- Cumigad v. Commission on Elections
- G.R. No. 167314
- CARPIO, J :
- Decision Date
G.R. No. 167314. March 20, 2007.
LUISITO O. CUMIGAD, petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and MUNICIPAL BOARD OF CANVASSERS OF GAMU, ISABELA, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CARPIO, J p:
Before the Court is a petition for certiorari assailing the En Banc Resolution dated 14 March 2005 of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in SPC No. 04-273. The En Banc resolution affirmed the Resolution dated 3 August 2004 of the COMELEC Second Division, which ordered respondent Municipal Board of Canvassers of Gamu, Isabela (MBOC) to "reconvene and correct . . . manifest errors" in the Statement of Votes for candidates running for the position of municipal councilor in the elections held on 10 May 2004.
Petitioner Luisito O. Cumigad (petitioner) ran for a seat in the Sangguniang Bayan of Gamu, Isabela during the 10 May 2004 elections. The MBOC completed the canvassing of votes on 12 May 2004 and proclaimed petitioner as having received 3,539 votes, placing him in sixth place among the eight winning candidates.
On 27 May 2004, the MBOC filed a Memorandum (MBOC memorandum) before the COMELEC alleging "manifest error" in the proclamation of the winners and requesting authority to reopen the canvassed election returns. The MBOC claimed that upon comparison of its tally with those of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), it found "variance in the result" and errors "which in a way would affect the winning and losing candidates." The MBOC prayed that in order to "avert any injustice resulting to possible social unrest" and avoid criminal and administrative cases and future election protests, the COMELEC should authorize the MBOC "to reconvene," "reopen the ballot boxes containing the canvassed election returns," and "make the necessary corrections as it may deem proper under the circumstances." The names of MBOC Chairperson Marlon D. Manuel (Manuel), Election Officer; Vice-Chairperson Ferdinand G. Baggao, Municipal Treasurer (Baggao); and Secretary Corazon R. Sumaoang from the Department of Education (Sumaoang) were printed at the end of the letter on the space for signatory. However, only Manuel and Sumaoang signed above their names.
The COMELEC docketed the MBOC memorandum as SPC No. 04-273 and set it for hearing on 22 June 2004, with notices sent to the candidates who could be affected by a recomputation of the votes. At the hearing, the COMELEC ordered the parties to submit their respective memoranda, after which it stated that the matter would be submitted for resolution.
The records show that on 15 May 2004, or shortly before the MBOC filed its memorandum, Gamu parish priest Amadeo Vinasoy (Fr. Vinasoy) issued to Marlo T. Angangan (Angangan), one of the losing candidates, a Certification stating that Angangan ranked seventh among the candidates for municipal councilor according to the PPCRV count, "contrary to the result . . . as proclaimed by the MBOC." On 27 May 2004, NAMFREL Provincial Secretary for Isabela Gerry Daquiuag (Fr. Daquiuag) issued a Certification stating that Angangan garnered the sixth highest number of votes among the candidates for municipal councilor based on the NAMFREL's copy of the election returns. IDESTH
On 25 June 2004, petitioner filed his Memorandum before the COMELEC, arguing that no manifest error can be said to exist when the tally made by the MBOC differs from that of the NAMFREL, the PPCRV, or of other candidates. Petitioner pointed out that although the MBOC had in its possession the Chairperson's copy of the Certificate of Canvass and Proclamation, it could not say what kind of "manifest error" was committed, arousing the suspicion that there was none apart from the variance between the MBOC's count and those of the NAMFREL and PPCRV. Petitioner also pointed out that the supporting documents submitted by the MBOC consisted solely of the certifications issued by Fr. Vinasoy and Fr. Daquiuag and certified true copies of the NAMFREL count. Petitioner argued that any reopening of the ballot boxes and recount of votes in the election returns would therefore be illegal.
On 28 June 2004, the MBOC filed a reply with an urgent motion to suspend the effects or annul the proclamation of the eight municipal councilors. The MBOC denied petitioner's accusation that it reviewed the Certificate of Canvass of Votes only upon being apprised of the results of the NAMFREL and PPCRV count, and that it could therefore be accused of surrendering its official duty of canvassing the votes to the NAMFREL and PPCRV. The MBOC averred that the NAMFREL and PPCRV results only prompted the MBOC "to look deeper" into the matter. Upon a review of the Certificate of Canvass of Votes, the MBOC was convinced that it committed manifest errors. The MBOC clarified that it did not intend to open the ballot boxes and recount the votes cast for the candidates, but only to reconvene and correct manifest errors committed during the canvassing.
In its Resolution dated 3 August 2004, the COMELEC Second Division resolved to treat the MBOC's petition as a petition to correct manifest errors. The dispositive portion of the resolution states:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition to correct manifest errors in the statement of votes is hereby GRANTED; the Board of Canvassers of Gamu, Isabela is hereby ORDERED to RECONVENE and correct the manifest errors in the statement of votes in accordance with the figures in the election returns; furthermore, the Board is also DIRECTED to NOTIFY all the parties that will be affected by the correction of the manifest errors, and REQUIRE them to be present during the correction of the manifest errors.
Petitioner moved for reconsideration of the resolution, reiterating that there was no manifest error even assuming that the MBOC's count differed from those of the NAMFREL and PPCRV. Petitioner later filed an "addendum" to his motion for reconsideration, citing supervening events which allegedly led Baggao and Sumaoang, the two members of the MBOC who signed the memorandum with Manuel, to execute affidavits pertaining to the matter. Their separate but strikingly similar affidavits dated 18 August 2004 state that "after close scrutiny of the minutes of the MBOC, together with other documentary evidence," they came to the conclusion that no manifest error had been committed which could vary the result of the elections. Baggao claimed that this was his reason for not signing the MBOC memorandum. Sumaoang, for her part, stated that she was withdrawing her conformity to the MBOC memorandum.
On 23 August 2004, Angangan filed leave to intervene in the COMELEC proceedings and to have his opposition to petitioner's motion for reconsideration admitted as part of the records, alleging his legal interest in the outcome of the controversy. Angangan claimed that if the assailed COMELEC resolutions were to be enforced, he would land as the eighth member of the Sangguniang Bayan. In an addendum that he filed shortly afterwards, Angangan accused Baggao and Sumaoang of conspiring with petitioner to thwart, obstruct, and circumvent the Division resolution.
On 14 March 2005, the COMELEC En Banc issued the assailed Resolution denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration and affirming the Division resolution.
On 22 March 2005, petitioner filed this petition with an urgent prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order enjoining the implementation of the assailed COMELEC resolutions. On 29 March 2005, we required respondents to file their comment to the petition.
On 29 April 2005, Angangan filed before the Court a Motion for Leave for Intervention and to Admit Comment/Opposition to the petition, his motion to intervene having been unresolved by the COMELEC. Opposing Angangan's motion, petitioner alleged that Angangan cannot be considered an indispensable party to the case, Angangan's presence not being necessary for its final determination. Petitioner contended that Angangan had no part in the filing of the MBOC memorandum. Petitioner further contended that his petition only imputed grave abuse of discretion to the COMELEC as a body and was not directed against any other party, Angangan included.
Meanwhile, the COMELEC on 28 April 2005 issued Minute Resolution No. 05-0436 constituting a special Municipal Board of Canvassers (special MBOC) to convene on 20 May 2005 at the COMELEC office in Intramuros, Manila and implement the assailed resolutions. On 7 June 2005, we issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the COMELEC and the MBOC from implementing the assailed resolutions upon petitioner's posting of a bond. However, a day earlier or on 6 June 2005, the special MBOC had convened and, based on a "rectified Statement of Votes by Precincts," proclaimed Angangan as the eighth winning candidate and member of the Sanggunian Bayan. On the same day, Angangan took his oath of office before Justice Danilo B. Pine of the Court of Appeals.
On the strength of his proclamation and oath of office, Angangan reported to the Sangguniang Bayan on 10 June 2005. In the meetings of the Sangguniang Bayan held on 17 June 2005 and 24 June 2005, Gamu Vice-Mayor Emelito Caro (Caro), as Presiding Officer, refused to recognize Angangan as a legitimate member. Angangan secured an opinion from Isabela Provincial Election Supervisor Michael Valdez to the effect that there was no legal impediment for Angangan to be recognized as a member of the Sangguniang Bayan. Thus, Angangan in his Manifestation and Urgent Motion prays for the lifting of the temporary restraining order issued on 7 June 2005, alleging that his proclamation and oath have rendered the temporary restraining order moot and academic.
The Ruling of the COMELEC
The COMELEC En Banc found that the MBOC committed manifest errors in the transfer of entries from the election returns to the Statement of Votes. According to the COMELEC, it was clear upon inspection of the election returns from Precinct Numbers 50A, 51A, 53A, 54A, 55A, 56A, 56B, 57A, and 65A that the votes received by petitioner as indicated in the Statement of Votes was higher by 150 votes than what he actually received. The COMELEC considered the 150 votes deductible from petitioner's total of 3,539 votes as stated in the Certificate of Canvass of Votes and Proclamation. With the COMELEC's recomputation, Angangan ranked eighth with 3,445 votes, while petitioner ranked ninth with 3,389 votes.
The COMELEC resolution explained:
xxx xxx xxx
We conducted our own comparison of the votes of petitioner as indicated in the Election Returns and of his votes found in the Statement of Votes by Precincts alleged by the MBOC as containing manifest errors, using the COMELEC copy of the said documents. . . .
xxx xxx xxx
Clearly as shown above, there are manifest errors committed which affected the outcome or result of the elections considering that in the Certificate of Canvass of Votes and Proclamation, it is stated that petitioner ranked number six (6) with 3,539 votes but with the implementation of the correction, he only ranked number nine (9) with 3,389 votes.
xxx xxx xxx
Finally, the proclamation of petitioner cannot be considered valid because it was based on faulty tabulation. . . .
After promulgation of the resolution, Manuel filed before the COMELEC a Very Urgent Motion To Use Other Authentic Copies of the Election Returns and Statement of Votes, claiming unavailability of the copies of election returns kept by the Election Officer of Gamu and praying that the COMELEC authorize the MBOC to use all other authentic copies available of the election returns of the precincts where there were errors in tabulation. Manuel also prayed that the winning candidate be proclaimed after corrections have been made and that the COMELEC order Baggao and Sumaoang to show cause why they should not be held in contempt for obstructing the implementation of the assailed resolutions. Manuel further prayed that proper investigation be conducted on the disappearance of 71 election returns.
Acting on Manuel's urgent motion, the COMELEC issued an Order directing the MBOC to (1) reconvene, upon prior notice to the parties, candidates, and persons concerned; (2) implement the corrections using the COMELEC's copy of the election returns and Statement of Votes for Precinct Numbers 50A, 51A, 53A, 54A, 55A, 56A, 56B, 57A, and 65A; and (3) proclaim the winning candidates based on the corrected results.
Hence, this petition.
For resolution are the following issues:
1. Whether the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in giving due course to the MBOC memorandum;
2. Whether the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in ordering the MBOC to reconvene and make corrections to the Statement of Votes; and
3. Whether Angangan may intervene in the proceedings.
The Court's Ruling
The petition must fail.
COMELEC did not commit grave abuse of discretion
in giving due course to the MBOC memorandum
Petitioner raises the issue of the propriety of the COMELEC's decision to give due course to the MBOC memorandum. Petitioner's argument is three-fold.
First, petitioner alleges that the MBOC memorandum cited "alleged manifest errors in the proclamation" of the winning candidates, a matter not recognized by any provision of the
Second, petitioner asserts that even if the COMELEC were correct in treating the MBOC memorandum as a petition to correct manifest errors, still the COMELEC should have dismissed the petition outright for having been filed out of time. Under Section 5, Rule 27 of the
Third, petitioner submits that the MBOC could not motu proprio file a petition for correction before the COMELEC because such may be brought only by a "candidate, any registered political party, organization or coalition of political parties before the board of canvassers or directly with the COMELEC" based on Section 1, Rule 27 of the
Petitioner's arguments do not persuade.
Admittedly, the MBOC memorandum mentions the variance in the results the MBOC obtained compared to those of the NAMFREL and PPCRV. The MBOC memorandum also cites "errors in proclamation" of the winning candidates. This imprecision in the averments does not, however, muddle the clear intent of the MBOC to report manifest errors in the tabulation of votes for the members of the Sangguniang Bayan. The contents of the MBOC's Reply dated 28 June 2004 filed before the COMELEC further clarify this intent. In the reply, the MBOC claimed that upon Angangan's prompting, it studied the Minutes of Canvass and Proclamation and the Certificate of Canvass of Votes and Proclamation and noted manifest errors. Thus, the COMELEC correctly treated the memorandum as a petition for correction of manifest errors under Sections 4 and 5, Rule 27 of the
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:
xxx xxx xxx
(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 had 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. EScIAa
xxx xxx xxx (Emphasis supplied)
We likewise reject petitioner's arguments that the MBOC could not have motu proprio filed a petition for correction, and that the petition was, at any rate, filed out of time. Indeed, the MBOC is expressly allowed to motu proprio correct manifest errors before proclamation under Section 7, Rule 27 of the
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 . . . (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, . . . the board may motu proprio, or upon verified petition by any candidate, political party, organization or coalition of political parties, after due notice and hearing, correct the errors committed.
xxx xxx xxx
We held in and that although this provision applies to pre-proclamation controversies, and here petitioner has already been proclaimed, there is nothing to prevent its application to cases like the one before us where the validity of the candidate's proclamation is precisely in question. The reason is simple the Statement of Votes forms the basis of the Certificate of Canvass and of the proclamation, such that any error in the Statement of Votes ultimately affects the validity of the proclamation. Thus, in Torres we ruled:
It may be argued that because petitioner has already been proclaimed as winning candidate the remedy of the losing party is an election protest over which the Regional Trial Court and not the COMELEC nor the Municipal Board of Canvassers has original jurisdiction. However, as this Court already ruled in Duremdes
It is Duremdes' further submission that his proclamation could not be declared null and void because a pre-proclamation controversy is not proper after a proclamation has been made, the proper recourse being an election protest. This is on the assumption, however, that there has been a valid proclamation. Where a proclamation is null and void, the proclamation is no proclamation at all and the proclaimed candidate's assumption of office cannot deprive the COMELEC of the power to declare such nullity and annul the proclamation.
Angangan is a rightful intervenor
Based on the above considerations, there should be no objection to Angangan's intervention. Under the Although the COMELEC failed to resolve Angangan's motion to intervene, we find here that his legal interest in the matter is unquestionable by virtue merely of his candidacy for a position in the Sangguniang Bayan, and is further cemented by the fact that he directly challenges petitioner's claim to the eighth seat in the Sangguniang Bayan.
COMELEC correctly ordered the MBOC
to reconvene and enter corrections
to the Statement of Votes
On the issue of whether there were manifest errors in the Statement of Votes for the Sangguniang Bayan candidates, we sustain the factual conclusions of the COMELEC. The Statement of Votes is a tabulation per precinct of the votes obtained by all candidates as entered in the election returns. In other words, the Statement of Votes must correctly reflect the exact number of votes per precinct based on the entries in the election returns. In this case, the COMELEC compared the entries in the election returns to those in the Statement of Votes and found that the total votes tabulated for petitioner in the latter had been increased by 150. Deducting the 150 votes from petitioner's total brings him to ninth place among the candidates, with Angangan placing eighth.
Thus, what is involved here is a mere recomputation of the votes for each candidate from the data entered in the election returns as transferred to the Statement of Votes and afterwards to the Certificate of Canvass and Proclamation. The MBOC reconvened only to perform a simple arithmetical procedure, with no reopening of the ballot boxes, to the end that the rightful winner may be proclaimed.
In a long line of election cases, 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. It does not escape our attention that petitioner raised purely technical objections, but he did not dispute the findings of the COMELEC on the errors in the Statement of Votes. In the recent case of which involved a similar set of facts, we held:
There is no controversy that discrepancies exist in the statement of votes and that reflected in the questioned election returns. Considering that any error in the statement of votes would affect the proclamation made on the basis thereof, the resolution of the COMELEC directing the MBOC to reconvene to rectify the errors it committed in tallying the votes for the vice-mayoralty race in Alicia, Isabela should be upheld. Indeed, "above and beyond all, the determination of the true will of the electorate should be paramount. It is their voice, not ours or of anyone else, that must prevail. This, in essence, is the democracy we continue to hold sacred.
We reiterate that absent any grave abuse of discretion, arbitrariness, fraud, or error of law, the factual findings of the COMELEC, when supported by sufficient evidence, are conclusive upon the Court.
WHEREFORE, we DISMISS the petition. We AFFIRM the Resolutions of the COMELEC Second Division and the COMELEC En Banc dated 3 August 2004 and 14 March 2005, respectively, and LIFT the temporary restraining order of 7 June 2005.
In view of the proximity of the next elections, this Decision is declared FINAL and IMMEDIATELY EXECUTORY.
Puno, C.J., Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, Garcia, Velasco, Jr. and Nachura, JJ., concur.
Callejo, Sr., J., is on leave.
1. Under Rule 64 in relation to Rule 65 of the
2. Rollo, pp. 28-37. En Banc Resolution with Chairperson Benjamin S. Abalos, Sr. and Commissioners Rufino S.B. Javier, Mehol K. Sadain, Resurreccion Z. Borra, Florentino A. Tuason, Jr., Virgilio O. Garcillano, and Manuel A. Barcelona, Jr. concurring.
3. Id. at 26-27.
4. Id. at 38.
5. Id. at 39.
6. Id. at 40.
7. Id. at 48-60.
8. Id. at 26-27. Division Resolution with Presiding Commissioner Mehol K. Sadain and Commissioners Florentino A. Tuason, Jr. and Manuel A. Barcelona, Jr. concurring.
9. Section 32 of
Sec. 32. Manifest error. There is manifest error in the tabulation or tallying of the results during the canvassing 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 was a mistake in the copying of the figures from the election returns to the statement of votes by precinct or from the municipality/city Certificate of Canvass to the Statement of Votes by Municipality, or from the Province/City Certificate of Canvass to the Statement of Votes by province/city,
(4) Returns from non-existent precinct were included in the canvass, or
(5) There was a mistake in the addition of the votes of any candidate.
10. Rollo, p. 27.
11. Id. at 98-99.
12. Id. at 168-171.
13. Id. at 34-36.
14. 320 Phil. 363 (1995).
15. 337 Phil. 270 (1997).
16. Id. at 275-276, citing , G.R. Nos. 86362-63, 27 October 1989, 178 SCRA 746.
17. Section 1, Rule 27.
18. , 428 Phil. 1051 (2002), citing , G.R. No. 106053, 17 August 1994, 235 SCRA 436.
19. G.R. No. 167101, 31 January 2006, 481 SCRA 427, 450.
20. , 405 Phil. 950 (2001).