G.R. NO. 203833 : March 19, 2013
MAMERTO T. SEVILLA, JR. Petitioner, v.COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and RENATO R. SO, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
Before this Court is the petition for certiorari, with prayer for the issuance of a Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Status Quo Ante Order,1 filed by petitioner Mamerto T. Sevilla, Jr., to nullify the May 14, 2012 Resolution2 of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Second Division and the October 6, 2012 Resolution3 of the Comelec en banc in SPR (BRGY-SK) No. 70-2011. These assailed Resolutions reversed and set aside the May 4, 2011 Order of the Muntinlupa City Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 80
(MeTC), dismissing respondent Renato R. So's election protest against Sevilla.
Sevilla and So were candidates for the position of Punong Barangay of Barangay Sucat, Muntinlupa City during the October 25, 2010 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections. On October 26, 2010, the Board of Election Tellers proclaimed Sevilla as the winner with a total of 7,354 votes or a winning margin of 628 votes over So's 6,726 total votes. On November 4, 2010, So filed an election protest with the MeTC on the ground that Sevilla committed electoral fraud, anomalies and irregularities in all the protested precincts. So pinpointed twenty percent (20%) of the total number of the protested precincts. He also prayed for a manual revision of the ballots.4chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
Following the recount of the ballots in the pilot protested precincts, the MeTC issued an Order dated May 4, 2011 dismissing the election protest. On May 9, 2011, So filed a motion for reconsideration from the dismissal order instead of a notice of appeal; he also failed to pay the appeal fee within the reglementary period. On May 17, 2011, the MeTC denied the motion for reconsideration on the ground that it was a prohibited pleading pursuant to Section 1, Rule 6 of A.M. No. 07-04-15-SC.5chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
In response, So filed a petition for certiorari on May 31, 2011 with the Comelec, alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of the MeTC Judge. So faults the MeTC for its non-observance of the rule that in the appreciation of ballots, there should be a clear and distinct presentation of the specific details of how and why a certain group of ballots should be considered as having been written by one or two persons.6chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The Comelec Second Division Ruling
In its May 14, 2012 Resolution, the Comelec Second Division granted So's petition. The Comelec Second Division held that certiorari can be granted despite the availability of appeals when the questioned order amounts to an oppressive exercise of judicial authority, as in the case before it. It also ruled that the assailed Order was fraught with infirmities and irregularities in the appreciation of the ballots, and was couched in general terms: "these are not written by one person observing the different strokes, slant, spacing, size and indentation of handwriting and the variance in writing."7chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The Comelec En Banc Ruling
The Comelec en banc, by a vote of 3-3,8 affirmed the Comelec Second Division's ruling in its October 6, 2012 Resolution whose dispositive portion reads:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Motion for Reconsideration is hereby DENIED for lack of merit. Respondent judge is directed to conduct another revision of the contested ballots in Election Protest Case No. SP-6719 with dispatch.9chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
It ruled that where the dismissal was capricious, certiorari lies as the petition challenges not the correctness but the validity of the order of dismissal. The Comelec en banc emphasized that procedural technicalities should be disregarded for the immediate and final resolution of election cases inasmuch as ballots should be read and appreciated with utmost liberality so that the will of the electorate in the choice of public officials may not be defeated by technical infirmities.
It found that the MeTC Judge committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction when she did not comply with the mandatory requirements of Section 2(d), Rule 14 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC on the form of the decision in election protests involving pairs or groups of ballots written by two persons. It noted that based on the general and repetitive phraseology of the Order, the MeTC Judge's findings were "copy-pasted" into the decision and ran counter to the mandate of the aforementioned rule. Also, the MeTC Judge failed to mention in her appreciation of the ballots that she examined the Minutes of Voting and Counting to ascertain whether there were illiterate voters or assisted voters in the protested precincts.10chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
Commissioner Lim's Dissent 11chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The dissent posited that So's petition should be dismissed outright as it was mired in procedural errors. First, So should have filed an appeal within five (5) days from receipt of the MeTC's Order; a motion for reconsideration was improper as the Order amounted to the final disposition of the protest. Second, So should not have filed the motion for reconsideration even if he believed that the Order was interlocutory since a motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading. Also, he could have simply filed the petition for certiorari without the necessity of filing the motion for reconsideration. Third, the petition for certiorari cannot be a substitute for the lost appeal. The Comelec could not even treat the certiorari as an appeal since the petition was filed 25 days after So received the assailed Order; thus, the Order already attained finality. Finally, procedural rules should not be lightly shunned in favor of liberality when, as in this case, So did not give a valid excuse for his errors.
The Comelec gravely abused its discretion when it gave due course to the petition for certiorari
Sevilla argues that the Comelec gravely abused its discretion when it entertained So's petition despite its loss of jurisdiction to entertain the petition after the court a quo's dismissal order became final and executory due to So's wrong choice of remedy. Instead of filing an appeal within five (5) days from receipt of the Order and paying the required appeal fee, So filed a motion for reconsideration a prohibited pleading that did not stop the running of the prescriptive period to file an appeal. Sevilla also emphasizes that So's petition for certiorari should not have been given due course since it is not a substitute for an appeal and may only be allowed if there is no appeal, nor any plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.12chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The dismissal of the election protest was proper
Sevilla also contends that the dismissal was not tainted with grave abuse of discretion since the MeTC Judge complied with the rules; she made clear, specific and detailed explanations pertaining to the specific strokes, figures or letters showing that the ballots had been written by one person. Granting that the decision was tainted with errors, certiorari would still not lie because a mere error of judgment is not synonymous with grave abuse of discretion. Lastly, a liberal application of the rules cannot be made to a petition which offers no explanation for the non-observance of the rules.13chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
On November 13, 2012,14 the Court resolved to require the Comelec and the respondent to comment on the petition and to observe the status quo prevailing before the issuance of the assailed Comelec Second Division's Resolution of May 14, 2012 and the Comelec en banc's Resolution of October 6, 2012.15chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
In his Comment, the respondent contends that the petition was filed prematurely. He emphasizes that the October 6, 2012 Resolution of the Comelec en banc was not a majority decision considering that three Commissioners voted for the denial of the motion for reconsideration and the three others voted to grant the same. So notes that the assailed October 6, 2012 Resolution was deliberated upon only by six (6) Commissioners because the 7th
Commissioner had not yet been appointed by the President at that time. Considering that the October 6, 2012 Resolution was not a majority decision by the Comelec en banc, So prays for the dismissal of the petition so that it can be remanded to the Comelec for a rehearing by a full and complete Commission.16chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The Court's Ruling
We resolve to DISMISS the petition for having been prematurely filed with this Court, and remand the case to the COMELEC for its appropriate action.
The October 6, 2012 Comelec en banc's Resolution lacks legal effect as it is not a majority decision required by the Constitution and by the Comelec Rules of Procedure
Section 7, Article IX-A of the Constitution requires that "each Commission shall decide by a majority vote of all its members, any case or matter brought before it within sixty days from the date of its submission for decision or resolution."17 Pursuant to this Constitutional mandate, the Comelec provided in Section 5(a), Rule 3 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure the votes required for the pronouncement of a decision, resolution, order or ruling when the Comelec sits en banc, viz.:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
Section 5. Quorum; Votes Required. - (a) When sitting en banc, four (4) Members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum for the purpose of transacting business. The concurrence of a majority of the Members of the Commission shall be necessary for the pronouncement of a decision, resolution, order or ruling. [italics supplied; emphasis ours]
We have previously ruled that a majority vote requires a vote of four members of the Comelec en banc. In Marcoleta v. Commission on Elections,18 we declared "that Section 5(a) of Rule 3 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure and Section 7 of Article IX-A of the Constitution require that a majority vote of all the members of the Comelec en banc, and not only those who participated and took part in the deliberations, is necessary for the pronouncement of a decision, resolution, order or ruling."
In the present case, while the October 6, 2012 Resolution of the Comelec en banc appears to have affirmed the Comelec Second Division's Resolution and, in effect, denied Sevilla's motion for reconsideration, the equally divided voting between three Commissioners concurring and three Commissioners dissenting is not the majority vote that the Constitution and the Comelec Rules of Procedure require for a valid pronouncement of the assailed October 6, 2012 Resolution of the Comelec en banc.
In essence, based on the 3-3 voting, the Comelec en banc did not sustain the Comelec Second Division's findings on the basis of the three concurring votes by Commissioners Tagle, Velasco and Yusoph; conversely, it also did not overturn the Comelec Second Division on the basis of the three dissenting votes by Chairman Brillantes, Commissioner Sarmiento and Commissioner Lim, as either side was short of one (1) vote to obtain a majority decision. Recall that under Section 7, Article IX-A of the Constitution, a majority vote of all the members of the Commission en banc is necessary to arrive at a ruling. In other words, the vote of four (4) members must always be attained in order to decide, irrespective of the number of Commissioners in attendance. Thus, for all intents and purposes, the assailed October 6, 2012 Resolution of the Comelec en banc had no legal effect whatsoever except to convey that the Comelec failed to reach a decision and that further action is required.
The October 6, 2012 Comelec en banc's Resolution must be reheard pursuant to the Comelec Rules of Procedure
To break the legal stalemate in case the opinion is equally divided among the members of the Comelec en banc, Section 6, Rule 18 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure mandates a rehearing where parties are given the opportunity anew to strengthen their respective positions or arguments and convince the members of the Comelec en banc of the merit of their case.19 Section 6, Rule 18 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure reads:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
Section 6. Procedure if Opinion is Equally Divided. - When the Commission en banc is equally divided in opinion, or the necessary majority cannot be had, the case shall be reheard, and if on rehearing no decision is reached, the action or proceeding shall be dismissed if originally commenced in the Commission; in appealed cases, the judgment or order appealed from shall stand affirmed; and in all incidental matters, the petition or motion shall be denied. [emphasis ours; italics supplied]
In Juliano v. Commission on Elections,20 only three members of the Comelec en banc voted in favor of granting Estrelita Juliano's motion for reconsideration (from the Decision of the Comelec Second Division dismissing her petition for annulment of proclamation of Muslimin Sema as the duly elected Mayor of Cotabato City), three members dissented, and one member took no part. In ruling that the Comelec acted with grave abuse of discretion when it failed to order a rehearing required by the Comelec Rules of Procedure, the Court ruled:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
Section 6, Rule 18 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure specifically states that if the opinion of the Comelec En Banc is equally divided, the case shall be reheard. The Court notes, however, that the Order of the Comelec En Banc dated February 10, 2005 clearly stated that what was conducted was a mere "re-consultation."
A "re-consultation" is definitely not the same as a "rehearing."
A consultation is a "deliberation of persons on some subject;" hence, a re-consultation means a second deliberation of persons on some subject.
Rehearing is defined as a "second consideration of cause for purpose of calling to court's or administrative board's attention any error, omission, or oversight in first consideration. A retrial of issues presumes notice to parties entitled thereto and opportunity for them to be heard." (italics supplied). But as held in Samalio v. Court of Appeals,
A formal or trial-type hearing is not at all times and in all instances essential. The requirements are satisfied where the parties are afforded fair and reasonable opportunity to explain their side of the controversy at hand.
Thus, a rehearing clearly presupposes the participation of the opposing parties for the purpose of presenting additional evidence, if any, and further clarifying and amplifying their arguments; whereas, a re-consultation involves a re-evaluation of the issues and arguments already on hand only by the members of the tribunal, without the participation of the parties.
In Belac v. Comelec, when the voting of the Comelec En Banc on therein petitioner's motion for reconsideration was equally divided, the Comelec En Banc first issued an order setting the case for hearing and allowed the parties to submit their respective memoranda before voting anew on therein petitioner's motion for reconsideration. This should have been the proper way for the Comelec En Banc to act on herein petitioner's motion for reconsideration when the first voting was equally divided. Its own Rules of Procedure calls for a rehearing where the parties would have the opportunity to strengthen their respective positions or arguments and convince the members of the Comelec En Banc of the merit of their case. Thus, when the Comelec En Banc failed to give petitioner the rehearing required by the Comelec Rules of Procedure, said body acted with grave abuse of discretion.21 (italics supplied; emphases ours)
To the same effect, in Marcoleta v. Commission on Elections,22 the Court ruled that the Comelec en banc did not gravely abuse its discretion when it ordered a rehearing of its November 6, 2007 Resolution for failing to muster the required majority voting. The Court held:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The Comelec, despite the obvious inclination of three commissioners to affirm the Resolution of the First Division, cannot do away with a rehearing since its Rules clearly provide for such a proceeding for the body to have a solicitous review of the controversy before it. A rehearing clearly presupposes the participation of the opposing parties for the purpose of presenting additional evidence, if any, and further clarifying and amplifying their arguments.
To reiterate, neither the assenters nor dissenters can claim a majority in the En Banc Resolution of November 6, 2007. The Resolution served no more than a record of voters, lacking in legal effect despite its pronouncement of reversal of the First Division Resolution. According, the Comelec did not commit any grave abuse of discretion in ordering a rehearing.23 (italics supplied; citation omitted)
In the present case, it appears from the records that the Comelec en banc did not issue an Order for a rehearing of the case in view of the filing in the interim of the present petition for certiorari by Sevilla. In both the cases of Juliano and Marcoleta, cited above, we remanded the cases to the Comelec en banc for the conduct of the required rehearing pursuant to the Comelec Rules of Procedure. Based on these considerations, we thus find that a remand of this case is necessary for the Comelec en banc to comply with the rehearing requirement of Section 6, Rule 18 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure.
WHEREFORE, we hereby DISMISS the petition and REMAND SPR (BR GY-SK) No. 70-2011 to the Comelec en bane for the conduct of the required rehearing under the Comelec Rules of Procedure. The Comelec en bane is hereby ORDERED to proceed with the rehearing with utmost dispatch.
1 Rollo. pp. 3-43.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
2 Penned by Presiding Commissioner Lurenito N. Tagle and concurred in by Commissioner Elias R. Yusoph: id. at 46-52.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
3 Commissioners Lucenito N. Tagle, Armando C. Velasco and Elias R. Yusoph, concurring; Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr., Commissioners Rene V. Sarmiento and Christian Robert S. Lim, dissenting Id. at 53-58.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
4 Id. at 47.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
5 Id. at 7.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
6 Id. at 48.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
7 Id. at 51.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
8 Supra note 3.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
9 Id. at 57.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
10 Id. at 56.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
11 Joined by Chairman Brillantes and Commissioner Sarmiento.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
12 Rollo, pp. 13-15.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
13 Id. at 15-39.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
14 Id. at 168.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
15 Id. at 168.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
16 Id. at 171-173.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
17 Emphasis ours.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
18 G.R. Nos. 181377 and 181726, April 24, 2009, 586 SCRA 765, 773-774; citation omitted.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
19 Juliano v. COMELEC, 521 Phil. 395, 403 (2006).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
21 Id. at 402-403; citations omitted.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
22 Supra note 18.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ
23 Id. at 774.