[G.R. NO. 177179 : June 5, 2009]
V.C. CADANGEN and ALLIANCE OF CIVIL SERVANTS, INC., Petitioners, v. THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
For resolution is a petition for certiorari and mandamus filed under Rules 64 and 65 of the Rules of Court assailing the March 26, 2007 Resolution1 of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) en banc in SPP Case No. 06-040 (PL). In the questioned resolution, the COMELEC en banc denied petitioners' motion for the reconsideration of the February 13, 2007 Resolution2 of the COMELEC Second Division.
The relevant antecedent facts and proceedings follow.
On September 13, 2006, petitioner Alliance of Civil Servants, Inc. (Civil Servants), represented by its then president, Atty. Sherwin R. Lopez, filed a petition for registration as a sectoral organization under Republic Act (R.A.) No. 79413 or the Party-List System Act. It claimed, among others, that it had been in existence since December 2004 and it sought to represent past and present government employees in the party-list system.4
The COMELEC Second Division, on December 11, 2006, issued an Order5 requiring Civil Servants to file a memorandum that would prove its presence or existence nationwide, track record, financial capability to wage a nationwide campaign, platform of government, officers and membership, and compliance with the provisions of the Party-List System Act and the eight-point guideline laid down by this Court in Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party v. Commission on Elections.6
Civil Servants consequently filed the required memorandum attaching thereto the following documents: (1) copies of its letters to the respective election directors/officers/registrars of the Cordillera Administrative Region, Second District of Quezon City, and the cities of Iloilo, Cotabato, Urdaneta and Dagupan, informing them of the names and addresses of its members in the said localities; (2) revised list of its members as of November 30, 2006; (3) list of its incorporators with brief descriptions of their credentials, including their designations/appointments in government offices; (4) printed screen shot of the Internet homepage of its on-line forum; (5) summary of its major activities and accomplishments since its inception; (6) financial statement showing its net asset of
P399,927.00; (7) platform of government; and (8) list of its current officers with a summary of their credentials.7 Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
With its petition for registration pending, Civil Servants also filed on February 8, 2007 a Manifestation8 of intent to participate in the May 14, 2007 National and Local Elections.
On February 13, 2007, however, the COMELEC Second Division issued a Resolution9 denying Civil Servants' petition for registration. We quote the relevant portions of the resolution, thus'
Owing its mandate to the Constitution and Republic Act No. 7941, the party list system of elections is an important component of the Filipino people's participation in the legislative process. Members of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors now have a chance to be veritable law makers themselves through their representatives. Given the importance of the role they play in legislation, not all sectors who claim to be representative of the marginalized and underrepresented can be granted the opportunity to participate in the party list elections. Thus, the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party v. Commission on Elections enunciating the eight (8) point (sic) guideline must be complied with by those who seek to participate, x x x.
x x x
Likewise, R.A. 7941 laid down the definitive sectors covered by the system which include the following: labor, peasant, fisher folk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers and professionals.
Thus, in determining whether or not a party can participate in the party list elections, the Commission (Second Division) is not only bound to verify the veracity of every petition, but also to see to it that members of these organizations belong to the marginalized and the underrepresented. Also put to test here is every petitioner's capacity to represent and voice out the sentiments and needs of the sector it represents. The eight-point guideline also requires that the party or organization seeking registration should lack a well-defined political constituency but could, nonetheless, contribute to the formulation of appropriate legislation to benefit the nation as a whole. Thus, guided by the provisions of R.A. 7941 and the eight point (sic) guideline enunciated in the Ang Bagong Bayani case, the Commission (Second Division) hereby resolves the following petitions for registration.
x x x
CIVIL SERVANTS is an alliance of government employees aimed at advancing the economic and social welfare of government employees, upholding the fundamental rights of civil servants and safeguarding the professional interest of government workers, among others. In its platform of government, CIVIL SERVANTS espouses the principles of efficient civil service, economic and social welfare, upholding the fundamental rights and the professional development of civil servants.
CIVIL SERVANTS likewise claims national constituency and that it has membership throughout the different regions in the country. In support thereof, petitioner presented a picture of their website where they discuss different issues confronting government employees. In relation thereto, petitioner asserts that it had divided itself to (sic) different working committees to address several issues the report of which is to be submitted in an annual meeting to be held on March 2007.
On the issue of petitioner's constituency which it claims to be nationwide, this cannot be established by mere letters to the Commission's Election Officers and providing them with a copy of the list of officers and members. To establish the extent of the constituencies of the different parties and organizations as claimed by them, the Commission directed its Election Officers to verify the existence of petitioner's chapters allegedly present in the NCR and the different regions. The verification report shows that CIVIL SERVANTS exists only in ParaÃ±aque City's (1st and 2nd Districts) and in Quezon City's (4th District), contrary to petitioner's claim of national constituency in its memorandum. For having failed to prove its existence nationwide and for having declared an untruthful statement in its memorandum, We resolve to DENY the instant petition.10
Aggrieved, Civil Servants moved for reconsideration,11 arguing in the main that the law does not require a sectoral organization to have a nationwide presence or existence for it to be registered under the party-list system. It posited that the COMELEC Second Division, in imposing such an additional requirement, went beyond the bounds of the law.
Not persuaded by Civil Servants' arguments, the COMELEC en banc, in the assailed March 26, 2007 Resolution,12 denied the motion. It ruled that Civil Servants' failure to assail the COMELEC Second Division's order requiring proof of existence or presence nationwide, and the subsequent submission of its compliance therewith, which was later found to be insufficient, effectively barred the organization from subsequently questioning the legality of the aforementioned order.13 The COMELEC en banc further ratiocinated that -
Incidentally, the requirement of presence or existence in majority of the regions, provinces, municipalities or cities, as the case may be, is not based on mere whims or caprices of the Commission. It was made a necessity to serve as a gauge in assessing the capacity of the applicant to conduct a campaign and as a proof that it is not just a fly-by-night organization but one which truly represents a particular marginalized and underrepresented sector. It must be remembered that Republic Act 7941 empowers the Commission to ask the applicant to provide other information, which it may deem relevant, in deciding an application for registration of a party, organization or coalitions. It is under this provision that the Commission has required the petitioner to show its existence in the areas it claimed to have members.
At any rate, the Second Division was correct in rejecting the application for registration of the herein petitioner. And with no additional evidence to back the petitioner's claim of existence all over the country, the Commission En Banc cannot do otherwise but to likewise reject this motion for reconsideration.14
Left with no other recourse, petitioner filed the instant case praying for the issuance of a writ of certiorari to nullify the resolutions of respondent, and a writ of mandamus to command the latter to register the former as a sectoral organization.15
We dismiss the petition.
Incumbent on petitioner is the duty to show that the COMELEC, in denying the petition for registration, gravely abused its discretion. By grave abuse of discretion is meant such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. Mere abuse of discretion is not enough. It must be grave, as when it is exercised arbitrarily or despotically by reason of passion or personal hostility. The abuse must be so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty, to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined, or to act at all in contemplation of law.16 Here, petitioner failed to demonstrate, and neither do we find, that the COMELEC, through the questioned issuances, gravely abused its discretion.
We note that in the registration of a party, organization, or coalition under R.A. No. 7941, the COMELEC may require the submission of any relevant information; and it may refuse, after due notice and hearing, the registration of any national, regional or sectoral party, organization or coalition based on any of the grounds enumerated in Section 6 thereof, among which is that the organization has declared untruthful statements in its petition.17 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.
The Court emphasizes that the sole function of a writ of certiorari is to address issues of want of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion and it does not include a review of the tribunal's evaluation of the evidence.18 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.19 The Court is not a trier of facts;20 it is not equipped to receive evidence and determine the truth of factual allegations.21 The Court's function, as mandated by Section 1,22 Article VIII of the Constitution, is merely to check whether or not the governmental branch or agency has gone beyond the constitutional limits of its jurisdiction, not that it erred or has a different view. In the absence of a showing of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction, this Court will have no occasion to exercise its corrective power. It has no authority to inquire into what it thinks is apparent error.23
Thus, in this case, the Court cannot grant the prayer of petitioner for registration as a sectoral party, because to do so will entail an evaluation of the evidence to determine whether indeed petitioner qualifies as a party-list organization and whether it has made untruthful statements in its application for registration.
The dismissal of this petition, however, shall not be taken to mean a preclusion on the part of the petitioner from re-filing an application for registration compliant with the requirements of the law.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Petition for Certiorari and mandamus is DISMISSED.
* On official leave.
1 Penned by Commissioner Resurreccion Z. Borra (retired), with Chairman Benjamin S. Abalos, Sr. (resigned), Commissioners Florentino A. Tuason, Jr. (retired), Romeo A. Brawner (deceased), Rene V. Sarmiento and Nicodemo T. Ferrer, concurring; rollo, pp. 35-39.
2 Penned by Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento, with Commissioners Florentino A. Tuason, Jr. (retired) and Nicodemo T. Ferrer, concurring; rollo, pp. 97-109.
3 Entitled "AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE ELECTION OF PARTY-LIST REPRESENTATIVES THROUGH THE PARTY-LIST SYSTEM, AND APPROPRIATING FUNDS THEREFOR", approved on March 3, 1995.
4 Rollo, pp. 40-41.
5 Id. at 60-61.
6 412 Phil. 308 (2001).
7 Rollo, pp. 62-94.
8 Id. at 95-96.
9 Supra note 2.
10 Rollo, pp. 98-107.
11 Id. at 110-124.
12 Supra note 1.
13 Rollo, p. 37.
14 Id. at 37-38.
15 Id. at 32.
16 Cantoria v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 162035, November 26, 2004, 444 SCRA 538, 543.
17 R.A. No. 7941, Secs. 5 and 6 read in full:
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.
The COMELEC shall publish the petition in at least two (2) national newspapers of general circulation.
The COMELEC shall, after due notice and hearing, resolve the petition within fifteen (15) days from the date it was submitted for decision but in no case not later than sixty (60) days before election.
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:
(1) It is a religious sect or denomination, organization or association, organized for religious purposes;
(2) It advocates violence or unlawful means to seek its goal;
(3) It is a foreign party or organization;
(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.
18 Bantay Republic Act or BA-RA 7941 v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 177271, May 4, 2007, 523 SCRA 1, 11.
19 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, 720; Idulza v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 160130, April 14, 2004, 427 SCRA 701, 707-708.
20 Juan v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 166639, April 24, 2007, 522 SCRA 119, 128.
21 Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party v. COMELEC, supra note 6, at 341.
22 Article VIII, Section 1 of the Constitution reads in full:
Section 1. The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.
Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.
23 Akbayan-Youth v. COMELEC, 407 Phil. 618, 647 (2001); BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) v. Exec. Sec. Zamora, 396 Phil. 623, 664-665 (2000); Co v. Electoral Tribunal of the House of Representatives, G.R. NOS. 92191-92, July 30, 1991, 199 SCRA 692, 701.