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G.R. No. 206952, October 22, 2013 - ABANG LINGKOD PARTY-LIST (ABANG LINGKOD), Petitioners, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Respondent.

G.R. No. 206952, October 22, 2013 - ABANG LINGKOD PARTY-LIST (ABANG LINGKOD), Petitioners, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Respondent.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

G.R. No. 206952, October 22, 2013

ABANG LINGKOD PARTY-LIST (ABANG LINGKOD), Petitioners, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

REYES, J.:

This is a petition for certiorari under Rule 64 in relation to Rule 65 of the Rules of Court filed by A bang Lingkod Party-List (ABANG LINGKOD) assailing the Resolution1 dated May 1 0, 2013 issued by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) En Banc in SPP No. 12-238 (PLM), which, inter alia, affirmed the cancellation of ABANG LINGKOD’s registration as a party-list group.

The Facts

ABANG LINGKOD is a sectoral organization that represents the interests of peasant farmers and fisherfolks, and was registered under the party-list system on December 22, 2009. It participated in the May 2010 elections, but failed to obtain the number of votes needed for a seat in the House of Representatives.

On May 31, 2012, ABANG LINGKOD manifested before the COMELEC its intent to participate in the May 2013 elections. On August 2, 2012, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 9513,2 which, inter alia, required previously registered party-list groups that have filed their respective Manifestations of Intent to undergo summary evidentiary hearing for purposes of determining their continuing compliance with the requirements under Republic Act (R.A.) No. 79413 and the guidelines set forth in Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party v. COMELEC.4

Accordingly, on August 9, 2012, the COMELEC issued a Resolution, which set the summary evidentiary hearing of previously registered party-list groups. The COMELEC scheduled three (3) dates August 17, 31 and September 3, 2012 for the summary hearing of ABANG LINGKOD’s Manifestation of Intent, to enable it to show proof of its continuing qualification under the party-list system.

On August 16, 2012, ABANG LINGKOD, in compliance with the COMELEC’s August 9, 2012 Resolution, filed with the COMELEC pertinent documents to prove its continuing compliance with the requirements under R.A. No. 7941.

After due proceedings, the COMELEC En Banc, in a Resolution dated November 7, 2012, cancelled ABANG LINGKOD’s registration as a party­ list group. The COMELEC En Banc pointed out that ABANG LINGKOD failed to establish its track record in uplifting the cause of the marginalized and underrepresented; that it merely offered photographs of some alleged activities it conducted after the May 2010 elections. The COMELEC En Banc further opined that ABANG LINGKOD failed to show that its nominees are themselves marginalized and underrepresented or that they have been involved in activities aimed at improving the plight of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors it claims to represent.

ABANG LINGKOD then filed with this Court a petition5 for certiorari, alleging that the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in cancelling its registration under the party-list system. The said petition was consolidated with the separate petitions filed by fifty-one (51) other party­ list groups whose registration were cancelled or who were denied registration under the party-list system. The said party-list groups, including ABANG LINGKOD, were able to obtain status quo ante orders from this Court.

On April 2, 2013, the Court, in Atong Paglaum, Inc. v. Commission on Elections,6 laid down new parameters to be observed by the COMELEC in screening parties, organizations or associations seeking registration and/or accreditation under the party-list system, viz:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

  1. Three different groups may participate in the party-list system: (1) national parties or organizations, (2) regional parties or organizations, and (3) sectoral parties or organizations.

  2. National parties or organizations and regional parties or organizations do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent any "marginalized and underrepresented" sector.

  3. Political parties can participate in party-list elections provided they register under the party-list system and do not field candidates in legislative district elections. A political party, whether major or not, that fields candidates in legislative district elections can participate in party-list elections only through its sectoral wing that can separately register under the party-list system. The sectoral wing is by itself an independent sectoral party, and is linked to a political party through a coalition.

  4. Sectoral parties or organizations may either be "marginalized and underrepresented" or lacking in "well-defined political constituencies." It is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interests and concerns of their sector. The sectors that are "marginalized and underrepresented" include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, handicapped, veterans, and overseas workers. The sectors that lack "well-defined political constituencies" include professionals, the elderly, women, and the youth.

  5. A majority of the members of the sectoral parties or organizations that represent the ’"marginalized and underrepresented" must belong to the "marginalized and underrepresented" sector they represent. Similarly, a majority of the members of sectoral parties or organizations that lack "well-defined political constituencies" must belong to the sector they represent. The nominees of sectoral parties or organizations that represent the "marginalized and underrepresented" or that represent those who lack "well-defined political constituencies," either must belong to their respective sectors, or must have a track record or advocacy for their respective sectors. The nominees of national and regional parties or organizations must be bona-fide members of such parties or organizations.

  6. National, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations shall not be disqualified if some of their nominees are disqualified, provided that they have at least one nominee who remains qualified.

Thus, the Court remanded to the COMELEC the cases of previously registered party-list groups, including that of ABANG LINGKOD, to determine whether they are qualified under the party-list system pursuant to the new parameters laid down by the Court and, in the affirmative, be allowed to participate in the May 2013 party-list elections.

On May 10, 2013, the COMELEC issued the herein assailed Resolution,7 which, inter alia, affirmed the cancellation of ABANG LINGKOD’s registration under the party-list system. The COMELEC issued the Resolution dated May 10, 2013 sans any summary evidentiary hearing, citing the proximity of the May 13, 2013 elections as the reason therefor.

In maintaining the cancellation of ABANG LINGKOD’s registration, the COMELEC held that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

The Commission maintains its position in the previous en bane ruling cancelling the registration of ABANG LINGKOD. To reiterate, it is not enough that the party-list organization claim representation of the marginalized and underrepresented because representation is easy to claim and to feign. It is but reasonable to require from groups and organizations consistent participation and advocacy. in the sector it seeks to represent, and not just seasonal and "sporadic" programs which are unrelated to its sector.

ABANG LINGKOD submitted pictures showing a seminar held on

10 July 2010, Medical Mission on 11 November 2010, Disaster Management Training on 21 October 2011, Book-giving on 28 June 2011, and Medical Mission on 1 December 2011.

And as if to insult the Commission, the photographs submitted appear to have been edited to show in the banners that ABANG LINGKOD participated in the activities. ABANG LINGKOD’s name and logo was superimposed on some banners to feign participation in the activities (Joint Medical Mission, Book-giving).

Under the party-list System Act, a group’s registration may be cancelled for declaring unlawful statements in its petition. Photoshopping images to establish a fact that did not occur is tantamount to declaring unlawful statements. It is on this ground that the Commission cancels ABANG LINGKOD’s registration.8

On May 12, 2013, ABANG LINGKOD sought a reconsideration of the COMELEC’s Resolution dated May 10, 2013. However, on May 15, 2013, ABANG LINGKOD withdrew the motion for reconsideration it filed with the COMELEC and, instead, instituted the instant petition9 with this Court, alleging that there may not be enough time for the COMELEC to pass upon the merits of its motion for reconsideration considering that the election returns were already being canvassed and consolidated by the COMELEC.

In support of the instant petition, ABANG LINGKOD claims that the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion when it affirmed the cancellation of its registration sans a summary evidentiary hearing for that purpose, asserting that the COMELEC should have allowed it to present evidence to prove its qualification as a party-list group pursuant to Atong Paglaum. It claims that there was no valid justification for the COMELEC to cancel its registration considering that it complied with the six-point parameters m screening party-list groups laid down in Atong Paglaum.

On the other hand, the COMELEC avers that the instant petition should be dismissed for utter lack of merit. It asserts that ABANG LINGKOD was not denied due process when the COMELEC affirmed the cancellation of its registration since it was given every reasonable opportunity to be heard. The COMELEC further claims that it did not abuse its discretion when it cancelled ABANG LINGKOD’s registration on the ground that it failed to establish a track record in representing the marginalized and underrepresented. Further, the COMELEC alleges that its finding of facts may not be passed upon by this Court as the same is supported by substantial evidence.

The Issues

In sum, the issues presented for the Court’s resolution are the following: first, whether ABANG LINGKOD was denied due process when the COMELEC affirmed the cancellation of its registration under the party­ list system sans any summary evidentiary hearing; and second, whether the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in cancelling ABANG LINGKOD’s registration under the party-list system.

The Court’s Ruling


The petition is meritorious.

First Issue: Due Process

The essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard or as applied to administrative or quasi-judicial proceedings, an opportunity to explain one’s side or an opportunity to seek reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. A formal or trial type hearing is not at all times and in all instances essential. The requirements are satisfied when the parties are afforded fair and reasonable opportunity to explain their side of the controversy at hand. What is frowned upon is the absolute lack of notice or hearing.10

In the instant case, while the petitioner laments that it was denied due process, the Court finds that the COMELEC had afforded ABANG LINGKOD sufficient opportunity to present evidence establishing its qualification as a party-list group. It was notified through Resolution No. 9513 that its registration was to be reviewed by the COMELEC. That ABANG LINGKOD was able to file its Manifestation of Intent and other pertinent documents to prove its continuing compliance with the requirements under R.A. No. 7941, which the COMELEC set for summary hearing on three separate dates, belies its claim that it was denied due process.

There was no necessity for the COMELEC to conduct further summary evidentiary hearing to assess the qualification of ABANG LINGKOD pursuant to Atong Paglaum. ABANG LINGKOD’s Manifestation of Intent and all the evidence adduced by it to establish its qualification as a party-list group are already in the possession of the COMELEC. Thus, conducting further summary evidentiary hearing for the sole purpose of determining ABANG LINGKOD’s qualification under the party-list system pursuant to Atong Paglaum would just be a superfluity.

Contrary to ABANG LINGKOD’s claim, the Court, in Atong Paglaum, did not categorically require the COMELEC to conduct a summary evidentiary hearing for the purpose of determining the qualifications of the petitioners therein pursuant to the new parameters for screening party-list groups. The dispositive portion of Along Paglaum reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

WHEREFORE, all the present 54 petitions are GRANTED. The 13 petitions, which have been granted Status Quo Ante Orders but without mandatory injunction to include the names of the petitioners in the printing of ballots, are remanded to the Commission on Elections only for determination whether petitioners are qualified to register under the party­ list system under the parameters prescribed in this Decision but they shall not participate in the 13 May 2013 party-list elections. The 41 petitions, which have been granted mandatory injunctions to include the names of petitioners in the printing of ballots, are remanded to the Commission on Elections for determination whether petitioners are qualified to register under the party-list system and to participate in the 13 May 2013 party-list elections under the parameters prescribed in this Decision. The Commission on Elections may conduct summary evidentiary hearings for this purpose. This Decision is immediately executory.

SO ORDERED.11 (Emphasis ours)

Thus, the cases of previously registered party-list groups, including ABANG LINGKOD, were remanded to the COMELEC so that it may reassess, based on the evidence already submitted by the former, whether they are qualified to participate in the party-list system pursuant to the new parameters laid down in Along Paglaum. The Court did not require the COMELEC to conduct a hearing de novo in reassessing the qualifications of said party-list groups. Nevertheless, the Court gave the COMELEC the option to conduct further summary evidentiary hearing should it deem appropriate to do so.

The records also disclose that ABANG LINGKOD was able to file with the COMELEC a motion for reconsideration of the Resolution dated May 10, 2013, negating its claim that it was denied due process. As it has been held, deprivation of due process cannot be successfully invoked where a party was given a chance to be heard on his motion for reconsideration.12ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Second Issue: Cancellation of
ABANG LINGKOD’s Registration


However, after a careful perusal of the factual antecedents of this case, pinned against the new parameters in screening party-list groups laid down in Along Paglaum, the Court finds that the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in cancelling the registration of ABANG LINGKOD under the party-list system.

The COMELEC affirmed the cancellation of ABANG LINGKOD’s registration on the ground that it declared untruthful statement in its bid for accreditation as a party-list group in the May 2013 elections, pointing out that it deliberately submitted digitally altered photographs of activities to make it appear that it had a track record in representing the marginalized and underrepresented. Essentially, ABANG LINGKOD’s registration was cancelled on the ground that it failed to adduce evidence showing its track record in representing the marginalized and underrepresented.

The flaw in the COMELEC’s disposition lies in the fact that it insists on requiring party-list groups to present evidence showing that they have a track record in representing the marginalized and underrepresented.

Track record is a record of past performance often taken as an indicator of likely future performance.13 As a requirement imposed by Ang Bagong Bayani for groups intending to participate in the party-list elections, track record pertains to the actual activities undertaken by groups to uplift the cause of the sector/s, which they represent.

Section 5 of R.A. No. 7941 however provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Sec. 5. Registration. Any organized group of persons may register as a party, organization or coalition for purposes of the party-list system by filing with the COMELEC not later than ninety (90) days before the election a petition verified by its president or secretary stating its desire to participate in the party-list system as a national, regional or sectoral party or organization or a coalition of such parties or organizations, attaching thereto its constitution, by-laws, platform or program of government, list of officers, coalition agreement and other relevant information as the COMELEC may require: Provided, That the sectors shall include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals. (Emphasis ours)

R.A. No. 7941 did not require groups intending to register under the party-list system to submit proof of their track record as a group. The track record requirement was only imposed in Ang Bagong Bayani where the Court held that national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations seeking registration under the party-list system must prove through their, inter alia, track record that they truly represent the marginalized and underrepresented, thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x In this light, the Court finds it appropriate to lay down the following guidelines, culled from the law and the Constitution, to assist the Comelec in its work.

First, the political party, sector, organization or coalition must represent the marginalized and underrepresented groups identified in Section 5 of RA 7941. In other words, it must show -- through its constitution, articles of incorporation, bylaws, history, platform of government and track record -- that it represents and seeks to uplift marginalized and underrepresented sectors. Verily, majority of its membership should belong to the marginalized and underrepresented. And it must demonstrate that in a conflict of interests, it has chosen or is likely to choose the interest of such sectors. (Emphasis ours)

Track record is not the same as the submission or presentation of "constitution, by-laws, platform of government, list of officers, coalition agreement, and other relevant information as may be required by the COMELEC," which are but mere pieces of documentary evidence intended to establish that the group exists and is a going concern. The said documentary evidence presents an abstract of the ideals that national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations seek to achieve.

This is not merely a matter of semantics; the delineation of what constitutes a track record has certain consequences in a group’s bid for registration under the party-list system. Under Section 5 of R.A. No. 7941, groups intending to register under the party-list system are not required to submit evidence of their track record; they are merely required to attach to their verified petitions their "constitution, by-laws, platform of government, list of officers, coalition agreement, and other relevant information as may be required by the COMELEC."

In Atong Paglaum, the Court has modified to a great extent the jurisprudential doctrines on who may register under the party-list system and the representation of the marginalized and underrepresented. For purposes of registration under the party-list system, national or regional parties or organizations need not represent any marginalized and underrepresented sector; that representation of the marginalized and underrepresented is only required of sectoral organizations that represent the sectors stated under Section 5 of R.A. No. 7941 that are, by their nature, economically marginalized and underrepresented.

There was no mention that sectoral organizations intending to participate in the party-list elections are still required to present a track record, viz:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x In determining who may participate in the coming 13 May

2013 and subsequent party-list elections, the COMELEC shall adhere to the following parameters:

x x x

4. Sectoral parties or organizations may either be "marginalized and underrepresented’’ or lacking in "well-defined political constituencies." It is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interests and concerns of their sector. The sectors that are "marginalized and underrepresented" include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, handicapped, veterans, and overseas workers. The sectors that lack "well-defined political constituencies’’ include professionals, the elderly, women, and the youth. (Emphasis ours)

Contrary to the COMELEC’s claim, sectoral parties or organizations, such as ABANG LINGKOD, are no longer required to adduce evidence showing their track record, i.e. proof of activities that they have undertaken to further the cause of the sector they represent. Indeed, it is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of their sector. Otherwise stated, it is sufficient that the ideals represented by the sectoral organizations are geared towards the cause of the sector/s, which they represent.

If at all, evidence showing a track record in representing the marginalized and underrepresented sectors is only required from nominees of sectoral parties or organizations that represent the marginalized and underrepresented who do not factually belong to the sector represented by their party or organization.

Dissenting, my esteemed colleague, Mr. Justice Leonen, however, maintains that parties or organizations intending to register under the party­ list system are still required to present a track record notwithstanding the Court’s pronouncement in Atong Paglaum; that the track record that would have to be presented would only differ as to the nature of their group/organization. He opines that sectoral organizations must prove their links with the marginalized and underrepresented while national or regional parties or organizations must show that they have been existing as a bona fide organization.

To submit to the dissent’s insistence on varying track records, which are required of those intending to register under the party-list system, depending on the nature of their group, would result into an absurd and unjust situation. Under the "varying track record requirement," sectoral organizations must present evidence showing their track record in representing the marginalized and underrepresented, i.e. actual activities conducted by them to further uplift the cause of the sector/s they represent. On the other hand, national and regional parties or organizations need only prove that they exist as bona fide organizations which, as the dissent suggests, may be done through the submission of their constitution, by-laws, platform of government, list of officers, coalition agreement, and other relevant information required by the COMELEC.

However, submission of a group’s constitution, by-laws, platform of government, list of officers, coalition agreement, and other relevant information required by the COMELEC, as explained earlier, is not synonymous with the track record requirement. In such case, only sectoral organizations would be required to present a track record (actual activities conducted by them to further the cause of the marginalized and underrepresented); while national and regional organizations need not present their track record as they are only required to submit documentary evidence showing that they are bonafide organizations.

There is no logic in treating sectoral organizations differently from national and regional parties or organizations as regards their bid for registration under the party-list system. The "varying track record requirement" suggested by the dissent would unnecessarily put a premium on groups intending to register as national and regional parties or organizations as against those intending to register as sectoral organizations. The imposition of an additional burden on sectoral organizations, i.e. submission of their track record, would be plainly unjust as it effectively deters the marginalized and underrepresented sectors from organizing themselves under the party-list system.

Likewise, that there was no explicit reversal of the guidelines in Ang Bagong Bayani in Atong Paglaum does not mean that groups intending to register under the party-list system are still required to submit a track record. The track record of groups intending to register under the party-list system was required under the first guideline of Ang Bagong Bayani for a very specific purpose to show that the national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations that would be allowed to participate in the party-list elections are truly representative of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors. It was necessary- then to require groups seeking registration under the party-list system since representation of the marginalized and underrepresented, as understood in the context of Ang Bagong Bayani, is easy to claim and feign.

There exists no reason to further require groups seeking registration under the party-list system to submit evidence showing their track record. Pursuant to Atong Paglaum, not all groups are required to represent the marginalized and underrepresented sectors and, accordingly, there is no longer any incentive in merely feigning representation of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

In the case of sectoral organizations, although they are still required to represent the marginalized and underrepresented, they are likewise not required to show a track record since there would be no reason for them to feign representation of the marginalized and underrepresented as they can just register as a national or regional party or organization. Thus, the Court, in Atong Paglaum, stated that, for purposes of registration under the party­ list system, it is enough that the principal advocacy of sectoral organizations pertains to the sector/s they represent.

There is thus no basis in law and established jurisprudence to insist that groups seeking registration under the party-list system still comply with the track record requirement. Indeed, nowhere in R.A. No. 7941 is it mandated that groups seeking registration thereunder must submit evidence to show their track record as a group.

The dissent likewise suggests that the deceit committed by ABANG LINGKOD goes into its qualification as a party-list group since it seriously puts in question the existence of ABANG LINGKOD as a group per se and the genuineness of its representation of the farmers and fisherfolk.

It must be stressed that the COMELEC cancelled ABANG LINGKOD’s registration solely on the ground of the lack of its track record that it falsely represented, by submitting digitally altered photographs of its supposed activities, that it had a track record in representing the marginalized and underrepresented.  The existence of ABANG LINGKOD as a party-list group per se and the genuineness of its representation of the farmers and fisherfolks were never raised in the proceedings before the COMELEC. It would thus be the height of injustice if the Court, in this certiorari action, would scrutinize the legitimacy 0f ABANG LINGKOD as a party-list group and the genuineness of its representation of the farmers and fisherfolk, and affirm the cancellation of its registration, when the issue is limited only to the track record of ABANG LINGKOD.

Moreover, ABANG LINGKOD had been previously registered as a party-list group, as in fact it participated in the May 2010 party-list elections, and it was able to obtain a sufficient number of votes in the May 2013 party­ list elections to obtain a seat in the House of Representatives. These are circumstances, which clearly indicate that ABANG LINGKOD is indeed a legitimate party-list group.

ABANG LINGKOD, notwithstanding the cancellation of its registration three days prior to the May 13, 2013 elections, was able to obtain a total of 260,215 votes out of the 26,722,131 votes that were cast for the party-list,14 thus entitling it to a seat in the House of Representatives. This is indicative of the fact that a considerable portion of the electorate considers ABANG LINGKOD as truly representative of peasant farmers and fisherfolk.

Anent the photographs submitted by ABANG LINGKOD, these only show book-giving and medical missions, which are activities it conducted. Suffice it to state, however, that said activities do not specifically or directly pertain to the interest or advocacy espoused by ABANG LINGKOD. As such, the misrepresentation committed by ABANG LINGKOD with regard to said activities would not necessarily militate against its representation of the farmers and fisherfolk.

Lest it be misunderstood, the Court does not condone the deceit perpetrated by ABANG LINGKOD in connection with its bid for continued registration under the party-list system. That ABANG LINGKOD, to establish its track record, submitted photographs that were edited to make it appear that it conducted activities aimed at ameliorating the plight of the sectors it represents is a factual finding by the COMELEC, which the Court, considering that it is supported by substantial evidence, will not disturb. The Court does not tolerate ABANG LINGKOD’s resort to chicanery and its shabby treatment of the requirements for registration under the party-list system.

Nevertheless, considering that track record is no longer a requirement, a group’s misrepresentation as to its track record cannot be used as a ground to deny or cancel its registration - it is no longer material to its qualification under the party-list system. In this case, ABANG LINGKOD’s submission of digitally altered photographs cannot be considered material to its qualification as a party-list group. Section 6 of R.A. No. 7941, in part, reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Sec. 6. Refusal and/or Cancellation of Registration. The COMELEC may, motu propio or upon verified complaint of any interested party, refuse or cancel, after due notice and hearing, the registration of any national, regional or sectoral party, organization or coalition on any of the following grounds:

xxxx

(6) It declares untruthful statements in its petition;

Declaration of an untruthful statement in a petition for registration, or in any other document pertinent to the registration and/or accreditation under the party-list system, as a ground for the refusal or cancellation of registration under Section 6(6) of R.A. No. 7941, is akin to material misrepresentation in the certificate of candidacy filed by an individual candidate under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code. Both provisions disallow prospective candidates from participating in an election for declaring false statements in their eligibility requirements. Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Sec. 78. A verified petition seeking to deny due course to or cancel a certificate of candidacy may be filed by any person exclusively on the ground that any material misrepresentation contained therein as required under Section 74 hereof is false. The petition may be filed at any time not later than twenty-five days from the time of the filing of the certificate of candidacy and shall be decided, after due notice and hearing, not later than fifteen days before the election.

Elucidating on what constitutes material misrepresentation in a certificate of candidacy under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code, the Court, in Lluz v. Commission on Elections,15 explained that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

From these two cases several conclusions follow. First, a misrepresentation in a certificate of candidacy is material when it refers to a qualification for elective office and affects the candidate’s eligibility. x x x Third, a misrepresentation of a non-material fact, or a non-material misrepresentation, is not a ground to deny due course to or cancel a certificate of candidacy under Section 78. In other words, for a candidate’s certificate of candidacy to be denied due course or canceled by the COMELEC, the fact misrepresented must pertain to a qualification for the office sought by the candidate.16 (Emphasis ours)

In Velasco v. Commission on Elections,17 the Court further clarified that a false representation under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code, in order to be a ground to deny due course or cancel a certificate of candidacy, must consist of a deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact which would otherwise render a candidate ineligible. Thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

The false representation that [Sections 74 and 78 of the Omnibus Election Code] mention must necessarily pertain to a material fact, not to a mere innocuous mistake. This is emphasized by the consequences of any material falsity: a candidate who falsifies a material fact cannot run; if he runs and is elected, cannot serve; in both cases, he or she can be prosecuted for violation of the election laws. Obviously, these facts are those that refer to a candidate’s qualification for elective office, such as his or her citizenship and residence. The candidate’s status as a registered voter similarly falls under this classification as it is a requirement that, by law (the Local Government Code), must be reflected in the COC. The reason for this is obvious: the candidate, if he or she wins, will work for and represent the local government under which he is running.

Separately from the requirement of materiality, a false representation under Section 78 must consist of a ’’deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact which would otherwise render a candidate ineligible." In other words, it must be made with the intention to deceive the electorate as to the would-be candidate’s qualifications for public office.18 (Citation omitted and emphasis ours)

Similarly, a declaration of an untruthful statement in a petition for registration under Section 6(6) ofR.A. No. 7941, in order to be a ground for the refusal and/or cancellation of registration under the party-list system, must pertain to the qualification of the party, organization or coalition under the party-list system. In order to justify the cancellation or refusal of registration of a group, there must be a deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact, which would otherwise render the group disqualified from participating in the party-list elections.

The digitally altered photographs of activities submitted by ABANG LINGKOD to prove its continuing qualification under R.A. No. 7941 only pertain to its track record, which, as already discussed, is no longer a requirement under the new parameters laid down in Atong Paglaum. Simply put, they do not affect the qualification of ABANG LINGKOD as a party-list group and, hence, could not be used as a ground to cancel its registration under the party-list system.

Further, the Court notes that the COMELEC, in its Resolution dated November 7, 2012, asserted that ABANG LINGKOD failed to adduce evidence that would show the track record of its five nominees, composed of a non-government organization worker, an employee and three farmers, in uplifting the cause of the sector that the group represents. The COMELEC opined that the failure of ABANG LINGKOD to present a track record of its nominees justified the cancellation of its registration as a party-list group.

The Court does not agree. Assuming arguendo that the nominees of ABANG LINGKOD, as opined by the COMELEC, indeed do not have track records showing their participation in activities aimed at improving the conditions of the sector that the group represents, the same would not affect the registration of ABANG LINGKOD as a party-list group.

To stress, in Atong Paglaum, the Court pointed out that "[t]he nominees of sectoral parties or organizations that represent the ’marginalized and underrepresented,’ or that represent those who lack ’well-defined political constituencies,’ either must belong to their respective sectors, or must have a track record of advocacy for their respective sectors. Stated otherwise, the nominee of a party-list groups may either be: first, one who actually belongs to the sector which the party-list group represents, in which case the track record requirement does not apply; or second, one who does not actually belong to the sector which the party-list group represents but has a track record showing the nominee’s active participation in activities aimed at uplifting the cause of the sector which the group represents."

In the case under consideration, three of the five nominees of ABANG LINGKOD are farmers and, thus, are not required to present a track record showing their active participation in activities aimed to promote the sector which ABANG LINGKOD represents, i.e. peasant farmers and fisherfolk. That two of ABANG LINGKOD’s nominees do not actually belong to the sector it represents is immaterial and would not result in the cance1lation of ABANG LINGKOD’s registration as a party-list group. This is clear from the sixth parameter laid down by the Court in Atong Paglaum, which states that "[n]ational, regional and sectoral organizations shall not be disqualified if some of their nominees are disqualified, provided that they have at least one nominee who remains qualified." At the very least, ABANG LINGKOD has three (3) qualified nominees, being farmers by occupation.

Indeed, the disqualification of one or some of the nominees of a party­ list group should not automatically result in the disqualification of the group. Otherwise it would accord the nominees the same significance, which the law holds for the party-list groups; it is still the fact that the party-list group satisfied the qualifications of the law that is material to consider. The disqualification of the nominees must simply be regarded as failure to qualify for an office or position. It should not, in any way, blemish the qualifications of the party-list group itself with defect. The party-list group must be treated as separate and distinct from its nominees such that qualifications of the latter must not be considered part and parcel of the qualifications of the former.

In sum, that ABANG LINGKOD’s registration must be cancelled due to its misrepresentation is a conclusion derived from a simplistic reading of the provisions of R.A. No. 7941 and the import of the Court’s disposition in Atong Paglaum. Not every misrepresentation committed by national, regional, and sectoral groups or organizations would merit the denial or cancellation of their registration under the party-list system. The misrepresentation must relate to their qualification as a party-list group. In this regard, the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion when it insisted on requiring ABANG LINGKOD to prove its track record notwithstanding that a group’s track record is no longer required pursuant to the Court’s pronouncement in Atong Paglaum.

Likewise, upholding the cancellation of ABANG LINGKOD’s registration, notwithstanding that it was able to obtain sufficient number of votes for a legislative seat, would serve no purpose other than to subvet1 the will of the electorate who voted to give ABANG LINGKOD the privilege to represent them in the House of Representatives.

WHEREFORE, in light of the foregoing disquisitions, the instant petition is hereby GRANTED. The Resolution dated May 10, 2013 issued by the Commission on Elections in SPP Case No. 12-238 (PLM), insofar as it affirmed the cancellation of ABANG LINGKOD’s registration and disallowed it to participate in the May 13, 2013 elections is REVERSED and SET ASIDE.

The Commission on Elections is hereby ORDERED to PROCLAIM ABANG LINGKOD as one of the winning party-list groups during the May 13, 2013 elections with the number of seats it may be entitled to based on the total number of votes it garnered during the said elections.chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

SO ORDERED.

Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Abad, Villarama, Jr., Perez, Mendoza, and Perlas-Bernabe, JJ., concur.
Del Castillo, J., on official leave.
Sereno, C.J., Carpio, and Brion, JJ., joins the dissent of J. Leonen.
Leonen, J., see dissenting opinion.

Endnotes:


1Rollo, pp. 30-36.  Signed by Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. and Commissioners Lucenito N. Tagle, Elias R. Yusoph, Christian Robert S. Lim and Ma. Gracia Cielo M. Padaca; Commissioners AI A. Parreno and Luie Tito F. Guia took no part.

2 Entitled "In the matter of: (I) the automatic review by the Commission En Banc of pending petitions for registration of party-list groups; and (2) setting for hearing the accredited party-list groups or organizations which are existing and which have filed manifestations of intent to participate in the 2013 national and local elections," promulgated on August 2, 2012.

3 Entitled "An act providing for the election of party-list representatives through the party-list system, and appropriating funds therefor."

4 412 Phil. 308 (2001).

5 Docketed as G.R. No. 204220.

6 G.R. Nos. 203766, 203818-19, et al., April2, 2013,694 SCRA 477.

7 Supra note I.

8 Id. at 34.

9 G.R. No. 206952; id. at 6-29.  

10See Barot v. Commission on Elections, 452 Phil. 438, 446 (2003); Mendoza "Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 188308, October 15,2009,603 SCRA 692, 714.

11 Supra note 6.

12Paat v. Court of Appeals, 334 Phil. 146, 155 (1997).

13 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/track%20record, last accessed on September 2, 2013.

14 National Board of Canvassers Resolution No. 0008-13, promulgated on May 28, 2013.

15 GR. No. 172840, June 7, 2007, 523 SCRA 456.

16 Id. at 471.

17 GR. No. 180051, December 24, 2008, 575 SCRA 590.

18 Id. at 603-604.





DISSENTING OPINION

LEONEN, J.:


I dissent. This Petition should be denied.

The Commission on Elections did not gravely abuse its discretion so as to give due course to this Petition. Reversing the Commission on Elections in this case makes us party to the mockery of the electoral process done by the petitioner.

Atong Paglaum v. Commission on Elections1 did not remove the legal requirement that party-list groups must have proof of their existence and genuineness as provided by law. It did not remove the Commission on Elections’ discretion to determine whether the party-list group that intends to be sectoral — as opposed to national or regional — is genuine, has bona fide existence, and truly represents its sector.

The petitioner submitted clearly falsified evidence to support its Manifestation before the Commission on Elections. This is a statutory ground for the cancellation of a party-list group’s registration with the Commission on Elections. Allowing a party-list organization that willfully presents false credentials betrays the public trust, and We should not be party to its countenance.

The Procedural Antecedents

In this Petition for Certiorari,2 Abang Lingkod Party List (ABANG LINGKOD) challenged the May 10, 2013 Resolution issued by the Commission on Elections En Banc in SPP No. 12-238 (PLM). The Resolution affirmed the cancellation of the party-list’s registration with the Commission on Elections.

Petitioner ABANG LINGKOD filed its Petition for Registration and Accreditation as a sectoral party on December 19, 2000.3 The Commission on Elections granted the Petition on December 22, 2009.4 The petitioner participated in the 2010 party-list elections but failed to obtain the required 2% of the votes cast, and it was not able to get a seat in the House of Representatives.5

On May 31, 2012, ABANG LINGKOD filed its Manifestation of Intent to Participate in the Party-list System of Representation in the May 2013 elections.6

In a Resolution dated August 9, 2012, the Commission on Elections set the summary evidentiary hearing for all registered party-list groups. It required them to submit relevant documents to prove continuing compliance with the provisions of Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-List System Act, including the names of the witnesses it would present to testify to their continuing compliance, and the judicial affidavits of these witnesses.

According to the respondent, it set three (3) hearing dates (August 17, August 31, and September 3, 2012) for petitioner to present its witness and prove continuing compliance with the requirements under Republic Act No. 7941. Petitioner failed to present its witness on these hearing dates.7

On November 7, 2012, respondent promulgated a Resolution cancelling petitioner’s Certificate of Registration/Accreditation for the then upcoming May 13, 2013 elections. The respondent stated in its Resolution that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x it is not enough that the party-list organization claim representation of the marginalized and underrepresented because representation is easy to claim and feign. A careful perusal of the records of the case would show that ABANG LINGKOD failed to establish its track record. The track record is very important to prove that the party-list organization continuously represents the marginalized and underrepresented. x x x.

x x x

ABANG LINGKOD merely offered pictures of some alleged activities they conducted after the elections in 2010. However, there is nothing in the said records that would show that the party-list organization is indeed composed of organizations of farmers, fisherfolk and peasants or that they really conducted activities in line with its platform of government.

x x x

The importance of this examination of existing party-list organizations as to their continuing compliance with the requirements of the law must be greatly emphasized. It is the duty of the Commission to ensure that only those legitimate party-list organizations will have a chance to vie for a seat in the Congress. Even those party-list organizations which are previously accredited must pass the scrutiny of the Commission. Hence, the party-list organizations must provide pieces of evidence showing that it is indeed working for the upliftment of the lives of the x x x sector it represents even after the elections in 2010. x x x.8


On November 22, 2012, the petitioner and more than fifty (50) other party-list groups filed a Petition for Certiorari with Prayer for Immediate Issuance of a Writ of Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order and/or Status Quo Ante Order assailing the November 7, 2012 Resolution of the Commission on Elections En Banc.

In Atong Paglaum v. Commission on Elections9 promulgated on April 2, 2013, this Court resolved the Petitions of the party-list groups affected by the November 7, 2012 Resolution of the Commission on Elections. This Court also remanded the Petitions to determine if these party-list groups were qualified for registration under the parameters laid down in the Decision.

On May 10, 2013, the Commission on Elections issued the assailed Resolution, affirming the cancellation of ABANG LINGKOD’s registration under the party-list system. The Commission on Elections issued the Resolution without any summary evidentiary hearing and explained its Decision, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

ABANG LINGKOD’s registration was cancelled as it failed to establish a track record of continuously representing the peasant [and] farmers sector, and that its nominees are not marginalized and underrepresented, without any participation in its programs and advocacies.

The Commission maintains its petition in the previous en banc ruling cancelling the registration of ABANG LINGKOD. To reiterate, it is not enough that the party-list organization claim representation of the marginalized and underrepresented because representation is easy to claim and to feign. It is but reasonable to require from groups and organizations consistent participation and advocacy in the sector it seeks to represent, and not just seasonal and “sporadic” programs which are unrelated to its sector.

ABANG LINGKOD submitted pictures showing a seminar held on 10 July 2010, Medical Mission on 11 November 2010, Disaster Management Training on 21 October 2011, Book-giving on 28 June 2011, and Medical Mission on 1 December 2011.

And as if to insult the Commission, the photographs submitted appear to have been edited to show in the banners that ABANG LINGKOD participated in the activities. ABANG LINGKOD’s name and logo was superimposed on some banners to feign participation in the activities (Joint Medical-Dental Mission, Book-giving).

Under The Party-List System Act, a group’s registration may be cancelled for declaring unlawful statements in its petition. Photoshopping images to establish a fact that did not occur is tantamount to declaring unlawful statements. It is on this ground that the Commission cancels ABANG LINGKOD’s registration.10

On May 12, 2013, petitioner ABANG LINGKOD filed an Extremely Urgent Motion for Reconsideration before the Commission on Elections En Banc. However, because of the exigencies of the case, the petitioner filed on May 15, 2013 a Manifestation with Motion to Withdraw its Extremely Urgent Motion for Reconsideration since the results of the May 13, 2013 elections were then being canvassed, and the public respondent Commission on Elections may not have the time to pass upon the merits of the case.

The petitioner then filed the current Petition for Certiorari (With Prayer for Immediate Issuance of a Writ of Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order and/or Status Quo Ante Order).

The material issues in this case are the following:

  1. Whether national, regional, and sectoral parties and organizations are required under the law to show their genuineness and existence in determining if they are eligible for registration with the Commission on Elections; and

  2. Whether the Commission on Elections gravely abused its discretion in cancelling ABANG LINGKOD’s registration under the party-list system.

The petitioner submitted that the Commission on Elections En Banc committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in affirming the cancellation of ABANG LINGKOD’s Certificate of Registration/Accreditation under the party-list system of representation. It claimed that ABANG LINGKOD was not given the opportunity to show that it meets the six-point parameters set by this Honorable Court in Atong Paglaum v. Commission on Elections.11 It also claimed that, since it had previously been registered with the Commission on Elections, it is, therefore, qualified to participate in the May 13, 2013 elections. Thus, it concluded that the Commission on Elections violated ABANG LINGKOD’s constitutional right to due process.

The petitioner also submitted that the Commission on Elections En Banc committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in affirming the cancellation of ABANG LINGKOD’s Certificate of Registration/Accreditation on the sole basis that it supposedly “photoshopped” or digitally manipulated images through Adobe Photoshop — an act tantamount to declaring unlawful statements. It claimed that the fact sought to be proven by these pieces of evidence is not part of the six-point criteria set by this Honorable Court in the Atong Paglaum case and that it was not given its day in court to refute these findings.

Respondent, on the other hand, asserted that proof of track record and the proscription against declaring untruthful statements in a party-list organization’s Petition are requirements of the law reiterated in the cases of Ang Bagong Bayani and Atong Paglaum.

It added that the petitioner does not have a vested right in its registration and accreditation as a party-list organization.

Finally, the respondent Commission on Elections reiterated that its findings of facts are supported by substantial evidence. Hence, the Commission on Elections’ determination that the pieces of evidence submitted by the petitioner were falsified is now final and non-reviewable.

We should deny the Petition for the reason that the Commission on Elections did not commit grave abuse of discretion in denying the registration of petitioner ABANG LINGKOD.

Certiorari exercised only when grave
abuse of discretion is sufficiently shown   


The jurisdiction of this Court in cases involving certiorari and the decisions, orders or rulings of the Commission on Elections must be discussed first.

Section 7 of Article IX-A of the 1987 Constitution provides that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Section 7. 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. A case or matter is deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the rules of the Commission or by the Commission itself. Unless otherwise provided by this Constitution or by law, any decision, order, or ruling of each Commission may be brought to the Supreme Court on certiorari by the aggrieved party within thirty days from receipt of a copy thereof. (Emphasis provided)

This constitutional provision serves as the basis for this Court’s review of the Commission on Elections’ rulings under the standards of Rule 65 through Rule 64 of the Rules of Court.12 Such power of review of this Court must be exercised under the standard of grave abuse of discretion. In Ocate v. Commission on Elections,13 this Court laid down the rule in resolving petitions for certiorari under Rule 64, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

The purpose of a petition for certiorari is to determine whether the challenged tribunal has acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Thus, any resort to a petition for certiorari under Rule 64 in relation to Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure is limited to the resolution of jurisdictional issues.14 (Emphasis provided)

Thus, in Typoco v. Commission on Elections,15 We said that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

In a special civil action for certiorari, the burden rests on petitioner to prove not merely reversible error, but grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of public respondent issuing the impugned order, decision or resolution. “Grave abuse of discretion” is such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment equivalent to lack of jurisdiction or excess thereof. It must be patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility. “Grave abuse of discretion” arises when a court or tribunal violates the Constitution, the law or existing jurisprudence.16 (Emphasis provided)

The rule on limited jurisdiction on certiorari should be applied in this case. It is only when the petitioner has sufficiently shown that the Commission on Elections may have committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction that this Court should take cognizance of the Petition filed under Rule 64.

Requirement of genuineness and bona fide existence

Proof that national, regional, and sectoral parties and organizations exist and are genuine is required by the law to determine whether a party-list group is eligible for registration with the Commission on Elections and may participate in the national elections. The kind of record that is required by law is not the same as that which was formerly required in Ang Bagong Bayani. This requirement is evident from an analysis of the provisions of Republic Act No. 7941 and the interpretations of this Court.

The Declaration of Principles or Section 2 of Republic Act No. 7941 provides that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x the State shall develop and guarantee a full, free and open party system in order to attain the broadest possible representation of party, sectoral or group interests in the House of Representatives by enhancing their chances to compete for and win seats in the legislature, and shall provide the simplest scheme possible.

A party, by law, is either “a political party or a sectoral party or a coalition of parties.”17 A political party is defined as:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x an organized group of citizens advocating an ideology or platform, principles and policies for the general conduct of government and which, as the most immediate means of securing their adoption, regularly nominates and supports certain of its leaders and members as candidates for public office.18 (Emphasis provided)

A party is a national party “when its constituency is spread over the geographical territory of at least a majority of the regions. It is a regional party when its constituency is spread over the geographical territory of at least a majority of the cities and provinces comprising the region.”19

On the other hand, a sectoral party:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x refers to an organized group of citizens belonging to any of the sectors enumerated in Section 5 hereof whose principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of their sector[.]20 (Emphasis provided)

The use of ideology, platform, principles, policies, advocacy of special interests and concerns of the sector, and the existence of constituencies in defining parties all pertain to evidence of a duly existing and genuine party-list group. All these are what the law, Republic Act No. 7941, requires from parties that aspire to participate in the party-list elections.

With regard to this Court’s interpretation of the provisions of the law, We recently redefined party-list groups and set new parameters in determining who may participate in the party-list elections, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

1. Three different groups may participate in the party-list system: (1) national parties or organizations, (2) regional parties or organizations, and (3) sectoral parties or organizations.

2. National parties or organizations and regional parties or organizations do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent any “marginalized and underrepresented” sector.

3. Political parties can participate in party-list elections provided they register under the party-list system and do not field candidates in legislative district elections. A political party, whether major or not, that fields candidates in legislative district elections can participate in party list elections only through its sectoral wing that can separately register under the party-list system. The sectoral wing is by itself an independent sectoral party, and is linked to a political party through a coalition.

4. Sectoral parties or organizations may either be “marginalized and underrepresented” or lacking in “well-defined political constituencies.” It is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of their sector. The sectors that are “marginalized and underrepresented” include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, handicapped, veterans, and overseas workers. The sectors that lack “well-defined political constituencies” include professionals, the elderly, women, and the youth.

5. A majority of the members of sectoral parties or organizations that represent the “marginalized and underrepresented” must belong to the “marginalized and underrepresented” sector they represent. Similarly, a majority of the members of sectoral parties or organizations that lack “well-defined political constituencies” must belong to the sector they represent. The nominees of sectoral parties or organizations that represent the “marginalized and underrepresented,” or that represent those who lack “well-defined political constituencies,” either must belong to their respective sectors, or must have a track record of advocacy for their respective sectors. The nominees of national and regional parties or organizations must be bona fide members of such parties or organizations.

6. National, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations shall not be disqualified if some of their nominees are disqualified, provided that they have at least one nominee who remains qualified.21

This redefinition was based on a plain reading of Article VI, Section 5(1) of the 1987 Constitution. In Atong Paglaum, We said that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Section 5(1), Article VI of the Constitution is crystal-clear that there shall be “a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.” The commas after the words “national[,]” and “regional[,]” separate national and regional parties from sectoral parties. Had the framers of the 1987 Constitution intended national and regional parties to be at the same time sectoral, they would have stated “national and regional sectoral parties.” They did not, precisely because it was never their intention to make the party-list system exclusively sectoral.

x x x

Moreover, Section 5(2), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution mandates that, during the first three consecutive terms of Congress after the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, “one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.” This provision clearly shows again that the party-list system is not exclusively for sectoral parties for two obvious reasons.

First, the other one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives would naturally be open to non-sectoral party-list representatives, clearly negating the idea that the party-list system is exclusively for sectoral parties representing the “marginalized and underrepresented.” Second, the reservation of one-half of the party-list seats to sectoral parties applies only for the first “three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution,” clearly making the party-list system fully open after the end of the first three congressional terms. This means that, after this period, there will be no seats reserved for any class or type of party that qualifies under the three groups constituting the party-list system.

Hence, the clear intent, express wording, and party-list structure ordained in Section 5(1) and (2), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution cannot be disputed: the party-list system is not for sectoral parties only, but also for non-sectoral parties.

x x x

Section 3(a) of R.A. No. 7941 defines a “party” as “either a political party or a sectoral party or a coalition of parties.” Clearly, a political party is different from a sectoral party. Section 3(c) of R.A. No. 7941 further provides that a “political party refers to an organized group of citizens advocating an ideology or platform, principles and policies for the general conduct of government.” On the other hand, Section 3(d) of R.A. No. 7941 provides that a “sectoral party refers to an organized group of citizens belonging to any of the sectors enumerated in Section 5 hereof whose principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of their sector.” R.A. No. 7941 provides different definitions for a political and a sectoral party. Obviously, they are separate and distinct from each other.

R.A. No. 7941 does not require national and regional parties or organizations to represent the “marginalized and underrepresented” sectors. To require all national and regional parties under the party-list system to represent the “marginalized and underrepresented” is to deprive and exclude, by judicial fiat, ideology-based and cause-oriented parties from the party-list system. x x x.22

To reiterate and as I have explained in my Concurring and Dissenting Opinion23 in Atong Paglaum, the Constitution acknowledges that there are different kinds of party-list groups aside from sectoral groups. “To require that all the seats for party-list representatives continue to be sectoral is clearly and patently unconstitutional.”24 “Article VI, [S]ection[s] 5 (1) and (2) already imply a complete Constitutional framework for the party-list system.”25 Congress should not legislate if it adds requirements laid down in the Constitution such that even national and regional parties or organizations may be considered sectoral.26

The ponencia in this case supposes that when the majority in Atong Paglaum declared as part of the fifth (5th) parameter that the “nominees of the sectoral party either must belong to the sector, or must have a track record of advocacy for the sector represented,” it meant that the track record requirement will only apply to the sectoral groups. I take a contrary view, especially since this Court in several cases already deemed track record as one of the factors considered in allowing groups to participate in party-list elections, although discussed in the previous definition or framework of party-list groups.27

The redefinition of the parameters for party-list registration to include national and regional parties or organizations did not remove the requirement of showing that these groups existed prior to the elections they wish to participate in and that they indeed operate as genuine organizations. I maintain that the record of a party or an organization’s genuineness and bona fide existence is necessary for all parties and organizations, whether national, regional or sectoral. This will show whether the party-list group is genuine and not an expediently created formation that does not have any advocacy. This is evident from the law, particularly from Section 5 of Republic Act No. 7941, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Section 5. Registration. Any organized group of persons may register as a party, organization or coalition for purposes of the party-list system by filing with the COMELEC not later than ninety (90) days before the election a petition verified by its president or secretary stating its desire to participate in the party-list system as a national, regional or sectoral party or organization or a coalition of such parties or organizations, attaching thereto its constitution, by-laws, platform or program of government, list of officers, coalition agreement and other relevant information as the COMELEC may require: Provided, That the sectors shall include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals. (Emphasis provided)

Atong Paglaum declared that there may be national or regional parties or organizations apart from sectoral groups. Thus, the requirements for each of these groups have been modified. All national, regional or sectoral parties or organizations should show that they have been existing as bona fide organizations. Sectoral organizations should, therefore, prove links with the sector that they represent. Reading the text of Republic Act No. 7941 and previous rulings of this Court, this record may be established by presenting an organization’s constitution, by-laws, platform or program of government, list of officers, coalition agreement, and other relevant information as may be required by the Commission on Elections.

It is important for the groups to show that they are capable of participating in the elections and that they will not make a mockery of the electoral system, specifically the party-list system.

It is the parties or organizations, and not only the nominees, that must have a concrete and verifiable record of political participation that shows how their political platforms have been translated into action. It must be noted that when the Commission on Elections cancelled ABANG LINGKOD’s registration, it reasoned that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

ABANG LINGKOD merely offered pictures of some alleged activities they conducted after the elections in 2010. However, there is nothing in the said records that would show that the party-list organization is indeed composed of organizations of farmers, fisherfolk and peasants or that they really conducted activities in line with its platform of government.28 (Emphasis provided)

When the Commission on Elections made this statement, it was clearly reviewing the qualifications of the party and not just its nominees.

Atong Paglaum did not in any way remove the genuineness and bona fide existence requirements for registration with the Commission on Elections, contrary to the stand taken by the ponencia. It only qualified that the nominees of sectoral parties or organizations need not prove both membership in their sector and record of advocacy for their respective sectors. Atong Paglaum did not categorically state that party-list groups are not required to show records of its genuineness and bona fide existence.

Petitioner is a sectoral party-list group that purports to represent the peasant farmers.29 However, it did not even comply with the bare requirement that sectoral party-list groups representing a sector should show that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of their sector.30 As correctly argued by the public respondent,31 petitioner will not, therefore, qualify even under the new parameters set forth in Atong Paglaum.

Untruthful statements

The Commission on Elections did not commit grave abuse of discretion in cancelling ABANG LINGKOD’s registration under the party-list system when the party-list group made an “untruthful statement” in its Petition, thereby violating Section 6 of Republic Act No. 7941. Section 6 provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Section 6. Refusal and/or Cancellation of Registration. The COMELEC may, motu propio or upon verified complaint of any interested party, refuse or cancel, after due notice and hearing, the registration of any national, regional or sectoral party, organization or coalition on any of the following grounds:

x x x

(4) It is receiving support from any foreign government, foreign political party, foundation, organization, whether directly or through any of its officers or members or indirectly through third parties for partisan election purposes;

(5) It violates or fails to comply with laws, rules or regulations relating to elections;

(6) It declares untruthful statements in its petition;

(7) It has ceased to exist for at least one (1) year; or

(8) It fails to participate in the last two (2) preceding elections or fails to obtain at least two per centum (2%) of the votes cast under the party- list system in the two (2) preceding elections for the constituency in which it has registered. (Emphasis provided)

In the Commission on Elections Resolution No. 9366,32 the Commission laid down the rules applicable to party-list groups expecting to participate in the May 13, 2013 national elections:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

RULE 1
FILING OF PETITIONS FOR REGISTRATION

Section 7. Documents to support petition for registration. The following documents shall support petitions for registration:

  1. Constitution and by-laws as an organization seeking registration under the party-list system of representation;

  2. Platform or program of government;
x x x
  1. Track record summary showing that it represents and seeks to uplift the marginalized and underrepresented sector/s it seeks to represent;

  2. Coalition agreement, if any, and the detailed list of affiliates comprising the coalition, including the signed coalition agreement;

  3. Sworn proof/s of existence in the areas where the organization is claiming representation; and

  4. Other information required by the Commission.
x x x

RULE 2
OPPOSITION TO A PETITION FOR REGISTRATION

Section 2. Grounds for opposition to a petition for registration. The Commission may deny due course to the petition motu proprio or upon verified opposition of any interested party, after due notice and hearing, on any of the following grounds:

x x x

  1. It violates or fails to comply with laws, rules or regulations relating to elections;

  2. It has made untruthful statements in its Petition;

  3. It has ceased to exist for a period of at least one (1) year;

  4. It fails to participate in the last two (2) preceding elections or fails to obtain at least two per centum (2%) of the votes cast under the party-list system in the two (2) preceding elections for the constituency in which it has registered; or

  5. The petition has been filed to put the election process in mockery or disrepute, or to cause confusion among the voters by the similarity of names or registered parties, or by other circumstances or acts which clearly demonstrate that the petitioner has no bona fide intention to represent the sector for which the petition has been filed and thus prevent a faithful determination of the true will of the electorate.

    Section 3. Removal and/or cancellation of registration; Grounds. The Commission may motu proprio or upon a verified complaint of any interested party, remove or cancel, after due notice and hearing, the registration of any party-list group organization or coalition on any of the grounds mentioned in Section 2 of this Rule. Any party whose registration has been removed or cancelled shall not be allowed to participate in the party-list system, or from being proclaimed if the evidence is strong. (Emphasis provided)

All these clearly state that the declaration of untruthful statements is a ground for cancelling the registration of a party-list group. However, the ponencia states that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x a declaration of an untruthful statement in a petition for registration under Section 6(6) of R.A. No. 7941, in order to be a ground for the refusal and/or cancellation of registration under the party-list system, must pertain to the qualification of the party, organization or coalition under the party-list system. x x x

The digitally altered photographs of activities submitted by ABANG LINGKOD to prove its continuing qualification under R.A. No. 7941 only pertains to its track record, which, as already discussed, is no longer a requirement under the new parameters laid down in Atong Paglaum. Simply put, it does not affect the qualification of ABANG LINGKOD as a party-list group and, hence, could not be used as a ground to cancel its registration under the party-list system.33

I do not question the point that the disqualification of one or some of the nominees of party-list groups will not automatically result to disqualification. I agree that a party-list group must be treated separately and distinctly from its nominees, such that the qualifications of the nominees are not considered part and parcel of the qualifications of the party-list itself. However, in this case, when the digitally manipulated pictures were submitted by ABANG LINGKOD, it was done to prove the continuous qualifications of the party-list group for registration with the Commission on Elections.34 The “photoshopped” or altered pictures indicating the name of the party-list group were intended to deceive people into thinking that the group was engaging in joint medical and dental mission and book-giving activities.

The reliance of the ponencia on Lluz v. Commission on Elections35 in relating the act of declaring an untruthful statement to the concept of material misrepresentation is not precise. The circumstances and provisions of law involved in Lluz do not square with the present case. In Lluz, this Court determined whether the respondent committed material misrepresentation when he declared his profession as “Certified Public Accountant” in his Certificate of Candidacy. As We said in that case, “Profession or occupation not being a qualification for elective office, misrepresentation of such does not constitute a material misrepresentation.”36In the present case, what is at issue is the genuineness and existence of the party-list group. This includes the question as to whether they truly represent the sector. The claim of representation can be supported by proof of their activities in relation to their sector. As established above, this record of genuineness and existence is a continuing requirement of the law and goes into the qualifications of the party-list.

The brazen use of falsified documents of ABANG LINGKOD in its compliance for registration is deplorable and appalling because of the obvious intent to deceive the Commission on Elections and the electorate. It cannot be tolerated. It denigrates the right to suffrage. Submitting falsified documents is tantamount to making declarations of untruthful statements. It is a ground for cancellation of the registration/accreditation of the party-list group under Section 6 of Republic Act No. 7941.

In V.C. Cadangen v. Commission on Elections,37 this Court denied the Alliance of Civil Servants, Inc.’s (or Civil Servants’) Petition for failing to comply with the law and for declaring an untruthful statement in its Memorandum, as found by the Commission on Elections. As proof of a nationwide constituency, Civil Servants presented a picture of its website where members allegedly discussed different issues confronting government employees and where it was asserted that its membership was divided into different working committees to address several issues of its sectors. Upon verification, the Commission on Elections’ election officers reported that Civil Servants existed only in Parañaque City’s First and Second Districts and in Quezon City’s Fourth District. This finding was contrary to the petitioner’s claim of national constituency in its Memorandum. In holding that the Commission on Elections did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed Resolutions,38 this Court said:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

The COMELEC, after evaluating the documents submitted by petitioner, denied the latter’s plea for registration as a sectoral party, not on the basis of its failure to prove its nationwide presence, but for its failure to show that it represents and seeks to uplift marginalized and underrepresented sectors. Further, the COMELEC found that petitioner made an untruthful statement in the pleadings and documents it submitted.

x x x The findings of fact made by the COMELEC, or by any other administrative agency exercising expertise in its particular field of competence, are binding on the Court.”39

The actions of the group amounted to declaring untruthful statements, which the Commission on Elections correctly considered as a ground for the cancellation of the petitioner’s Certificate of Registration under Section 6 of Republic Act No. 7941. Again, to constitute grave abuse of discretion, the abuse of discretion must be such “capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction, or in other words, where the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility.”40 It “must be so patent and gross to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act in contemplation of law.”41 The Commission on Elections, therefore, did not commit grave abuse of discretion in promulgating the assailed Resolution.

WHEREFORE, I vote to DENY the Petition. The Resolution dated May 10, 2013 issued by the Commission on Elections in SPP Case No. 12-238 (PLM) should be AFFIRMED.

Endnotes:


1 G.R. No. 203766, April 2, 2013, 694 SCRA 477.

2 This Petition is under Rule 64 in relation to Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure.

3 This was docketed as SPP No. 08-16 (PL). See Rollo, p. 9.

4Rollo, p. 9.

5 Id.

6 Temporary Rollo, p. 2. The case was docketed as SP No. 12-238 (PLM).

7 Temporary Rollo, p. 2.

8 Id. at 39-41.

9Atong Paglaum v. Commission on Elections, supra.

10Rollo, p. 34.

11Atong Paglaum v. Commission on Elections, supra note 1.

12 Mitra v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 191938, October 19, 2010, 633 SCRA 580, 590 citing Aratuc v. Commission on Elections, G.R. Nos. L-49705-09 and L-49717-21, February 8, 1979, 88 SCRA 251 and Dario v. Mison, G.R. No. 81954, August 8, 1989, 176 SCRA 84.

13 G.R. No. 170522, November 20, 2006, 507 SCRA 426.

14 Id. at 437.

15 G.R. No. 186359, March 5, 2010, 614 SCRA 391.

16 Id. at 400 citing Suliguin v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 166046, March 23, 2006, 485 SCRA 219, 233; Guerrero v. Commission on Elections, 391 Phil. 344, 352 (2000); Sen. Defensor Santiago v. Sen. Guingona, Jr., 359 Phil. 276, 304 (1998); Cabrera v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 182084, October 6, 2008, 567 SCRA 686, 691.

17 Republic Act No. 7941 (1995), Sec. 3 (b).

18 Republic Act No. 7941 (1995), Sec. 3 (c) par. 1.

19 Republic Act No. 7941 (1995), Sec. 3 (c) par. 2.

20 Republic Act No. 7941 (1995), Sec. 3 (d).

21Atong Paglaum v. Commission on Elections, supra note 1, at 571-572.

22 Id. at 557-560.

23 Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, Concurring and Dissenting Opinion, Atong Paglaum v. COMELEC, supra note 1, at 774.

24 Id. at 784.

25 Id. at 785.

26 Id.

27 See Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 147589, June 26, 2001, 359 SCRA 698; Aklat-Asosasyon Para sa Kaunlaran ng Lipunan at Adhikain Para sa Tao, Inc. v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 162203, April 14, 2004, 427 SCRA 712; Dayao v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 193643, January 29, 2013, 689 SCRA 412.

28Rollo, p. 40.

29 Id. at 8-9.

30 See fourth parameter set in Atong Paglaum.

31 Temporary Rollo, p. 12.

32 Entitled “Rules and Regulations Governing the: 1) Filing of Petitions for Registration; 2) Filing of Manifestation of Intent to Participate; 3) Submission of Names of Nominees; and 4) Filing of Disqualification Cases against Nominees of Party-list Groups or Organizations participating under the Party-list system of representation in Connection with the May 13, 2013 National and Local Elections, and Subsequent Elections Thereafter,” promulgated on February 1, 2012.

33Abang Lingkod v. COMELEC, Main Opinion Revised as of September 17, 2013, G.R. No. 206952, p. 12.

34 “Factual findings of the Commission on Elections are binding on this Court.” See Japzon v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 180088, January 19, 2009, 576 SCRA 331; Dagloc v. COMELEC, 463 Phil. 263, 288 (2003); Pasandalan v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 150312, July 18, 2002, 384 SCRA 695, 703; Mastura v. COMELEC, 349 Phil. 423, 429 (1998).

35 G.R. No. 172840, June 7, 2007, 523 SCRA 456.

36 Id. at 458.

37 G.R. No. 177179, June 5, 2009, 588 SCRA 738.

38 Id. at 743.

39 Id. at 745.

40Torres v. Abundo, G.R. No. 174263, January 24, 2007, 512 SCRA 556, 564 citing Olanolan v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 165491, March 31, 2005, 454 SCRA 807, 814.

41Benito v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 134913, January 19, 2001, 349 SCRA 705, 713-714 citing Cuison v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 128540, April 15, 1998, 289 SCRA 159, 171; Tañada v. Angara, G.R. No. 118295, May 2, 1997, 272 SCRA 18, 79; Alafriz v. Nable, 72 Phil. 278, 280 (1941); Abad Santos v. Prov. of Tarlac, 67 Phil. 480 (1939).
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