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[ GR No. L-29333, Feb 27, 1969 ]



136 Phil. 383

[ G.R. No. L-29333, February 27, 1969 ]


[G.R. NO. L-29334.  FEBRUARY 27, 1969]




Two election protests against the duly proclaimed Mayor and Councilors of Iligan City, after the Nov. 14, 1967 elections, based on the allegations of flagrant violations of certain mandatory provisions of the Election Code, to be more specifically set forth hereafter, were dismissed in a single order by the Court of First Instance of Lanao del Norte, the Honorable Teodulo C. Tandayag presiding.  The cases are now before us on appeal.

In one of them,[1] the election of Honorable Camilo P. Cabili to the Office of City Mayor of Iligan City, was contested by protestant, now appellant, Mariano Badelles.  In the other,[2] the protestants are the now appellants, Bonifacio P. Legaspi and Cecilia T. Barazon, who along with the five protestees[3] were among those who were registered candidates voted for in such election for councilors in the City of Iligan, with the protestees being credited with the five highest number of votes, with protestants Legaspi and Barazon obtaining sixth and seventh places respectively.

In such order of dismissal, it was admitted that while irregularities as well as misconduct on the part of election officers were alleged in the election protests filed, there was however an absence of an allegation that they would change the result of the election in favor of the protestants and against the protestees, that such irregularities would destroy the secrecy and integrity of the ballots cast, or that the protestees knew of or parti­cipated in the commission thereof.  For the lower court then, the lack of a cause of action was rather evident.

Hence the order of dismissal of March 23, 1968, which was sought to be fortified by the invocation of the doctrines that voters should not be deprived of their right to vote occasioned by the failure of the election officials to comply with the formal prerequisites to the exercise of the right of suffrage and that the rules and regulations for the conduct of elections while mandatory before the voting should be considered directory there­after.  The validity of such order of dismissal is now to be inquired into by us in this appeal.

In the petition of protestant Badelles, dated December 8, 1967, and marked as received the next day by the Clerk of Court of the Court of First Instance of Lanao del Norte, 15th Judicial District, it was stated that both he and protestee Camilo P. Cabili were the duly registered candidates for the Office of City Mayor or Iligan City, both having filed their respective certificates of candidacy in accordance with law and as such candidates voted for in the November 14, 1967 election.  It was then alleged that the Board of Canvassers, on November 25, 1967, proclaimed as elected protestee for having obtained 11,310 votes while protes­tant was credited with 8,966 votes.  Protestant would impugn the election of Cabili on the ground that there were "flagrant violations of mandatory provisions of law relating to or governing elections * * *" in that more than 200 voters were registered per precinct contrary to the provision limiting such number of 200 only and that no publication of the list of voters for each precinct was made up to the election day itself, enabling persons who under the law could not vote being allowed to do so.  As a result of such alleged "flagrant violations of the laws relation to or governing elections" around 8,300 individuals were allowed to vote illegally.

It was likewise asserted that not less than 8,000 qualified voters were unable to exercise their right of suffrage in view of their failure, without any fault on their part, to have the proper identi­fication cards or the non-listing of their names in the list of voters.  It was stated further that even in the case of those individuals provided with identification cards with their names included in the list of voters, they could not avail themselves of their right of suffrage as their applications for registration could not be found.  Mention was also made of the fact that the final lists of voters and the applications for registration were delivered to their respective precincts late on election day itself thus preventing them from voting.  Moreover, confusion, so it was alleged, was caused by the excessive number of voters being listed and many having been assigned to precincts other than the correct ones.

What was thus objected to is the fact that illegal votes were cast by those not qualified to do so, numbering 8,300 or more and that an approxi­mately equal number, who were duly registered with the Commission on Elections, Iligan City, were unable to vote due to the above circumstances.  The proclamation then could not have reflected the true will of the electorate as to who was the mayor elected, as the majority of protestee Cabili over the protestant consisted of only 2,344 votes.

The prayer was among others for the proclamation of protestee as well as other candidates for elective positions in the City of Iligan being set aside and declared null and void, protestant pleading further that he be granted other such relief as may be warranted in law and equity.

The protest of the candidates for councilor Legaspi and Barazon, in the other case against protestees[4] was in substance similarly worded.  The prayer was for the setting aside and declaring null and void the proclamation of protestees, with protestants seeking such other, relief which should be theirs according to law and to equity.

In the first case, protestee Cabili moved to dismiss the petition on the following grounds:  "1. That the protest was filed beyond the reglementary period allowed by the Revised Election Code; 2. That [the lower court] has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the present case, the Commission on Elections being the proper body to hear the same; 3. That the complaint states no cause of action."[5] This very same grounds were relied upon in a motion to dismiss by protestees Actub and Cabigon, filed in the other suit.

As above noted, in a single order of March 23, 1968, the two above election protests were dismissed, the lower court being of the opinion that neither petition alleged a cause of action "to justify [it] to try the same." The first ground of the motion to dismiss to the effect that the protests in both cases were filed beyond the reglementary period was rejected.  The claim as to lack of jurisdiction was likewise held to be without merit.  The single order of dismissal in both cases as indicated was based on the lack of a cause of action.

The reasoning followed by the lower court in reaching the above conclusion that there was no cause of action proceeded along these lines:  "Mere ir­regularities or misconduct on the part of election officers which do not tend to affect the result of the elections are not of themselves either ground for contest or for proper matters of inquiry.  * * * There is no allegation in the protest that the alleged irregularities committed by the election officers would tend to change the result of the election in favor of the protestants and against the protestees.  There is no allegation in the petition that the 8,000 voters who failed to vote were all voters of protes­tants and the 8,300 illegal voters who voted were for the protestees.  There is, therefore, no legal and practical justification for the court to inquire into the irregularities committed by the election officials, as alleged in the petition, for it would not give any benefit in favor of the protestants to the end that they will be declared the duly elected mayor and councilors, respectively, of this City."[6]

It was further stated in such order of dismissal:  "There is no allegation in the petition that the irregularities committed by the election officials have destroyed the secrecy and integrity of the ballots cast.  There is no allegation in the petition that the non­compliance of the election officials of the provisions of the election laws regarding the registration of voters were intentional on their part for the purpose of committing frauds for the benefit of the protestees.  There is no allegation in the petition that because of the alleged irregularities committed by the election officials in not following the provisions of the election laws regarding the registration of voters and the distri­bution of the precincts, that all the votes cast during said elections are illegal, nor is there an allegation in the protests that the irregularities committed by the election officials would affect the election in favor of the protestees."[7]

A greater regard for the cause of accuracy ought to have admonished the lower court from asserting in an uncompromising tone the absence of an allegation that the protestants in both cases failed to allege that if the facts pleaded by them were proved the result would not have been different.  It is true the complaints could have been more explicitly worded, but as they stood, the absence of such a claim could not be so confidently asserted.

To repeat, both protests were dismissed.  We do not discount a certain degree of plausibility attaching to the line of reasoning thus pursued by the lower court.  We are not unaware of the undeniable fact that both petitions were not distinguished by skill in their drafting or precision in their terminology.  Nonetheless the seriousness and gravity of the imputed failure to have the elections conducted freely and honestly, with such irregularities alleged, give rise to doubts, rational and honest, as to who were the duly elected officials.  Such allegations, it is to be stressed, would have to be accepted at their face value for the purpose of determining whether there is a cause of action, a motion to dismiss amounting to a hypothetical admission of facts thus pleaded.  We cannot in law and in conscience then sustain the order of dismissal.

Without the lower court having so intended, the dismissal would amount to judicial abnegation of a sworn duty to inquire into and pass upon in an appropri­ate proceeding allegations of misconduct and misdeeds of such character.  Accordingly, we reverse.

Abes v. Commission on Elections[8] points the way, but the lower court was apparently impervious to its teaching.  It may not be controlling, but it furnishes more than a hint.  It would seem, though, that for the court below, its message did not ring out loud and clear.

The opinion in the Abes case, penned by Justice Sanchez, starts thus:  "Petitioner's cry for relief, so their petition avers, is planted upon the constitutional mandate of free, orderly, and honest elections.  Speci­fically, they list a number of repressible acts." Among those mentioned were that blank official registration forms were taken from the office of the Quezon City Comelec Register several weeks before election day, November 14, 1967; that active campaigning within the polling places by Nacionalista leaders or sympathizers of Nacionalista candidates were allowed; that voters were permitted to vote on mere mimeographed notices of certain Nacionalista candidates; that voters were compelled to fill their official ballots on open tables, desks and in many precincts outside the polling places; that thousands of voters sympathetic to the Nacionalista candidates were allowed to vote beyond the hours for voting allowed by law; that identification cards were delivered by partisan leaders of respondents Nacionalista candidates, and those who did not signify their preference for Nacionalista candidates were not given such cards; that the precinct books of voters were not sealed within the deadline fixed by law; and that the resulting effect of irregularities was to prevent fully fifty-one per cent of the registered voters from voting.

One of the issues raised on the above facts is whether or not the Commission on Elections could annul the aforesaid election in Quezon City on the above allegations of fraud, terrorism and other illegal practices committed before and during the election.  The petition did not prosper; it was dismissed.  The remedy, we held, lay not with the Commission on Elections but with the courts of justice in an election protest.

In the language of Justice Sanchez:  "The bounda­ries of the forbidden area into which Comelec may not tread are also marked by jurisprudence.  That Comelec is not the proper forum to seek annulment of an election based on terrorism, frauds and other illegal practices, is a principle emphasized in decisions of this Court." For as announced in Nacionalista Party v. Commission on Elections,[9] assuming that there be a failure to conduct an election in a free, orderly and honest manner, "the duty to cure or remedy the resulting evil" did not rest with the Commission on Elections but in "some other agencies of the Government." More specifically, with reference to provincial and municipal officials, election contests "are entrusted to the courts." Then came this express affirmation:  "The power to decide election contests necessarily includes the power to determine the validity or nullity of the votes questioned by either of the contestants."

As so emphatically observed in the Abes opinion, "there has been neither deviation nor retreat from the foregoing pronouncement." After which came the follow­ing:  "The ratiocination advanced that there was failure of election due to rampancy of terrorism, frauds, and other irregularities, before and during elections, such that allegedly about 51% of the registered voters were not able to vote, will not carry the day for petitioners.  For, in the first place, this is grounded upon bare assertions.  Respondents contest the correctness there­of.  And in the answer of respondents Amoranto, Mathay and others, they aver that out of 162,457 registered voters in Quezon City, 100,382 voters actually cast their votes - about 62% of the registered voters.  But above all, as pointed out in City Board of Canvassers vs. Moscoso, [the] nullity of an election for municipal officials should be determined in a petition contesting the election of municipal officers-elect to be filed before the Court of First Instance."

Why an election protest is more fitly and appropriately the procedure for determining whether irregularities or serious violations of the electoral law vitiated the conduct of elections was clearly and succinctly explained in the Moscoso decision above cited, the opinion coming from Justice Makalintal.[10] Thus:  "The question of whether or not there had been terrorism, vote-buying and other irregularities in the 1959 elections in Tacloban City should be ventilated in a regular election protest, pursuant to section 174 of the Election Code, and not in a petition to enjoin the city board of canvassers from canvassing the election returns and proclaiming the winning candidates for municipal offices."

It would follow then that if the grievance relied upon is the widespread irregularities and the flagrant violations of the election law, the proper remedy is the one availed of here, the protest.

That such should be the case should occasion no surprise.  Time and time again,[11] we have stressed the importance of preserving inviolate the right of suffrage.  If that right be disregarded or frittered away, then popular sovereignty becomes a myth.

As Justice Laurel correctly pointed out:  "As long as popular government is an end to be achieved and safeguarded, suffrage, whatever may be the modality and form devised, must continue to be the means by which the great reservoir of power must be emptied into the receptacular agencies wrought by the people through their Constitution in the interest of good government and the common weal.  Republicanism, in so far as it implies the adoption of a representa­tive type of government, necessarily points to the enfranchised citizen as a particle of popular sove­reignty and as the ultimate source of the established authority."[12]

A republic then to be true to its name requires that the government rests on the consent of the people, consent freely given, intelligently arrived at, honestly recorded, and thereafter counted.  Only thus can they be really looked upon as the ultimate sources of established authority.  It is their undeniable right to have officials of their unfettered choice.  The election law has no justification except as a means for assuring a free, honest and orderly expression of their views.  It is of the essence that corruption and irregularities should not be permitted to taint the electoral process.

It may not always be thus unfortunately.  That should be the ideal however.  If there be a failure to observe the mandates of the Election Code, the aggrieved parties should not be left remediless.  Under the law as it stands, it is precisely an election protest that fitly serves that purpose.

It was sought to be thus utilized in these two cases, perhaps in a rather awkward and far from entirely satisfactory manner.  That in itself is no reason for the courts to slam the door against any opportunity for redress.  Yet, that is what would happen if the order of dismissal complained of were not set aside.

Hence the inevitability of its reversal.  The scope of our decision must not be misinterpreted however.  All that it directs is that the protestees in both cases be required to answer.  Thereafter, if, as is not unlikely, there be a denial of the serious imputations made as to the alleged irregularities, the lower court could properly inquire into what actually transpired.  After the facts are thus ascertained in accordance with the accepted procedural rules, then the appropriate law could be applied.

It must be clearly emphasized that we do not at this stage intimate any view as to the merit, or lack of it, of either protest.  That would be premature to say the least.  All we do is to set aside the order of dismissal.

WHEREFORE, the order of dismissal of March 23, 1968, is reversed and the two cases remanded to the lower court for proceeding and trial in accordance with this opinion and the law.  Without costs.

Concepcion, C.J., Reyes, J.B.L., Dizon, Makalintal, Zaldivar, Sanchez, Castro, Capistrano, and Teehankee, JJ., concur.
Barredo, J., concurs in a separate opinion.

[1] G.R. No. L-29333.

[2] G.R. No. L-29334.

[3] Felix Z. Actub, Providencio P. Abragan, Manuel F. Celdran, Casimero P. Cabigon and Benito Ong.

[4] Felix Z. Actub, Providencio P. Abragan, Manuel F. Celdran, Casimero P. Cabigon, and Benito Ong.

[5] Motion to Dismiss of Protestee Cabili.

[6] Order of the lower court of March 23, 1968, pp. 6-7.

[7] Ibid, p. 8.

[8] G.R. No. L-28348, December 15, 1967.

[9] 85 Phil. 149 (1949).

[10] City Board of Canvassers v. Moscoso, G.R. No. L-16365, September 30, 1963.

[11] Cf. Gardiner v. Romulo, 26 Phil. 521 (1914); Garchitorena v. Crescini, 39 Phil. 258 (1918); Cailles v. Gomez, 42 Phil. 496 (1921); Mandac v. Samonte, 49 Phil. 284 (1926); De Leon v. Cruz, 92 Phil. 403 (1952); Ticao v. Nañawa, G.R. No. L-17890, August 30, 1962; and City Board of Canvassers v. Moscoso, G.R. No. L-16365, September 30, 1963.

[12] Moya v. Del Fierro, 69 Phil. 199, 204 (1939).