G.R. No. 122013 March 26, 1997
JOSE C. RAMIREZ, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, MUNICIPAL BOARD OF CANVASSERS OF GIPORLOS, EASTERN SAMAR and ALFREDO I. GO, Respondents.
Petitioner Jose C. Ramirez and private respondent Alfredo I. Go were candidates for vice mayor of Giporlos, Eastern Samar in the election of May 8, 1995. Petitioner was proclaimed winner by the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBC) on the basis of results showing that he obtained 1,367 votes against private respondent's 1,235 votes. 1
On May 16, 1995, private respondent filed in the COMELEC a petition for the correction of what he claimed was manifest error in the Statement of Votes (SPC No. 95-198). He alleged that, based on the entries in the Statement of Votes, he obtained 1,515 votes as against petitioner's 1,367 votes but that because of error in addition, he was credited with 1,235 votes as shown in the following recomputation: 2
In his Answer with Counter-Protest, 3 petitioner Jose C. Ramirez disputed private respondent's claim. He said that instead of the total of the votes for private respondent Alfredo Go, it was actually the entries relating to the number of votes credited to him in Precinct Nos. 11, 11-A, 6, 1, 17, 7, and 10 which were erroneously reflected in the Statement of Votes. According to petitioner, the entries in the Statement of Votes actually referred to the number of votes obtained by Rodito Fabillar, a mayoralty candidate, and not to the votes obtained by private respondent. Petitioner alleged that, as shown in the Certificate of Votes prepared by the Board of Election Inspectors, the votes cast for Go in the precincts in question were as follows:
On August 1, 1995, the COMELEC en banc issued its first questioned resolution, directing the MBC to reconvene and recompute the votes in the Statement of Votes and proclaim the winning candidate for vice mayor of Giporlos, Eastern Samar accordingly. 4
Petitioner Jose C. Ramirez and public respondent Municipal Board of Canvassers filed separate "motions for clarification." On September 26, 1995, the COMELEC en banc issued its second questioned resolution, reiterating its earlier ruling. It rejected the MBC's recommendation to resort to election returns: 5
Hence this petition for certiorari and mandamus seeking the annulment of the two resolutions, dated August 1, 1995 and September 26, 1995, of the Commission on Elections, and the reinstatement instead of the May 10, 1995 proclamation of petitioner Jose C. Ramirez as the duly elected vice mayor of Giporlos, Eastern Samar. Petitioner contends that (1) the COMELEC acted without jurisdiction over SPC No. 95-198 because the case was resolved by it without having been first acted upon by any of its divisions, and (2) the MBC had already made motu proprio a correction of manifest errors in the Statement of Votes in its certification dated May 22, 1995, showing the actual number of votes garnered by the candidates and it was a grave abuse of its discretion for the COMELEC to order a recomputation of votes based on the allegedly uncorrected Statement of Votes.
With respect to the first ground of the petition, Art. IX, 3 of the Constitution provides:
Although in Ong, Jr. v. COMELEC 6 it was said that "By now it is settled that election cases which include pre-proclamation controversies must first be heard and decided by a division of the Commission" 7 - and a petition for correction of manifest error in the Statement of Votes, like SPC No. 95-198 is a pre-proclamation controversy - in none of the cases 8 cited to support this proposition was the issue the correction of a manifest error in the Statement of Votes under 231 of the Omnibus Election Code (B.P. Blg. 881) or 15 of R.A. No. 7166. On the other hand, Rule 27, 5 of the 1993 Rules of the COMELEC expressly provides that pre-proclamation controversies involving, inter alia, manifest errors in the tabulation or tallying of the results may be filed directly with the COMELEC en banc, thus
Accordingly in Castromayor v. Commission on Elections, 9 and Mentang v. Commission on Elections, 10 this Court approved the assumption of jurisdiction by the COMELEC en banc over petitions for correction of manifest error directly filed with it. Our decision today in Torres v. COMELEC 11 again gives imprimatur to the exercise by the COMELEC en banc of the power to decide petition for correction of manifest error.
In any event, petitioner is estopped from raising the issue of jurisdiction of the COMELEC en banc. Not only did he participate in the proceedings below but he also sought affirmative relief from the COMELEC en banc by filing a Counter-Protest in which he asked that "entr[ies] in the statement of votes for Precinct Nos. 11, 11-A, 6, 1, 17, 7 and 10, be properly corrected for the petitioner, to reflect the correct mandate of the electorate of Giporlos, Eastern Samar." 12 It is certainly not right for a party taking part in proceedings and submitting his case for decision to attack the decision later for lack of jurisdiction of the tribunal because the decision turns out to be adverse to him. 13
Petitioner next contends that motu proprio the MBC already made a correction of the errors in the Statement of Votes in its certification dated May 22, 1995, which reads: 14
To begin with, the corrections should be made either by inserting corrections in the Statement of Votes which was originally prepared and submitted by the MBC, or by preparing an entirely new Statement of Votes incorporating therein the corrections. 15 The certification issued by the MBC is thus not the proper way to correct manifest errors in the Statement of Votes. More importantly, the corrections should be based on the election returns but here the corrections appear to have been made by the MBC on the bases of the Certificates of Votes issued. Thus, in its motion for clarification, the MBC said:
Certificates of Votes are issued by Boards of Election Inspectors (BEI) to watchers, pursuant to 215 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC). While such certificates are useful for showing tampering, alteration, falsification or any other irregularity in the preparation of election returns, 16 there is no reason for their use in this case since the integrity of the election returns is not in question. On the other hand, in the canvass of votes, the MBC is directed to use the election returns. 17 Accordingly, in revising the Statement of Votes supporting the Certificate of Canvass, the MBC should have used the election returns from the precincts in question although in fairness to the MBC, it proposed the use of election returns but the COMELEC en banc rejected the proposal. The Statement of Votes is a tabulation per precinct of votes garnered by the candidates as reflected in the election returns.
The Statement of Votes is a vital component of the electoral process. It supports the Certificate of Canvass and is the basis for proclamation. 18 But in this case the Statement of Votes was not even prepared until after the proclamation of the winning candidate. This is contrary to the Omnibus Election Code, 231 of which provides in part:
Indeed, it appears from the Comment of the MBC that the MBC prepared its Certificate of Canvass simply on the basis of improvised tally sheets and that it was only after the termination of the canvass, the proclamation of petitioner Jose C. Ramirez, and the accomplishment of the Certificate of Canvass of Votes and Proclamation, that its clerk, Rosalia Abenojar, prepared the Statement of Votes (C.E. Form No. 20-A). In a sworn report, Ms. Abenojar herself stated that she was tired and drowsy at the time she prepared the Statement of Votes for the mayoralty and vice mayoralty positions. Although this circumstance may support petitioner's claim that the number of votes credited to private respondent Alfredo I. Go are actually those cast in Precinct Nos. 11, 11-A, 6, 1, 17, 7, and 10 for mayoralty candidate Rodito Fabillar, it is equally possible that Go and Fabillar obtained the same number of votes in those precincts. That the clerk who prepared the Statement of Votes was tired and drowsy does not necessarily mean the entries she made were erroneous. But what is clear is that the Statement of Votes was not prepared with the care required by its importance. Accordingly, as the Solicitor General states, what the COMELEC should have ordered the MBC to do was not merely to recompute the number of votes for the parties, but to revise the Statement of Votes, using the election returns for this purpose. 19 As this Court ruled in Villaroya v. Commission on Elections: 20
Petitioner's final contention that in any event SPC No. 95-198 must be considered rendered moot and academic by reason of his proclamation and assumption of office is untenable. The short answer to this is that petitioner's proclamation was null and void and therefore the COMELEC was not barred from inquiring into its nullity. 21
WHEREFORE, the petition is partially GRANTED by annulling the resolutions dated August 1, 1995 and September 26, 1995 of the Commission on Elections. The COMELEC is instead DIRECTED to reconvene the Municipal Board of Canvassers or, if this is not feasible, to constitute a new Municipal Board of Canvassers in Giporlos, Eastern Samar and to order it to revise with deliberate speed the Statement of Votes on the basis of the election returns from all precincts of the Municipality of Giporlos and thereafter proclaim the winning candidate on the basis thereof.
Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno and Vitug, JJ., concur.
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