December 2008 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 181644 - HERMILINA N. ABAINZA v. ERNESTO ARELLANO, ET AL.
[G.R. NO. 181644 : December 8, 2008]
HERMILINA N. ABAINZA, Petitioner, v. ERNESTO ARELLANO and COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
Before the Court is a Petition for Certiorari1 assailing the Resolutions of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) dated September 3, 2007 and January 30, 2008, respectively.
Private respondent Ernesto C. Arellano and petitioner Hermilina N. Abainza were among the candidates for the position of member of the Sangguniang Bayan of Jovellar, Albay, in the May 14, 2007 synchronized national and local elections.
On May 15, 2007, the Municipal Board of Canvassers proclaimed the following as the duly elected members of the Sangguniang Bayan:
1. Mirabete, Moises
2. Vibar, Eddie Ll.
3. Quirona, Felipe M.
4. Nobleza, Jose Jr. A.
5. Romualdo, Victor M.
6. Millano, Precioso O.
7. Lovendino, Wiro A.
8. Abainza, Hermelina N.
Private respondent received 2,983 votes and held the 9th spot.
On May 21, 2007, private respondent filed a petition for correction of the number of votes in Clustered Precinct Nos. 46-A/47-A due to erroneous tally. Meanwhile, on June 29, 2007, petitioner took her oath of office.
On September 3, 2007, the COMELEC 1st Division rendered a Resolution2 annulling the proclamation of petitioner as councilor of the Municipality of Jovellar, Albay, due to erroneous tally of votes. Election Return No. 2900930 from Clustered Precinct Nos. 46-A/47-A showed a tally of one hundred fourteen (114) votes in favor of private respondent but indicated a corresponding total in words and figures of only fourteen (14) votes. The said election return was counterchecked with the copy of the Election Records and Statistical Division, and the members of the Board of Election Inspectors executed an affidavit admitting the clerical error in the canvass of votes.
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration. However, the COMELEC en banc denied the same in a Resolution3 dated January 30, 2008.
Hence, this petition.
Petitioner raised the following issues for resolution, viz.:
(1) Whether the COMELEC has original jurisdiction over the petition for correction of manifest error;4 and
(2) Whether the COMELEC erred in granting the petition for correction of manifest error which was in the nature of a pre-proclamation controversy despite the proclamation and oath by petitioner as elected councilor.5
The Ruling of the Court
We resolve to dismiss the petition on the following grounds:
First, the COMELEC is empowered by the Constitution to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election.6 It exercises exclusive original jurisdiction over all contests relating to the elections, returns, and qualifications of all elective regional, provincial, and city officials.7 In relation thereto, it is empowered to promulgate its rules of procedure in order to expedite disposition of election cases, including pre-proclamation controversies.8
Section 5, Rule 27 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure provides:
Sec. 5. Pre-proclamation Controversies Which May Be Filed Directly With the Commission. - (a) The following pre-proclamation controversies may be filed directly with the Commission:
x x x
2) When the issue involves the correction of manifest errors in the tabulation or tallying of the results during the canvassing as where (1) a copy of the election returns or certificate of canvass was tabulated more than once, (2) two or more copies of the election returns of one precinct, or two or more copies of certificate of canvass were tabulated separately, (3) there has been a mistake in the copying of the figures into the statement of votes or into the certificate of canvass, or (4) so-called returns from non-existent precincts were included in the canvass, and such errors could not have been discovered during the canvassing despite the exercise of due diligence and proclamation of the winning candidates had already been made.9
Under this rule, correction of manifest errors in the tabulation or tallying of results during the canvassing may be filed directly with the Commission, even after a proclamation of the winning candidates. In the instant case, the proclamation of petitioner as councilor of the Municipality of Jovellar, Albay, was due to a manifest error when what was entered in the election return was 14 instead of 114 as the number of votes obtained by private respondent.
A "manifest error" is one that is visible to the eye or obvious to the understanding; that which is open, palpable, incontrovertible, needing no evidence to make it more clear.10 As stated in the assailed Resolution of the COMELEC, the error in the entry in the election return is very evident to the eye, needing no evidence to make it clear. Petitioner's proclamation, and eventual assumption of office, was predicated on a clerical and "manifest" error, not on the legitimate will of the electorate.
Despite the proclamation of the winning candidates, the COMELEC still has jurisdiction to correct manifest errors in the election returns for the Sangguniang Bayan candidates. Section 7 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure provides for the correction of errors in tabulation or tallying of results by the Board of Canvassers, viz.:
Sec. 7. Correction of Errors in Tabulation or Tallying of Results by the Board of Canvassers. - (a) Where it is clearly shown before proclamation that manifest errors were committed in the tabulation or tallying of election returns, or certificates of canvass, during the canvassing as where (1) a copy of the election returns of one precinct or two or more copies of a certificate of canvass were tabulated more than once, (2) two copies of the election returns or certificate of canvass were tabulated separately, (3) there was a mistake in the adding or copying of the figures into the certificate of canvass or into the statement of votes by precinct, or (4) so-called election returns from non-existent precincts were included in the canvass, the board may motu proprio, or upon verified petition by any candidate, political party, organization or coalition or political parties, after due notice and hearing, correct the errors committed.11
It is true that this provision deals with pre-proclamation controversies. However, it has also been held applicable to cases when a proclamation had already been made, where the validity of the candidate's proclamation was precisely in question.12 After all, the election returns that are later on reflected in the statement of votes form the basis of the certificate of canvass and of the proclamation. Any error in the election returns ultimately affects the validity of the proclamation.
With the finding by the COMELEC of a manifest error in Election Return No. 2900930 from Clustered Precinct Nos. 46-A/47-A, petitioner's proclamation was, therefore, flawed from the very beginning. It was not a valid proclamation. And when a proclamation is null and void, the proclamation is no proclamation at all; thus, the proclaimed candidate's assumption of office cannot deprive the COMELEC of the power to declare such nullity and annul the proclamation.13
In Duremdes v. Commission on Elections,14 it was Duremdes' submission that his proclamation could not be declared null and void because a pre-proclamation controversy was not proper after a proclamation had been made, the proper recourse being an election protest. However, the Court ruled that Duremdes' contention was proper only if there had been a valid proclamation.
Second, petitioner maintains that private respondent should have filed a pre-proclamation controversy before the Municipal Board of Canvassers of Jovellar, Albay, during the canvassing and not with the COMELEC eight (8) days after her proclamation.15
Under Section 5(b), Rule 27 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, petitions for correction of manifest errors before the Commission must be filed not later than five (5) days following the date of proclamation. Indeed, private respondent failed to file his petition for manifest error on time. Nonetheless, the COMELEC committed no reversible error in granting his petition. Sections 3 and 4 of Rule 1 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure provides:
Sec. 3. Construction. - These rules shall be liberally construed in order to promote the effective and efficient implementation of the objectives of ensuring the holding of free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections and to achieve just, expeditious and inexpensive determination and disposition of every action and proceeding brought before the Commission.
Sec. 4. Suspension of the Rules. - In the interest of justice and in order to obtain speedy disposition of all matters pending before the Commission, these rules or any portion thereof may be suspended by the Commission.
Clearly, then, the COMELEC has the discretion to construe its rules liberally and, at the same time, suspend the rules or any portion thereof in the interest of justice.16 That is what the COMELEC has done in this case.
We have consistently held that election laws should be construed liberally to give effect to the popular will, without resort to technicalities. The court frowns upon any interpretation of election laws that would hinder in any way not only the free and intelligent casting of votes in an election but also the correct ascertainment of the results.17
In the instant case, petitioner does not dispute the finding of the COMELEC on the error in the total number of votes reflected in the election return. Petitioner raises only purely technical objections. Considering that the will of the electorate is of paramount importance and should be upheld, technicalities must yield.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petition is DISMISSED for lack of merit.
* On leave.
1 Under Rule 64 in relation to Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
2 Penned by Commissioner Romeo A. Brawner, with Presiding Commissioner Resurrection Z. Borra, concurring; rollo, pp. 19-25.
The dispositive portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Commission (First Division) hereby AFFIRMS the proclamation of LOVINDINO WIRO as a winning candidate for the position of member of the Sangguniang Bayan of Jovellar, Albay, SAVE the indication in the Certificate of Canvass Votes and Proclamation of the Winning Candidates for the Municipal Offices of the same municipality that he garnered the seventh highest number of votes.
The proclamation of HERMILINA N. ABAINZA as a winning candidate for the same position is hereby ANNULLED, the same being based on an erroneous tally.
The Municipal Board of Canvassers of Jovellar, Albay is hereby DIRECTED to RECONVENE within five (5) days after this Resolution shall have become final and, after notice to the parties and hearing in accordance with Rule 27, Section 7 of the Commission on Elections Rules of Procedure, to effect the necessary corrections, if any, in Election Return No. 2900930 for Clustered Precinct Nos. 46-A/47-A and, based on the amended results, proclaim the winning candidates for the seventh and eighth slots for members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Jovellar, Albay.
3 Rollo, pp. 30-34.
4 Id. at 8.
6 CONSTITUTION, Article IX(C), Section 2(1).
7 CONSTITUTION, Article IX(C), Section 2(2).
8 CONSTITUTION, Article IX(C), Section 3.
9 Emphasis supplied.
11 Emphasis supplied.
14 Suliguin v. COMELEC, supra; Duremdes v. COMELEC, supra.
15 Petition for Certiorari, rollo, p. 13.
16 Suliguin v. COMELEC, supra note 13.
17 Cumigad v. COMELEC, supra note 12.