Via this petition for certiorari, Milagros E. Amores (petitioner) challenges the Decision of May 14, 2009 and Resolution No. 09-130 of August 6, 2009 of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (public respondent), which respectively dismissed petitioner's Petition for Quo Warranto
questioning the legality of the assumption of office of Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva (private respondent) as representative of the party-list organization Citizens' Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) in the House of Representatives, and denied petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration.
In her Petition for Quo Warranto1
seeking the ouster of private respondent, petitioner alleged that, among other things, private respondent assumed office without a formal proclamation issued by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC); he was disqualified to be a nominee of the youth sector of CIBAC since, at the time of the filing of his certificates of nomination and acceptance, he was already 31 years old or beyond the age limit of 30 pursuant to Section 9 of Republic Act (RA) No. 7941, otherwise known as the Party-List System Act; and his change of affiliation from CIBAC's youth sector to its overseas Filipino workers and their families sector was not effected at least six months prior to the May 14, 2007 elections so as to be qualified to represent the new sector under Section 15 of RA No. 7941.
Not having filed his Answer despite due notice, private respondent was deemed to have entered a general denial pursuant to public respondent's Rules.2
As earlier reflected, public respondent, by Decision of May 14, 2009,3
dismissed petitioner's Petition for Quo Warranto
, finding that CIBAC was among the party-list organizations which the COMELEC had partially proclaimed as entitled to at least one seat in the House of Representatives through National Board of Canvassers (NBC) Resolution No. 07-60 dated July 9, 2007. It also found the petition which was filed on October 17, 2007 to be out of time, the reglementary period being 10 days from private respondent's proclamation.
Respecting the age qualification for youth sectoral nominees under Section 9 of RA No. 7941, public respondent held that it applied only to those nominated as such during the first three congressional terms after the ratification of the Constitution or until 1998, unless a sectoral party is thereafter registered exclusively as representing the youth sector, which CIBAC, a multi-sectoral organization, is not.
In the matter of private respondent's shift of affiliation from CIBAC's youth sector to its overseas Filipino workers and their families sector, public respondent held that Section 15 of RA No. 7941 did not apply as there was no resultant change in party-list affiliation.
Her Motion for Reconsideration having been denied by Resolution No. 09-130 dated August 6, 2009,4
petitioner filed the present Petition for Certiorari.5
Petitioner contends that, among other things, public respondent created distinctions in the application of Sections 9 and 15 of RA No. 7941 that are not found in the subject provisions, fostering interpretations at war with equal protection of the laws; and NBC Resolution No. 07-60, which was a partial proclamation of winning party-list organizations, was not enough basis for private respondent to assume office on July 10, 2007, especially considering that he admitted receiving his own Certificate of Proclamation only on December 13, 2007.
In his Comment,6
private respondent avers in the main that petitioner has not substantiated her claims of grave abuse of discretion against public respondent; and that he became a member of the overseas Filipinos and their families sector years before the 2007 elections.
It bears noting that the term of office of party-list representatives elected in the May, 2007 elections will expire on June 30, 2010. While the petition has, thus, become moot and academic, rendering of a decision on the merits in this case would still be of practical value.7
The Court adopts the issues framed by public respondent, to wit: (1) whether petitioner's Petition for Quo Warranto
was dismissible for having been filed unseasonably; and (2) whether Sections 9 and 15 of RA No. 7941 apply to private respondent.
On the first issue, the Court finds that public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion in considering petitioner's Petition for Quo Warranto
filed out of time. Its counting of the 10-day reglementary period provided in its Rules8
from the issuance of NBC Resolution No. 07-60 on July 9, 2007 is erroneous.
To be sure, while NBC Resolution No. 07-60 partially proclaimed CIBAC as a winner in the May, 2007 elections, along with other party-list organizations,9
it was by no measure a proclamation of private respondent himself as required by Section 13 of RA No. 7941.
Section 13. How Party-List Representatives are Chosen. Party-list representatives shall be proclaimed by the COMELEC based on the list of names submitted by the respective parties, organizations, or coalitions to the COMELEC according to their ranking in said list.
AT ALL EVENTS, this Court set aside NBC Resolution No. 07-60 in Barangay Association for National Advancement and Transparency v. COMELEC10
after revisiting the formula for allocation of additional seats to party-list organizations.
Considering, however, that the records do not disclose the exact date of private respondent's proclamation, the Court overlooks the technicality of timeliness and rules on the merits. Alternatively, since petitioner's challenge goes into private respondent's qualifications, it may be filed at anytime during his term.
Qualifications for public office are continuing requirements and must be possessed not only at the time of appointment or election or assumption of office but during the officer's entire tenure. Once any of the required qualifications is lost, his title may be seasonably challenged.11
On the second and more substantial issue, the Court shall first discuss the age requirement for youth sector nominees under Section 9 of RA No. 7941 reading:
Section 9. Qualifications of Party-List Nominees. No person shall be nominated as party-list representative unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, a resident of the Philippines for a period of not less than one (1)year immediately preceding the day of the election, able to read and write, a bona fide member of the party or organization which he seeks to represent for at least ninety (90) days preceding the day of the election, and is at least twenty-five (25) years of age on the day of the election.
In case of a nominee of the youth sector, he must at least be twenty-five (25) but not more than thirty (30) years of age on the day of the election. Any youth sectoral representative who attains the age of thirty (30) during his term shall be allowed to continue in office until the expiration of his term. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied.)
The Court finds no textual support for public respondent's interpretation that Section 9 applied only to those nominated during the first three congressional terms after the ratification of the Constitution or until 1998, unless a sectoral party is thereafter registered exclusively as representing the youth sector.
A cardinal rule in statutory construction is that when the law is clear and free from any doubt or ambiguity, there is no room for construction or interpretation. There is only room for application.12
As the law states in unequivocal terms that a nominee of the youth sector must at least be twenty-five (25) but not more than thirty (30) years of age on the day of the election
, so it must be that a candidate who is more than 30 on election day is not qualified to be a youth sector nominee. Since this mandate is contained in RA No. 7941, the Party-List System Act, it covers ALL youth sector nominees vying for party-list representative seats.
As petitioner points out, RA No. 7941 was enacted only in March, 1995. There is thus no reason to apply Section 9 thereof only to youth sector nominees nominated during the first three congressional terms after the ratification of the Constitution in 1987. Under this interpretation, the last elections where Section 9 applied were held in May, 1995 or two months after the law was enacted. This is certainly not sound legislative intent, and could not have been the objective of RA No. 7941.
There is likewise no rhyme or reason in public respondent's ratiocination that after the third congressional term from the ratification of the Constitution, which expired in 1998, Section 9 of RA No. 7941 would apply only to sectoral parties registered exclusively as representing the youth sector. This distinction is nowhere found in the law. Ubi lex non distinguit nec nos distinguire debemus.
When the law does not distinguish, we must not distinguish.13
Respecting Section 15 of RA No. 7941, the Court fails to find even an iota of textual support for public respondent's ratiocination that the provision did not apply to private respondent's shift of affiliation from CIBAC's youth sector to its overseas Filipino workers and their families sector as there was no resultant change in party-list affiliation. Section 15 reads:
Section 15. Change of Affiliation; Effect. Any elected party-list representative who changes his political party or sectoral affiliation during his term of office shall forfeit his seat: Provided, That if he changes his political party or sectoral affiliation within six (6) months before an election, he shall not be eligible for nomination as party-list representative under his new party or organization. (emphasis and underscoring supplied.)
What is clear is that the wording of Section 15 covers changes in both political party and sectoral affiliation. And the latter may occur within the same party since multi-sectoral party-list organizations are qualified to participate in the Philippine party-list system. Hence, a nominee who changes his sectoral affiliation within the same party will only be eligible for nomination under the new sectoral affiliation if the change has been effected at least six months before the elections. Again, since the statute is clear and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation. This is the plain meaning rule or verba legis,
as expressed in the maxim index animi sermo
or speech is the index of intention.14
It is, therefore, beyond cavil that Sections 9 and 15 of RA No. 7941 apply to private respondent.
The Court finds that private respondent was not qualified to be a nominee of either the youth sector or the overseas Filipino workers and their families sector in the May, 2007 elections.
The records disclose that private respondent was already more than 30 years of age in May, 2007, it being stipulated that he was born in August, 1975.15
Moreover, he did not change his sectoral affiliation at least six months before May, 2007, public respondent itself having found that he shifted to CIBAC's overseas Filipino workers and their families sector only on March 17, 2007.16
That private respondent is the first nominee of CIBAC, whose victory was later upheld, is of no moment. A party-list organization's ranking of its nominees is a mere indication of preference, their qualifications according to law are a different matter.
It not being contested, however, that private respondent was eventually proclaimed as a party-list representative of CIBAC and rendered services as such, he is entitled to keep the compensation and emoluments provided by law for the position until he is properly declared ineligible to hold the same.17WHEREFORE,
the petition is GRANTED
. The Decision dated May 14, 2009 and Resolution No. 09-130 dated August 6, 2009 of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal are SET ASIDE
. Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva is declared ineligible to hold office as a member of the House of Representatives representing the party-list organization CIBAC.SO ORDERED.Carpio, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Brion, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Abad, Villarama., Jr., Perez, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
Corona, C.J., and Nachura, JJ., no part.
1 Rollo, pp. 104-113.
2 Id. at 33.
3 Id. at 32-45.
4 Id. at 46-47.
5 Id. at 3-31.
6 Id. at 176-187.
7 Vide Malaluan v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 120193, March 6, 1996, 254 SCRA 397, 403-404.
8 Rule 17 of the 2004 Rules of public respondent provides:
Rule 17. Quo Warranto. - A verified petition for quo warranto contesting the election of a Member of the House of Representatives on the ground of ineligibility or of disloyalty to the Republic of the Philippines shall be filed by any voter within ten (10) days after the proclamation of the winner. xxx
9 Vide rollo, pp. 93-94.
10 G.R. Nos. 179271 & 179295, April 21, 2009, 586 SCRA 210.
11 Vide Frivaldo v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 87193, June 23, 1989, 174 SCRA 245, 255.
12 Twin Ace Holdings Corporation v. Rufina and Company, G.R. No. 160191, June 8, 2006, 490 SCRA 368, 376.
13 Vide Adasa v. Abalos, G.R. No. 168617, February 19, 2007, 516 SCRA 261, 280; Philippine Free Press, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 132864, October 24, 2005, 473 SCRA 639, 662.
14 Vide Padua v. People, G.R. No. 168546, July 23, 2008, 559 SCRA 519, 531.
15 Vide rollo, p. 33.
16 Vide rollo, p. 43.
17 Vide Malaluan v. COMELEC, supra note 7 at 407.