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626 Phil. 346

EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 189466, February 11, 2010 ]

DARYL GRACE J. ABAYON, PETITIONER, PRESENT: VS. THE HONORABLE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL, PERFECTO C. LUCABAN, JR., RONYL S. DE LA CRUZ AND AGUSTIN C. DOROGA, RESPONDENTS.

[G.R. No. 189506]

CONGRESSMAN JOVITO S. PALPARAN, JR., PETITIONER, VS. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL (HRET), DR. REYNALDO LESACA, JR., CRISTINA PALABAY, RENATO M. REYES, JR., ERLINDA CADAPAN, ANTONIO FLORES AND JOSELITO USTAREZ, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

ABAD, J.:

These two cases are about the authority of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) to pass upon the eligibilities of the nominees of the party-list groups that won seats in the lower house of Congress.

The Facts and the Case

In G.R. 189466, petitioner Daryl Grace J. Abayon is the first nominee of the Aangat Tayo party-list organization that won a seat in the House of Representatives during the 2007 elections.

Respondents Perfecto C. Lucaban, Jr., Ronyl S. Dela Cruz, and Agustin C. Doroga, all registered voters, filed a petition for quo warranto with respondent HRET against Aangat Tayo and its nominee, petitioner Abayon, in HRET Case 07-041. They claimed that Aangat Tayo was not eligible for a party-list seat in the House of Representatives, since it did not represent the marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

Respondent Lucaban and the others with him further pointed out that petitioner Abayon herself was not qualified to sit in the House as a party-list nominee since she did not belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, she being the wife of an incumbent congressional district representative. She moreover lost her bid as party-list representative of the party-list organization called An Waray in the immediately preceding elections of May 10, 2004.

Petitioner Abayon countered that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) had already confirmed the status of Aangat Tayo as a national multi-sectoral party-list organization representing the workers, women, youth, urban poor, and elderly and that she belonged to the women sector. Abayon also claimed that although she was the second nominee of An Waray party-list organization during the 2004 elections, she could not be regarded as having lost a bid for an elective office.

Finally, petitioner Abayon pointed out that respondent HRET had no jurisdiction over the petition for quo warranto since respondent Lucaban and the others with him collaterally attacked the registration of Aangat Tayo as a party-list organization, a matter that fell within the jurisdiction of the COMELEC. It was Aangat Tayo that was taking a seat in the House of Representatives, and not Abayon who was just its nominee. All questions involving her eligibility as first nominee, said Abayon, were internal concerns of Aangat Tayo.

On July 16, 2009 respondent HRET issued an order, dismissing the petition as against Aangat Tayo but upholding its jurisdiction over the qualifications of petitioner Abayon.[1] The latter moved for reconsideration but the HRET denied the same on September 17, 2009,[2] prompting Abayon to file the present petition for special civil action of certiorari.

In G.R. 189506, petitioner Jovito S. Palparan, Jr. is the first nominee of the Bantay party-list group that won a seat in the 2007 elections for the members of the House of Representatives. Respondents Reynaldo Lesaca, Jr., Cristina Palabay, Renato M. Reyes, Jr., Erlinda Cadapan, Antonio Flores, and Joselito Ustarez are members of some other party-list groups.

Shortly after the elections, respondent Lesaca and the others with him filed with respondent HRET a petition for quo warranto against Bantay and its nominee, petitioner Palparan, in HRET Case 07-040. Lesaca and the others alleged that Palparan was ineligible to sit in the House of Representatives as party-list nominee because he did not belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors that Bantay represented, namely, the victims of communist rebels, Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs), former rebels, and security guards. Lesaca and the others said that Palparan committed gross human rights violations against marginalized and underrepresented sectors and organizations.

Petitioner Palparan countered that the HRET had no jurisdiction over his person since it was actually the party-list Bantay, not he, that was elected to and assumed membership in the House of Representatives. Palparan claimed that he was just Bantay's nominee. Consequently, any question involving his eligibility as first nominee was an internal concern of Bantay. Such question must be brought, he said, before that party-list group, not before the HRET.

On July 23, 2009 respondent HRET issued an order dismissing the petition against Bantay for the reason that the issue of the ineligibility or qualification of the party-list group fell within the jurisdiction of the COMELEC pursuant to the Party-List System Act. HRET, however, defended its jurisdiction over the question of petitioner Palparan's qualifications.[3] Palparan moved for reconsideration but the HRET denied it by a resolution dated September 10, 2009,[4] hence, the recourse to this Court through this petition for special civil action of certiorari and prohibition.

Since the two cases raise a common issue, the Court has caused their consolidation.

The Issue Presented

The common issue presented in these two cases is:

Whether or not respondent HRET has jurisdiction over the question of qualifications of petitioners Abayon and Palparan as nominees of Aangat Tayo and Bantay party-list organizations, respectively, who took the seats at the House of Representatives that such organizations won in the 2007 elections.

The Court's Ruling

Petitioners Abayon and Palparan have a common theory: Republic Act (R.A.) 7941, the Party-List System Act, vests in the COMELEC the authority to determine which parties or organizations have the qualifications to seek party-list seats in the House of Representatives during the elections. Indeed, the HRET dismissed the petitions for quo warranto filed with it insofar as they sought the disqualifications of Aangat Tayo and Bantay. Since petitioners Abayon and Palparan were not elected into office but were chosen by their respective organizations under their internal rules, the HRET has no jurisdiction to inquire into and adjudicate their qualifications as nominees.

If at all, says petitioner Abayon, such authority belongs to the COMELEC which already upheld her qualification as nominee of Aangat Tayo for the women sector. For Palparan, Bantay's personality is so inseparable and intertwined with his own person as its nominee so that the HRET cannot dismiss the quo warranto action against Bantay without dismissing the action against him.

But, although it is the party-list organization that is voted for in the elections, it is not the organization that sits as and becomes a member of the House of Representatives. Section 5, Article VI of the Constitution,[5] identifies who the "members" of that House are:

Sec. 5. (1). The House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than two hundred and fifty members, unless otherwise fixed by law, who shall be elected from legislative districts apportioned among the provinces, cities, and the Metropolitan Manila area in accordance with the number of their respective inhabitants, and on the basis of a uniform and progressive ratio, and those who, as provided by law, shall be elected through a party‑list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations. (Underscoring supplied)

Clearly, the members of the House of Representatives are of two kinds: "members x x x who shall be elected from legislative districts" and "those who x x x shall be elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations." This means that, from the Constitution's point of view, it is the party-list representatives who are "elected" into office, not their parties or organizations. These representatives are elected, however, through that peculiar party-list system that the Constitution authorized and that Congress by law established where the voters cast their votes for the organizations or parties to which such party-list representatives belong.

Once elected, both the district representatives and the party-list representatives are treated in like manner. They have the same deliberative rights, salaries, and emoluments. They can participate in the making of laws that will directly benefit their legislative districts or sectors. They are also subject to the same term limitation of three years for a maximum of three consecutive terms.

It may not be amiss to point out that the Party-List System Act itself recognizes party-list nominees as "members of the House of Representatives," thus:

Sec. 2. Declaration of Policy. - The State shall promote proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives through a party-list system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof, which will enable Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives. Towards this end, the State shall develop and guarantee a full, free and open party system in order to attain the broadest possible representation of party, sectoral or group interests in the House of Representatives by enhancing their chances to compete for and win seats in the legislature, and shall provide the simplest scheme possible. (Underscoring supplied)

As this Court also held in Bantay Republic Act or BA-RA 7941 v. Commission on Elections,[6] a party-list representative is in every sense "an elected member of the House of Representatives." Although the vote cast in a party-list election is a vote for a party, such vote, in the end, would be a vote for its nominees, who, in appropriate cases, would eventually sit in the House of Representatives.

Both the Constitution and the Party-List System Act set the qualifications and grounds for disqualification of party-list nominees. Section 9 of R.A. 7941, echoing the Constitution, states:

Sec. 9. Qualification of Party-List Nominees. - No person shall be nominated as party-list representative unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, a resident of the Philippines for a period of not less than one (1) year immediately preceding the day of the election, able to read and write, bona fide member of the party or organization which he seeks to represent for at least ninety (90) days preceding the day of the election, and is at least twenty-five (25) years of age on the day of the election.

In case of a nominee of the youth sector, he must at least be twenty-five (25) but not more than thirty (30) years of age on the day of the election. Any youth sectoral representative who attains the age of thirty (30) during his term shall be allowed to continue until the expiration of his term.

In the cases before the Court, those who challenged the qualifications of petitioners Abayon and Palparan claim that the two do not belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors that they ought to represent. The Party-List System Act provides that a nominee must be a "bona fide member of the party or organization which he seeks to represent."[7]

It is for the HRET to interpret the meaning of this particular qualification of a nominee--the need for him or her to be a bona fide member or a representative of his party-list organization--in the context of the facts that characterize petitioners Abayon and Palparan's relation to Aangat Tayo and Bantay, respectively, and the marginalized and underrepresented interests that they presumably embody.

Petitioners Abayon and Palparan of course point out that the authority to determine the qualifications of a party-list nominee belongs to the party or organization that nominated him. This is true, initially. The right to examine the fitness of aspiring nominees and, eventually, to choose five from among them after all belongs to the party or organization that nominates them.[8] But where an allegation is made that the party or organization had chosen and allowed a disqualified nominee to become its party-list representative in the lower House and enjoy the secured tenure that goes with the position, the resolution of the dispute is taken out of its hand.

Parenthetically, although the Party-List System Act does not so state, the COMELEC seems to believe, when it resolved the challenge to petitioner Abayon, that it has the power to do so as an incident of its authority to approve the registration of party-list organizations. But the Court need not resolve this question since it is not raised here and has not been argued by the parties.

What is inevitable is that Section 17, Article VI of the Constitution[9] provides that the HRET shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to, among other things, the qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives. Since, as pointed out above, party-list nominees are "elected members" of the House of Representatives no less than the district representatives are, the HRET has jurisdiction to hear and pass upon their qualifications. By analogy with the cases of district representatives, once the party or organization of the party-list nominee has been proclaimed and the nominee has taken his oath and assumed office as member of the House of Representatives, the COMELEC's jurisdiction over election contests relating to his qualifications ends and the HRET's own jurisdiction begins.[10]

The Court holds that respondent HRET did not gravely abuse its discretion when it dismissed the petitions for quo warranto against Aangat Tayo party-list and Bantay party-list but upheld its jurisdiction over the question of the qualifications of petitioners Abayon and Palparan.

WHEREFORE, the Court DISMISSES the consolidated petitions and AFFIRMS the Order dated July 16, 2009 and Resolution 09-183 dated September 17, 2009 in HRET Case 07-041 of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal as well as its Order dated July 23, 2009 and Resolution 09-178 dated September 10, 2009 in HRET Case 07-040.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, C.J., Carpio, Carpio Morales, Velasco, Jr.,Leonardo-De Castro, Brion, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Villarama, Jr., Perez, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
Corona and Nachura, JJ., no part.



[1] Rollo (G.R. No. 189466), pp. 147-148.

[2] Id. at 25-26, Resolution 09-183.

[3] Rollo (G.R. No. 189506), pp. 53-54.

[4] Id. at 83-84.

[5] Section 17. The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each have an Electoral Tribunal which shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their respective Members. Each Electoral Tribunal shall be composed of nine Members, three of whom shall be Justices of the Supreme Court to be designated by the Chief Justice, and the remaining six shall be Members of the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, who shall be chosen on the basis of proportional representation from the political parties and the parties or organizations registered under the party-list system represented therein. The senior Justice in the Electoral Tribunal shall be its Chairman.

[6] G.R. No. 177271, May 4, 2007, 523 SCRA 1, 16-17.

[7] Republic Act 7941, Section 9.

[8] Republic Act 7941, Section 13.

[9] Section 17. The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each have an Electoral Tribunal which shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their respective Members. Each Electoral Tribunal shall be composed of nine Members, three of whom shall be Justices of the Supreme Court to be designated by the Chief Justice, and the remaining six shall be Members of the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, who shall be chosen on the basis of proportional representation from the political parties and the parties or organizations registered under the party-list system represented therein. The senior Justice in the Electoral Tribunal shall be its Chairman.

[10] Señeres v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 178678, April 16, 2009.

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