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CCHOPE ELECTION 2001

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Succinctly stated, laws and statutes governing election contests especially the appreciation of ballots must be liberally construed to the end that the will of the electorate in the choice of public officials may not be defeated by technical infirmities.  In applying elections laws, it would be far better to err in favor of popular sovereignty than to be right in complex but little understood legalisms.

It must be borne in mind that the purpose of governing statutes on the conduct of elections –

…[i]s to protect the integrity of elections to suppress all evils that may violate its purity and defeat the will of the voters. The purity of the elections is one of the most fundamental requisites of popular government. The Commission on Elections, by constitutional mandate must do everything in its power to secure a fair and honest canvass of the votes cast in the elections. In the performance of its duties, the Commission must be given a considerable latitude in adopting means and methods that will insure the accomplishment of the great objective for which it was created – to promote free, orderly and honest elections. The choice of means taken by the Commission on Elections, unless they are clearly illegal or constitute grave abuse of discretion, should not be interfered with.21 [Cauton v. COMELEC, 19 SCRA 911 [1967].]

Section 2 (1) of Article IX of the Constitution gives the COMELEC the broad power to "enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall." There can hardly be any doubt that the text and intent of this constitutional provision is to give COMELEC all the necessary and incidental powers for it to achieve the holding of free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections.

In accordance with this intent, the Court has been liberal in defining the parameters of the COMELEC’s powers in conducting elections. Sumulong v. COMELEC22 [73 Phil. 288 [1941].] aptly points out that –

Politics is a practical matter, and political questions must be dealt with realistically – not from the standpoint of pure theory. The Commission on Elections, because of its fact-finding facilities, its contacts with political strategists, and its knowledge derived from actual experience in dealing with political controversies, is in a peculiarly advantageous position to decide complex political questions xxx. There are no ready made formulas for solving public problems. Time and experience are necessary to evolve patterns that will serve the ends of good government. In the matter of the administration of laws relative to the conduct of election xxx we must not by any excessive zeal take away from the Commission on Elections that initiative which by constitutional and legal mandates properly belongs to it.

Succinctly stated, laws and statutes governing election contests especially the appreciation of ballots must be liberally construed to the end that the will of the electorate in the choice of public officials may not be defeated by technical infirmities.23 [Pangandaman v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 134340, 25 November 1999, p. 1, citing Punzalan v. COMELEC, 289 SCRA 702 [1998], citing Bince, Jr. v. COMELEC, 242 SCRA 273 [1995]; Pahilan v. Tabalba, 230 SCRA 205 [1994]; Aruelo, Jr. v. CA, 227 SCRA 311 [1993]; Tatlonghari v. COMELEC, 199 SCRA 849 [1991]; Unda v. COMELEC, 190 SCRA 827 [1990]; De Leon v. Guadiz, Jr., 104 SCRA 591 [1981].] An election protest is imbued with public interest so much so that the need to dispel uncertainties which becloud the real choice of the people is imperative,24 [Punzalan v. COMELEC, supra.] much more so in this case considering that a mere twenty (20) votes separates the winner from the loser of the contested election results.

As aptly observed by the COMELEC in the challenged Resolution, these grounds are "evidentiary in nature and can be best ventilated during the trial of the case."38 [Rollo, p. 40; Annex A, Petition, p. 9.] It needs be stressed in this regard that the purpose of an election protest is to ascertain whether the candidate proclaimed elected by the board of canvassers is really the lawful choice of the electorate.39 [Agpalo R., The Law On Public Officers, 1st ed. (1998), p. 58.] In an election contest where the correctness of the number of votes is involved, the best and most conclusive evidence are the ballots themselves; where the ballots can not be produced or are not available, the election returns would be the best evidence.40 [Lerias v. HRET, 202 SCRA 808 [1991].] In this case, the counted official ballots are available and there is no evidence, other than the bare allegation of petitioner, that the sanctity of the ballot boxes subject matter of the protest have been violated or the official ballots contained therein impaired. The best way, therefore, to test the truthfulness of petitioner’s claim is to open the ballot boxes in the protested precincts followed by the examination, revision, recounting and re-appreciation of the official ballots therein contained in accordance with law and pertinent rules on the matter. Needless to state this can only be done through a full-blown trial on the merits, not a peremptory resolution of the motion to dismiss on the basis of the bare and one-sided averments made therein.

Petitioner’s reliance on COMELEC Resolution No. 2868 41 [Rollo, pp. 45-47; Annex C, Petition, which provides, inter alia, that:

SEC. 2. Filing of Protest. – Any losing candidate, who registers his objections on the rejection of ballots, may file a protest with the Commission within ten (10) days from proclamation of the winning candidates in accordance with the Comelec Rules of Procedure.

Only rejected ballots and ballots manually counted shall be the subject of protest.

SEC. 3. Examination of rejected ballots. – In determining the intent of the voter in the case of rejected ballots, the rejection of which have been objected to and noted in the Minute of Counting, the Commission shall examine and appreciate the rejected ballots concerned applying the provision of Section 7 of Resolution No. 2862 (Rules and Regulations on the Manual Counting and Canvassing of Votes in Case of Failure of the Automated Counting System in the September 9, 1996 Elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao [ARMM], promulgated 14 August 1996).] to support his restrictive claim that only rejected ballots or ballots manually counted in case of failure of the automated counting machines are the proper subjects of an election protest, is just as unpersuasive.

There is admittedly a lacuna leges in R.A. No. 8436 which prescribes the adoption of an automated election system. However, while conceding as much, this Court ruled in Tupay Loong v. COMELEC,42 [G.R. No. 133676, 14 April 1999, 305 SCRA 832.] that the Commission is nevertheless not precluded from conducting a manual count when the automated counting system fails, reasoning thus:

… In enacting R.A. No. 8436, Congress obviously failed to provide a remedy where the error in counting is not machine related for human foresight is not all-seeing. We hold, however, that the vacuum in the law cannot prevent the COMELEC from levitating above the problem. Section 2(1) of Article IX (C) of the Constitution gives the COMELEC the broad power "to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall." Undoubtedly, the text and intent of this provision is to give the COMELEC all the necessary and incidental powers for it to achieve the objective of holding free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections. Congruent to this intent, this Court has not been niggardly in defining the parameters of powers of COMELEC in the conduct of our elections … In the case at bar, the COMELEC order for a manual count was not only reasonable. It was the only way to count the decisive local votes ... The bottom line is that by means of the manual count, the will of the voters of Sulu was honestly determined. We cannot kick away the will of the people by giving a literal interpretation to R.A. 8436. R.A. 8436 did not prohibit manual counting when machine count does not work. Counting is part and parcel of the conduct of an election which is under the control and supervision of the COMELEC…

… Our elections are not conducted under laboratory conditions. In running for public offices, candidates do not follow the rules of Emily Post. Too often, COMELEC has to make snap judgments to meet unforeseen circumstances that threaten to subvert the will of our voters. In the process, the actions of COMELEC may not be impeccable, indeed, may even be debatable. We cannot, however, engage in a swivel chair criticism of these actions often taken under very difficult circumstances.

Verily, the legal compass from which the COMELEC should take its bearings in acting upon election controversies is the principle that "clean elections control the appropriateness of the remedy."43 [Pangandaman v. COMELEC, supra, citing Pacis v. COMELEC, 25 SCRA 377 [1968].]

Be that as it may, the fact is the averments in petitioner’s counter-protest and private respondent’s protest already justified the determination of the issues through a judicial revision and recounting of the ballots pursuant to Section 255 of the Omnibus Election Code which provides that –

Sec. 255. Judicial counting of votes in election contest.- Where allegations in a protest or counter-protest so warrant or whenever in the opinion of the court the interests of justice so require, it shall immediately order the book of voters, ballot boxes and their keys, ballots and other documents used in the election be brought before it and that the ballots be examined and votes recounted. (Italics supplied)

So too must fall petitioner’s procedural objection that private respondent should be faulted for forum-shopping vis-ŕ-vis this Court’s pronouncement in Samad v. COMELEC44 [224 SCRA 631 [1993].] which states in no uncertain terms that –

As a general rule, the filing of an election protest or a petition for quo warranto precludes the subsequent filing of a pre-proclamation controversy, or amounts to the abandonment of one earlier filed, thus depriving the COMELEC of the authority to inquire into and pass upon the title of the protestee or the validity of his proclamation. The reason is that once the competent tribunal has acquired jurisdiction of an election protest or a petition for quo warranto, all questions relative thereto will have to be decided in the case itself and not in another proceeding. This procedure will prevent confusion and conflict of authority. Conformably, we have ruled in a number of cases that after a proclamation has been made, a pre-proclamation case before the COMELEC is no longer viable.

The rule admits of exceptions, however, as where: (1) the board of canvassers was improperly constituted; (2) quo warranto was not the proper remedy; (3) what was filed was not really a petition for quo warranto or an election protest but a petition to annul a proclamation; (4) the filing of a quo warranto petition or an election protest was expressly made without prejudice to the pre-proclamation controversy or was made ad cautelam; and (5) the proclamation was null and void.

Petitioner’s argument that the filing of a motion to dismiss in an election contest filed with a regular court is not a prohibited pleading is well taken. As we pointed out in Melendres, Jr. v. COMELEC: 45 [G.R. No. 129958, 25 November 1999, pp. 15-16.]

Neither can petitioner seek refuge behind his argument that the motion to dismiss filed by private respondent is a prohibited pleading under Section 1, Rule 13 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure because the said provision refers to proceedings filed before the COMELEC. The applicable provisions on the matter are found in Part VI of the Rules of Procedure titled "PROVISIONS GOVERNING ELECTION CONTESTS BEFORE TRIAL COURT" and as this Court pointedly stated in Aruelo v. Court of Appeals46 [227 SCRA 311 [1993].]

It must be noted that nowhere in Part VI of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure is it provided that motions to dismiss and bill of particulars are not allowed in election protests or quo warranto cases pending before regular courts.

Constitutionally speaking, the COMELEC cannot adopt a rule prohibiting the filing of a certain pleading in the regular courts. The power to promulgate rules concerning pleadings, practice and procedure in all courts is vested in the Supreme Court.47 [Citing Article VIII, Section 5 (5), Constitution.]

The foregoing pronouncement, however, will not extricate petitioner from his predicament because the denial of petitioner’s motion to dismiss was based on the fact that the other grounds relied therein was considered unmeritorious and not because the said motion is a prohibited pleading in electoral protest cases. While the challenged COMELEC Resolution may not have been entirely correct in dismissing the petition in this regard, the soundness of its discretion to accord unto the trial court the competence to resolve the factual issues raised in the controversy cannot be doubted. Indeed, as reasoned by the COMELEC, the –

… Commission assumes the competence of the trial court to handle electoral protest and cannot encroach on its original and exclusive jurisdiction on electoral protest cases involving the contested mayoralty seat. To our mind, the trial court should be allowed to resolve the case on the merits to be able to rule on the factual and legal grounds raised by the petitioner as his defenses in his Answer. Should the petitioner be dissatisfied with the outcome of the case in the lower court, he can still appeal, as his relief, to this Commission within the reglementary period provided by law.

Moreover –

At balance, the question really boils down to a choice of philosophy and perception of how to interpret and apply the laws relating to elections; literal or liberal; the letter or the spirit; the naked provision or the ultimate purpose; legal syllogism or substantial justice; in isolation or in the context of social conditions; harshly against or gently in favor of the voter’s obvious choice. In applying elections laws, it would be far better to err in favor of popular sovereignty than to be right in complex but little understood legalisms.48 [Frivaldo v. COMELEC, 257 SCRA 727 [1996].]

Ynares-Santiago, En Banc, Maruhom v. COMELEC and Dimaporo, [G.R. No. 139357. May 5, 2000]

 

t is a basic precept in statutory construction that a statute should be interpreted in harmony with the Constitution and that the spirit, rather than the letter of the law determines its construction; for that reason, a statute must be read according to its spirit and intent.4 [Paras v. COMELEC, 264 SCRA 49 (1996), citing PLDT v. Collector of Internal Revenue, 90 Phil. 674 (1952)] Thus, a too literal interpretation of the law that would lead to absurdity prompted this Court to –

"…[a]dmonish against a too–literal reading of the law as this is apt to constrict rather than fulfill its purpose and defeat the intention of its authors. That intention is usually found not in ‘the letter that killeth but in the spirit that vivifieth’ xxx"5 [Paras v. COMELEC, supra, p. 55, citing People v. Salas, 143 SCRA 163 (1986)]

Section 2 (1) of Article IX (C) of the Constitution gives the COMELEC the broad power to "enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall." There can hardly be any doubt that the text and intent of this constitutional provision is to give COMELEC all the necessary and incidental powers for it to achieve the objective of holding free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections.

Pursuant to this intent, this Court has been liberal in defining the parameters of the COMELEC’s powers in conducting elections. As stated in the old but nevertheless still very much applicable case of Sumulong v. COMELEC:6 [73 Phil. 288 (1941)]

"Politics is a practical matter, and political questions must be dealt with realistically – not from the standpoint of pure theory. The Commission on Elections, because of its fact-finding facilities, its contacts with political strategists, and its knowledge derived from actual experience in dealing with political controversies, is in a peculiarly advantageous position to decide complex political questions xxx. There are no ready made formulas for solving public problems. Time and experience are necessary to evolve patterns that will serve the ends of good government. In the matter of the administration of laws relative to the conduct of election xxx we must not by any excessive zeal take away from the Commission on Elections that initiative which by constitutional and legal mandates properly belongs to it."

More pointedly, this Court recently stated in Tupay Loong v. COMELEC, et al.,7 [See note no. 1.] that "[O]ur elections are not conducted under laboratory conditions. In running for public offices, candidates do not follow the rules of Emily Post. Too often, COMELEC has to make snap judgments to meet unforeseen circumstances that threaten to subvert the will of our voters. In the process, the actions of COMELEC may not be impeccable, indeed, may even be debatable. We cannot, however, engage in a swivel chair criticism of these actions often taken under very difficult circumstances."

The purpose of the governing statutes on the conduct of elections –

‘… [i]s to protect the integrity of elections to suppress all evils that may violate its purity and defeat the will of the voters. The purity of the elections is one of the most fundamental requisites of popular government. The Commission on Elections, by constitutional mandate, must do everything in its power to secure a fair and honest canvass of the votes cast in the elections. In the performance of its duties, the Commission must be given a considerable latitude in adopting means and methods that will insure the accomplishment of the great objective for which it was created – to promote free, orderly, and honest elections. The choice of means taken by the Commission on Elections, unless they are clearly illegal or constitute grave abuse of discretion, should not be interfered with."8 [Cauton v. COMELEC, 19 SCRA 911 (1967)]

Guided by the above-quoted pronouncement, the legal compass from which the COMELEC should take its bearings in acting upon election controversies is the principle that "clean elections control the appropriateness of the remedy."9 [Pacis v. COMELEC, 25 SCRA 377 (1968)]

 

En Banc, Ynares-Santiago, LININDING PANGANDAMAN, petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, PROVINCIAL BOARD OF CANVASSERS OF LANAO DEL SUR, MAHED MUTILAN, ALEEM, AMERRODIN SARANGANI and NARRA ABDUL JABBAR JIALIL, respondents. [G.R. No. 134340. November 25, 1999]



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Last Updated: Monday, April 23, 2001 12:21:16 PM