GELACIO P. GEMENTIZA, Petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS (SECOND DIVISION) and VICTORIO R. SUAYBAGUIO, JR., Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Procedural rules in election cases are designed to achieve not only a correct but also an expeditious determination of the popular will of the electorate. Unfortunately, the divergent interpretation of said rules by the contending parties has, until now, prolonged the termination of such cases, thus failing to attain the desired result. Such is the situation in the present case.
The antecedent facts are:
Petitioner Gelacio P. Gementiza and private respondent Victorio R. Suaybaguio, Jr. were candidates for Vice-Governor in the Province of Davao del Norte during the May 11, 1998 national and local elections.
On May 18, 1998, the provincial board of canvassers proclaimed petitioner the winner, with a total of 109,985 votes as against private respondents 108,862, or a margin of 1,123 votes.
Claiming that fraud and irregularities were committed against him during the voting and counting of votes, private respondent promptly filed on May 28, 1998 an election protest 1 with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in Manila. The case, docketed as EPC No. 98-58, was later assigned to public respondent COMELEC (Second Division).
Private respondents protest is anchored on the following grounds: (a) several members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) padded more than 1,000 votes, committed deliberate errors in the reading of ballots, and made erroneous recording of votes in the election returns intended to favor herein petitioner; (b) strangers, in connivance with the BEI, voted in behalf of those who were not able to vote, and the watchers were intimidated, threatened and forced to leave the polling places; (c) the BEI incorrectly interpreted the rules on the appreciation of ballots numbering more than 1,000 votes cast in favor of private respondent and were either invalidated or considered stray votes; and (d) more than 1,000 marked ballots cast in favor of petitioner were considered valid and counted in his favor.
These allegations were denied by petitioner in his answer 2 filed on June 22, 1998.
Thereafter, upon order by public respondent, a revision of the contested ballots from 624 protested precincts was conducted in the COMELEC central office in Manila.
After the revision proceeding was completed, and during the hearing on August 5, 1999 for the initial presentation of evidence in support of his election protest, private respondent waived the presentation of testimonial evidence and rested his case solely on the basis of documentary evidence consisting of the revision reports and other election-related documents. On the same day, he formally offered these documentary evidence. Forthwith, petitioner filed his comment thereon.
On September 6, 1999, petitioner filed a demurrer to evidence (denominated as Motion To Direct The Protestant Victorio R. Suaybaguio, Jr. To Show Cause Why His Protest Should Not Be Dismissed And/Or Demurrer To The Protestants Evidence). 3 Petitioner alleged therein that private respondents allegations of fraud and irregularities in his protest were negated by the Minutes of Voting of the protested precincts which the protestant has also adopted as his evidence, hence his protest has no more leg to stand on, 4 and this Protest has no more reason to continue, nor is there any legal justification to require the protestee to present his evidence. 5 Petitioner thus prayed that private respondents protest be dismissed. 6cräläwvirtualibräry
In an order dated October 11, 1999, 7 public respondent denied petitioners demurrer to evidence.
In denying petitioners demurrer to evidence, public respondent held that it could already ascertain the true choice of the electorate through an examination of the revision of votes, the appreciation of the ballots and the results of the voting in the uncontested precincts - all of which are now before the COMELEC. Moreover, following the ruling of the Supreme Court in Demetrio vs. Lopez (50 Phil. 45 ) and Jardiel vs. COMELEC (124 SCRA 650 ), the protestee in an election protest who demurs to the evidence presented by the protestant after the latter has rested his case, impliedly waives the presentation of his evidence. Thus, public respondent considered the case submitted for resolution after the parties shall have filed, if they so desire, their respective memoranda on or before November 18, 1999.
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration 8 of the October 11, 1999 order, contending that it is premature and contrary to law and the due process clause of the Constitution considering that under Section 1, Rule 33 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, he has the right to present his evidence even if his demurrer was denied. Moreover, the cases cited by public respondent are inapplicable in the instant case. Thus, he prayed that he be allowed to present his evidence.
Petitioner further prayed that his motion for reconsideration be certified and elevated to the COMELEC en banc pursuant to the provisions of Section 5, Rule 19 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure of February 15, 1993, which provides that (u)pon the filing of a motion to reconsider a decision, resolution, order or ruling of a Division, the Clerk of Court concerned shall, within twenty-four (24) hours from the filing thereof, notify the Presiding Commissioner. The latter shall within two (2) days thereafter certify the case to the Commission en banc.
Public respondent, in an order dated November 29, 1999, 9 denied petitioners motion for reconsideration for lack of merit, citing Calabig vs. Villanueva (135 SCRA 300 ) and Enojas, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections (283 SCRA 229 ), reiterating the ruling in Demetrio (supra) and Jardiel (supra).
In denying petitioners prayer that his motion for reconsideration be certified and elevated to the COMELEC en banc, public respondent held that the assailed October 11, 1999 order is interlocutory in character considering that respondents protest has yet to be resolved.
Petitioner elevated the matter to this Court via the instant petition for certiorari seeking the nullification of public respondents orders dated October 11, 1999 and November 29, 1999.
In an en banc resolution dated January 18, 2000, 10 this Court dismissed the petition for having been prematurely filed. The Constitution, in its Section 7, Article IX-A in relation to Section 3, Article IX-C, and Rule 37 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure mandate that only final orders, rulings and decisions of the COMELEC en banc can be challenged before the Supreme Court on certiorari. 11cräläwvirtualibräry
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration 12 of this Courts order, contending that public respondents unjustified denial of his prayer to elevate to the COMELEC en banc his motion to reconsider the October 11, 1999 order left him with no other recourse but to come directly to us for relief. In the same motion, petitioner also prayed for the issuance of a temporary restraining order to enjoin public respondent from further hearing the protest case until his motion to reconsider the order of October 11, 1999 has been passed upon by the Commission en banc. 13cräläwvirtualibräry
In order not to render moot the issues raised in the instant petition, this Court issued a temporary restraining order dated February 10, 2000, 14 effective immediately, directing the COMELEC (Second Division) to cease and desist from further proceeding with the election protest until further orders from the Court.
On February 15, 2000, this Court, in an en banc resolution, 15 granted petitioners motion for reconsideration, reinstated the instant petition and required the respondents to comment thereon.
Both private respondent and public respondent (represented by the Solicitor General) filed their separate comments 16 on the petition, to which petitioner submitted a reply. Thereafter, the parties filed their respective memoranda. On February 15, 2000, this Court gave due course to the petition. 17cräläwvirtualibräry
In his petition, petitioner maintains:
1. That the filing of a demurrer to evidence does not carry with it an implied waiver of private respondents right to present evidence; and
2. That the October 11, 1999 order of public respondent denying the demurrer to evidence is not interlocutory in character but a final order; hence, his motion to reconsider the said order should be elevated to the COMELEC en banc for resolution.
We rule against petitioner.
In support of his position that he does not lose his right to present evidence after the denial of his demurrer to evidence by the public respondent, petitioner invokes Section 1, Rule 33 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, which reads:
Section 1. Demurrer to Evidence. - After the plaintiff has completed the presentation of his evidence, the defendant may move for dismissal on the ground that upon the facts and the law the plaintiff has shown no right to relief. If his motion is denied, he shall have the right to present evidence. If the motion is granted but on appeal the order of dismissal is reversed he shall be deemed to have waived his right to present evidence. (underscoring ours)
The petitioner urges us to apply the above-quoted rule to his case and to reiterate our decision in Northwest Airlines vs. Court of Appeals 18 which sets a guideline on demurrer to evidence in civil cases, as follows:
We agree with the Court of Appeals in its holding that the trial court erred in deciding the entire case on its merit. Indeed, as to the demurrer to evidence, the trial court should have been solely guided by the procedure laid down in the above- mentioned rule on demurrer to evidence. It had no choice other than to grant or to deny the demurrer. It could not, without committing grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess of jurisdiction, deny the motion and then forthwith grant TORRES claims on a finding that TORRES has established a preponderance of evidence in support of such claims. In the instant case, the trial court did just that insofar as moral damages, attorneys fees, and expenses of litigation were concerned. What it should have done was to merely deny the demurrer and set a date for the reception of NORTHWESTs evidence in chief.19 (underscoring ours)
What petitioner is saying is that the rule on demurrer to evidence in civil cases is applicable to election cases.
That is not so.
Section 4, Rule 1 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, provides that (t)hese Rules shall not apply to election cases, land registration, cadastral, naturalization and insolvency proceedings, and other cases not herein provided for, except by analogy or in a suppletory character and whenever practicable and convenient.
In the same vein, under Section 1, Rule 41 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, the Rules of Civil Procedure apply only by analogy or in a suppletory character and effect.
The COMELEC Rules of Procedure is silent on the subject of demurrer to evidence. This question now arises: Can we apply by analogy or in a suppletory character and whenever practicable and convenient Section 1, Rule 33 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, on a demurrer to evidence in an election protest?
We answer in the negative.
It should be underscored that the nature of an election protest case differs from an ordinary civil action. Because of this difference, the Rules of Civil Procedure on demurrer to evidence cannot apply to election cases even by analogy or in a suppletory character, especially because the application of said Rules would not be practicable and convenient.
Our decision in Estrada vs. Sto. Domingo 20 emphasizes the special and expeditious nature of election cases, the early resolution of which should not be hampered by any unnecessary observance of procedural rules. There we held:
2. We face the problem ahead with an eye to the nature of election contest proceedings.
The statutory scheme clearly mapped out in the Revised Election Code is that proceedings in election protests are special and expeditious. The periods for filing pleadings are short. Trials are swift. Decisions in municipal election contests are to be handed down in six months after the protest is presented. The time to file a notice of appeal is cut short to five days from notice of the decision. Appeal is to be decided within three months after the case is filed with the clerk of the court to which appeal is taken. Preferential disposition of election contests except as to habeas corpus proceedings is set forth in the law. Even the rules of court make it abundantly clear that election cases enjoy preferential status. The proceedings should not be encumbered by delays. All of these are because the term of elective office is likewise short. There is the personal stake of the contestants which generates feuds and discords. Above all is the public interest. Title to public elective office must not be left long under cloud. Efficiency of public administration should not be impaired. It is thus understandable that pitfalls which may retard the determination of election contests should be avoided. Courts should heed the imperative need for dispatch. Obstacles and technicalities which fetter the peoples will should not stand in the way of a prompt termination of election contests.
Since 1966, when this Court in Lagumbay vs. Climaco (16 SCRA 175) projected the pressing need to strike a blow at the pernicious grab-the-proclamation-prolong-the-protest slogan of some candidates or parties, we observe, to our dismay, that courts of justice still have to cope with oft-recurring cases which come about in utter disregard of this rule.
These are the desiderata which should be uppermost in the mind of courts of justice, if only to give substance to the constitutional precept that [s]overeignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.21 (underscoring ours)
A more detailed and emphatic ratiocination of a substantially similar issue is our recent en banc pronouncement in Enojas, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections, 22 thus:
The main issue in this case, therefore, involves the determination of whether the motion to dismiss filed by respondent Rodriguez should be considered as a demurrer to evidence by reason of which he is deemed to have waived his right to present evidence.
We rule in the affirmative.
The present controversy does not involve a novel issue. As early as the case of Demetrio vs. Lopez (50 Phil. 45 ), wherein after the protestant had introduced his evidence, the protestee, before presenting his own, filed a motion to dismiss the protest upon the ground that the evidence presented by the protestant did not show that he had obtained a greater number of votes than the protestee, and reserving the right to present his evidence if his motion was decided adversely, this Court held that:
In regard to the first assignment of error, the practice followed in the courts of these Islands is to permit the defendant to present a motion for dismissal in ordinary cases after the plaintiff has rested, reserving the right to present his evidence if the ruling on his motion is adverse to him either in the first instance or on appeal. In an election protest proceeding, however, which is a summary one, and in which the periods are short and fatal, and trials rapid and preferential as the peremptory nature of the litigation so requires, the motion for dismissal at that stage of the proceeding must be considered as a demurrer to the evidence presented by the protestant, with implied waiver by the protestee to present his evidence, whatever may be the ruling, whether adverse or favorable, either in the first instance or on appeal, the court of origin or appellate court having the power to definitely decide the protest. If, in the prosecution of election protests the ordinary practice were to be followed in regard to the presentation of motions for dismissal or of demurrers to the evidence, in the majority of cases, if not always, the law would be frustrated and the will of the electorate defeated, to the great detriment of the underlying principles of representative government, because, in case of revocation of a ruling sustaining the motion of dismissal or the demurrer on appeal, the case would have to be remanded to the court below for the continuation of the trial and the introduction of evidence by the protestee, thus causing the proceeding to continue during the term of the office in question, with the possible result that the defeated, and not the elected, candidate would be discharging the office.
In election protests, therefore, the protestee should not be permitted to present a motion for dismissal or a demurrer to the evidence of the protestant, unless he waives the introduction of his own evidence in case the ruling on his motion or demurrer is adverse to him, in which case the court that tries the case must definitely decide it.
In the present case, the motion for dismissal filed by the protestee has the effect of a demurrer to the evidence presented by the protestant, he having thereby impliedly waived the introduction of his evidence, for which reason the trial court did not commit an error in sustaining said motion and definitely deciding the case without requiring the protestee to present his evidence.
The aforequoted ruling was reiterated in the later case of Jardiel vs. Commission on Elections, et al. (124 SCRA 650 ) wherein the motion to dismiss filed by the protestee, after the protestant had submitted a written offer of evidence, was considered as a demurrer to the evidence presented. In the succeeding case of Calabig vs. Villanueva, etc., et al. (135 SCRA 300 , the foregoing pronouncement was quoted with approval and applied as a doctrinal rule.
The instant petition is substantially on all fours with the three cited cases and no compelling reason exists to warrant an exception thereto. The fact that the motion to dismiss filed by respondent Rodriguez was initially granted by the trial court, but subsequently reversed on appeal by the COMELEC on the basis of the jurisdictional grounds raised therein, does not warrant a ruling to the contrary. The reason is that the motion to dismiss filed in this case did not only raise a couple of defective jurisdictional issues but likewise challenged and demurred to the sufficiency of the evidence adduced therein by petitioner Enojas, through these allegations:
2. This protest is without any cause of action. It appears from the face of the protest and even in the exhibits formally offered, admitting in arguendo that the same is admitted by the Court, that the herein protest has no cause of action. The allegation in the protest clearly shows that protestant has no cause of action against the protestee. Again, granting in arguendo, that the herein protestant actually garnered more votes than herein protestee, the protest should be filed against the person or persons liable against such error or errors.
and thereafter prayed that the herein protest be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, lack of cause of action, nonpayment of correct filing fee, for being premature as the pre-proclamation protest is not yet terminated, and the protest is ambiguous whether it is for election contest or judicial recount. Hence, we agree that respondent Rodriguez had waived his right to present evidence.23 (underscoring ours)
The doctrinal ruling in Demetrio vs. Lopez 24 has been consistently invoked by this Court for seventy-four (74) years now. We see no reason to re-examine the venerable doctrine because the philosophy behind it applies with even greater force today. Candidates now use more sophisticated methods to win through irregularities and follow them up with a pattern of procedural delays until all that is left to the winner is a meaningless victory. In filing a demurrer to evidence after the protestant has rested his case, the protestee wants at that point of time the proceedings terminated and all uncertainties about his victory cleared with dispatch. Verily, he impliedly waives his right to present his evidence.
And that exactly is what petitioner had in mind when he demurred to private respondents evidence in the protest proceedings below, asserting that:
Unquestionably, based on what appears in the Minutes of Voting, the protestants allegation of fraud is completely without basis. Hence, this Protest has no more reason to continue, nor is there any legal justification to require the protestee to present his evidence.
x x x
C O N C L U S I O N
Considering that the protestants main allegations of fraud and irregularities in the protested precincts are negated by the minutes of Voting from the protested precincts which the protestant has also adopted as his evidence, his protest has no more leg to stand on. His cause of action has been completely demolished by his own judicial admission consisting of his submission of the minutes of Voting as part of his evidence.
To sustain the protestants theory of fraud and irregularities in the protested precincts in the face of insurmountable evidence to the contrary, is to allow him to smear the electoral triumph of his own running mate (Governor Rodolfo P. Del Rosario) who won as governor by an overwhelming majority. Such an absurd position should not be permitted to stand especially in this case where the protestant has not presented any credible or convincing evidence to support his theory.
It is more in keeping with the objective of the rules of this Commission to achieve just, expeditious and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding brought before it to dismiss this Protest outright.
The protestee most respectfully submits that the kind of evidence submitted by the protestant in support of his theory no longer makes it imperative for protestee to submit additional countervailing evidence aside from those he has submitted in support of this motion.
P R A Y E R
WHEREFORE in view of the foregoing premises, it is respectfully prayed that an order issue from this Commission, Second Division, directing the protestant to show cause why his Protest should not be dismissed, or ordering the immediate and outright dismissal of the Protest filed by the Protestant pursuant to the Comelec Rules of Procedure. xxx xxx xxx25 (underscoring ours)
To accentuate his desire not to present anymore his evidence, the petitioner asserted once again in his rejoinder to private respondents opposition that there is no more reason for him to submit his evidence because the protestant has not presented evidence worth rebutting. 26 What could be a clearer proof of petitioners waiver of his right to present evidence in the election protest case than his very own categorical and steadfast declarations in his pleadings? We, therefore, cannot permit him, after his demurrer was denied, to make a complete turn around by now asking the public respondent to allow him to present his evidence.
In this regard, we quote with approval public respondents assailed ruling of November 29, 1999:
It is not candid of the protestee to cry that he has been denied of due process and pray in his motion for reconsideration that he be allowed to present evidence on the Election Protest Proper after he had averred with full emphasis that `there is no more reason for him to submit his evidence because the protestant has not presented evidence worth rebutting, and led the Commission to issue an Order which he now assails.
A favorable grant on the protestees motion for reconsideration would open the door for continuation of the trial and introduction of evidence by the protestee, thus causing the proceedings to continue during the term of the office in question (which is about only 18 months left) and thereby delay the final decision in the election protest to the benefit of the occupant of the office, as pointed out in Demetrio and reiterated in subsequent cases above cited.
Furthermore, if the Commission succumbs to the protestees theory that it is premature for the Commission to resolve this case on the main issue of who won during the subject election and that the proceedings in this case should continue for the presentation of his evidence after waiving his right to present the same through a demurrer, the Commission would cause undue delay in the resolution of the two other cases pending before the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), which had communicated to the Commission in its Order of April 23, 1999 as follows:
The Commission on Elections (Second Division) is requested to conduct the revision and appreciation proceedings in EPC No. 98-58 (Suaybaguio, Jr., vs. Gementiza) in the most expeditious manner possible in order that the subject ballot boxes and other election documents can be turned over to the Tribunal in due time. No revision of ballots shall be conducted without prior notice being given directly to all parties in SET Case No. 001- 98 (Pagdanganan vs. Aquino) and SET Case No. 002-98 (Lagman vs. Guingona, Jr., et al.)
The fear of the protestee that there is no evidence at all on the part of the protestee which the Comelec will consider is misplaced. In the determination of who between the parties herein won, the Commission is bound by law to examine the claimed and contested ballots of both the protestant and the protestee which have been marked as exhibits during the revision proceedings.
Finally, the ruling of this Commission as contained in its Order dated October 11, 1999 is a matter of procedure and does not finally dispose of the case on the merits. The Commission is yet to resolve the case on the issue of who between the parties won in the contested office of Vice-Governor of Davao del Norte during the May 11, 1998 elections. The Order dated October 11, 1999 being interlocutory in character (Nepomoceno vs. Salazar, 173 SCRA 366), the same cannot be elevated to the Commission En Banc but should be acted upon by the Division where the same was filed (It is not mandatory on the part of a division of the COMELEC to refer all pending motions for reconsideration to the COMELEC en banc. (Bulaong vs. COMELEC, First Division, 220 SCRA 745, 749 ).27cräläwvirtualibräry
This brings us to the second issue raised by petitioner, i.e., that the challenged October 11, 1999 order denying his demurrer to evidence is not interlocutory but a final one, and hence his motion to reconsider the said order should be elevated to the COMELEC en banc for resolution.
We do not agree. Section 5, Rule 19 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, provides:
SEC. 5. How Motion for Reconsideration Disposed of.- Upon the filing of a motion to reconsider a decision, resolution, order or ruling of a Division, the Clerk of Court concerned shall, within twenty-four (24) hours from the fling thereof, notify the presiding Commissioner. The latter shall within two (2) days thereafter certify the case to the Commission en banc.
Under the above-quoted rule, the acts of a Division that are subject of a motion for reconsideration must have a character of finality before the same can be elevated to the COMELEC en banc. The elementary rule is that an order is final in nature if it completely disposes of the entire case. But if there is something more to be done in the case after its issuance, that order is interlocutory.
As correctly pointed out by public respondent in its assailed order of November 29, 1999, the October 11, 1999 order did not dispose of the case completely as there is something more to be done which is to decide the election protest. As such, it is the herein public respondent (Second Division of the COMELEC) which issued the interlocutory order of October 11, 1999 that should resolve petitioners motion for reconsideration, not the COMELEC en banc. 28 Accordingly, the applicable rule on the subject is Section 5(c), Rule 3 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, which states:
Rule 3, Section 5(c). Any motion to reconsider a decision, resolution, order or ruling of a Division shall be resolved by the Commission en banc except motions on interlocutory orders of the division, which shall be resolved by the divisions which issued the order. (underscoring ours)
That only final orders of a Division may be raised before the COMELEC en banc is in accordance with Article IX-C, Section 3 of the Constitution which mandates that only motions for reconsideration of final decisions shall be decided by the Commission on Elections en banc, thus:
Sec. 3. The Commission on Elections may sit en banc or in two divisions, and shall promulgate its rules of procedure in order to expedite disposition of election cases, including pre-proclamation controversies. All such election cases shall be heard and decided in Division, provided that motions for reconsideration of decisions shall be decided by the Commission en banc. (underscoring ours)
It bears stressing that under this constitutional provision, the COMELEC en banc shall decide motions for reconsideration only of decisions of a Division, meaning those acts of final character. Clearly, the assailed order denying petitioners demurrer to evidence, being interlocutory, may not be resolved by the COMELEC en banc. 29cräläwvirtualibräry
Even granting that petitioners motion to reconsider the October 11, 1999 order may be elevated to the COMELEC en banc, still his plea that he be allowed to present evidence after his demurrer was denied must certainly be rejected since, as already discussed earlier, such prayer is legally impermissible.
In fine, we find that public respondent did not commit any grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed orders.
WHEREFORE , the instant petition for certiorari is DISMISSED. The temporary restraining order issued by this Court on February 10, 2000 is LIFTED effective immediately. Public respondent Commission on Elections (Second Division) is DIRECTED to resolve the instant election protest on the merits with deliberate dispatch.
Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, Ynares-Santiago, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.
Davide, Jr., C.J., in the result.
Search for www.chanrobles.com
|Copyright © ChanRoblesPublishing Company| Disclaimer | E-mailRestrictions|
ChanRobles™Virtual Law Library ™ | chanrobles.com™