G. R. No. 158830 - August 10, 2004
ELLAN MARIE P. CIPRIANO, a minor represented by her father ROLANDO CIPRIANO, (AND OTHER YOUTH OF THE LAND AFFECTED AND SIMILARLY SITUATED), Petitioners, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT, Election Officer LOPE GAYO, JR., 1st District, Pasay City, SANGGUNIANG BARANGAY thru its Chairman JOHNNY SANTIAGO of Barangay 38, Pasay City, GREG PAOLO ALCERA in his capacity as SK Federation President of Pasay City, EDNA TIBAR a minor assisted by parents, KRISTAL GALE BONGGO a minor assisted by parents, SK Chairman RUEL TAYAM DECENA of Barangay 142, Pasay City, THE PRESIDENT OF THE PAMBANSANG KATIPUNAN NG MGA SANGGUNIANG ABATAAN, and ALL SK OFFICERS AND YOUTH OF THE LAND SIMILARLY SITUATED and THEIR AGENTS AND REPRESENTATIVES, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
May the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), on its own, in the exercise of its power to enforce and administer election laws, look into the qualifications of a candidate and cancel his certificate of candidacy on the ground that he lacks the qualifications prescribed by law? This is the issue that needs to be resolved in this petition for certiorari filed by Ellan Marie P. Cipriano, the duly elected SK Chairman of Barangay 38, Pasay City, whose certificate of candidacy was cancelled by the COMELEC motu proprio on the ground that she was not a registered voter in the barangay where she intended to run.
On June 7, 2002, petitioner filed with the COMELEC her certificate of candidacy as Chairman of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) for the SK elections held on July 15, 2002.1
On the date of the elections, July 15, 2002, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 5363 adopting the recommendation of the Commissions Law Department to deny due course to or cancel the certificates of candidacy of several candidates for the SK elections, including petitioners. The ruling was based on the findings of the Law Department that petitioner and all the other candidates affected by said resolution were not registered voters in the barangay where they intended to run.2
Petitioner, nonetheless, was allowed to vote in the July 15 SK elections and her name was not deleted from the official list of candidates. After the canvassing of votes, petitioner was proclaimed by the Barangay Board of Canvassers the duly elected SK Chairman of Barangay 38, Pasay City.3 She took her oath of office on August 14, 2002.4
On August 19, 2002, petitioner, after learning of Resolution No. 5363, filed with the COMELEC a motion for reconsideration of said resolution. She argued that a certificate of candidacy may only be denied due course or cancelled via an appropriate petition filed by any registered candidate for the same position under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code in relation to Sections 5 and 7 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6646. According to petitioner, the report of the Election Officer of Pasay City cannot be considered a petition under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code, and the COMELEC cannot, by itself, deny due course to or cancel ones certificate of candidacy. Petitioner also claimed that she was denied due process when her certificate of candidacy was cancelled by the Commission without notice and hearing. Petitioner further argued that the COMELEC en banc did not have jurisdiction to act on the cancellation of her certificate of candidacy on the first instance because it is the Division of the Commission that has authority to decide election-related cases, including pre-proclamation controversies. Finally, she contended that she may only be removed by a petition for quo warranto after her proclamation as duly-elected SK Chairman.5
On October 7, 2002, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 5781,6 resolving petitioners motion for reconsideration. It cited its previous resolution, Resolution No. 5584, in relation to Resolution No. 4801. The Commission stated in Resolution No. 5584 its policy on proclaimed candidates found to be ineligible for not being registered voters in the place where they were elected. It explained:
The Commission further stated:
Hence, petitioner filed the instant petition seeking:
Stripped of the non-essentials, the only issue in this case is the validity of Resolution No. 5363 of the COMELEC.
Petitioner argues that she was deprived of due process when the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 5363 canceling her certificate of candidacy. She claims that the resolution was intended to oust her from her position as SK Chairman without any appropriate action and proceedings.
The COMELEC, on the other hand, defends its resolution by invoking its administrative power to enforce and administer election laws. Thus, in the exercise of such power, it may motu proprio deny or cancel the certificates of candidacy of candidates who are found to be unqualified for the position they are seeking. The Commission further contends that the publication of COMELEC Resolution No. 4801 governing the conduct of the Barangay and SK elections in two newspapers of general circulation is sufficient notice to the candidates regarding the Commissions administrative inquiry into their certificates of candidacy.
The petition is impressed with merit.
The COMELEC is an institution created by the Constitution to govern the conduct of elections and to ensure that the electoral process is clean, honest, orderly, and peaceful. It is mandated to "enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall."10 As an independent Constitutional Commission, it is clothed with the three powers of government - executive or administrative, legislative, and quasi-judicial powers. The administrative powers of the COMELEC, for example, include the power to determine the number and location of polling places, appoint election officials and inspectors, conduct registration of voters, deputize law enforcement agencies and government instrumentalities to ensure free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections; register political parties, organization or coalitions, accredit citizens arms of the Commission, prosecute election offenses, and recommend to the President the removal or imposition of any other disciplinary action upon any officer or employee it has deputized for violation or disregard of its directive, order or decision. It also has direct control and supervision over all personnel involved in the conduct of election.11 Its legislative authority is found in its power to promulgate rules and regulations implementing the provisions of the Omnibus Election Code or other laws which the Commission is required to enforce and administer.12 The Constitution has also vested it with quasi-judicial powers when it was granted exclusive original jurisdiction over all contests relating to the elections, returns and qualifications of all elective regional, provincial and city officials; and appellate jurisdiction over all contests involving elective municipal officials decided by trial courts of general jurisdiction, or involving elective barangay officials decided by trial courts of limited jurisdiction.13
Aside from the powers vested by the Constitution, the Commission also exercises other powers expressly provided in the Omnibus Election Code, one of which is the authority to deny due course to or to cancel a certificate of candidacy. The exercise of such authority, however, must be in accordance with the conditions set by law.
The COMELEC asserts that it is authorized to motu proprio deny due course to or cancel a certificate of candidacy based on its broad administrative power to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of elections.
We disagree. The Commission may not, by itself, without the proper proceedings, deny due course to or cancel a certificate of candidacy filed in due form. When a candidate files his certificate of candidacy, the COMELEC has a ministerial duty to receive and acknowledge its receipt. This is provided in Sec. 76 of the Omnibus Election Code, thus:
The Court has ruled that the Commission has no discretion to give or not to give due course to petitioners certificate of candidacy.14 The duty of the COMELEC to give due course to certificates of candidacy filed in due form is ministerial in character. While the Commission may look into patent defects in the certificates, it may not go into matters not appearing on their face. The question of eligibility or ineligibility of a candidate is thus beyond the usual and proper cognizance of said body.15
Nonetheless, Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code allows any person to file before the COMELEC a petition to deny due course to or cancel a certificate of candidacy on the ground that any material representation therein is false. It states:
Under Rule 23 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, the petition shall be heard summarily after due notice.
It is therefore clear that the law mandates that the candidate must be notified of the petition against him and he should be given the opportunity to present evidence in his behalf. This is the essence of due process. Due process demands prior notice and hearing. Then after the hearing, it is also necessary that the tribunal shows substantial evidence to support its ruling. In other words, due process requires that a party be given an opportunity to adduce his evidence to support his side of the case and that the evidence should be considered in the adjudication of the case.16 In a petition to deny due course to or cancel a certificate of candidacy, since the proceedings are required to be summary, the parties may, after due notice, be required to submit their position papers together with affidavits, counter-affidavits, and other documentary evidence in lieu of oral testimony. When there is a need for clarification of certain matters, at the discretion of the Commission en banc or Division, the parties may be allowed to cross-examine the affiants.17
Contrary to the submission of the COMELEC, the denial of due course or cancellation of ones certificate of candidacy is not within the administrative powers of the Commission, but rather calls for the exercise of its quasi-judicial functions. Administrative power is concerned with the work of applying policies and enforcing orders as determined by proper governmental organs.18 We have earlier enumerated the scope of the Commissions administrative functions. On the other hand, where a power rests in judgment or discretion, so that it is of judicial nature or character, but does not involve the exercise of functions of a judge, or is conferred upon an officer other than a judicial officer, it is deemed quasi-judicial.19
The determination whether a material representation in the certificate of candidacy is false or not, or the determination whether a candidate is eligible for the position he is seeking involves a determination of fact where both parties must be allowed to adduce evidence in support of their contentions. Because the resolution of such fact may result to a deprivation of ones right to run for public office, or, as in this case, ones right to hold public office, it is only proper and fair that the candidate concerned be notified of the proceedings against him and that he be given the opportunity to refute the allegations against him. It should be stressed that it is not sufficient, as the COMELEC claims, that the candidate be notified of the Commissions inquiry into the veracity of the contents of his certificate of candidacy, but he must also be allowed to present his own evidence to prove that he possesses the qualifications for the office he seeks.
In view of the foregoing discussion, we rule that Resolution No. 5363 and Resolution No. 5781, canceling petitioners certificate of candidacy without proper proceedings, are tainted with grave abuse of discretion and therefore void.
We need not rule on the question raised by petitioner as regards the constitutionality of Sections 6 and 7 of Republic Act No. 9164 lowering the age of membership in the SK as it is not the lis mota of this case.
IN VIEW WHEREOF, COMELEC Resolution No. 5363 promulgated on July 15, 2002 and COMELEC Resolution No. 5781 issued on October 7, 2002 are hereby SET ASIDE.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
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