G. R. No. 158466 - June 15, 2004
PABLO V. OCAMPO, Petitioner, vs. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL AND MARIO B. CRESPO a.k.a. MARK JIMENEZ, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
The wreath of victory cannot be transferred from the disqualified winner to the repudiated loser because the law then as now only authorizes a declaration of election in favor of the person who obtained a plurality of votes and does not entitle a candidate receiving the next highest number of votes to be declared elected.1
This is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, filed by petitioner Pablo V. Ocampo. He alleged that the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), herein public respondent, committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing in HRET Case No. 01-024, Pablo Ocampo vs. Mario "Mark Jimenez" Crespo, the (a) Resolution2 dated March 27, 2003 holding that "protestant" (herein petitioner) cannot be proclaimed the duly elected Representative of the 6th District of Manila since being a second placer, he "cannot be proclaimed the first among the remaining qualified candidates"; and (b) Resolution3 dated June 2, 2003 denying his motion for reconsideration.
The facts are uncontroverted:
On May 31, 2001, petitioner filed with the HRET an electoral protest4 against private respondent, impugning the election in 807 precincts in the 6th District of Manila on the following grounds: (1) misreading of votes garnered by petitioner; (2) falsification of election returns; (3) substitution of election returns; (4) use of marked, spurious, fake and stray ballots; and (5) presence of ballots written by one person or two persons. The case was docketed as HRET Case No. 01-024. Petitioner prayed that a revision and appreciation of the ballots in the 807 contested precincts be conducted; and that, thereafter, he be proclaimed the duly elected Congressman of the 6th District of Manila.
On June 18, 2001, private respondent filed his answer with counter-protest5 vehemently denying that he engaged in massive vote buying. He also opposed petitioners allegation that there is a need for the revision and appreciation of ballots.
After the preliminary conference between the parties on July 12, 2001, the HRET issued a Resolution6 limiting the issues to: first, whether massive vote-buying was committed by private respondent; and second, whether petitioner can be proclaimed the duly elected Representative of the 6th District of Manila.
Meanwhile, on March 6, 2003, the HRET, in HRET Cases Nos. 01-020, Bienvenido Abante & Prudencio Jalandoni vs. Mario Crespo, and 01-023, Rosenda Ann M. Ocampo vs. Mario Crespo, issued Resolutions declaring that private respondent is "ineligible for the Office of Representative of Sixth District of Manila for lack of residence in the district" and ordering "him to vacate his office."7 Private respondent filed a motion for reconsideration but was denied.8
On March 12, 2003, petitioner filed a motion to implement Section 6 of Republic Act No. 6646,9 which reads:
Petitioner averred that since private respondent was declared disqualified in HRET Cases Nos. 01-020 and 01-023, the votes cast for him should not be counted. And having garnered the second highest number of votes, he (petitioner) should be declared the winner in the May 14, 2001 elections and proclaimed the duly elected Congressman of the 6th District of Manila.
On March 26, 2003, private respondent filed an opposition to petitioners motion to implement the afore-quoted provision.
On March 27, 2003, the HRET issued a Resolution holding that private respondent was guilty of vote-buying and disqualifying him as Congressman of the 6th District of Manila. Anent the second issue of whether petitioner can be proclaimed the duly elected Congressman, the HRET held:
Petitioner filed a partial motion for reconsideration but was denied. Hence, the present petition for certiorari.
Petitioner contends that the HRET committed grave abuse of discretion when it ruled that "it is unnecessary to rule on the recount and revision of ballots in the protested and counter-protested precincts." He maintains that it is the ministerial duty of the HRET to implement the provisions of Section 6, R.A. No. 6646 specifically providing that "any candidate who has been declared by final judgment to be disqualified shall not be voted for, and the votes cast for him shall not be counted."
In his comment, private respondent counters that what the law requires is that the disqualification by final judgment takes place before the election. Here, the HRET Resolutions disqualifying him as Representative of the 6th District of Manila were rendered long after the May 14, 2001 elections. He also claims that the Resolutions are not yet final and executory because they are the subjects of certiorari proceedings before this Court. Hence, all his votes shall be counted and none shall be considered stray.
The HRET, in its comment, through the Office of the Solicitor General, merely reiterates its ruling.
The petition must be dismissed.
The issues here are: (1) whether the votes cast in favor of private respondent should not be counted pursuant to Section 6 of R.A. No. 6646; and (2) whether petitioner, a second placer in the May 14, 2001 congressional elections, can be proclaimed the duly elected Congressman of the 6th District of Manila.
The issues raised are not novel. In Codilla, Sr. vs. De Venecia,10 we expounded on the application of Section 6, R.A. No. 6646. There, we emphasized that there must be a final judgment before the election in order that the votes of a disqualified candidate can be considered "stray", thus:
The obvious rationale behind the foregoing ruling is that in voting for a candidate who has not been disqualified by final judgment during the election day, the people voted for him bona fide, without any intention to misapply their franchise, and in the honest belief that the candidate was then qualified to be the person to whom they would entrust the exercise of the powers of government.11
In the present case, private respondent was declared disqualified almost twenty-two (22) months after the May 14, 2001 elections. Obviously, the requirement of "final judgment before election" is absent. Therefore, petitioner can not invoke Section 6 of R.A. No. 6646.
Anent the second issue, we revert back to the settled jurisprudence that the subsequent disqualification of a candidate who obtained the highest number of votes does not entitle the candidate who garnered the second highest number of votes to be declared the winner.12 This principle has been reiterated in a number our decisions, such as Labo, Jr. vs. COMELEC,13 Abella vs. COMELEC,14 Benito vs. COMELEC15 and Domino vs. COMELEC.16 As a matter of fact, even as early as 1912, it was held that the candidate who lost in an election cannot be proclaimed the winner in the event that the candidate who won is found to be ineligible for the office for which he was elected.17
In Geronimo vs. Ramos,18 if the winning candidate is not qualified and cannot qualify for the office to which he was elected, a permanent vacancy is thus created. The second placer is just that, a second placer he lost in the elections, he was repudiated by either the majority or plurality of voters. He could not be proclaimed winner as he could not be considered the first among the qualified candidates. To rule otherwise is to misconstrue the nature of the democratic electroral process and the sociological and psychological underpinnings behind voters preferences.19
At any rate, the petition has become moot and academic. The Twelfth Congress formally adjourned on June 11, 2004. And on May 17, 2004, the City Board of Canvassers proclaimed Bienvenido Abante the duly elected Congressman of the Sixth District of Manila pursuant to the May 10, 2004 elections.
In the recent case of Enrile vs. Senate Electoral Tribunal,20 we ruled that a case becomes moot and academic when there is no more actual controversy between the parties or no useful purpose can be served in passing upon the merits. Worth reiterating is our pronouncement in Gancho-on vs. Secretary of Labor and Employment, thus:21
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DISMISSED.
Davide, Jr., Puno, Vitug*, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Carpio-Morales, Corona, Azcuna, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.
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