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G.R. No. 201672, August 13, 2013 - CESAR G. MANALO, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ERNESTO M. MIRANDA, Respondents.

G.R. No. 201672, August 13, 2013 - CESAR G. MANALO, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ERNESTO M. MIRANDA, Respondents.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

G.R. No. 201672, August 13, 2013

CESAR G. MANALO, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ERNESTO M. MIRANDA, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

PEREZ, J.:

 

The Case

This Petition for Certiorari1 seeks to reverse, nullify and set aside the Resolutions of Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Second Division dated 22 December 20112 and COMELEC En Banc dated 17 April 20123 which granted respondent Ernesto M. Miranda’s Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for Status Quo or Restraining Order.

The Antecedents

Petitioner Cesar G. Manalo (Manalo) and private respondent Ernesto M. Miranda (Miranda) were among the three candidates for Punong Barangay of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga during the 2010 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Synchronized Elections on 25 October 2010. As per records, there were six (6) precincts in Barangay Sta. Maria, with a total of 2,302 registered voters, but only 1,605 among them actually voted. After the canvass of votes, the Barangay Board of Canvassers of Sta. Maria proclaimed Miranda as the winner and duly elected Punong Barangay obtaining 344 votes as against 343 votes obtained by Manalo.4cralaw virtualaw library

On 4 November 2010, Manalo filed an election protest before the 6th Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Mabalacat and Magalang, Pampanga, contesting the proclamation of Miranda as the winner for Punong Barangay on the following grounds: (1) misreading or misappreciation of the ballots; (2) the number of votes reflected in the tally sheet did not reflect the same number of votes-one of the members of the Board of Tellers merely copied what was stated in the tally sheet; (3) the watchers of Manalo were deprived of their right to have an unimpeded view of the ballot being read by the Chairman, of the election return and the tally board being simultaneously accomplished by the poll clerk and the third member, respectively, without touching any of these election documents as mandated in Resolution No. 9030.5cralaw virtualaw library

Miranda, in his Answer with Counterclaim and Motion to Dismiss filed on 15 November 2010, denied any irregularities and maintained the credibility and regularity of the conduct of the Barangay Election under the strict supervision of the COMELEC. In his special and affirmative defense, as well as his motion for dismissal, he asserted that the petition of Manalo was insufficient in form and substance as it failed to allege the specific votes by precinct of the parties. Finally in his counterclaim, Miranda prayed for payment of P100,000.00 by way of attorney’s fees.

As Manalo failed to prove any election irregularities in the conduct of election committed by the Board of Tellers, the trial court proceeded with the appreciation of the ballots. Upon tabulation, the results showed that Manalo was the winner of the election having garnered Three Hundred Forty-Four (344) votes, up from 343 votes while herein Miranda got three hundred thirty-three (333) votes, down from 344 votes, or a plurality of 11 votes. On 24 May 2011, the trial court rendered a decision in favor of Manalo and declared him as the true choice for Punong Barangay of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga. The dispositive6 of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court hereby renders the following judgment:
  1. Declaring null and void and thus set aside the proclamation of protestee Ernesto M. Miranda as the elected Punong Barangay of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga made by the Barangay Board of Canvassers on October 25, 2010;chanr0blesvirtualawlibrary

  2. Declaring protestant CESAR MANALO as the duly elected PUNONG BARANGAY of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga on the recent concluded October 25, 2010 Barangay Elections;chanr0blesvirtualawlibrary

  3. Protestee Ernesto Miranda is hereby ordered to vacate his seat and to cease and desist from further discharging the duties and functions officially vested in the Office of Punong Barangay of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga which is now and henceforth, unless otherwise disqualified by law, are conferred unto the declared winner and herein protestant CESAR MANALO, who is hereby ordered to act, perform and discharge the duties, functions and responsibilities and all incidents appertaining to and in connection with the office of the Punong Barangay of Barangay Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga immediately after he shall have taken his oath of office.
No pronouncement as to damages and attorney’s fees for failure of the protestant to adduce evidence relative thereto during the trial.

As mandated under Section 7, Rule 14 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC, otherwise known as the “Rules of Procedure in Election Contests Before the Court Involving Elective Municipal and Barangay Officials” as soon as the decision becomes final, the clerk of court shall send notices to the Commission on Elections, the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Commission on Audit.

FINALLY, the ballot boxes kept under the Court’s custody are hereby ordered for transmittal to the Treasurer’s Office of Mabalacat, Pampanga as depository of the election paraphernalia and corresponding keys to the ballot boxes be returned to the designated authorized officers. The protestant is hereby ordered to transmit the same as soon as the decision becomes final and executory.
Immediately on the same day, Miranda filed a Notice of Appeal7 appealing the Decision of the lower court to the COMELEC.

On 25 May 2011, Manalo filed a Motion for Immediate Execution of Decision Pending Appeal8 before the lower court citing good reasons9 to justify immediate execution.

On 2 June 2011, Miranda protested the Motion for Immediate Execution Pending Appeal of Manalo mainly on the basis that no good reason was shown for its immediate execution, as the defeat of the protestee and the victory of the protestant had been clearly established as required under paragraph (2), Section 11, Rule 14 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC.10cralaw virtualaw library

Eventually on 3 June 2011, the trial court issued a Special Order11 granting Manalo’s Motion for Immediate Execution Pending Appeal on the following grounds:
  1. The victory of the protestant was clearly established;chanr0blesvirtualawlibrary

  2. Public interest demands that the true choice of the electorate must be respected and given meaning; and

  3. Public policy underlies it as something had to be done to strike the death blow at the pernicious grab-the–proclamation-prolong-the protest technique often, if not invariably resorted to by unscrupulous politicians.12cralaw virtualaw library
On 22 June 2011, Miranda before the COMELEC filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for Status Quo Ante or Restraining Order.13cralaw virtualaw library

The next day on 23 June 2011, the trial court denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by Miranda to the Special Order granting the execution pending appeal.14 On 25 June 2011, the trial court issued the contested writ of execution.15cralaw virtualaw library

On 8 July 2011, COMELEC Second Division, acting on the petition filed by Miranda, issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the 24 May 2011 Decision and 3 June 2011 Special Order of the trial court as well as all other acts/incidents relating thereto. A status quo ante order was also issued “to restrain any acts that had already been done prior to the filing of petition.” 16cralaw virtualaw library

The Motion for Reconsideration17 filed by Manalo was denied by COMELEC Second Division in an Order dated 9 August 2011.18cralaw virtualaw library

On 28 October 2011, a Very Urgent Ex Parte Motion for Clarification19 was filed by Manalo praying that the COMELEC Second Division clarify the phrase, “In the event that the above acts supposed to be restrained had already been done, the parties herein are hereby ordered to maintain the status quo ante prior to the filing of the instant petition,” in the 8 July 2011 Order.

On 22 December 2011, the COMELEC Second Division granted the Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition filed by Miranda. Notably, in its Resolution, the COMELEC Second Division ruled that the trial court’s Decision showed Miranda’s defeat and herein Manalo’s victory. It said that the trial court complied with rules provided by Section 2, Rule 14 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC prescribing specific forms which must be followed in election protests. It was observed that the decision even provided for a tabulation and summary of the total number of votes and those validated, nullified and voided; and computed the total valid votes obtained by each candidate.

However, the Division also invalidated both the Special Order and Writ of Execution.20 It was explained that the Special Order did not comply with the ruling in Lim v. COMELEC21 which enumerated the instances considered as good reasons to allow execution pending appeal. It ruled further that the writ of execution issued by the trial court violated paragraph (b), Section 11, Rule 14 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC which specifies that a writ of execution shall be issued after 20 working days from notice of the special order granting the execution pending appeal. The COMELEC noted that in the case before it, from the time of service of the special order, only 14 workings had passed which rendered the execution of the decision premature.

On 29 December 2011, Manalo filed a Motion for Reconsideration which was denied in a COMELEC En Banc Resolution dated 17 April 2012. The COMELEC En Banc agreed with the findings that the Special Order is invalid as it failed to specify superior circumstances justifying execution pending appeal and merely lifted the reasons cited in jurisprudence without any explanation as to its applicability to the present case.22cralaw virtualaw library

Hence, this petition.

The Issues

Petitioner Manalo prays for the reversal of the resolutions on the following grounds:
I.

THE HONORABLE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS GRAVELY ERRED IN ISSUING A SIXTY (60) DAYS TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER AND/OR STATUS QUO ANTE ORDER ON JULY 8, 2011 WHEN THE ACT SOUGHT TO BE ENJOINED HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE BY THE FACT THAT HEREIN PETITIONER MANALO HAS ALREADY ASSUMED THE POSITION OF PUNONG BARANGAY OF STA. MARIA, MABALACAT, PAMPANGA ON JUNE 24, 2011.

II.

THE HONORABLE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS GRAVELY AND SERIOUSLY ERRED IN RULING THAT THE LOWER COURT FAILED TO SPECIFY IN ITS SPECIAL ORDER DATED JUNE 3, 2011 SUPERIOR CIRCUMSTANCES JUSTIFYING EXECUTION PENDING APPEAL.

III.

THE HONORABLE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS GRAVELY AND SERIOUSLY ERRED IN RULING THAT THE PERIOD OF TWENTY (20) DAYS AS ENUNCIATED IN SECTION 11 (B), RULE 14 OF A.M. NO. 07-4-15-SC REFERS TO WORKING DAYS AND NOT CALENDAR DAYS.

IV.

THE HONORABLE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS SERIOUSLY AND GRAVELY ERRED IN GRANTING RESPONDENT MIRANDA’S PRAYER FOR STATUS QUO ANTE ORDER OR RESTRAINING ORDER WITHOUT REQUIRING HEREIN RESPONDENT MIRANDA TO POST A BOND.23cralaw virtualaw library
An insight into the consequences of the case antecedents could have predicted for petitioner a course other than the present petition. Time and effort could have been saved, for better purposes, for all parties including specially this Court.

The Punong Barangay Election Protest filed by Manalo against Miranda was clearly decided in Manalo’s favor. The trial court stated:
To recapitulate, out of the total number of protested ballots by the protestant of ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-TWO (122) covering six (6) protested precints in Barangay Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga, the total number of ballots that have been voided or nullified as per Court’s findings is ELEVEN (11) to be deducted from the total number of votes obtained by the protestee and from the two (2) ballots claimed by the protestant only one (1) ballot is found to be valid claim which will be added to the votes obtained by the protestant during the October 25, 2010 Barangay Election.

Thus as shown from the final tally of the result of the Court’s appreciation of ballots, protestant CESAR MANALO is the true choice for Punong Barangay of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga having garnered THREE HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR (344) votes from 343 votes while herein protestee ERNESTO M. MIRANDA got THREE HUNDRED THIRTY-THREE (333) votes from 344 votes or a plurality of 11 votes in favor of the protestant.24cralaw virtualaw library
This ruling was pushed into the background when, acting on Manalo’s motion for immediate execution of decision pending appeal, the trial court issued a Special Order granting Manalo’s prayer for the issuance of a writ of execution pending appeal. While Miranda’s motion for reconsideration of the special order was yet pending, he filed with the Comelec a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibitions with Prayer for a Status Quo Ante or Retraining Order. A day after, Miranda’s motion for reconsideration was eventually denied, the trial court petinently stating that:
The Court believes that [Manalo] has won in the barangay election of October 25, 2010 even if the Court had included in the appreciation of ballots those which were claimed by the [Miranda].25 (Underlining supplied)
This ruling squarely addressed the argument of Miranda that:
3. The decision of the Honorable Court indisputably did not include the appreciation of the ballots of [Manalo] objected by [Miranda] and the adjudication of the stray ballots claimed as valid votes of [Miranda] which were clearly indentified in the Reports on the Revision of Ballots and in the Protestee’s Formal Offer of Evidence, because upon the view of the court, [Miranda] did not interpose a counter-protest, which appears to be an erroneous interpretation of the law and a departure from the established procedural norm in election protest; x x x.26cralaw virtualaw library
In his petition for certiorari and prohibition before the COMELEC, Miranda repeated his argument that the trial court erred when it did not include in the appreciation the ballots that he “claimed.” Thus:
In the said Decision, the objections of [Miranda] on some 204 ballots of [Manalo], and the 11 stray ballots claimed by [Miranda] as his valid votes under existing jurisprudence, made duing the revision of ballots were not appreciated by public respondent judge, for the wrong reason that [Miranda] did not file a counter-protest.27cralaw virtualaw library
This point was, once more, directly ruled upon, this time by the COMELEC itself through its Second Division. Thus:
The contention of [Miranda] that the Decision of the public respondent did not clearly establish the defeat of [Miranda] or the victory of the [Manalo] is unfounded.

After a careful examination of public respondent’s Decision, we are convinced that there is a clear showing of [Miranda’s] defeat and [Manalo’s] victory.

Section 2, Rule 14 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC prescribes a specific form of the decision which courts must observe, to wit:
SEC. 2. Form of decision in election protests. After termination of the revision of ballots and before rendering its decision in an election protest that involved such revision, the court shall examine and appreciate the original ballots. The court, in its appreciation of the ballots and in rendering rulings on objections and claims to ballots of the parties, shall observe the following rules:cralawlibrary

(a)
On Marked Ballots – The court must specify the entries in the ballots that clearly indicate that the intention of the voter is to identify the ballot. The specific markings in the ballots must be illustrated or indicated;
 
(b)
On Fake or Spurious Ballots – The court must specify the COMELEC security markings that are not found in the ballots that are considered fake or spurious;
 
(c)
On Stray Ballots – The court must specify and state in detail why the ballots are considered stray;
 
(d)
On Pair or Group of Ballots Written by One or Individual Ballots Written By Two – When ballots are invalidated on the ground of written by one person, the court must clearly and distinctly specify why the pair or group of ballots has been written by only one person. The specific strokes, figures, or letters indicating that the ballots have been written by one person must be specified. A simple ruling that a pair or group of ballots has been written by one person would not suffice. The same is true when ballots are excluded on the ground of having been written by two persons. The court must likewise take into consideration the entries of the Minutes of Voting and Counting relative to illiterate or disabled voters, if any, who cast their votes through assistors, in determining the validity of the ballots found to be written by one person, whether the ballots are in pairs or in groups; and
 
(e)
On Claimed Ballots – The court must specify the exact basis for admitting or crediting claimed votes to either party.
The Decision complied with the foregoing rule. A tabulation was presented by the public respondent which provided for a detailed ruling on each of the questioned ballots. It discussed why some ballots, e.g. Exhibits “C-1,” “C-2,” “C-3” and “C-5” of Precinct 0467A/0467B, were not considered “marked” ballots and therefore valid for [Miranda]. It also detailed out why some ballots, e.g. Exhibits “C-4,” “C-22,” “C-28,” “C-40” of Precinct 0467A/0467B, were considered “marked” ballots and therefore invalid votes for [Miranda]. Furthermore, the specific marks that made the ballots “marked”were duly explained in the Decision.

In the end, the Decision provided for a summary of the total number of votes that were nullified or voided, thus, must be deducted from [Miranda’s] total number of votes as well as the total valid claim that will be added to the votes obtained by [Manalo]. On the basis of this, public respondent made a pronouncement that [Manalo] won the said election, with a plurality of eleven (11) votes.

As correctly argued by the [Manalo], “public respondent thoroughly, meticulously and painstakingly studied and took into consideration all the contentions and evidence adduced by both [Miranda] and [Manalo]. We therefore rule that the victory of [Manalo] and the defeat of [Miranda] are manifest in the Decision. Hence, neither haste nor bias is present herein.28cralaw virtualaw library
The COMELEC Second Division, however did not find good reason for the issuance of the Special Order of the trial court and further found that the issuance of the Writ of Execution violated the twenty-day waiting period before the Writ of Execution pending appeal can be issued.

The COMELEC Second Division ruling could have ended the case. The TRO order of the COMELEC Second Division dated 8 July 2011 enjoining the trial judge from implementing the Decision, Special Order and Writ of Execution was only for a period of sixty days and had already lapsed when, on 22 December 2011, the COMELEC held that “the victory of the private respondent [Manalo, before the COMELEC] and the defeat of petitioner [Miranda, before the COMELEC] are manifest in the Decision.” The said Decision could have been the subject of a motion for remand to the trial court for regular execution of judgment. The issue of propriety of execution pending appeal had, by then, become moot. As it would turn out, Miranda no longer questioned the Resolution of the COMELEC Second Division. It was Manalo himself, the declared winner before the trial court and on appeal before the COMELEC, who chose to file a Motion for Partial Reconsideration insisting on the correctness of the Special Order of Execution Pending Appeal. Fortunately for Manalo, even if Miranda took the opportunity of reiterating, through a Comment and Opposition, his argument that “the form of the decision dated 29 May 2011 of public respondent is fatally defective,” the COMELEC En Banc rightfully confined itself to the only issue raised in Manalo’s Motion for Partial Reconsideration, which is, the validity of the trial court’s Special Order for execution pending appeal and the corresponding writ of execution. Not one word was said against the main matter between the parties, which is, the correctness of the trial court’s adjudication that Manalo won over Miranda in the 2010 Barangay Elections for Punong Barangay of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga. Such amounted to a full text of affirmance by the COMELEC En Banc of the trial court’s decision in favor of Manalo. At that point, Manalo was given another mandate, indeed more authoritative, to have the trial court’s decision in his favor regularly, no longer specially, executed. Quite unexplainably, Manalo insisted on a ruling this time from us, on the decisions below on the validity of execution pending appeal. And Miranda, of course, obliged and by his comment to the petition, kept on going the debate on the moot issue. More for an orderly resolution of this election dispute than the personal ambitions of the party, we issued a TRO on 2 April 201329 which stated:
NOW, THEREFORE, effective immediately and continuing until further orders from this Court, You, respondents ERNESTO M. MIRANDA, COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT, your agents, representatives, or persons acting in your place or stead, are hereby ordered to CEASE AND DESIST from implementing and enforcing the (a) assailed COMELEC Resolution dated 22 December 2011 which granted respondent Ernesto M. Miranda’s Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for Status Quo Ante Order or Restraining Order and (b) assailed COMELEC Resolution dated 17 April 2012 which denied petitioner’s Motion for Partial Reconsideration. Accordingly, the parties shall comply with the Decision dated 24 May 2011 and the Special Order dated 3 June 2011, both of the 6th Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Mabalacat and Magalang, Pampanga until further orders form this Court.
We now have to make this TRO permanent. The antecedents we recited compel the immediate remand of this case to the 6th MCTC, Mabalacat and Magalang, Pampanga for it to forthwith issue a writ of execution of the decision dated 24 May 2011 in Election Protest No. 10-003, entitled Cesar G. Manalo, protestant v. Ernesto M. Miranda, protestee.

WHEREFORE, it is hereby ORDERED that:
(1)
the case be REMANDED to the the 6th Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Mabalacat and Magalang, Pampanga, for the immediate execution of its decision dated 24 May 2011 in Election Protest No. 10-003, entitled Cesar G. Manalo, protestant v. Ernesto M. Miranda, protestee; and
 
(2)
the Temporary Restraining Order issued by this Court on 2 April 2013 be made permanent.
SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J., Carpio, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo de-Castro, Brion, Peralta, Bersamin, Castillo, Abad, Villarama, Jr., Mendoza, Reyes, Perlas-Bernabe, and Leonen, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 3-30; Under Rule 64 in relation to Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

2 Id. at 34-45.

3 Id. at 47-53.

4 Id. at 54; MCTC Decision.

5 Id. at 54-55.

6 Id. at 70-71.

7 COMELEC records, pp. 43-44; Annex “B.”

8 Id. at 45-48; Annex “C.”

9 Pursuant to “good reasons” cited under the case of Ramas v. COMELEC, 349 Phil. 857 (1998).redcralaw

10 COMELEC records, pp. 49-52; Annex “D.”

11 Id. at 53-54; Annex “E.”

12 Citing Balajonda v. COMELEC, 492 Phil. 714 (2005).

13 COMELEC records, pp. 1-23.

14 Id. at 168; Annex “F.”

15 Id. at 166-167.

16 Id. at 79-80.

17 Id. at 83-89.

18 Id. at 102-103.

19 Id. at 170.

20 Id. at 206-217.

21 G.R. No. 171952, 8 March 2007, 518 SCRA 1, 5 citing Fermo v. COMELEC, 384 Phil. 584, 592 (2000).

22 COMELEC records, p. 256.

23 Rollo, pp. 13-14.

24 Id. at 70.red cralawlibrary

25 Id. at 76; Order dated 23 June 2011.

26 COMELEC records, pp. 49-50.

27 Id. at 115.

28 Id. at 213-214.

29 Rollo, pp. 82-84.
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