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[ GR No. 158371, Dec 11, 2003 ]



463 Phil. 863


[ G.R. No. 158371, December 11, 2003 ]




Petitioner Sonia R. Lorenzo and respondent Nestor B. Magno were rival candidates for Mayor of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija in the local elections of May 14, 2001.  A certain Carlos Montes, resident of San Isidro, filed with the Commission on Elections a petition, docketed as SPA 01-153, for the disqualification of respondent Magno as a candidate on the ground of his conviction by the Sandiganbayan of four counts of Direct Bribery.  On May 7, 2001, the COMELEC Second Division issued a Resolution disqualifying respondent Magno.  This was affirmed on appeal by the COMELEC En Banc on May 12, 2001.

The aforesaid Resolution was disseminated for implementation by the Municipal Board of Canvassers of San Isidro.  Hence, on May 18, 2001, petitioner Lorenzo was proclaimed as the Mayor-elect of San Isidro.

Meanwhile, respondent Magno brought a petition for certiorari before this Court, assailing his disqualification by the COMELEC, which petition was docketed as G.R. No. 147904.  On October 4, 2002, this Court rendered a Decision reversing and setting aside the two challenged Resolutions of the COMELEC dated May 7 and 12, 2001, and declaring that Magno was under no disqualification to run for mayor of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija in the May 14, 2001 elections.  The relevant portion of the Decision reads:
[A]lthough [Magno's] crime of direct bribery involved moral turpitude, petitioner nonetheless could not be disqualified from running in the 2001 elections.  Article 12 of the Omnibus Election Code (BP 881) must yield to Article 40 of the Local Government Code (RA 7160).  [Magno]'s disqualification ceased as of March 5, 2000 and he was therefore under no such disqualification anymore when he ran for mayor of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija in the May 14, 2001 elections.

Unfortunately, however, neither this Court nor this case is the proper forum to rule on (1) the validity of Sonia Lorenzo's proclamation and (2) the declaration of petitioner as the rightful winner.  Inasmuch as Sonia Lorenzo had already been proclaimed as the winning candidate, the legal remedy of petitioner would have been a timely election protest.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby PARTIALLY GRANTED.  The challenged resolutions of the Commission on Elections dated May 7, 2001 and May 12, 2001 are hereby reversed and set aside.  The petitioner's prayer in his supplemental petition for his proclamation as the winner in the May 14, 2001 mayoralty elections in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, not being within our jurisdiction, is hereby denied.

On October 21, 2002, respondent Magno filed an Omnibus Motion with the COMELEC in SPA 01-153, seeking: (a) that his name be reinstated in the certified list of candidates for municipal mayor of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija in the May 14, 2001 local election; (b) the nullification of the proclamation of Lorenzo as mayor of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija; (c) that a special board of canvassers be formed to continue the canvas of votes cast in favor of respondent Magno; and (d) after completion of the canvas, that Magno be proclaimed the winner.

The COMELEC En Banc thereafter issued a Resolution dated May 13, 2003, wherein it (a) ordered the creation of new Boards of Election Inspectors for all precincts in the municipality of San Isidro, for the purpose of counting the votes cast for Magno and preparing new election returns for submission to the Municipal Board of Canvassers of San Isidro; and (b) constituted a new Municipal Board of Canvassers for the purpose of canvassing said election returns and submitting the results to the COMELEC.

Subsequently, on May 22, 2003, the COMELEC partially modified the above Resolution to order the immediate constitution of a new Municipal Board of Canvassers, it appearing that the old Municipal Board of Canvassers of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija had already canvassed all the election returns for all precincts except the votes for Magno.  The COMELEC reiterated the directive in an Order dated June 10, 2003, and ordered the immediate implementation and execution thereof.

Hence, the instant petition for certiorari and mandamus, assailing the validity of the Resolution dated May 13, 2003 and the Orders dated May 22, 2003 and June 10, 2003.

On June 17, 2003, this Court directed public respondents to observe the status quo prevailing before the filing of the petition.

Petitioner argues that the COMELEC's order for the canvass of votes defies this Court's ruling in G.R. No. 147904 that Magno should have filed an election protest.

We find in favor of the respondent.

Well settled is the doctrine that election contests involve public interest, and technicalities and procedural barriers should not be allowed to stand if they constitute an obstacle to the determination of the true will of the electorate in the choice of their elective officials.[2]  Also settled is the rule that laws governing election contests must be liberally construed to the end that the will of the people in the choice of public officials may not be defeated by mere technical objections.[3]  In an election case, the court has an imperative duty to ascertain by all means within its command who is the real candidate elected by the electorate.[4]

As a general rule, the proper remedy after the proclamation of the winning candidate for the position contested would be to file a regular election protest or a petition for quo warranto.[5]  This rule, however, admits of exceptions, to wit: (1) where the board of canvassers was improperly constituted; (2) where quo warranto was not the proper remedy; (3) where what was filed was not really a petition for quo warranto or an election protest but a petition to annul the proclamation; (4) where the filing of a quo warranto petition or an election protest was expressly made without prejudice to the pre-proclamation controversy or was made ad cautelam; and (5) where the proclamation was null and void.[6]

This case falls squarely within the fifth exception to the general rule, i.e. the proclamation of Lorenzo as Mayor of San Isidro was null and void.  As of May 18, 2001, the date on which Lorenzo was proclaimed Mayor-elect of San Isidro, the question as regards Magno's qualifications for said post was still pending, and was raised as an issue before this Court in certiorari proceedings in G.R. No. 147904.  The question of Magno's qualifications for the office of Mayor was not resolved until October 4, 2002, when we expressly ruled that Magno was qualified for said post.[7]

Since the question of Magno's eligibility for the position of Mayor was still pending, the canvass which excluded Magno from the list of qualified candidates was an incomplete canvass, and Lorenzo's proclamation, on the basis thereof, was illegal.  An incomplete canvass is illegal and cannot be the basis of a valid proclamation.[8]

In a long line of cases, we have affirmed the power of the COMELEC to annul an illegal canvass and an illegal proclamation,[9] which respondent COMELEC has implicitly done in its Resolution of May 13, 2003 and Orders of May 22, 2003 and June 10, 2003.

Moreover, as correctly argued by the Solicitor General, respondent Magno cannot be faulted for his failure to file an election protest.[10] The question of his qualification or disqualification for the position of Mayor had not yet been settled as of the expiration of the ten-day reglementary period. As such, Magno was not yet eligible to file an election protest and, therefore, the fact that no such protest was filed should not be an impediment to his proclamation as mayor if the results of the canvass of the new Municipal Board of Canvassers would show that he garnered the highest number of votes.

Petitioner's other contentions that she was denied due process,[11] and that the COMELEC Chairman modified an en banc resolution without notice and hearing[12] deserve scant consideration.

First, the records of the case clearly show that petitioner was given full opportunity to participate in SPA 01-153, both via due notice of and attendance at hearings and the opportunity to submit memoranda and pleadings.

Second, there was no substantial modification of the COMELEC's En Banc Resolution dated May 13, 2003. The Orders issued by respondent COMELEC Chairman dated May 22, 2003 and June 10, 2003 were merely to implement the COMELEC En Banc's Resolution, with the end goal of canvassing the votes cast in the most expeditious way possible.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petition is DISMISSED.  The Resolution dated May 13, 2003, and the Orders dated May 22, 2003 and June 10, 2003 of the Commission on Elections, which (a) ordered the creation of a new Board of Election Inspectors for all precincts in the municipality of San Isidro in Nueva Ecija; and (b) ordered the immediate constitution of a new Municipal Board of Canvassers in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, are hereby AFFIRMED.


Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, and Tinga, JJ., concur.

[1] Nestor B. Magno v. Commission on Elections and Carlos C. Montes, G.R. No. 147904, 4 October 2002.

[2] Juliano v. Court of Appeals, 127 Phil. 207 (1967). See also Benito v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 106053, 17 August 1994, 235 SCRA 436; Bince v. Commission on Elections, 312 Phil. 316 (1995).

[3] Gardiner v. Romulo, 26 Phil. 521 (1914); Galang v. Miranda, 35 Phil. 269 (1916); Macasundig v. Macalañgan, 121 Phil. 554 (1965); Cauton v. Commission on Elections, 126 Phil. 291 (1967).

[4] Ibasco v. Ilao, 110 Phil. 553 (1960).

[5] Laodenio v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 122391, 7 August 1997, 276 SCRA 705; Torres v. Commission on Elections, 337 Phil. 270 (1997).

[6] Laodenio v. Commission on Elections, supra.

[7] Nestor B. Magno v. Commission on Elections and Carlos C. Montes, G.R. No. 147904, 4 October 2002.

[8] Mañara v. Commission on Elections, G.R. Nos. 141534-35, 13 December 2000, 347 SCRA 633.

[9] Albano v. Arranz, 114 Phil. 318 (1962); Demafiles v. Commission on Elections, 129 Phil. 792 (1967); Aguam v. Commission on Elections, 132 Phil. 353 (1968).

[10] Rollo, pp. 148-149.

[11] Rollo, pp. 12-15.

[12] Rollo, pp. 2, 13-15.