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768 Phil. 99

EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 216572, September 01, 2015 ]

FELICIANO P. LEGASPI, PETITIONER, VS. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, ALFREDO GERMAR, AND ROGELIO P. SANTOS, JR., RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

PEREZ, J.:

This is a Petition for Certiorari[1] assailing the Order[2] dated 28 January 2015 of respondent Commission on Elections (COMELEC) en banc in SPA No. 13-323 (DC).

The Parties

Respondents Alfredo Germar (Germar) and Rogelio P. Santos, Jr. (Santos), along with one Roberto C. Esquivel (Esquivel), were among the candidates fielded by the Liberal Party (LP) to vie for local elective posts in Norzagaray, Bulacan, during the 13 May 2013 elections. Germar ran for the position of mayor, Santos ran for the position of councilor, and Esquivel ran for the position of vice-mayor.

Petitioner Feliciano P. Legaspi, on the other hand, was the National Unity Party's (NUP's) bet for mayor of Norzagaray during the 2013 polls.

The Election Results and the Petition for Disqualification

After the votes cast by the Norzagaray electorate were tallied, Germar emerged as the highest vote getter in the mayoralty race. Santos, for his part, also appeared to have secured enough votes to be the second councilor of the municipality. Esquivel, though, failed in his bid to become vice-mayor of Norzagaray.

Upon learning about the results of the tally, petitioner immediately filed before the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBC) of Norzagaray a motion to suspend the proclamation of Germar and Santos as winning candidates. Such motion, however, proved to be futile.

At exactly 7:45 a.m. on 14 May 2013, despite the petitioner's motion, the MBC proclaimed Germar and Santos as duly elected mayor and councilor of the municipality of Norzagaray, respectively.

A few hours[3] after the said proclamation, petitioner filed before the COMELEC a Petition for Disqualification against Germar, Santos, and Esquivel. In it, petitioner accused Germar, Santos, and Esquivel of having engaged in rampant vote buying during the days leading to the elections.

The Petition for Disqualification was docketed as SPA No. 13-323 (DC) and was assigned to the COMELEC First Division, then composed of Commissioners Lucenito N. Tagle (Commissioner Tagle), Christian Robert S. Lim (Commissioner Christian Lim) and Al A. Parreño (Commissioner Parreño).

COMELEC First Division and Special First Division

In due course, the COMELEC First Division took a vote on SPA No. 13-323 (DC). The vote of the division was an even 1-1 split, with Commissioner Tagle voting in favor of granting the petition for disqualification, but with Commissioner Christian Lim voting against it. The third member of the division, i.e., Commissioner Parreño, was not able to provide the potential tie-breaking vote as he was then absent and attending to some other official business.

Due to the impasse created by the absence of one of its members, the COMELEC First Division called for the constitution of a Special First Division through which COMELEC Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. sat in the First Division as acting member vice the absent Commissioner Parreño for purposes of SPA No. 13-323 (DC).[4]

On 3 October 2013, the COMELEC Special First Division, by a 2 to 1 vote, rendered a resolution: (1) disqualifying Germar and Santos for the positions of mayor and councilor, respectively, of Norzagaray; and (2) referring the criminal aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC) to the COMELEC Law Department for preliminary investigation.[5]

Germar, Santos, and Esquivel filed a motion for reconsideration with the COMELEC en banc.

The COMELEC En Banc and the Dismissal of the Electoral Aspect of SPA
No. 13-323 (DC)


On 10 July 2004, the COMELEC en banc took a vote on the motion for reconsideration. At that time, the COMELEC en banc had six (6) incumbent members.[6] Of the six (6), however, only five (5) members actually participated in the deliberations and casted votes. Commissioner Parreño opted to take no part and did not vote.

The following were the results of the voting:

  1. As to the electoral aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC), the vote was 3-2, i.e., 3 members voted in favor of the disqualification of Germar and Santos, and 2 dissented.[7] Hence, a majority of at least four (4) votes was not reached with respect to the electoral aspect of the case.

  2. As to the criminal aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC), the vote was 4-1, i.e., 4 members voted in favor of the referral of the criminal aspect of the disqualification case to the COMELEC Law Department and 1 dissented.[8] Hence, a majority was reached with respect to the criminal aspect of the case.

In view of the foregoing, the COMELEC en banc issued a resolution[9] denying the motion for reconsideration with respect to the criminal aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC), but ordering the conduct of a rehearing insofar as the electoral aspect of the case was concerned.

After the rehearing, the COMELEC en banc took another vote but it still failed to muster a majority consensus on the electoral aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC).[10] The final vote of the COMELEC en banc on the matter remained at the exact 3-2 split that it was before the rehearing.[11] Commissioner Parreño maintained his "no part" stance, while newly appointed Commissioner Arthur D. Lim also opted to take no part and did not vote.

Thus, on 28 January 2015, the COMELEC en banc issued an Order[12] directing the dismissal of the electoral aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC) pursuant to Section 6, Rule 18 of the 1993 COMELEC Rules of Procedure[13] (COMELEC Rules), to wit:

Sec. 6. Procedure if Opinion is Equally Divided. - When the Commission en banc is equally divided in opinion, or the necessary majority cannot be had, the case shall be reheard, and if on rehearing no decision is reached, the action or proceeding shall be dismissed if originally commenced in the Commission; in appealed cases, the judgment or order appealed from shall stand affirmed; and in all incidental matters, the petition or motion shall be denied. (Emphasis ours.)

Unconvinced, petitioner filed the present petition[14] before this Court.

The Present Petition

Petitioner claims that COMELEC en banc gravely abused its discretion when it dismissed the electoral aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC). He protests that the dismissal was occasioned by a "misapplication" by the COMELEC en banc of Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules.[15]

OUR RULING

We dismiss the present petition.

I

Let us start with the basics.

Section 7 of Article 1X-A of the Constitution obliges the COMELEC, like the other constitutional commissions, to decide all cases or matters before it by a "majority vote of all its [m]embers."[16] When such majority vote cannot be mustered by the COMELEC en banc, Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules provides the mechanism to avert a non-decision. Thus:

Sec. 6. Procedure if Opinion is Equally Divided. - When the Commission en banc is equally divided in opinion, or the necessary majority cannot be had, the case shall be reheard, and if on rehearing no decision is reached, the action or proceeding shall be dismissed if originally commenced in the Commission; in appealed cases, the judgment or order appealed from shall stand affirmed; and in all incidental matters, the petition or motion shall be denied.

Verily, under the cited provision, the COMELEC en banc is first required to rehear the case or matter that it cannot decide or resolve by the necessary majority. When a majority still cannot be had after the rehearing, however, there results a failure to decide on the part of the COMELEC en banc. The provision then specifies the effects of the COMELEC en banc's, failure to decide:

  1. If the action or proceeding is originally commenced in the COMELEC, such action or proceeding shall be dismissed;

  2. In appealed cases, the judgment or order appealed from shall stand affirmed; or

  3. In incidental matters, the petition or motion shall be denied.

As can be gleaned above, the effects of the COMELEC en banc's failure to decide vary depending on the type of case or matter that is before the commission. Thus, under the provision, the first effect (i.e., the dismissal of the action or proceeding) only applies when the type of case before the COMELEC is an action or proceeding "originally commenced in the commission"; the second effect (i.e., the affirmance of a judgment or order) only applies when the type of case before the COMELEC is an "appealed case"; and the third effect (i.e., the denial of the petition or motion) only applies when the case or matter before the COMELEC is an "incidental matter."

Mendoza v. Commission on Elections, et al.[17] gives us a key illustration of an application of the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules.

Mendoza involved an electoral protest that was originally filed before the COMELEC and which was raffled to one of its divisions. The COMELEC division to which the electoral protest was assigned granted that protest, prompting the protestee to file a motion for reconsideration with the COMELEC en banc. When the COMELEC en banc took a vote on the motion for reconsideration, however, it foiled to obtain the necessary majority vote. Consequently, the COMELEC en banc reheard the matter and then took another vote. However, the second vote also lacked the necessary majority. The final vote of the COMELEC en banc was 3-1 (i.e., 3 in support of granting the protest and 1 dissent), with 3 members taking no part.[18] On the basis of the foregoing, the COMELEC en banc issued a resolution denying the motion for reconsideration (in effect sustaining the division's decision). The protestee challenged the foregoing resolution on the strength of the argument that the failure of the COMELEC en banc to obtain the necessary majority should have resulted in the dismissal of the election protest case itself pursuant to the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules.

When that dispute reached this Court in Mendoza, we sustained the protestee. We held that the first effect applied because the case before the COMELEC en banc was an electoral protest that was "originally commenced" in the commission. We noted that while the electoral protest only reached the COMELEC en banc through the motion for reconsideration of the decision of a division, the same did not change the nature of the case before it; the motion for reconsideration not being an appeal.[19] Thus, we held that the failure of the COMELEC en banc to decide the motion for reconsideration would result—not in the denial of the said motion or the affirmance of the division's decision—but in the dismissal of the electoral protest itself, pursuant to the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules.[20]

Guided by the foregoing precepts, we shall now address the issues at hand.

II

The main thrust of petitioner's challenge is the supposed error of the COMELEC en banc in applying the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules (by dismissing the electoral aspect of SPA No. 13-323 [DC]) when it was unable to reach a majority vote after the rehearing.[21] According to petitioner, the COMELEC en banc erred in treating SPA No. 13-323 (DC) as an action that was "originally commenced in the commission" under the said provision.[22] As petitioner argues, an action can only be considered as having been "originally commenced in the commission'' under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules when that action was originally filed before the COMELEC en banc itself and, as such, is the very matter pending before it.[23]

Petitioner then points out that, in this case, what was before the COMELEC en banc was not the main petition itself but only a motion for reconsideration of the decision of the division in SPA No. 13-323 (DC). Hence, petitioner submits, the failure of the COMELEC en banc to reach a majority vote in this case should result, not in the dismissal of the electoral aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC), but merely in the denial of the motion for reconsideration and the affirmance of the division's decision.[24]

We do not agree.

The COMELEC en banc did not err when it dismissed the electoral aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC) when it was unable to reach a majority vote after the rehearing. Contrary to what petitioner asserts, SPA No. 13-323 (DC) is most definitely an action that was filed originally before the COMELEC within the contemplation of the said provision. While SPA No. 13-323 (DC) reached the COMELEC en banc only through a motion for reconsideration of the decision of the Special First Division, its character as an original case filed before the commission remains the same. Hence, the failure of COMELEC en banc to decide in this case properly results in the application of the first effect of Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules.

SPA No. 13-323 (DC) is an
Action "Originally Commenced in
the Commission" Under Section 6,
Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules


Petitioner, to begin with, misconstrues Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules.

The phrase "originally commenced in the commission" in Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules is worded in plain language and, therefore, must be construed in its ordinary and natural sense.[25] It simply means what it says. The phrase is meant to cover any action or proceeding that is filed, at the first instance, before the COMELEC—whether sitting in division or en banc—as contradistinguished from cases that are merely appealed to it. Petitioner's view that restricts such phrase to include only those actions or proceedings that are originally filed with the COMELEC en banc itself (e.g., petition to declare failure of elections) has no basis and only obscures the otherwise clear import of the phrase's language.

In this case, the fact that SPA No. 13-323 (DC) is an action originally commenced in the COMELEC cannot at all be doubted. The records are crystal clear that the petition was first filed with the COMELEC and was raffled to the First Division for decision. It is a fresh petition—as it passed upon no other tribunal, body or entity prior to its filing with the COMELEC. Hence, for all intents and purposes, SPA No. 13-323 (DC) must be considered as an action "originally commenced in the commission" under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules.

Single Process of COMELEC in
Deciding Election Cases; COMELEC
en banc Correctly Dismissed
Electoral Aspect of SPA No. 13-323
(DC)


Petitioner's insistence that the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COME LEG Rules ought not to be applied since what was before the COMELEC en banc was merely a motion for reconsideration and not the petition for disqualification itself, likewise has no merit. It is premised on the assumption that the proceedings in election cases before the COMELEC division are separate from those before the en banc—an assumption that has already been discredited by Mendoza.

In Mendoza, we held that the COMELEC acts on election cases under a single and integrated process, to wit:

[H]owever the jurisdiction of the COMELEC is involved, xxx, the COMELEC will act on the case in one whole and single process: to repeat, in division, and if impelled by a motion for reconsideration, en banc.[26]

In his concurring opinion in Mendoza, Justice Presbitero J. Velasco (Justice Velasco) described the act of filing a motion for reconsideration with the COMELEC en banc from a decision of a division in an election case as but "part" of such single and integrated process and is "not an appeal" from the latter to the former:

At best, the filing of a motion for reconsideration with the COMELEC en banc of a decision or resolution of the division of the COMELEC should be viewed as part of one integrated process. Such motion for reconsideration before the COMELEC en banc is a constitutionally guaranteed remedial mechanism for parties aggrieved by a division decision or resolution. However, at the risk of repetition, it is not an appeal from the COMELEC division to the en banc.[27]

Verily, when an election case originally filed with the COMELEC is first decided by a division, the subsequent filing of a motion for reconsideration from that decision before the en banc does not signify the initiation of a new action or case, but rather a mere continuation of an existing process. The motion for reconsideration—not being an appeal from the decision of the division to the en banc—only thus serves as a means of having the election case decided by the COMELEC en banc. Under this view, therefore, the nature of the election case as it was before the division remains the same even after it is forwarded to the en banc through a motion for reconsideration. Hence, the failure of the COMELEC en banc to decide a motion for reconsideration from the decision of a division in an original election case would unquestionably bring to the fore the application of the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules.

This is exactly what happened in this case. In this case, SPA No. 13-323 (DC) was filed, at the first instance, with the COMELEC. Being a petition for disqualification filed under Section 68 of the Omnibus Election Code,[28] SPA No. 13-323 (DC) was initially raffled to and decided by a division of the commission. From that point, however, SPA No. 13-323 (DC) found its way to the COMELEC en banc after a motion for reconsideration from the decision of the division was filed. Hence, when the COMELEC en banc twice failed to reach the necessary majority to decide the electoral aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC), it applied the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules. We find absolutely nothing wrong with such application. It is, in fact, reinforced by the very provisions of the COMELEC Rules and by Mendoza.

III

We next address the contra argument raised by Justice Velasco in his Dissenting Opinion.

Justice Velasco, in his dissent, shared petitioner's position that the failure of the COMELEC en banc to reach a necessary majority in this case should have resulted merely in the denial of the motion for reconsideration and not in the dismissal of SPA No. 13-323 (DC) itself. The learned justice, however, justified the said position with an argument different from that advanced by petitioner: Justice Velasco, in essence, concedes that the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules applies in this case, but contends that the COMELEC en banc erred in how it applied the said provision.

Justice Velasco points out that the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules speaks of the dismissal of either an "action" or a "proceeding" — which, the good justice submits, supposedly pertains to different cases or matters that may be brought before the COMELEC en banc. After identifying what those matters are, Justice Velasco concluded that the word "action" as used under the subject provision has reference to the "cases originally filed before the COMELEC division or en banc" whilst the word "proceeding" under the same rule has reference to "motions for reconsideration challenging the rulings [of a division in election cases]."[29] Thus, Justice Velasco opines, the failure of the COMELEC en banc to reach a majority vote on a mere motion for reconsideration of a division decision in an original election case would - under the first effect of Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules - only lead to a dismissal of the "proceeding" or of the motion for reconsideration; not the dismissal of the "action" or of the election case itself.

Cognizant that the foregoing view is a betrayal of the principles laid down by the Court in Mendoza, Justice Velasco now clamors for a "modification" or an abandonment of our ruling in the said case insofar as how it applied the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules.[30] Justice Velasco cautions the Court that pursuing Mendoza's interpretation of Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules is bound to lead to absurd and illogical results - such as one wherein a decision of a COMELEC division in an election case can simply be overturned by the COMELEC en banc even though the latter is not able to reach a majority vote.[31]

The Court is not convinced.

Meaning of the Words "Action" and
"Proceeding" Determinable From Other
Provisions of the COMELEC Rules;
Justice Velasco's Interpretation of the
Word "Proceeding" Contradicted By
COMELEC Rules, Taken As A Whole


The pin that holds Justice Velasco's argument is his interpretation of the terms "action" and "proceeding" under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules. While an isolated view of the contested terms does lend some degree of reason to the respected justice's interpretation, a more careful consideration of such terms in the context of the other parts of the COMELEC Rules, however, will quickly reveal the interpretation's fault. Verily, we are unable to accept it.

The words "action" and "proceeding" and even the entire phrase 'action or proceeding are not exclusive to Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules. Such words and phrase, in fact, appear in other parts of the COMELEC Rules, most notably in Part V thereof. To our minds, an examination of how the words "action" and "proceeding" and the phrase "actions or proceedings" were used in Part V of the COMELEC Rules is telling of how the COMELEC Rules actually intended such terms and phrase to be understood, which is, in the context of its other provisions.[32]

Part V of the COMELEC Rules, which is aptly titled "Particular Actions or Proceedings" is one of the nine major parts of the COMELEC Rules. It is composed of Rules 20 to 34 of the COMELEC Rules, wherein each rule covers a specific "action or proceeding" that the COMELEC can take cognizance of, thus:

COMELEC RULES OF PROCEDURE - PART V
PARTICULAR ACTIONS OR PROCEEDINGS


A. ORDINARY ACTIONS
  • Rule 20 - Election Protests
  • Rule 21 - Quo Warranto
  • Rule 22 - Appeals from Decisions of Courts in Election Protest Cases

B. SPECIAL ACTIONS
  • Rule 23 - Petition to Deny Due Course To or Cancel Certificates of Candidacy
  • Rule 24 - Proceedings Against Nuisance Candidates
  • Rule 25 - Disqualification of Candidates
  • Rule 26 - Postponement of Suspension of Elections

C. SPECIAL CASES
  • Rule 27 - Pre-proclamation Controversies
D. SPECIAL RELIEFS
  • Rule 28 - Certiorari, Prohibition and Mandamus
  • Rule 29 - Contempt

E. PROVISIONAL REMEDIES
  • Rule 30 - Injunction

F. SPECIAL PROCEEDINGS
  • Rule 31 - Annulment of Permanent List of Voters
  • Rule 32 — Registration of Political Parties or Organization
  • Rule 33 - Accreditation of Citizens' Arms of the Commission

G. ELECTION OFFENSES
  • Rule 34 - Prosecution of Election Offenses
Evidently, what Part V actually discloses are the particular cases or matters that may be considered as "actions or proceedings" for purposes of the COMELEC Rules. Notably, all the actions or proceedings identified thereunder, save for the provisional remedy of injunction, are all main cases cognizable by the COMELEC. Notable too is that a motion for reconsideration from a decision of a division — which is but a part of a main case - is not among those included n Part V.[33]

Accordingly, we find Justice Velasco's formulation linking the term "proceeding" under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules with "motions for reconsideration challenging the rulings [of a division in election cases]"[34] to be inconsistent with how such term was actually intended to be understood by the COMELEC Rules. Such a formulation, rooted as it was in an isolated analysis of the contested term, is out of touch with the rest of the provisions of the COMELEC Rules.

Pursuing Mendoza Ruling
Will Not Lead to Absurdity


We likewise rebut Justice Velasco's submission that continuing with Mendoza's interpretation of the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules is bound to lead to absurd results.

To our minds, there is no "absurdity" in the fact that the decision of a division in an election case ceases to be a COMELEC decision as a consequence of the failure of the COMELEC en banc to reach a majority vote on reconsideration. That fact, far from being absurd, is nothing but the natural and logical consequence of the application of the first effect under Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules which, in turn, only complements our Constitution.

IV

All told, we found no indications that the COMELEC en banc had acted with grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the electoral aspect of SPA No. 13-323 (DC). On the contrary, what we found is that such dismissal was perfectly in accord with the provisions of its own rules of procedure and is consistent with established jurisprudence on the matter. Mendoza, to our minds, remains good law. Certainly, the extraordinary writ of certiorari does not lie here.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the instant petition is DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, Brion, Bersamin, Perez, Mendoza, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, and Jardeleza, JJ.
Sereno, C.J., Leonardo-De Castro, Peralta, Del Castillo, and Villarama, Jr., JJ., joins the dissent of J. Velasco.
Velasco, Jr., J., I dissent. please see dissenting opinion.
Reyes, J., on leave.





NOTICE OF JUDGMENT


Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on September 1, 2015 a Decision/Resolution, copy attached herewith, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on October 6, 2015 at 1:45 p.m.

Very truly yours,

(SGD)
FELIPA G. BORLONGAN-ANAMA

Clerk of Court



[1] Under Rule 64 in relation to Rule 65 of the Rules of Court; rollo, pp. 3-58.

[2] Id. at 99-103.

[3] At 12:45 p.m. on 14 May 2013.

[4] Via an Order dated 1 October 2013. The substitution of Commissioner Parreño was made pursuant to Section 6, Rule 3 of the COMELEC Rules, as amended by COMELEC Resolution No. 9636 dated 13 February 2013. That provision reads:

Sec. 6. Substitution of members of a Division. —

(a) Temporary vacancy. Whenever a member of a Division is on leave, seriously ill, temporarily disabled, is absent, inhibits himself, or is disqualified from sitting in a case, the Chairman shall substitute him with another Commissioner, or the Chairman shall sit in place of said member, and[,] in that event[,] he will preside.

(b) x x x.

Under either of the foregoing substitutions, the Division where the acting or signing member is assigned shall be designated as "Special First Division" or "Special Second Division," as the case may be, for purposes of the pertinent cases therein pending. (Emphases ours.)

[5] Rollo, pp. 59-73. The Resolution was penned by Presiding Commissioner Lucenito N. Tagle, and concurred in by Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim registered the dissent. The electoral aspect of the disqualification case was dismissed as to Esquivel since the latter had lost during the 2013 election.

[6] There was a vacancy created in the membership of the COMELEC when the ad-interim appointment of erstwhile commissioner Maria Gracia Cielo Padaca automatically lapsed on 11 June 2014. Such vacancy would only be filled on 28 July 2014, when then newly appointed Commissioner Arthur D. Lim assumed office.

[7] Those who voted in favor of granting the disqualification of Germar and Santos were: Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. and Commissioners Lucenito N. Tagle and Elias R. Yusoph. Commissioners Christian Robert S. Lim and Luie Tito F. Guia, on the other hand, dissented.

[8] Those who voted in favor of the referral to the COMELEC Law Department were Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. and Commissioners Lucenito N. Tagle, Elias R. Yusoph and Luie Tito F. Guia. Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim dissented.

[9] Rollo, pp. 84-93. See also rollo, p. 100.

[10] At this time, the COMELEC en banc already had seven (7) incumbent members.

[11] See note 7.

[12] Supra note 2.

[13] COMELEC Rules Governing Pleadings, Practice and Procedure Before It or Any of Its Offices, dated 15 February 1993.

[14] Supra note 1.

[15] Id.

[16] The provision reads in full:

SECTION 7. Each Commission shall decide by a majority vote of all its Members any case or matter brought before it within sixty days from the date of its submission for decision or resolution. A case or matter is deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the rules of the Commission or by the Commission itself. Unless otherwise provided by this Constitution or by law, any decision, order, or ruling of each Commission may be brought to the Supreme Court on certiorari by the aggrieved party within thirty days from receipt of a copy thereof.

[17] 630 Phil. 432 (2010).

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Supra note 1.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[23] See Mustang Lumber, Inc. v. CA, 327 Phil. 217, 235 (1996).

[26] Supra note 17, at 460. (Emphasis ours.)

[27] Id. at 484. (Emphasis ours.)

[28] Batas Pambansa Bilang 881.

[29] Dissenting Opinion of J. Velasco, p. 14.

[30] Id. at 15-17.

[31] Id. at 17-19.

[32] See the "Whole Act Rule" in statutory construction. The rule provides that when a certain term or phrase is used multiple times in a statute, such term or phrase is assumed to have the same meaning throughout the whole statute (A Guide To Reading, Interpreting and Applying Statutes by Katharine Clark and Matthew Connolly [2006], accessed through http://www.law.georgetown.edu/academics/academic-programs/legal-writing-scholarship/writing-center/upload/statutoryinterpretation.pdf). The rule is a necessary component of the principle that Statutes ought to be interpreted holistically.

[33] A motion for reconsideration, in the scheme of the COMELEC Rules, is included in Part IV thereof under Rule 19. Part IV of the COMELEC Rules is titled "Dispositions of Actions or Proceedings" which actually reinforces the conclusion that the COMELEC Rules does not treat a motion for reconsideration as an action or proceeding in itself, but merely as a part of how an action or a proceeding may be disposed of.

[34] Supra note 29.





DISSENTING OPINION


VELASCO, JR., J.:

Nature of the Case

For resolution is a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 64 of the Rules of Court assailing the January 28, 2015 Order[1] of public respondent Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in SPA No. 13-353 (DC). Said Order dismissed petitioner Feliciano Legaspi's Petition for Disqualification lodged against private respondents.

The Facts

Petitioner and private respondent Alfredo D. Germar (Germar) both ran as mayoralty candidates in Norzagaray, Bulacan in the May 13, 2013 elections. Meanwhile, private respondent Rogelio Santos (Santos) was a candidate for councilor in that electoral exercise of the same local government unit.

Petitioner averred that respondents' political leaders engaged in massive vote-buying from May 11, 2013 until election day. According to his witnesses' accounts, said political leaders, while camped inside the North Hills Village Homeowners Association Office in the locality, were distributing to voters envelopes containing Five Hundred Pesos (P500) each and a sample ballot containing the names of respondents. Through military efforts, so petitioner alleged, the vote-buying was foiled and the office, which served as the venue for distribution, padlocked. In spite of an attempt by the newly-minted Chief of Police, P/Supt. Dale Soliba, and his subordinates to force open the office and retrieve from inside four (4) boxes containing the remaining undistributed envelopes with an estimated aggregate amount of Eight Hundred Thousand Pesos (P800,000), a group of concerned citizens were able to thwart their plan in flagrante delicto and intercept the said evidence of vote-buying.[2]

Because the widespread vote-buying was discovered only on May 11, 2013 and continued up to the day of the elections, petitioner urgently moved for the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) to suspend the proclamation of the election results. Despite the motion, however, private respondents Germar and Santos were nevertheless proclaimed as the duly-elected mayor and 2nd councilor of Norzagaray, Bulacan on May 14, 2013, the day after the elections.[3] On even date, petitioner filed the Petition for Disqualification[4] against private respondents, docketed as SPA No. 13-353 (DC).[5]

In answer, private respondents denied the allegations of vote-buying and raised the alibi that, from 3:00 o'clock to 11:00 o'clock in the evening of May 11, 2013, they attended the Liberal Party's meeting de avance at the San Andres Parish church grounds, and that they did not go to or visit the office of the Homeowners Association of North Hills Village, Brgy. Bitungol, Norzagaray at the time the election offenses were allegedly committed.[6] They likewise raised the following procedural defenses: that the petition had been filed out of time; that the petitioner allegedly failed to incorporate a proper certification against forum-shopping in his petition; and that that there must be prior conviction by final judgment in a criminal case for the election offense of vote-buying before they can be disqualified to run.[7]

Ruling of the COMELEC Special First Division

By a 2-1 vote, the COMELEC Special First Division[8] granted the Petition for Disqualification through its October 3, 2013 Resolution[9] in SPA No. 13-353 (DC), the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Commission RESOLVED as it hereby RESOLVES to:

(1) DISQUALIFY Respondents Alfredo M. [Germar] and Rogelio C. Santos. Jr. for the positions of Mayor and Councilor of Norzagaray, Bulacan;

(2) REFER the criminal aspect of this case against [Germar], Roberto Esquivel, Rogelio Santos, Jr., Dale Soliba, Dominador Rayo, Marivic Nunez, Adelaida Auza, Amelia Cruz, and Leonardo Ignacio to the Law Department for preliminary investigation; and

(3) ORDER the Regional Election Director of COMELEC Region III to implement this Resolution, following the rules on succession as provided in R.A. 7160.

SO ORDERED.

In first disposing the procedural issues raised by private respondents, the COMELEC division held:

[I]t must be noted that the instant petition was filed on the very date of the proclamation of respondents on May 14, 2013. Prior to that and towards the end of the canvassing, however, petitioner had already filed an Urgent Motion to Suspend Proclamation before the MBOC, in the light of the vote-buying activities which were being perpetrated earlier but discovered only two days before the elections and continued up to the election day itself

Under such circumstance, therefore, we cannot simply brush aside the overwhelming evidence and dismiss this petition outright on mere procedural grounds. For. it has previously been held in Nolasco vs. Comelec that where the evidence of guilt for violation of Section 68 of the Omnibus Election Code committed immediately before the election as a ground for disqualification filed after the election but before proclamation is overwhelming, the COMELEC in the exercise of its sound discretion may assume jurisdiction, suspend the proclamation and disqualify the winning candidate, for the COMELEC cannot always be straitjacketed by procedural rule.

While it may be true that respondents Germar and Santos were already proclaimed, we should not lose sight of the fact that this instant petition for disqualification was filed on the very date of their proclamation. Even before that, an Urgent Motion to Suspend Proclamation was already instituted before the MBOC.[10]

The division likewise did not give credence to private respondents' argument on the need for a final conviction before they can be disqualified from holding public office. It emphasized that the electoral aspect of a disqualification case is separate and distinct from the criminal aspect, and that as an administrative proceeding that is summary in character, the quantum of proof required to be overcome for a petition for disqualification to prosper is substantial evidence.[11]

In the case at bar, the pieces of evidence submitted to the COMELEC consisted of the following:[12]

1)
Sinumpaang Salaysay of Kagawad Helen Viola, Ma. Joanna Abesamis, Jaimenito Magat, Danny Mendoza and Teodorico Tuazon who witnessed the vote-buying activities during the morning of May 11. 2013. the forced opening of the HOA office around 12:00 A.M. of May 12, 2013 by P/Supt. Soliba and subsequent interception of the latter by the affiants, who seized the plastic bag containing 4 boxes of money and sample ballots of respondents;
2)
Report of the Turn-over of Confiscated/Recovered Items by P/Supt. Soliba to the Municipal Treasurer of Norzagaray, Bulacan, detailing the number of envelopes and sample ballots of Germar-Esquivel Team (FB Team) and amounts of money found inside each of the 4 boxes;
3)
Pictures during the opening of the seized items before the Norzagaray Municipal Police Station and photos taken during the vote-buying incident at the HOA office where respondent Esquivel was seen going out of the premises in the morning of May 11, 2013;
4)
Certified True Copies of the Police Blotter Entries regarding the vote- buying incidents which happened on May 12-13, 2013, as reported to the police by Retired Col. Bruno Paler Viola, Jr. and Alma Rulida;
5)
Sworn Statements of 194 voters who testified that they were offered and/or given the amount ranging from PhP250.00 - PhP500.00 each in exchange of their votes for the respondents, and were thus issued yellow stubs that they received such amount;
6)
Sworn Statements of several witnesses, attesting that during election day, respondents" team promised them to pay PhP500.00 - PhP 1,000.00 each on condition that they will not vote and their right point fingers will be marked with ink; and
7)
Minutes of Voting of the Board of Election Inspectors of Cluster Precinct No. 60. allowing three voters to cast their vote upon verifying that the ink marked on their fingers was not that of the Comelec's indelible ink and that they have not yet voted.

The COMELEC Special First Division ruled that the totality of the evidence petitioner thus presented was sufficient to disqualify private respondents from holding office.[13]

Ruling of the COMELEC En Banc

Private respondents timely moved for reconsideration, but the COMELEC en banc denied the motion through its July 10, 2014 Resolution,[14] thus:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Commission RESOLVED, as it hereby RESOLVES to DENY this Motion for Reconsideration for LACK OF MERIT. Consequently, the October 3, 2013 Resolution of the Special First Division (1) disqualifying respondents Alfredo M. Germar and Rogelio C. Santos, Jr. for the positions of Mayor and Councilor of Norzagaray, Bulacan; (2) referring the criminal aspect of this case against Alfredo M. Germar, Roberto Esquivel, Rogelio Santos, Jr., Dale Soliba, Dominador Rayo, Marivic Nunez, Adelaida Auza, Amelia Cruz and Leonardo Ignacio to the Law Department for preliminary investigation and (3) ordering the Regional Election Director of COMELEC Region III to implement this Resolution, following the Rules on Succession as provided under R.A. 7160 is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

The adverted en banc Resolution had a vote of 3-2-1-1, as follows: three (3) commissioners, namely Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. and commissioners Lucenito N. Tagle and Elias R. Yusoph, voted for the denial of the motion, while two (2) commissioners, Christian Robert S. Lim and Luie Tito F. Guia, dissented. Commissioner Al A. Parreño took no part in the deliberations and Commissioner Maria Grace Cielo M. Padaca did not vote as her ad interim appointment had already expired, vacating a seat in the electoral tribunal.[15]

Because the Resolution was not concurred in by a majority of all the members of the COMELEC, a re-deliberation of the administrative aspect of the case was conducted pursuant to Section 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure. The re-deliberation resulted in the issuance of the assailed Order dated January 28, 2015 with a vote of 3-2-2 whereby new Commissioner Arthur D. Lim took no part in the deliberations and abstained from voting. Citing the same above-quoted rule, the Comelec en banc dismissed the original Petition for Disqualification filed by Legaspi. The dispositive portion of the challenged Order reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Commission RESOLVED, as it hereby RESOLVES to DISMISS the administrative aspect of this Petition for Disqualification for FAILURE TO OBTAIN THE NECESSARY MAJORITY VOTES AFTER RE-DELIBERATION/REHEARING by the members of the Commission en banc.

SO ORDERED.[16]

The Issues

Confounded by the dismissal of his petition despite having secured a favorable vote from majority of the members of the COMELEC Special First Division and, subsequently, from three (3), out of the five (5) participating and voting Commissioners from the COMELEC en banc, Legaspi interposed the instant recourse ascribing grave abuse of discretion on the part of the COMELEC arising from the following acts:

  1. When it deliberately misapplied Section 6. Rule 18 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure;

  2. When it construed the "NO PART" positions of the two commissioners as votes together with the dissenting commissioners resulting in the dismissal, not of the Motion for Reconsideration, but the dismissal of the entire administrative case of disqualification case against respondents;

  3. When it finally decided to favor the respondents despite only two (2) votes favoring them, contrary to what is required under Section 5(a), Rule 3 in relation to Section 4, Rule 18 of the Comelec Rules where four (4) votes are actually required.[17]

Petitioner's main postulation is that on private respondents rest the burden to prove that the COMELEC Special First Division committed reversible error in granting the petition for disqualification, and that since majority of the COMELEC en banc remained unconvinced by the private respondents' motion, the division ruling should be deemed affirmed. To rule as the COMELEC herein did - that the entire case, not just the motion for reconsideration, should be dismissed — would be tantamount to reversing the division ruling without obtaining the necessary majority vote required by the Constitution to overturn the same.

In their Comment,[18] private respondents assert that the COMELEC en banc's ruling is in line with Sec. 7, Article IX-A of the 1987 Constitution, which requires an absolute majority vote of four (4) members.[19] And citing Mendoza v. COMELEC (Mendoza),[20] private respondents claim that failure of the en banc to muster the required majority vote of four (4) would result in the dismissal of the election protest originally filed with the COMELEC.[21]

For its part, public respondent COMELEC, represented by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), through its Comment,[22] countered that petitioner does not have the legal standing to file the instant petition since he does not stand to be injured or benefited by the outcome of the case because under Sec. 44 of Republic Act No. (RA) 7160,[23] otherwise known as the Local Government Code, it is the duly-elected vice-mayor who will succeed the mayoralty post in case of permanent vacancy.[24] Additionally, the OSG argued that the COMELEC properly applied Sec. 6, Rule 18 of its rules, in line with the ruling in Mendoza.

Evidently, the crux of the controversy revolves around the interpretation of Sec. 7, Article IX-A of the 1987 Constitution and the complementary Sec. 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, to wit:

ARTICLE IX
Constitutional Commissions

A. COMMON PROVISIONS

x x x

Section 7. Each Commission shall decide by a majority vote of all its Members, any case or matter brought before it within sixty days from the date of its submission for decision or resolution. A, case or matter is deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief or memorandum required by the rules of the Commission or by the Commission itself. Unless otherwise provided by this Constitution or by law. any decision, order, or ruling of each Commission may be brought to the Supreme Court on certiorari by the aggrieved party within thirty days from receipt of a copy thereof.

Sec. 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure provides:

Section 6. Procedure if Opinion is Equally Divided. — When the Commission en banc is equally divided in opinion, or the necessary majority cannot be had, the case shall be reheard, and if on rehearing no decision is reached, the action or proceeding shall be dismissed if originally commenced in the Commission; in appealed cases, the judgement or order appealed from shall stand affirmed; and all incidental matters, the petition or motion shall be denied.

In essence, the Court is asked to determine (1) the number of votes necessary for the COMELEC en banc to resolve a case, and (2) the effect of the en banc's failure to muster the required number of votes.

The Dissent

The petition is impressed with merit.

An absolute majority is required for the
COMELEC en banc to decide a case 


Anent the first issue, it is clear from the literal wording of Sec. 7, Article IX-A of the 1987 Constitution that "a majority vote of all its Members'' is required for the COMELEC en banc to issue a decision or resolution of a case or matter brought before it. Consistently, Sec. 5 (a), Rule 3 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure reads:

Section 5. Quorum; Votes Required. - (a) When sitting en banc, four (4) Members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum for the purpose of transacting business. The concurrence of a majority of the Members of the Commission shall be necessary for the pronouncement of a decision, resolution, order or ruling, (emphasis and underscoring added)

As can be gleaned, both the adverted constitutional and COMELEC rule provisions, as couched, require not a simple majority of the participating members constituting a quorum, but an absolute majority. In the concrete, of the seven-man commission, as held in Sevilla, Jr. v. COMELEC (Sevilla), the vote of four (4) members must always be attained to render a decision, irrespective of the number of commissioners in actual attendance.[25]

The 1935 and 1973 Constitutions contained no provision similar to Sec. 7, Article IX-A of the 1987 version. Jurisprudence on the construction of the contested provision, therefore, only came into view after the 1987 Constitution was ratified. Thus, prior to Sevilla, the Court, at first, in the December 1987 case of Cua v. COMELEC (Cua), ruled that only a simple majority of those voting on the pending incident is necessary for a valid ruling, so long as those who deliberated on the same constituted a quorum.[26] As held:

After considering the issues and the arguments raised by the parties, the Court holds that the 2-1 decision rendered by the First Division was a valid decision under Article IX-A, Section 7 of the Constitution. Furthermore, the three members who voted to affirm the First Division constituted a majority of the five members who deliberated and voted thereon en banc and their decision is also valid under the aforecited constitutional provision. Hence, the proclamation of Cua on the basis of the two aforecited decisions was a valid act that entitles him now to assume his seat in the House of Representatives.[27] (emphasis added)

It would not be until 2004 when this doctrine in Cua would categorically be abandoned in Estrella. v. COMELEC (Estrella).[28] Speaking through former Associate Justice, now Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales (Carpio-Morales), the Court ratiocinated:

The provision of the Constitution [Sec. 7, Article IX-A] is clear that it should be the majority vote of all its members and not only those who participated and took part in the deliberations. Under the rules of statutory construction, it is to be assumed that the words in which constitutional provisions are couched express the objective sought to be attained. Since the above-quoted constitutional provision states "all of its members." without any qualification, it should be interpreted as such.

x x x

Even former Constitutional Commissioner Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, questions the Cua ruling in light of Section 7, which says "majority of all the Members." He thus concludes that "[fjhree is not the majority of seven."

Had the framers intended that it should be the majority of the members who participated or deliberated, it would have clearly phrased it that way as it did with respect to the Supreme Court in Section 4(2), Article VIII of the Constitution:

x x x

For the foregoing reasons then, this Court hereby abandons the doctrine laid down in Cua and holds that the COMELEC En Banc shall decide a case or matter brought before it by a majority vote of "all its members," and NOT majority of the members who deliberated and voted thereon.[29] (words in brackets added)

Justice Carpio-Morales would later on reiterate the ruling in Estrella in Marcoleta v. COMELEC (Marcoleta), to wit:

From the 2-3 voting, it is readily discerned that the Comelec En Banc cannot overturn the First Division on mere two assenting votes. On the other hand, the same situation obtains in the case of the dissenters, there being a shortage of one vote to sustain the First Division's findings.

x x x x

Majority, in this case, means a vote of four members of the Comelec. The Court in Estrella v. Comelec pronounced that Section 5 (a) of Rule 3 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure and Section 7 of Article IX-A of the Constitution require that a majority vote of all the members of the Comelec. and not only those who participated and took part in the deliberations, is necessary for the pronouncement of a decision, resolution, order or ruling.[30]

Verily, the four-vote requirement is the result of applying the plain-meaning rule or verba legis in interpreting Sec. 7, Article IX-A of the 1987 Constitution. This rule in statutory construction is expressed in the maxim, index animi sermo, or "speech is the index of intention." Furthermore, there is the maxim verba legis non est recedendum, or "from the words of a statute there should be no departure."[31] As the statute is clear, plain, and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation.[32]

Settled then is the rule that Sec. 7, Article IX-A of the 1987 Constitution, as couched, requires at least four (4) votes of the seven (7) members of the COMELEC en banc to rule on a pending incident before it. Failure to muster the threshold four (4) votes brings into play the application of Sec. 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, which calls for a rehearing of the case.

The Decision of the COMELEC
division is affirmed by the failure to
obtain the necessary majority vote
from the COMELEC en banc


Recall that in dismissing the Petition for Disqualification, public respondent COMELEC applied Mendoza, wherein the Court ruled that the failure to secure the majority vote of all the members, despite rehearing, leads to the dismissal of the action, regardless of the ruling of the division, and despite obtaining the majority vote of those who participated in the deliberations. In Mendoza, therein petitioner Joselito R. Mendoza (Mendoza) was proclaimed winner of the 2007 gubernatorial election for the province of Bulacan, besting respondent Roberto M. Pagdanganan (Pagdanganan). On June 1, 2007, Pagdanganan filed an election protest that the COMELEC Second Division eventually granted, thereby annulling Mendoza's proclamation. Aggrieved, Mendoza moved for reconsideration with the en banc, but the COMELEC failed to reach a majority vote to either grant or deny the motion. Pursuant to its rules, the COMELEC en banc reheard the case but was, nevertheless, unsuccessful in obtaining the required majority vote for a ruling. Thus, in a 3-1 vote, with three votes denying the motion, the COMELEC en banc sustained the ruling of its Second Division.[33]

On petition with the Court, Mendoza pointed out that because the necessary majority vote of four (4) was not obtained by the COMELEC en banc, respondent Pagdanganan's election protest ought to be dismissed. Agreeing, the Court, on March 25, 2010, ruled for Mendoza and explained that as an original action before the Commission, failure to muster the required majority vote would lead to the election protest's dismissal, not just of the motion for reconsideration.[34] As held:

There is a difference in the result of the exercise of jurisdiction by the COMELEC over election contests. The difference inheres in the kind of jurisdiction invoked, which in turn, is determined by the case brought before the COMELEC. When a decision of a trial court is brought before the COMELEC for it to exercise appellate jurisdiction, the division decides the appeal but, if there is a motion for reconsideration, the appeal proceeds to the banc where a majority is needed for a decision. If the process ends without the required majority at the banc, the appealed decision stands affirmed. Upon the other hand, and this is what happened in the instant case, if what is brought before the COMELEC is an original protest invoking the original jurisdiction of the Commission, the protest, as one whole process, is first decided by the division, which process is continued in the banc if there is a motion for reconsideration of the division ruling. If no majority decision is reached in the en banc, the protest, which is an original action, shall be dismissed. There is no first instance decision that can be deemed affirmed.[35] (underscoring in the original; emphasis added)

It is this ruling in Mendoza that respondents urge Us to apply to sustain the COMELEC en banc's, dismissal of Legaspi's petition for disqualification. It bears stressing, however, that the Court in Mendoza was deeply divided insofar as this procedural aspect is concerned. The doctrine, therefore, commands further scrutiny.

a. Dismissal of the action or
proceeding in original cases filed
with the COMELEC 

To begin with, Sec. 3, Art. IX-C of the Constitution pertinently provides:

Section 3. The Commission on Elections may sit en banc or in two divisions, and shall promulgate its rules of procedure in order to expedite disposition of election cases, including pre-proclamation controversies. All such election cases shall be heard and decided in division, provided that motions for reconsideration of decisions shall be decided by the Commission en banc, (emphasis added)

Clearly then, the Constitution no less bestows on the COMELEC divisions the authority to decide election cases. Their decisions arrived are capable of attaining finality, without need of any affirmative or confirmatory action on the part of the COMELEC en banc. For instance, if no motion for reconsideration is filed by the aggrieved party within five (5) days from the promulgation of the decision, the ruling becomes final and executory.[36] In this sense, the process before the division should be deemed complete, although it can also be considered, in the bigger picture, as part of the integrated process of resolving an election case from start to finish, as when the case was originally initiated before the trial court.

The fact that the COMELEC division's decision may be referred to the en banc via a motion for reconsideration should in no way be considered as a diminution of its adjudicatory powers. Worth maintaining is this doctrine in Mendoza: a motion for reconsideration is a constitutionally guaranteed remedial mechanism for parties aggrieved by a division decision or resolution, but not an appeal.[37] In the same vein, it was held in Apo Fruits Corporation v. Court of Appeals (Apo Fruits Corporation) that "[t]he Supreme Court sitting en banc is not an appellate court vis-a-vis its Divisions, and it exercises no appellate jurisdiction over the latter. Each division of the Court is considered not a body inferior to the Court en banc, and sits veritably as the Court en banc itself."[38] This particular doctrine in Mendoza and Apo Fruits Corporation should be understood to have strengthened, rather than rendered nugatory, the adjudicatory powers of the COMELEC's and that of the Court's divisions - that the decision of a division virtually amounts to a decision of the en banc and, as such, is potentially binding and conclusive on the parties.

The findings of the division can only be reversed and their impacts be undone by the COMELEC en banc on reconsideration.[39] The failure of the COMELEC en banc to attain the required number of votes to either reverse or affirm the ruling of its division would, in turn, call for the application of Sec. 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, to wit:

Section 6. Procedure if Opinion is Equally Divided. - When the Commission en banc is equally divided in opinion, or the necessary majority cannot be had, the case shall be reheard, and if on rehearing no decision is reached, the action or proceeding shall be dismissed if originally commenced in the Commission; in appealed cases, the judgement or order appealed from shall stand affirmed; and all incidental matters, the petition or motion shall be denied." (emphasis added)

As can be gleaned, the result of the rule's application would vary, depending on whether the pending case is an original action, an appealed case, or an incidental matter. It then behooves this Court to properly categorize the petition for disqualification filed by Legaspi under either of the three.

In distinguishing an action originally commenced with the COMELEC from an appealed case, reference should be made to Article IX-C, Sec. 2(2) of the Constitution.[40] According to the provision, the COMELEC is a constitutional commission vested with the exclusive original jurisdiction over election contests, involving regional, provincial and city officials, as well as appellate jurisdiction over election protests involving elective municipal and barangay officials.[41] Thus, in the case at bar, the petition for disqualification filed by Legaspi was correctly categorized by the ponencia as an election case originally commenced in the Commission because (1) private respondents were candidates for posts in the city government, (2) there is no trial court ruling elevated to the Commission to speak of, and (3) the motion for reconsideration filed by private respondents with the COMELEC en banc, as earlier stated, does not amount to an appeal.

Now on to the effect of Sec. 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure.

It is beyond cavil that for cases originally filed before it, the failure of the COMELEC to muster the required majority vote after rehearing would lead to the dismissal of the action or proceeding pending before it. The conjunctive word "or" clearly indicates that there is an intended distinction between the words "action" and "proceeding," such that in not all instances would the "action" originally commenced before the COMELEC will be dismissed in their entirety. Otherwise, to treat them similarly would mean that the words are superfluous, which is not the case.

It is the considered view that the "action" to be dismissed in cases originally commenced before the COMELEC under Sec. 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure pertains to those originally and directly filed with the COMELEC division or en banc. As taught in San Juan v. COMELEC, the division has jurisdiction to hear and decide election cases, but as for motions for reconsideration of decisions rendered by the division, the COMELEC en banc has jurisdiction over the matter.[42] On the other hand, the cases directly filed with the COMELEC en banc are those specifically provided in the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, such as petitions for postponement of elections under Sec. 1, Rule 26,[43] petitions for failure of election under Sec. 2, Rule 26,[44] complaints or charges for indirect contempt under Sec. 2, Rule 29,[45] preliminary investigation of election offenses under Sec. 1, Rule 34,[46] and all other cases where the COMELEC division is not authorized to act.[47]

Meanwhile "proceeding" refers to a procedural step that is part of a larger action or special proceeding.[48] This definition is broad enough to encompass the motion for reconsideration challenging the rulings in the first set of cases above-described. With this interpretation, the failure of the COMELEC en banc to reach four (4) votes would not necessarily result in the dismissal of the original cases for it may be, as it is here, that only a procedural step, a "proceeding," the pending motion for reconsideration, ought to be disposed. Stated in the alternative, the failure of the COMELEC en banc to reach four (4) votes would result in the division ruling being sustained. This interpretation is consistent with the parallel procedure observed in the Court of Tax Appeals mandating that "[n]o decision of a Division of the Court may be reversed or modified except by the affirmative vote of four justices of the Court en banc acting on the case."[49]

The ponencia, however, counters that the "action or proceeding" referred to under Sec. 6, Rule 18 should be interpreted in relation to Part V of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, covering Rules 20-34, entitled "Particular Actions or Proceedings." The ponencia adds that the itemization therein does not include motions for reconsideration that fall under Rule 18. It could not then be claimed, according to the ponencia, that the motion for reconsideration is a "proceeding" within the contemplation of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure.

I respectfully disagree.

The strict construction offered by the ponencia offends the Constitution three times over: (i) it circumvents the four-vote requirement under Sec. 7, Art. IX-A of the Constitution, (ii) it diminishes the adjudicatory powers of the COMELEC Divisions under Sec. 3, Article IX-C of the Constitution, and (iii) it unduly expands the jurisdiction of the COMELEC en banc.

First, recall that under Sec. 3, Article IX-C of the 1987 Constitution,[50] the COMELEC Divisions are granted adjudicatory powers to decide election cases. Recall further that under Sec. 7, Article IX-A of the Constitution,[51] as interpreted in Marcoleta and Estrella, four (4) votes are necessary for the COMELEC en banc to decide a case. Naturally, the party moving for reconsideration, as the party seeking affirmative relief, has the burden of evidence in proving that the division committed reversible error.[52] Additionally, he or she also bears the corollary burden of convincing four (4) Commissioners to grant his or her plea.

This voting threshold, however, is easily rendered illusory by the application of the Mendoza ruling, which virtually allows the grant of a motion for reconsideration even though the movant fails to secure four votes in his or her favor. As in this case, the ponencia suggests that in spite of securing only two (2) votes to grant the motion for reconsideration, the movants would nevertheless be declared the victors in this legal battle, in blatant violation of Sec. 7, Art. IX-A of the Constitution.

Second, to exacerbate the situation, the circumvention of the four-vote requirement, in turn, trivializes the proceedings before the COMELEC divisions and presents rather paradoxical scenarios, to wit:

  1. The failure of the COMELEC en banc to muster the required majority vote only means that it could not have validly decided the case. Yet curiously, it managed to reverse the ruling of a body that has properly exercised its adjudicatory powers; and

  2. A motion for reconsideration may be filed on the grounds that the evidence is insufficient to justify the decision, order or ruling; or that the said decision, order or ruling is contrary to law.[53] If the COMELEC en banc does not find that either ground exists, there would be no cogent reason to disturb the ruling of the COMELEC division. Otherwise stated, failure to muster four votes to sustain the motion for reconsideration should be understood as tantamount to the COMELEC en banc finding no reversible error attributable to its division's ruling. Said decision, therefore, ought to be affirmed, not reversed nor vacated.

These resultant paradoxes are patently absurd. Under the majority's interpretation of Sec. 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, a movant, in situations such as this, need not even rely on the strength of his or her arguments and evidence to win a case, and may, instead, choose to rest on inhibitions and abstentions of COMELEC members to produce the same result. To demonstrate herein, it is as though the ponencia counted the two (2) abstention votes in favor of the respondents for a total of four (4). This impedes and undermines the adjudicatory powers of the COMELEC divisions by allowing their rulings to be overruled by the en banc without the latter securing the necessary numbers to decide the case.

Third, to countenance the majority's interpretation of the rule would expand the jurisdiction of the COMELEC en banc beyond constitutional bounds. To illustrate, under Sec. 3, Article IX-C, the jurisdiction of the COMELEC en banc in eases originally decided by the COMELEC divisions is limited to resolving the motions for reconsideration assailing the their rulings. The dismissal by the COMELEC en banc, in applying Sec. 6, Rule 18 in election cases, should then be limited only to what it has jurisdiction over — that is the motion for reconsideration alone. To allow the COMELEC en banc to modify, if not reverse, the ruling of the division when the Commission itself admitted that it failed to muster the required number of votes to do so would then run afoul the Constitution for it goes beyond dismissing the motion for reconsideration, and extends to disposing the originally filed petition in its entirety.

As a more viable alternative, this dissent submits that when the petition for disqualification was elevated through a motion for reconsideration to the COMELEC en banc, the decision of the Special First Division could have only been set aside by four votes in the COMELEC en banc granting the motion for reconsideration.[54] And when no decision on the motion was reached by the COMELEC en banc even after rehearing, what remains is the decision of the division, which was validly rendered pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution and the COMELEC Rules of Procedure.[55] The ruling of the division should then be considered affirmed, not vacated. Modifying the Mendoza doctrine to produce such an effect does not require any far-fetched or strained interpretation of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure. As discussed, it simply requires construing the word "proceeding" in its plain meaning, beyond its alleged specialized use in Part V of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure as what the ponencia suggested, so as to include motions for reconsideration lodged with the COMELEC en banc.

This alternative interpretation follows the basic precept in statutory construction that a statute should be construed in harmony with the Constitution.36 Indeed, the Court has not hesitated to declare unconstitutional and strike down enactments that are impossible to reconcile with Constitutional provisions. But when an interpretation is available allowing for the challenged enactment or its provisions to be salvaged, such alternative is more favored and is pursued, rather than resorting to creating legal vacuums. As in here, the interpretation offered in this dissent resolves the paradoxes and constitutional violations earlier outlined, without necessarily having to declare Sec. 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure unconstitutional. Moreover, it gives meaning and strengthens the adjudicatory powers bestowed on the COMELEC divisions under Sec. 3, Article IX-C of the Constitution, and reinforces the fact that their rulings are potentially binding and conclusive upon the parties, as earlier discussed. Likewise, it guarantees observance to the long-standing jurisprudence on the majority vote requirement under Sec. 7, Article IX-A of the Constitution. And lastly, it ensures that the COMELEC en banc exercises its jurisdiction within constitutional bounds.

b. Pursuing the interpretation of
Sec. 6, Rule 18 of the COMELEC Rules of
Procedure in Mendoza would lead to
absurd results

Further enlightening on this discussion is the Separate Opinion in Mendoza of former Justice Carpio-Morales, who coincidentally, if not ironically, also penned the cases Mendoza was mainly predicated on: Estrella and Marcoleta. While concurring in the result, the former justice, in Mendoza, wrote:

The bone of contention is the manner of disposition of a motion for reconsideration when in spite of rehearing, no decision is reached by the Comelec en banc which remains equally divided in opinion, or wherein the necessary majority still cannot be had. The rule states that "the action or proceeding shall be dismissed if originally commenced in the Commission."

I respectfully differ from the ponencia.

There are cases which may be initiated at the Comelec en banc, the voting in which could also result to a stalemate. The Comelec sits en banc in cases specifically provided by the Rules, pre-prodamation cases upon a vote of a majority of its members, all other cases where a Division is not authorized to act, inter alia. These matters include election offense cases, contempt proceedings, and postponement or declaration of failure of elections and the calling for a special elections. In such cases, when the necessary majority in the Comelec en banc cannot be had even after a rehearing of the action, the effect is dismissal of the action.

In an election protest originally commenced in the Comelec and a decision is reached by the Division, it is, as the ponencia correctly posits, the banc that shall effectively "complete the process," which position hews well with Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr.'s view of "one integrated process," to which I also agree. A motion for reconsideration before the Comelec en banc is one such proceeding that is a part of the entire procedural mechanism of election cases. Ergo, when the necessary majority in the Comeiec en banc cannot be had even after a rehearing, the effect is dismissal of the proceeding. The motion for reconsideration should be dismissed.


As defined by Black, the term "proceeding" may refer to a procedural step that is part of a larger action or special proceeding. Black defines "process" as a series of actions, motions or occurrences.

The word "proceeding" could not have been used as an innocuous term. It was used to refer to matters requiring the resolution of the bane in cases originally commenced in the Comeiec that pass through a two-tiered process, as differentiated from actions initiated and totally completed at the banc level. It is a universal rule of application that a construction of a statute is to be favored, and must be adopted if reasonably possible, which will give meaning to every word, clause, and sentence of the statute and operation and effect to every part and provision of it.

Following the position of the ponencia, it is observed that in such cases where a Comeiec Division dismisses an election protest and the necessary majority is not reached after the rehearing of a motion for reconsideration, the Comeiec en banc, in effect, affirms such decision by similarly dismissing the "action." Under my submission, the result is the same but what is dismissed is the "proceeding" which is the motion for reconsideration. There should be no declaration of affirmance since, as the ponencia concedes, there is "no conclusive result in the form of a majority vote." The Comeiec en banc should dismiss the proceeding at hand but not the action, petition or case.

x x x

Since a majority vote was not attained after rehearing the Motion for Reconsideration, the ponencia states that the Comeiec en banc should have dismissed the election protest itself or, in effect, vacated the decision of the Division. Again I submit that it is the Motion for Reconsideration that is the "proceeding" which should, be dismissed. First, it is absurd for a deliberating body which arrived at "no conclusive result in the form of a majority vote" to do something about a matter on the table, much less to overturn it. Second, the resulting tyranny of the minority is unjust for, in such cases where the Comeiec en banc has a quorum of four, the protestee only needs to obtain the vote of just one Commissioner to frustrate the protestant's victory that was handed down by three Commissioners. Third, the ponencia incorrectly denotes that a body which could not pronounce a decision can effectively pronounce one and even one contrary to that of a body that could reach a decision. Otherwise stated, it downplays the significance of "the concurrence of a majority," which breathes life to any handiwork of the decision-making power of the Comeiec. Certainly, that was not the purpose and principle envisioned by the Comeiec Rules of Procedure.[57] (emphasis added)

Echoing the sentiments of the esteemed Ombudsman, to dismiss the entire case - the petition for disqualification -because the majority vote at the en banc level was not mustered is as absurd as it is illogical. As demonstrated in the extant case, petitioner won before the COMELEC's Special First Division, which ruled to disqualify private respondents in light of the overwhelming evidence of vote-buying, their followers having been caught in flagrante delicto. Accordingly, respondents moved for reconsideration before the en banc. Necessarily, therefore, it was incumbent upon the private respondents to have the ruling of the division overturned by the Commission as it is elementary that the burden to prove a claim rests on the party asserting it.[58] Here, since Germar and Santos failed to overcome such burden, the October 3, 2013 ruling of the COMELEC First Division should be deemed affirmed, binding and conclusive on the parties, lest private respondents be declared the victors in the case without themselves securing the required number of votes.

Applying the conclusions arrived at in the case at bar, there is no logical result other than to modify the doctrine laid down in Mendoza insofar as the effect of the failure to muster the required majority vote in the COMELEC en banc even after rehearing is concerned, and to grant the instant petition to set a new precedent to govern cases lodged with the electoral tribunal.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The January 28, 2015 Order of the COMELEC en banc in SPA No. 13-353 (DC) ought to be REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the October 3, 2013 Resolution of the COMELEC First Division should, accordingly, be REINSTATED AND AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.



[1] Rollo. p. 99- 103.

[2] Id. at 60.

[3] Id. at 60-61.

[4] Id. at 178-181.

Entitled "Feliciano Legaspi v. Alfredo M. Germar, Roberto C. Esquivel, and Rogelio Santos, Jr." The case against Esquivel was mooted by his lost in the vice-mayoralty race.

[6] Supra note 1 at 6 1.

[7] Rollo, p. 61.

[8] With Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. substituting Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim, who was absent, via an Order dated October 1, 2013.

[9] Supra note 1 at 59-73.

[10] Rollo, p. 62.

[11] Id. at 63.

[12] Id. at 64-65.

[13] Id. at 66.

[14] Id. at 84 - 92.

[15] Id. at 32-33.

[16] Supra note 1 at 102-103.

[17] Id. at 37-38.

[18] Id. at 145-174.

[19] Id. at 157; citing Sevilla, Jr. v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 203833, March 19, 2013, 693 SCRA 622.

[20] G.R. No. 191084, March 25. 2010, 616 SCRA 443, 458.

[21] Supra note 1 at 158.

[22] Rollo, pp. 121-139.

Section 44. Permanent Vacancies in the Offices of the Governor, Vice-Governor, Mayor, and Vice-Mayor. - (a) If a permanent vacancy occurs in the office of the governor or mayor, the vice-governor or vice-mayor concerned shall become the governor or mayor. If a permanent vacancy occurs in the offices of the governor, vice-governor, mayor, or vice-mayor, the highest ranking sanggunian member or, in case of his permanent inability, the second highest ranking sanggunian member, shall become the governor, vice-governor, mayor or vice-mayor, as the case may be. Subsequent vacancies in the said office shall be filled automatically by the other sanggunian members according to their ranking as defined herein.

[24] Supra note 1 at 130.

[25] G.R. No. 203833, March 19,2013,693 SCRA 622, 630.

[26] Nos. L-805 19-21, December 17,1987, 156 SCRA 582.

[27] Id. at 584.

[28] G.R. No. 160465, May 27, 2004, 429 SCRA 789.

[29] Id. 792-793.

[30] Marcoleta v. Commision on Elections, G.R. No. 181377. April 24, 2009, 586 SCRA 765. 773-774.

[31] Bolos v. Bolos, G.R. No. 1 86400, October 20, 2010, 634 SCRA 429, 437.

[32] Id.

[33] Mendoza v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 191084, March 25, 2010, 616 SCRA 443.

[34] Id.

[35] Id. at 460-461.

[36] COMELEC Rules of Procedure, Rule 19, Sec. 2. Promulgated on February 15, 1993.

[37] Mendoza v. Commission on Elections, supra note at 486.

[38] Apo Fruits Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 164195, April 30, 2008, 553 SRA 237, citing Firestone Ceramics, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 389 Phil. 810, 818 (2000). In accordance with Supreme Court Circular No. 2-89, providing Guidelines and Rules in the Court En Banc of Cases Assigned to A Division.

[39] Thereafter, by the Supreme Court via a petition under Rule 64 of the Rules of Court.

[40] SECTION 2. The Commission on Elections shall exercise the following powers and functions: x x x x

(2) Exercise exclusive original jurisdiction over all contests relating to the elections, returns, and qualifications of all elective regional, provincial, and city officials, and appellate jurisdiction over all contests involving elective municipal officials decided by trial courts of general jurisdiction, or involving elective barangay officials decided by trial courts of limited jurisdiction, (emphasis added)

[41] Saludaga v. Commission on Elections, G.R. Nos. 189431 and 191120, April 7, 2010, 617 SCRA 601, 621.

[42] G.R. No. 170908. August 24. 2007, 531 SCRA 178.183.

[43] Section 1. Postponement of Election. - When for any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous causes of such nature that the holding of a free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible election should become impossible in any political subdivision, the Commission, motu proprio, or upon a verified petition by any interested party, and after due notice and hearing whereby all interested parties are afforded equal opportunity to be heard, may postpone the election therein to a date which should be reasonably close to the date of the election not held, suspended, or which resulted in a failure of election, but not later than thirty (30) days after the cessation of the cause of such postponement or suspension of the election or failure to elect.

[44] Section. 2. Failure of Election. - If, on account of force majeure, violence, terrorism, fraud or other analogous causes the election in any precinct has not been held on the date fixed, or had been suspended before the hour fixed by law for the closing of the voting, or after the voting and during the preparation and the transmission of the election returns or in the custody of canvass thereof, such election results in a failure to elect, and in any of such cases the failure or suspension of election would affect the result of the election, the Commission shall, on the basis of a verified petition by any interested party and after due notice and hearing, call for the holding or continuation of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect on a date reasonably close to the date of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect but not later than thirty (30) days after the cessation of the cause of such postponement or suspension of the election or failure to elect.

[45] Sec. 2. Indirect Contempt. - After charge in writing has been filed with the Commission or Division, as the case may be, and an opportunity to the respondent to be heard by himself or counsel, a person guilty of the following acts may be punished for indirect contempt: xxx

[46] Sec. 1. Authority of the Commission to Prosecute Election Offenses. - The Commission shall have the exclusive power to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses punishable under the election laws and to prosecute the same, except as may otherwise be provided by law.

[47] Sec. 2. The Commission en banc. - The Commission shall sit en banc in cases hereinafter specifically provided, or in pre-proclamation cases upon a vote of a majority of the members of the Commission, or in all other cases where a division is not authorized to act, or where, upon a unanimous vote of all the Members of a Division, an interlocutory matter or issue relative to an action or proceeding before it is decided to be referred to the Commission en banc.

[48] J. Conchita Carpio-IMorales, Separate Opinion, Mendoza v. COMELEC, supra note 33 at 475; citing Black's Law Dictionary.

[49] A.M. No. 05-1 1-07-CTA, Rule 2, Sec. 3. Promulgated on November 22, 2005.

[50] Sec. 3. The Commission on Elections may sit en banc or in two divisions, and shall promulgate its rules of procedure in order to expedite disposition of election cases, including pre-proclamation controversies. All such election cases shall be heard and decided in division, provided that motions for reconsideration of decisions shall be decided by the Commission en banc. (emphasis added)

[51] Section 7. Each Commission shall decide by a majority vote of all its Members, any case or matter brought before it within sixty days from the date of its submission for decision or resolution. A case or matter is deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the rules of the Commission or by the Commission itself. Unless otherwise provided by this Constitution or by law, any decision, order, or ruling of each Commission may be brought to the Supreme Court on certiorari by the aggrieved party within thirty days from receipt of a copy thereof, (emphasis added)

[52] Lim v. Equitable PCI Bank, now known as the Banco de Oro Unibank. Inc., G.R. No. 183918, January 15, 2014, 713 SCRA 555.

[53] COMELEC Rules of Procedure, Rule 19, Sec. 1.

[54] Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Dissenting Opinion, Mendoza v. COMELEC, supra note 33 at 515-516.

[55] Id. at 5 16.

[56] Cagas vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 209185, October 25, 2013, 708 SCRA 672, 691.

[57] J. Conchita Carpio-Morales, Separate Opinion, Mendoza v. COMELEC, supra note 33 at 474-477.

[58] Supra note 52.

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