Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 78994 March 11, 1988
JOSE ACUNA BAUTISTA, ALSO KNOWN AS "RAMON REVILLA",
COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS.
Petitioner, an independent candidate for Senator in the May 11, 1987 elections, alleges in this petition for mandamus and prohibition that after his certificate of candidacy was given due course by respondent Commission on Elections, he filed a petition praying that his screen name "Ramon Revilla" by which he is more popularly known be printed ahead of his real name. The COMELEC denied Ms petition in a resolution dated April 1, 1987 on the ground that to grant the same would confer on petitioner an advantage not enjoyed by the other candidates and is tantamount to promoting his candidacy. In any event, the resolution notes that the COMELEC is required to post inside the polling booth, pursuant to Section 158 of the Omnibus Election Code, the certified list of candidates including the nicknames or stage names of candidates appearing opposite their respective names as contained in their certificates of candidacy. In his campaign posters and campaign materials, petitioner made use of his screen name "Ramon Revilla" in order that the votes for Ramon Revilla will be credited in his favor.
According to petitioner, he discovered on election day that his stage name was not included in all election forms issued by respondent COMELEC, thus causing confusion to the voters and Boards of Election Inspectors and that nevertheless, millions of voters voted for "Ramon Revilla" but all those votes for Ramon Revilla were not validated by the Boards of Election Inspectors and considered as stray to his damage and prejudice.
On May 29, 1987, petitioner filed another petition with respondent COMELEC (Comelec Spc No. 87-445) for a recount of his votes and to hold in abeyance the proclamation of the senators-elect particularly the two remaining slots but the COMELEC did not act upon his petition nor set it for hearing notwithstanding his allegation that if a recount were ordered, he may still come out one of the winners. Petitioner prayed for issuance of a restraining order enjoining the COMELEC from proclaiming the last two winning senatorial candidates and that the COMELEC be ordered to recount the votes cast for him throughout the country.
The Solicitor General, in his comment on behalf of the COMELEC, replied inter alia that the alleged non-validation of the votes cast for "Ramon Revilla" or "Revilla" claimed by petitioner is not proper for a pre- proclamation controversy but may be invoked as possible ground for an election protest which is within the sole jurisdiction of the Senate Electoral Tribunal and that the petitioner has not shown by competent evidence that a recount of the ballots would materially affect the result of the election such that he could claim to obtain at least the 24th highest number of votes. In the COMELEC tally as of July 17, 1987, petitioner was ranked No. 33 with total votes of 204,808 while the 24th ranking candidate Juan Ponce Enrile had a total of 7,963,353 votes or 2,758,545 votes above petitioner.
We find no merit in the petition. The grounds invoked by petitioner for a recount involve appreciation of the ballots cast, i.e., whether votes for 'Ramon Revilla' should be credited to him pursuant to Section 211, No. 13 of the Omnibus Election Code- Assuming there were errors in the appreciation as alleged by petitioner, these should have been raised and threshed out at the precinct level before the Boards of Election Inspectors. They are not grounds for recount or re-appreciation of the ballots cast. In Augusto S. Sanchez vs. Commission on Elections (G.R. No. 78461 and companion cases, promulgated August 12, 1987), which is fully applicable here mutatis mutandis, the Court held once again that errors in the appreciation of ballots by the board of inspectors are proper subjects for election protest and not for recount or re-appreciation of the ballots. Thus:
. . . the Court rules that Sanchez' petition for recount and/or reappreciation of the ballots cast in the senatorial elections does not present a proper issue for a summary pre-proclamation controversy. Considerations of definition, usage, doctrinal jurisprudence and public policy demand such a ruling,
1. Sanchez anchors his petition for recount and/or re-appreciation on Section 243, paragraph (b) of the Omnibus Election Code in relation to Section 234 thereof with regard to material defects in canvassed election returns. . . .
. . . The fact that some votes written solely as 'Sanchez' were declared stray votes because of the inspectors' erroneous belief that Gil Sanches had not been disqualified as a candidate, it involves an erroneous appreciation of the ballots. It is established by the law as well as jurisprudence (the cited section being a substantial reproduction of Section 172 of the 1978 Election Code and previous election laws) that errors in the appreciation of ballots by the board of inspectors are proper subject for election protest and not for recount or re-appreciation of the ballots.
2. The appreciation of the ballots cast in the precincts is not a .proceeding of the board of canvassers' for purposes of pre-proclamation proceedings under Section 241, Omnibus Election Code, but of the boards of election inspectors who are called upon to count and appreciate the votes in accordance with the rules of appreciation provided in Section 211, Omnibus Election Code. Otherwise stated, the appreciation of ballots is not part of the proceedings of the board of canvassers. The function of ballots appreciation is performed by the boards of election inspectors at the precinct level.
3. The scope of pre-proclamation controversy is limited to the issues enumerated under Sec. 243 of the Omnibus Election Code. The enumeration therein of the issues that may be raised in pre-proclamation controversy, is restrictive and exclusive. In the absence of any clear showing or proof that the election returns canvassed are incomplete or contain material defects (Sec. 234), appear to have been tampered with, falsified or prepared under duress (Sec. 235) and/or contain discrepancies in the votes credited to any candidate, the difference of which affects the result of the election (Sec. 236), which are the only instances where a pre-proclamation recount may be resorted to, granted the preservation of the integrity of the ballot box and its contents, Sanchez' petition must fail. The complete election returns whose authenticity is not in question, must be prima facie considered, valid for the purpose of canvassing the same and proclamation of the winning candidates.
4. To expand the issues beyond those enumerated under Sec. 243 and allow a recount/re-appreciation of votes in every instance where a claim of misdeclaration of stray votes is made would open the floodgates to such claims and paralyze canvass and proclamation proceedings, given the propensity of the losers to demand a recount. The law and public policy mandate that all pre-proclamation controversies shall be heard summarily by the Commission after due notice and hearing and just as summarily decided. (Sec. 246, Omnibus Election Code).
5. The Court has always stressed as in Alonto vs. Comelec (22 SCRA 878, 884, per Reyes, J.B.L.) that "the policy of the election law is that pre-proclamation controversies should be summarily decided, consistent with the law's desire that the canvass and proclamation be delayed as little as possible. ... To allow the recount here notwithstanding the multifarious administrative and financial problems of conducting such a recount, as enumerated by the Comelec in its two decision when now three months after the elections the question of who is entitled to the 24th seat of the Senate would remain unresolved for how long no one can tell - unthinkable and certainly contrary to public policy and the mandate of the law that the results of the election be canvassed and reported immediately on the basis of the authentic returns which must be- accorded prima facie status as bona fide reports of the votes cast for and obtained by the candidates (Bashier vs. Comelec, 43 SCRA 238; Anni vs. Izquierdo, 57 SCRA 692).
6. Election cases involve not only the adjudication of the private interest of rival candidates but also the paramount need of dispelling the uncertainty which beclouds the real choice of the electorate with respect to who shall discharge the prerogatives of the offices within their gift. They are imbued with public interest. (Vda. de Mesa vs. Mencias, 18 SCRA 533, 538).
7. The ground for recount relied upon by Sanchez is clearly not among the issues that may be raised in a pre-proclamation controversy. His allegation of invalidation of "Sanchez" votes intended for him bear no relation to the correctness and authenticity of the election return canvassed. Neither the Constitution nor statute has granted the Comelec or the board of canvassers the power in the canvass of election returns to look beyond the face thereof, once satisfied of their authenticity (Abes vs. Comelec, 21 SCRA 1252,1256).
We make the same ruling here. The ground for recount relied upon by petitioner Bautista is not among the issues that may be raised in a pre-proclamation controversy. His allegation of invalidation by the board of election inspectors of "Ramon Revilla" votes intended for him bears no relation to the correctness and authenticity of the election returns canvassed. Hence, the said votes may not be recounted and/or re-appreciated in a pre-proclamation controversy because the appreciation of ballots is not part of the proceedings of respondent COMELEC acting as a national board of canvassers but is a proper subject for election protest which pertains to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Senate Electoral Tribunal. The proclamation of the winning Senators in the May 11, 1987 Congressional Elections has long been completed since last year with the Court's determination of the Sanchez-Enrile contest for the 24th seat of the Senate, supra. Hence, the petition should be, as it is hereby, DISMISSED."
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