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337 Phil. 70

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 123037, March 21, 1997 ]

TEODORO Q. PEÑA, PETITIONER, VS. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL AND ALFREDO E. ABUEG, JR., RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

TORRES, JR., J.:

Assailed herein is the October 12, 1995 Resolution[1] of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) dismissing the Petition Ad Cautelam of the Petitioner Teodoro Q. Peña in HRET Case No. 95-014. Petitioner questioned the election of the private respondent Alfredo E. Abueg, Jr. as Member of the House of Representatives representing the Second District of the province of Palawan.

Petitioner and the private respondent were contenders for the said Congressional Office in the May 8, 1995 elections. On May 12, 195, upon canvassing the votes cast, the Provincial Board of Canvassers of Palawan proclaimed the private respondent as the winner.

On May 22, 1995, the instant petition was filed with the HRET, wherein the petitioner, as protestant, averred that:

  “7. The elections in the precincts of the Second District of Palawan were tainted with massive fraud, widespread vote-buying, intimidation and terrorism and other serious irregularities committed before, during and after the voting, and during the counting of votes and the preparation of election returns and certificates of canvass which affected the results of the election. Among the fraudulent acts committed were the massive vote-buying and intimidation of voters, disenfranchisement of petitioner’s known supporters through systematic deletion of names from the lists of voters, allowing persons to vote in excess of the number of registered voters, misappreciation, misreading and non-reading of protestant’s ballots and other irregularities.

8. According to the Statement of Votes by Precinct/Municipality/City, the protestee allegedly obtained 52,967 votes, while the protestant allegedly obtained 46,023 votes, or a difference of 6,944 votes. A copy of said document is attached hereto as Annex ‘B’.

9. Had the massive fraud, widespread intimidation and terrorism and other serious irregularities not been committed, the result of the elections for Member of the House of Representatives would have been different and the protestant would have garnered the highest number of votes for the Office Member of the House of Representatives in the Second District of Palawan, which was the true expression of the will of the voters of the Province of Palawan.

10. The proclamation by the members of the Provincial Board of Canvassers of Palawan that the protestee was allegedly the duly elected Member of the House of Representatives for the Second District of Palawan is contrary to law and to the true expression of the will of the voters of the Province of Palawan.”[2]
Private respondent-Protestee Abueg filed an Answer With Affirmative Defense, Counterclaim and Counter-Protest[3] on June 5, 1995, to which Peña filed a Reply on June 23, 1995. Subsequent to the filing of his Answer, Abueg filed a Motion to Dismiss[4]the Petition on June 22, 1995, averring that the HRET has not acquired jurisdiction over the petition, the same being insufficient in form and substance. In essence, the motion to dismiss anchors its challenge on the fact that the petition failed to allege the precincts where the massive fraud and disenfranchisement of voters occurred, nor did it point out how many votes would be gained by the protestant as a result of the same.

Petitioner filed an Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss[5] on July 10, 1995, attaching thereto a Summary of Contested Precincts, naming 700 precincts where election irregularities allegedly occurred.

In its Resolution of October 12, 1995, the respondent HRET ruled that although it had jurisdiction over the petition, as the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives, the said petition, however, fails to state a cause of action, and is therefore, insufficient in form and substance, meriting its dismissal.

The HRET states pertinently:

“There are 743 precincts in the second congressional district of Palawan which is comprised of Puerto Princesa City and the municipalities of Aborlan, Balabac, Bataraza, Brooke’s Point, Narra, Quezon, and Marcos (Ordinance appended to the 1973 Constitution). The Protestant failed to specify which are the 700 precincts, out of the said 743 precincts, that are included in his protest; he even failed to allege the municipalities where the protested precincts are located. Worse, the body of the Petition does not even mention the 700 precincts. Reference to them is made only in the Prayer. These omissions prevent Protestee from being apprised of the issues which he has to meet and make it virtually impossible for the Tribunal to determine which ballot boxes have to be collected.

The Supreme Court, in Fernando vs. Pastor M. Endencia, Judge of First Instance of Bulacan, et. al. (No. 46099, 66 Phil 148, 150, August 30, 1938) observed that, ‘while the election law does not say so directly, it is clearly inferred from its relevant provisions that where the grounds of contest are that legal votes were rejected and illegal votes received, the motion of protest should state in what precincts such irregularities occurred. xxx The specification in the motion of protest of the election precinct or precincts where the alleged irregularities occurred, is required in order to apprise the contestee of the issues which he has to meet. xxx’

In its more recent resolution in Grand Alliance for Democracy (GAD) vs. COMELEC (G.R. No. 78302, May 26, 1987, 150 SCRA 665), the Supreme Court held that the petition therein ‘could have been dismissed outright as deficient in form and substance, being couched in general terms only, without precise indication of the time, place and manner of the commission of the alleged irregularities.’ xxx

Similarly, this Tribunal, in dismissing an election protest, observed that the protest, in general language, “impugns, contests and protests the illegal, improper and fraudulent electoral practices, acts and deeds” of the protestee and “impugns and contests all the election returns in the lone district of Catanduanes.” The tribunal held that this scattershot allegation is not allowed in election contests and that “it is necessary to make a precise indication of the precincts protested and a specification of the claimed offenses to have been committed by the parties.” (Alberto vs. Tapia, HRET Case No. 37, January 23, 1989)

While Protestant has attached as Annex “A” to his Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, filed on 10 July 1995, a Summary of contested Precincts, the defects in his Protest were not cured thereby as the Summary was submitted only after the Motion to Dismiss had been filed. The Opposition and the attached Summary do not amend the original Petition. There is not even a prayer in the Opposition suggesting such amendment.

Moreover, in a Resolution promulgated on 17 June 1995, the Commission on Elections en banc (COMELEC) dismissed herein Petitioner’s Petition (SPA Case No. 95-258) to declare a failure of elections in the second district of Palawan. Copy of said Resolution was sent to Petitioner Peña’s Petition Ad Cautelam was thus converted into a regular protest (not Ad Cautelam) effective upon the finality of the official COMELEC resolution, thereby providing him an opportunity to amend it to cure the defects cited above, Protestant took no positive and affirmative steps for that purpose.

Protestant alleges in his Opposition that Protestee has likewise failed to specify the 47 precincts he contests in his Counter-Protest. This omission merely renders Protestee’s Counter-Protest defective for insufficiency in form and substance and for failure to state a cause of action. It does not cure the fatal defects in Protestant’s Petition.

WHEREFORE, for failure of the petition (Protest) to state a cause of action because it is fatally insufficient in form and substance, the Tribunal Resolved to GRANT Protestee’s Motion to Dismiss and to DISMISS, as it hereby DISMISSES, the instant Petition of Protest. As a logical consequence thereof and also for the same reason, Protestee’s Counter-Protest is DISMISSED.

No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.”[6]


Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of the said resolution was denied by the respondent tribunal on November 14, 1995.

In this Petition for Certiorari, filed on December 29, 1995, petitioner argues that the respondent HRET acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to having acted without or in excess of jurisdiction in dismissing the election protest of petitioner considering that:

I

“THE PETITION AD CAUTELAM DATED 22 MAY 1995 STATED A CAUSE OF ACTION AND IS SUFFICIENT IN FORM AND SUBSTANCE.

II

ASSUMING ARGUENDO THAT THE PETITION WAS INITIALLY DEFECTIVE BECAUSE IT FAILED TO SPECIFY THE CONTESTED PRECINCTS, SAID DEFECT WAS CURED WHEN PETITIONER SUBMITTED A SUMMARY OF THE CONTESTED PRECINCTS WHICH FORMS PART OF THE RECORD OF THE RESPONDENT HRET.”

It is the Petitioner’s view that the instant election protest is sufficient in form and substance even while failing to specify the precincts where irregularities allegedly occurred. Nowhere is it provided that the specification of the precincts is a jurisdictional requirement that must be complied with in order that an election protest can be entertained by the HRET. To support his submission, petitioner cites the cases of Yalung vs. Atienza, 52 Phil 781, Arao vs. COMELEC, 210 SCRA 790 and Gallares vs. Casenas, 48 Phil 362, the latter stating that:
“From a reading of the allegations of the protest, it may be seen that frauds, irregularities and violations of the law are alleged therein, which, if true, would undoubtedly change the result of the elections.

The fact that in the protest the number of votes which would result in favor of the protestant after the judicial counting is not specified, does not affect the right of the protestant, for it being known that said omission is a defect of the protest, the same may be cured by a specification of the votes mentioned in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of the protest, without thereby adding new grounds for those already alleged by the protestant.”
Applying the same principle to the specification of precincts in the instant case, the defect in the petition should have been cured by the opposition to the private respondent’s Motion to Dismiss.

Moreover, the fact that the HRET did not summarily dismiss the Petition Ad Cautelam, and instead, required the private respondent Abueg to file an Answer, the HRET has thus made a prior determination that the petition is sufficient in form and substance.

We do not agree.

In the first place, in requiring the private respondent to answer the petition, the HRET was not ruling on the formal and substantive sufficiency of the petition. The order to require an answer is but a matter of course, as under the Revised Rules of Procedure of the HRET, it is provided that:
“RULE 22. Summons. - Upon the filing of the petition, the Clerk of the Tribunal shall forthwith issue the corresponding summons to the protestee or respondent together with a copy of the petition, requiring him within ten (10) days from receipt thereof to file his answer.”
As to the adequacy of the protest, we agree with respondent HRET in ruling for the insufficiency of the same.

A perusal of the petition Ad Cautelam, reveals that Petitioner makes no specific mention of the precincts where widespread election, fraud and irregularities occured. This is a fatal omission, as it goes into the very substance of the protest. Under Section 21 of the Revised Rules of Procedure of HRET, insufficiency in form and substance of the petition constitutes a ground for the immediate dismissal of the Petition.

The prescription that the petition must be sufficient in form and substance means that the petition must be more than merely rhetorical. If the allegations contained therein are unsupported by even the faintest whisper of authority in fact and law, then there is no other course than to dismiss the petition, otherwise, the assumptions of an elected public official may, and will always be held up by petitions of this sort by the losing candidate.

Notably, the instant petition ad cautelam poses a more serious inadequacy than a mere failure to specify the number of votes which would inure to the protestant, as was the case in Gallares vs. Casenas, or the failure to impugn the validity of some of the ballots cast, as in Yalung vs. Atienza, supra, both of which cases were decided in the 1920s. The defect in the instant case arises from the failure to allege the contested precincts. Only a bare allegation of “massive fraud, widespread intimidation and terrorism and other serious irregularities”, without specification, and substantiation, of where and how these occurences took place, appears in the petition. We cannot allow an election protest based on such flimsy averments to prosper, otherwise, the whole election process will deteriorate into an endless stream of crabs pulling at each other, racing to disembank from the water.

On his second point of argument, Petitioner likewise fails to impress. The Court has already ruled in Joker P. Arroyo vs. HRET,[7] that substantial amendments to the protest may be allowed only within the same period for filing the election protest, which, under Rule 16 of the HRET Rules of Procedure is ten (10) days after proclamation of the winner.

While it is conceded that statutes providing for election contests are to be liberally construed to the end that the will of the people in the choice of public officers may not be defeated by mere technical questions, the rule likewise stands, that in an election protest, the protestant must stand or fall upon the issues he had raised in his original or amended pleading filed prior to the lapse of the statutory period for filing of the protest.[8]

Admittedly, the rule is well-established that the power to annul an election should be exercised with the greatest care as it involves the free and fair expression of the popular will. It is only in extreme cases of fraud and under circumstances which demonstrate to the fullest degree a fundamental and wanton disregard of the law that elections are annulled, and then only when it becomes impossible to take any other step.[9] xxx This is as it should be, for the democratic system is good for the many although abhorred by a few.

In sum, this Court’s jurisdiction to review decisions and orders of electoral tribunals operates only upon a showing of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the tribunal. Only where such a grave abuse of discretion is clearly shown shall the Court interfere with the electoral tribunal’s judgment. There is such showing in the present petition.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the Court hereby resolves to DISMISS the present petition for lack of merit. The resolution of the respondent House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal dated October 12, 1995 is hereby AFFIRMED.
SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, Hermosisima, Jr. and Panganiban, JJ., concur.
Padilla, and Regalado, JJ., took no part (Chairman of HRET).
Davide, Jr., Romero, and Melo, JJ., took no part (Members of HRET).
Bellosillo, J., took no part due to relation to one party.


[1] Petition, Attachment “A”, p. 20, Rollo.

[2] Petition, Attachment “C”, p. 31-32, Rollo.

[3] Petition, Attachment “D”, p. 38, Rollo.

[4]Petition, Attachment “F”, p. 58, Rollo.

[5] Petition, Attachment “G”, p. 65, Rollo.

[6] PP. 22-25, Rollo.

[7] G.R. No. 118597, July 14, 1995, 246 SCRA 384.

[8]Ibid.

[9] Idem.

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