra.

12. 344 Phil. 878 [1997]. "In a situation such as this where the Commission in division committed grave abuse of discretion or acted without or in excess of jurisdiction in issuing interlocutory orders relative to an action pending before it and the controversy did not fall under any of the instances mentioned in Section 2, Rule 3 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, the remedy of the aggrieved party is not to refer the controversy to the Commission en banc as this is not permissible under its present rules but to elevate it to this Court via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court" (at 888).

13. Rollo, pp. 109–115.

14. Rollo, pp. 116–125, at 124–125; First Division composed of Commissioners Rufino SB. Javier, Luzviminda G. Tancangco and Resurreccion Z. Borra; Commissioner Tancangco, ponente.

15. GSIS v. Court of Appeals, Et Al., G.R. No. 141454, 31 January 2002.

16. Canuto, Et. Al. v. National Labor Relations Commission, Et Al., 412 Phil. 467, 474 [2001].

17. Roxas v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 139337, 15 August 2001, 363 SCRA 207, at 218.

18. Candido, Et. Al. v. Camacho, Et Al., G.R. No. 136751, 15 January 2002.

19. Republic of the Philippines v. Carmel Development, Inc., G.R. No. 142572, 20 February 2002.

20. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Employees Union v. National Labor Relations Commission, Et Al., G.R. No. 113541, 22 November 2001.

21. Rollo, p. 122.

22. 384 Phil. 584 [2000].

23. Id., at 592.

24. 349 Phil. 857 [1998].

25. G.R. No. L-40415, 27 June 1975, 64 SCRA 494.

26. G.R. Nos. 88158 & 97108-09, 4 March 1992, 206 SCRA 779.

27. Supra, note 23, at 869–870.

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