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The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation

SUPREME COURT VOTES DOWN (8-6) SPECIAL LIST-UP

The Supreme Court voted 8-6 yesterday (March 26) to deny the consolidated petition of Akbayan Youth and University of the Philippines coed Michelle Betito to compel the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) seeking the special registration of an estimated 4.5 million first-time voters in the May 14 elections.

The Supreme Court (SC) ruled that a special registration cannot be conducted because Republic Act 8189 or the Voter Registration Act of 1996 prohibits such a list-up within 120 days before a regular election.

"We hold that Section 8 of RA 8189 applies in the present case for the purpose of upholding the assailed COMELEC resolution and denying the petitions, considering that the law explicitly provides that no registration shall be conducted during the period starting 120 days before a regular election," the SC said in a 25-page decision penned by Associate Justice Arturo Buena.

Those who concurred with Buena’s decision were Justices Josue Bellosillo, Jose Melo, Santiago Kapunan, Vicente Mendoza, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Sabino de Leon Jr. and Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez.

Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and Associate Justices Artemio Panganiban, Bernardo Pardo, Minerva Gonzaga-Reyes, Leonardo Quisumbing and Jose Vitug voted to the compel the COMELEC to push through with the registration. Associate Justice Reynato Puno was not able to participate because he is on official business in Australia.

The Supreme Court also recognized the operational "impossibility" of conducting the special list-up for lack of time.

"It is well-settled that the law does not require the impossible to be done. The law obliges no one to perform an impossibility. A statute may not be construed as to require compliance with what it prescribes cannot, at the time, be legally accomplished," the decision read.

The petitioners were expected to file motions for reconsideration in view of the strong dissenting opinion expressed by two justices who once served as COMELEC chairmen, Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and Bernardo Pardo.

"It is reasonably expected that the COMELEC under its new leadership would take appropriate action in order not to deprive those who are qualified to vote (of their right) because of the neglect, inaction or delay in its preparation for the coming elections," said Pardo in his 14-page dissenting opinion.

Majority of the justices, however, agreed that while the right to suffrage was not absolute, the law is very clear that those who want to vote must first register.

The high court dismissed the allegations of the petitioners that the COMELEC erred in setting the deadline of the registration on Dec. 27 instead of Jan. 13, which was supposed to be the start of the 120-day election period and that the COMELEC did not commit a grave abuse of discretion when it issued Resolution 3854 on Feb. 8 denying requests for a two-day registration of voters last Feb. 17 and 18.

It is estimated that 4.5 million Filipinos between 18 and 21 years old failed to register for the 1998 national elections and during the continuing registration that ended Dec. 27 last year.

The court echoed Benipayo's position that it was not COMELEC's fault, but the registrants, for failing to list-up in the continuing registration that started in 1999 and ended on Dec. 27, 2000.

There was no evidence that the petitioners had applied to register, which the COMELEC had denied, and neither did they file a complaint before the poll body, the decision said.

The high court noted that even the executive and legislative departments had admitted that there were legal obstacles to the proposed special registration.

This was when President Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation 15 calling Congress to a special session to pass a special registration law.

The court said this act was "an intimation on the part of both the executive and legislative departments that a legal obstacle indeed stands in the way of the conduct of the special registration."

Akbayan and other groups had earlier petitioned the Supreme Court to set aside Resolution 3854 for "being unconstitutional as it effectively causes the disenfranchisement" of those who would not be able to vote on May 14 because they failed to register on time.

"The bare allegation that they were disfranchised...is to our mind, not sufficient," the decision said. "The petitioners are not without fault or blame. They admit in their petition that they failed to register, for whatever reason, within the period of registration and came to this court and invoked its protective mantle not realizing, so to speak, the speck in their eyes."

"Well-entrenched is the rule in our jurisdiction that the law aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights," it said.

While it noted that the right to vote is provided under the Constitution, such right is not absolute and must be exercised "within the proper bounds and framework" of the charter. The right of suffrage, the court said, "must properly yield to pertinent laws skillfully enacted by the legislature, which statutes for all intents and purposes, are crafted to effectively insulate such cherished right from ravishment and preserve the democratic institutions."

The tribunal added that the a special registration should not be relegated to the "lowly stature" of a mere requirement to vote but a "necessary requisite to the right to vote."

Malacañang yesterday said it found it unfortunate that the Supreme Court had ruled against the holding of a special registration, but added the issue augured good things for democracy and justice in the country.

The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation