April 2004 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
Estrella v. Comelec : 160465 : April 28, 2004 : J. Carpio-Morales : En Banc : Resolution
[G.R. NO. 160465 : April 28, 2004]
ROMEO M. ESTRELLA, Petitioners, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, HON. COMMISSIONER RALPH C. LANTION and ROLANDO F. SALVADOR, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
Before this Court is a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 64 seeking to set aside and nullify the November 5, 2003 Status Quo Ante Order1 issued by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) En Banc in EAC No. A-10-2002, Romeo F. Estrella v. Rolando F. Salvador.
Romeo M. Estrella (petitioner) and Rolando F. Salvador (respondent) were mayoralty candidates in Baliuag, Bulacan during the May 14, 2001 Elections.
The Municipal Board of Canvassers proclaimed respondent as winner. Petitioner thereafter filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Bulacan an election protest, docketed as EPC No. 10-M-2001, which was raffled to Branch 10 thereof.2 cralawred
By Decision of April 10, 2002, the RTC annulled respondents proclamation and declared petitioner as the duly elected mayor of Baliuag.3 cralawred
Respondent appealed the RTC decision to the COMELEC where it was docketed as EAC No. A-10-2002, and raffled to the second Division thereof, while petitioner filed before the RTC a motion for execution of the decision pending appeal.4 cralawred
The RTC, by Order of April 16, 2002, granted petitioners motion for execution pending appeal and accordingly issued a writ of execution.5 cralawred
Respondent thus assailed the April 16, 2002 Order of the RTC via petition for certiorari filed on April 24, 2002 before the COMELEC where it was docketed as SPR No. 21-2002, and raffled also to the Second Division thereof.6 cralawred
Petitioner later moved for the inhibition7 of Commissioner Ralph C. Lantion, a member of the COMELEC Second Division.
On May 30, 2002, the COMELEC Second Division issued a Status Quo Ante Order,8 cralawred
By Order of July 9, 2002, the motion for inhibition of Commissioner Lantion was denied by the COMELEC Second Division.
On July 11, 2002, petitioner filed before this Court a Petition for Certiorari questioning the COMELEC Second Division May 20, 2002 Status Quo Ante Order, which petition was supplemented on July 30, 2002. The petition was docketed by this Court as G.R. No. 154041.
As no temporary restraining order was issued by this Court, the May 30, 2002 Status Quo Ante Order of the COMELEC Second Division was implemented on or about July 17, 2003, resulting in the ouster of petitioner from the mayoral post.
In the meantime, during the July 23, 2002 hearing of SPR No. 21-2002, COMELEC Commissioner Lantion inhibited himself.9 Commissioner Ressureccion Z. Borra was, by Order of August 25, 2002,10 thus designated in place of Commissioner Lantion.
During the pendency of G.R. No. 154041 before this Court, the COMELEC Second Division, by Order of January 16, 2003, nullified in SPR No. 21-2002 the writ of execution11 issued by the RTC. Respondent filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the said Order which motion was duly certified to the COMELEC En Banc.
On September 16, 2003, this Court, by Resolution on even date, dismissed G.R. No. 154041 on the grounds that 1) the case had become moot and academic because of the COMELEC Second Divisions resolution on the merits of SPR No. 21-2002, and (2) this Court has no jurisdiction over Division orders or rulings of the COMELEC.
On October 15, 2003, the COMELEC Second Division, issued in EAC No. A-10-2002 an Order12 adopting the order of substitution in SPR No. 21-2002 dated August 25, 2002 designating Commissioner Borra as substitute member thereof.
On October 20, 2003, the COMELEC Second Division issued in EAC No. A-10-2002 a Resolution13 affirming with modifications the RTC decision and declaring petitioner as the duly elected mayor. On even date, respondent moved to reconsider14 the said October 20, 2003 Order.
Petitioner, in the meantime, filed on October 22, 2003 a motion for immediate execution15 of the COMELEC Second Division October 20, 2003 Resolution, which was set for hearing on October 28, 2003 but reset to November 4, 2003.
On October 29, 2003, respondent filed before the COMELEC Second Division a very urgent motion to consider the instant case certified to the Commission en banc.16 cralawred
Respondent later filed on November 3, 2003 a very urgent manifestation and motion to suspend proceedings.17 cralawred
Hearing of the incidents in EAC No. A-10-2002 was conducted on November 4, 2003. The following day or on November 5, 2003, the COMELEC Second Division issued an Order18 denying respondents plea for suspension of proceedings and granting petitioners motion for execution pending appeal and accordingly directing the issuance of a writ of execution. On even date, the COMELEC En Banc issued the questioned November 5, 2003 Status Quo Ante Order. Five (5) members including Commissioner Lantion participated in this November 5, 2003 Order wherein Commissioner Lantion stated that his previous voluntary inhibition is only in the SPR cases and not in the EAC and as further agreed in the Second Division, [he] will not participate in the Division deliberations but will vote when the case is elevated [to the] en banc. Of the five Commissioners, Commissioner Borra dissented.
Hence, the present petition, alleging as follows:chanroblesvirtua1awlibrary
I.THE NOV. 5 STATUS QUO ANTE ORDER IS NULL AND VOID FOR WANT OF CONSTITUTIONAL AND STATUTORY AUTHORITY OF THE COMELEC TO ISSUE SUCH AND ORDER.
II.THE COMELEC EN BANC PALPABLY ACTED WITHOUT JURISDICTION AND IN FLAGRANT BREACH OF INTER-COLLEGIAL COMITY WHEN IT ISSUED THE NOV. 5 ORDER CONSIDERING THAT EAC NO. A-10-2002 IS STILL UNDER THE PRIMARY AND CONTINUING JURISDICTION OF THE SPECIAL SECOND DIVISION WHICH HAS YET TO FULLY DISPOSE OF ESTRELLAS TIMELY FILED MOTION FOR IMMEDIATE EXECUTION.
III.DUE TO HIS PREVIOUS VOLUNTARY INHIBITION IN A RELATED CASE, SPR NO. 21-2002 AND AT THE DIVISION LEVEL IN THE SAME CASE, EAC NO. A-10-2002, COMMISSIONER LANTIONS VOTE IN THE ASSAILED ORDER SHOULD BE DISREGARDED AND CANCELLED. THE EN BANCS NOV. 5 ORDER IS THUS INVALID FOR FURTHER REASON THAT IT IS NOT SUPPORTED BY THE REQUIRED MAJORITY VOTE.
IV.THE COMELEC EN BANC ALSO ACTED ARBITRARILY AND IN MANIFEST GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK AND/OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION WHEN IT PREVENTED THE ENFORCEMENT OF THE DIVISIONS ORDER OF EXECUTION THE ISSUANCE OF WHICH IS LEGALLY JUSTIFIED UNDER THE APPLICABLE CASE PRECEDENTS AND WARRANTED UNDER THE SPECIFIC FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE.
V.THE COMELEC EN BANC GROSSLY VIOLATED ESTRELLAS RIGHT TO EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAWS AND EQUAL OR FAIR TREATMENT WHEN IT IGNORED ITS OWN CASE PRECEDENTS AND PRACTICE. IN STARK CONTRAST TO WHAT IT DID IN THIS CASE, THE EN BANC HAD PREVIOUSLY ALLOWED THE FIRST DIVISION, IN AT LEAST TWO RECENT CASES (EPC NO. 2001-19 AND EAC NO. A-4-20030 TO RESOLVE TIMELY FILED MOTION FOR EXECUTION PENDING RECONSIDERATION AND GAVE SAID DIVISION A FREE HAND AT FULLY DISPOSING OF SAID INCIDENTS.
Petitioner argues that Commissioner Lantions vote in the assailed order should be disregarded because of his previous inhibition in a similar case and in the same case in the Division level, thus making said assailed order null and void as it was not concurred by the required majority.
Petitioners argument is meritorious.
Commissioner Lantions voluntary piecemeal inhibition cannot be countenanced. Nowhere in the COMELEC Rules does it allow a Commissioner to voluntarily inhibit with reservation. To allow him to participate in the En Banc proceedings when he previously inhibited himself in the Division is, absent any satisfactory justification, not only judicially unethical but legally improper and absurd.
Since Commissioner Lantion could not participate and vote in the issuance of the questioned order, thus leaving three (3) members concurring therewith, the necessary votes of four (4) or majority of the members of the COMELEC was not attained. The order thus failed to comply with the number of votes necessary for the pronouncement of a decision or order, as required under Rule 3, Section 5(a) of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure which provides:chanroblesvirtua1awlibrary
Section 5. Quorum; Votes Required. (a) When sitting en banc, four (4) Members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum for the purpose of transacting business. The concurrence of a majority of the Members of the Commission shall be necessary for the pronouncement of a decision, resolution, order or ruling.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED. The Status Quo Ante Order dated November 5, 2003 issued by the COMELEC En Banc is hereby NULLIFIED. This Resolution is IMMEDIATELY EXECUTORY.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, and TINGA, JJ., concur.
Corona, J., on leave.
1 Rollo at 55-56.2 Id. at 13-14.3 Id. at 14.4 Ibid.5 Ibid.6 Id. at 14-15.7 Id. at 61-67.8 Id. at 15.9 Id. at 68.10 Id. at 69.11 Id. at 17.12 Id. at 171.13 Id. at 83-169.14 Id. at 174-180.15 Id. at 181-200.16 Id. at 223-229.17 Id. at 230-233.18 Id. at 235-239.