Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 180164             June 17, 2008
FLORENTINO P. BLANCO, petitioner,
THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and EDUARDO A. ALARILLA, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This is a petition for certiorari1 alleging that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), Second Division, acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in issuing the Resolution dated August 28, 2007 disqualifying petitioner from running for an elective office in the May 14, 2007 National and Local Elections.
The facts are as follows:
Petitioner Florentino P. Blanco was the mayor of Meycauayan, Bulacan from 1987 up to 1992.
During the May 8, 1995 elections, petition ran as a candidate for the same mayoralty position and won during the canvassing by more than 6,000 votes over private respondent Eduardo A. Alarilla. Private respondent filed a petition for the disqualification of petitioner on the ground of vote-buying which resulted in the suspension of petitioner's proclamation.
On August 15, 1995, public respondent issued a resolution disqualifying petitioner as candidate for the said position due to violation of Sec. 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code. This Court affirmed the disqualification under Sec. 68 of the Omnibus Election Code in Blanco v. COMELEC, 2 G.R. No. 122258, which was promulgated on July 21, 1997.
During the 1998 elections, petitioner again ran as a mayoralty candidate. Domiciano G. Ruiz, a voter of Meycauayan, Bulacan, sought to disqualify him on the basis of the Court's ruling in G.R. No. 122258.
On April 30, 1998, the COMELEC, Second Division, issued a resolution in SPA No. 98-043 dismissing the petition for disqualification on the ground that petitioner was not disqualified under Sec. 68 of the Omnibus Election Code as his previous disqualification in the May 8, 1995 elections attached only during that particular election.
Moreover, the COMELEC stated that "no criminal action was instituted against [petitioner], much less a judgment of conviction for vote-buying under Sec. 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code has been rendered against [petitioner] in order that Section 264 of the same [Code] providing for the accessory penalty of disqualification from holding public office may attach to [petitioner]."
During the May 14, 2001 elections, petitioner again ran for a mayoralty position, but private respondent sought petitioner's disqualification based on the Court's ruling in G.R. No. 122258.
On May 11, 2001, the COMELEC, Second Division, issued a resolution in SPA No. 01-050, this time disqualifying petitioner from running for a mayoralty position in the May 14, 2001 elections under Sec. 40 (b) of the Local Government Code for having been removed from office through an administrative case. It denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration for having been filed beyond the 5-day reglementary period.
During the May 10, 2004 elections, petitioner again ran as a mayoralty candidate, but private respondent sought to disqualify him based on the Court's ruling in G.R. No. 122258. Petitioner withdrew his certificate of candidacy, so the petition for disqualification was dismissed for being moot.
Apprehensive that he would encounter another petition for disqualification in succeeding elections, petitioner filed a petition for declaratory relief before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Malolos, Bulacan, for the issuance of a judgment declaring him eligible to run for public office in contemplation of Sec. 40 (b) of the Local Government Code and Secs. 68, 261(a) and 264 of the Omnibus Election Code.
In a Decision dated November 6, 2005, the RTC declared petitioner eligible to run for an elective office.
During the May 14, 2007 elections, petitioner ran anew for a mayoralty position. Again, private respondent sought the disqualification of petitioner based on the Court's ruling in G.R. No. 122258 and the COMELEC Resolution dated May 11, 2001 in SPA No. 01-050.
On August 28, 2007, the COMELEC, Second Division, issued a resolution in SPA Case No. 07-410 disqualifying petitioner from running in the May 14, 2007 elections on the ground that Blanco v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 122258, affirmed its disqualification of petitioner in the May 8, 1995 elections, and that the COMELEC Resolution in SPA No. 01-050 also disqualified petitioner under Sec. 40 (b) of the Local Government Code. The COMELEC stated that since petitioner failed to show that he had been bestowed a presidential pardon, amnesty or other form of executive clemency, there is no reason to disturb its findings in SPA No. 01-050.
Hence, this petition praying that the COMELEC Resolution dated August 28, 2007 be reversed and set aside, and that petitioner be declared as eligible to run for public office.
Petitioner raised these issues:
WHETHER OR NOT THE COMELEC, SECOND DIVISION, GRAVELY ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN RULING THAT PETITIONER IS DISQUALIFIED TO RUN FOR AN ELECTIVE OFFICE BY REASON OF THE COURT'S RULING IN BLANCO V. COMELEC, G.R. NO. 122258, AS WELL AS THE RESOLUTION OF THE COMELEC IN SPA NO. 01-050.
WHETHER OR NOT THE COMELEC, SECOND DIVISION, GRAVELY ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN RULING THAT PETITIONER IS DISQUALIFIED TO RUN FOR AN ELECTIVE OFFICE SINCE HE HAS NOT BEEN BESTOWED A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON, AMNESTY OR ANY FORM OF EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY.3
The initial issue that has to be determined is whether the Court can take cognizance of this case since petitioner did not file a motion for reconsideration of the Resolution of the COMELEC, Second Division before the COMELEC en banc as he went directly to this Court by filing this petition "in accordance with Sec. 7 of Article IX-A of the Constitution," which provides:
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.
Soriano v. COMELEC4 and Repol v. COMELEC5 gave the Court's interpretation of Sec. 7, Article IX-A of the Constitution, thus:
We have interpreted this constitutional provision to mean final orders, rulings and decisions of the COMELEC rendered in the exercise of its adjudicatory or quasi-judicial powers. The decision must be a final decision or resolution of the COMELEC en banc. The Supreme Court has no power to review via certiorari an interlocutory order or even a final resolution of a Division of the COMELEC. Failure to abide by this procedural requirement constitutes a ground for dismissal of the petition.
However, this rule is not ironclad. In ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation v. COMELEC, we stated -
This Court, however, has ruled in the past that this procedural requirement [of filing a motion for reconsideration] may be glossed over to prevent a miscarriage of justice, when the issue involves the principle of social justice or the protection of labor, when the decision or resolution sought to be set aside is a nullity, or when the need for relief is extremely urgent and certiorari is the only adequate and speedy remedy available.6
The Court holds that direct resort to this Court through a special civil action for certiorari is justified in this case since the Resolution sought to be set aside is a nullity. The holding of periodic elections is a basic feature of our democratic government.7 Setting aside the resolution of the issue will only postpone a task that could well crop up again in future elections.8
In this case, petitioner contends that in Blanco v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 122258, he was found only administratively liable for vote-buying in the 1995 elections and was disqualified under Sec. 68 of the Omnibus Election Code, and that he was not disqualified under Sec. 261(a) and Sec. 264 of the Omnibus Election Code since no criminal action was filed against him. He submits that his disqualification was limited only to the 1995 elections and that it did not bar him from running for public office in the succeeding elections.
Petitioner's contention is meritorious.
The Court notes that the Office of the Solicitor General, in its Comment, found this petition meritorious.
Petitioner's disqualification in 1995 in Blanco v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 122258, was based on Sec. 68 of the Omnibus Election Code, although the COMELEC, Second Division, pronounced that petitioner violated 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code.
Sec. 68 and Sec. 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code provide:
Sec. 68. Disqualifications. - Any candidate who, in an action or protest in which he was a party is declared by final decision of a competent court guilty of, or found by the Commission of having (a) given money or other material consideration to influence, induce or corrupt the voters or public officials performing electoral functions; (b) committed acts of terrorism to enhance his candidacy; (c) spent in his election campaign an amount in excess of that allowed by this Code; (d) solicited, received or made any contribution prohibited under Sections 89, 95, 96, 97 and 104; or (e) violated any of Sections 80, 83, 85, 86 and 261, paragraphs d, e, k, v, and cc, subparagraph 6, shall be disqualified from continuing as a candidate, or if he has been elected, from holding the office. Any person who is a permanent resident of or an immigrant to a foreign country shall not be qualified to run for any elective office under this Code, unless said person has waived his status as permanent resident or immigrant of a foreign country in accordance with the residence requirement provided for in the election laws.9
Sec. 261. Prohibited Acts. - The following shall be guilty of an election offense:
(a) Vote-buying and vote-selling. - (1) Any person who gives, offers or promises money or anything of value, gives or promises any office or employment, franchise or grant, public or private, or makes or offers to make an expenditure, directly or indirectly, or cause an expenditure to be made to any person, association, corporation, entity, or community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate or withhold his vote in the election, or to vote for or against any aspirant for the nomination or choice of a candidate in a convention or similar selection process of a political party.
In Blanco v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 122258, the Court held:
. . . Vote-buying has its criminal and electoral aspects. Its criminal aspect to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused cannot be the subject of summary hearing. However, its electoral aspect to ascertain whether the offender should be disqualified from office can be determined in an administrative proceeding that is summary in character. 10
In Lanot v. COMELEC,11 the Court further explained:
. . . The electoral aspect of a disqualification case determines whether the offender should be disqualified from being a candidate or from holding office. Proceedings are summary in character and require only clear preponderance of evidence. An erring candidate may be disqualified even without prior determination of probable cause in a preliminary investigation. The electoral aspect may proceed independently of the criminal aspect, and vice versa.
The criminal aspect of a disqualification case determines whether there is probable cause to charge a candidate for an election offense. The prosecutor is the COMELEC, through its Law Department, which determines whether probable cause exists. If there is probable cause, the COMELEC, through its Law Department, files the criminal information before the proper court. Proceedings before the proper court demand a full-blown hearing and require proof beyond reasonable doubt to convict. A criminal conviction shall result in the disqualification of the offender, which may even include disqualification from holding a future public office.12
Petitioner's disqualification in 1995 was resolved by the COMELEC in a summary proceeding. The COMELEC only determined the electoral aspect of whether petitioner should be disqualified as a candidate. It resolved "to DISQUALIFY [petitioner] Florentino P. Blanco as a candidate for the Office of Mayor of Meycauayan, Bulacan in the May 8, 1995 elections for having violated Section 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code." This Court, in G.R. No. 122258, affirmed only the electoral aspect of the disqualification made by COMELEC, which falls under Sec. 68 of the Omnibus Election Code:
Sec. 68. Disqualifications. - Any candidate who, in an action or protest in which he was a party is declared by final decision of a competent court guilty of, or found by the Commission of having (a) given money or other material consideration to influence, induce or corrupt the voters or public officials performing electoral functions x x x shall be disqualified from continuing as a candidate, or if he has been elected, from holding the office. . . .
Hence, in G.R. No. 122258, petitioner was disqualified from continuing as a candidate only in the May 8, 1995 elections.
Relevant to this case is Codilla v. De Venecia,13 which held that the jurisdiction of the COMELEC to disqualify candidates is limited to those enumerated in Sec. 68 of the Omnibus Election Code, thus:
. . . [T]he jurisdiction of the COMELEC to disqualify candidates is limited to those enumerated in section 68 of the Omnibus Election Code. All other election offenses are beyond the ambit of COMELEC jurisdiction. They are criminal and not administrative in nature. Pursuant to sections 265 and 268 of the Omnibus Election Code, the power of the COMELEC is confined to the conduct of preliminary investigation on the alleged election offenses for the purpose of prosecuting the alleged offenders before the regular courts of justice, viz:
Section 265. Prosecution. - The Commission shall, through its duly authorized legal officers, have the exclusive power to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses punishable under this Code, and to prosecute the same. The Commission may avail of the assistance of other prosecuting arms of the government: Provided, however, That in the event that the Commission fails to act on any complaint within four months from its filing, the complainant may file the complaint with the office of the fiscal or with the Ministry of Justice for proper investigation and prosecution, if warranted.
x x x
Section 268. Jurisdiction of courts. - The regional trial court shall have the exclusive original jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceeding for violation of this Code, except those relating to the offense of failure to register or failure to vote which shall be under the jurisdictions of metropolitan or municipal trial courts. From the decision of the courts, appeal will lie as in other criminal cases.14
The records did not show that a criminal complaint was filed against petitioner for the election offense of vote-buying under Sec. 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code. There was also no evidence that the accessory penalty of disqualification to hold public office under Sec. 26415 of the same Code was imposed on petitioner by the proper court as a consequence of conviction for an election offense.
Since there is no proof that petitioner was convicted of an election offense under the Omnibus Election Code and sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office, the COMELEC, Second Division, committed grave abuse of discretion in pronouncing that absent any showing that petitioner had been bestowed a presidential pardon, amnesty or any other form of executive clemency, petitioner's disqualification from being a candidate for an elective position remains.
In view of the above ruling, the second issue raised by petitioner regarding the necessity of a presidential pardon in order for him to be able to run for an elective office need not be discussed.
Petitioner also contends that the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in ruling that he was disqualified from running for a mayoralty position under Sec. 40 (b) of the Local Government Code16 for having been removed from office as a result of an administrative case.
Petitioner's contention is meritorious.
Removal from office entails the ouster of an incumbent before the expiration of his term.17 In G.R No. 122258, petitioner was disqualified from continuing as a candidate for the mayoralty position in the May 8, 1995 elections. The suspension of his proclamation was made permanent, so petitioner never held office from which he could be removed.
In fine, therefore, the COMELEC, Second Division, committed grave abuse of discretion in disqualifying petitioner from running for an elective position under Sec. 40 (b) of the Local Government Code in its Resolutions in SPA No. 01-050 dated May 11, 2001 and in SPA No. 07-410 dated August 28, 2007. The grave abuse of discretion attending the Resolution in this case is tantamount to lack of jurisdiction and thus renders it a nullity, thereby allowing this Court to grant this petition directly against the Resolution of the COMELEC's Second Division.18
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Resolution of the COMELEC, Second Division, in SPA Case No. 07-410, promulgated on August 28, 2007, is declared NULL and SET ASIDE, and petitioner Florentino P. Blanco is held eligible to run for an elective office.
ADOLFO S. AZCUNA
REYNATO S. PUNO
LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
RENATO C. CORONA
*CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
DANTE O. TINGA
MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO
*PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
*ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
RUBEN T. REYES
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
ARTURO D. BRION
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.
REYNATO S. PUNO
* On official leave.
1 Under Rule 64 of the Rules of Court.
2 G.R. No. 122258, July 21, 1997, 275 SCRA 762.
3 Rollo, p. 8.
4 G.R. Nos. 164496-505, April 2, 2007, 520 SCRA 88, 105.
5 G.R. No. 161418, April 28, 2004, 428 SCRA 321, 330.
6 Emphasis supplied.
7 Supra, note 5, at 331.
9 Emphasis supplied.
10 Supra, note 2, at 777.
11 G.R. No. 164858, November 16, 2006, 507 SCRA 114.
12 Id. at 139-140.
13 G.R. No. 150605, December 10, 2002, 393 SCRA 639.
14 Id. at 670-671.
15 Omnibus Election Code, Sec. 264. Penalties. - Any person found guilty of any election offense under this Code shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and not be subject to probation. In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage. If he is a foreigner, he shall be sentenced to deportation which shall be enforced after the prison term has been served. Any political party found guilty shall be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than ten thousand pesos, which shall be imposed upon such party after criminal action has been instituted in which their corresponding officials have been found guilty.
16 Sec. 40. Disqualifications. - The following persons are disqualified from running for any elective local position:
(b) Those removed from office as a result of an administrative case.
17 Aparri v. Court of Appeals, L-30057, January 31, 1984, 127 SCRA 231, 241.
18 Supra, note 4.
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