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The prevailing ruling is that if the certificate of candidacy is void ab initio, the candidate is not considered a candidate from the very beginning even if his certificate of candidacy was cancelled after the elections.

H. Sohria Pasagi Diambrang (Diambrang) and H. Hamim Sarip Patad (Patad) were opponents in the 2010 Barangay Elections for Punong Barangya of Barangay Kaludan, Nunungan, Lanao del Norte.  While Patad obtained 183 votes to Diambrang’s 78 votes, the Barangay Board of Canvassers (BBOC) proclaimed Diambrang the winner, based on the recommendation of the Provincial Election Suprevisor that Patad was disqualified for being a fugitive from justice.  This recommendation, however, is not yet final and executory.  Patag filed a petition to annul Diambrang’s proclamation.

The COMELEC Second Division ruled that BBOC committed grave abuse of discretion in proclaiming Diambrang based on the recommendation of the Provincial Election Suprevisor who conducted the preliminary investigation on Pattad’s case, and whose decision the COMELEC had not yet affirmed.  Even if Patad was disqualified, Diambrang, who obtained only the second highest number of votes, could not be declared as the winning candidate.

Diambrang filed a motion for reconsideration.  The COMELEC En Banc, however, denied his MR.   It annulled his proclamation, and declared the first ranked Barangay Kagawad to succeed as the new Punong Barangay.  It also ruled that Patad was disqualified.

The Issue:

Whether or not Diambrang, the losing candidate, is entitled to proclamation in the face of disqualification of the winning candidate.

The Ruling:

This case has been rendered moot by the election of a new Punong Barangay of Barangay Kaludan, Nunungan, Lanao del Norte during the 28 October 2013 Barangay Elections. The case had been overtaken by events due to Patad’s failure to file his comment on the petition as well as the repeated failure of the Postmaster of Lanao del Norte to respond to the Court’s query whether Patad received the Resolution requiring him to file his comment. In a letter dated 18 January 2016, the Judicial Records Office requested for the assistance of the Postmaster General and CEO of Manila to determine the date of delivery of the letter under Registry Receipt No. 9206 addressed to Patad.  The request was forwarded to the Office of Area VIII Director of Central Mindanao.  On 11 August 2016, Eduardo M. Juliata, Sr., LC/ACTG Postmaster of Philippine Postal Corporation, Central Mindanao Area VIII issued a certification that the registered letter was received in good order by SB Samsodin Guindo on 30 July 2012.  In a Resolution dated 30 August 2016, the Court resolved to dispense with the filing of Patad’s comment on the petition. 

We reiterate the Court’s prevailing rulings on the matter of disqualification of a candidate and its effect on the second-placer in an election.

The assailed Decision of the COMELEC En Banc was promulgated on 30 January 2012. The COMELEC En Banc ruled that Diambrang, as a second placer, could not be declared as the duly-elected winner despite Patad’s disqualification.

On 9 October 2012, this Court promulgated its ruling in Jalosjos, Jr. v. Commission on Elections  where the Court held:

Decisions of this Court holding that the second-placer cannot be proclaimed winner if the first-placer is disqualified or declared ineligible should be limited to situations where the certificate of candidacy of the first-placer was valid at the time of filing but subsequently had to be cancelled because of a violation of law that took effect, or a legal impediment that took effect, after the filing of the certificate of candidacy. If the certificate of candidacy is void ab initio, then legally the person who filed such void certificate of candidacy was never a candidate in the elections at any time. All votes for such non-candidate are stray votes and should not be counted. Thus, such non-candidate can never be a first-placer in the elections. If a certificate of candidacy void ab initio is cancelled on the day, or before the day, of the election, prevailing jurisprudence holds that all votes for that candidate are stray votes. If a certificate of candidacy void ab initio is cancelled one day or more after the elections, all votes for such candidate should also be stray votes because the certificate of candidacy is void from the very beginning. This is the more equitable and logical approach on the effect of the cancellation of a certificate of candidacy that is void ab initio. Otherwise, a certificate of candidacy void ab initio can operate to defeat one or more valid certificates of candidacy for the same position.

In Aratea v. Commission on Elections, we ruled that whether the certificate of candidacy is cancelled before or after the elections is immaterial because a cancellation on the ground that the candidate was ineligible or not qualified to run means he was never a candidate from the very beginning.

In Maquiling v. Commission on Elections,  the Court revisited its previous ruling that the second-placer cannot be proclaimed as a winner in an election contest. This Court held in Maquiling:

We have ruled in the recent cases of Aratea v. COMELEC and Jalosjos v. COMELEC that a void COC cannot produce any legal effect.

Thus, the votes cast in favor of the ineligible candidate are not considered at all in determining the winner of an election.

Even when the votes for the ineligible candidate are disregarded, the will of the electorate is still respected, and even more so. The votes cast in favor of an ineligible candidate do not constitute the sole and total expression of the sovereign voice. The votes cast in favor of eligible and legitimate candidates form part of that voice and must also be respected.

As in any contest, elections are governed by rules that determine the qualifications and disqualifications of those who are allowed to participate as players. When there are participants who turn out to be ineligible, their victory is voided and the laurel is awarded to the next in rank who does not possess any of the disqualifications nor lacks any of the qualifications set in the rules to be eligible as candidates.

There is no need to apply the rule cited in Labo v. COMELEC that when the voters are well aware within the realm of notoriety of a candidate’s disqualification and still cast their votes in favor said candidate, then the eligible candidate obtaining the next higher number of votes may be deemed elected. That rule is also a mere obiter that further complicated the rules affecting qualified candidates who placed second to ineligible ones.

The electorate’s awareness of the candidate’s disqualification is not a prerequisite for the disqualification to attach to the candidate. The very existence of a disqualifying circumstance makes the candidate ineligible. Knowledge by the electorate of a candidate’s disqualification is not necessary before a qualified candidate who placed second to a disqualified one can be proclaimed as the winner. The second-placer in the vote count is actually the first-placer among the qualified candidates.

That the disqualified candidate has already been proclaimed and has assumed office is of no moment. The subsequent disqualification based on a substantive ground that existed prior to the filing of the certificate of candidacy voids not only the COC but also the proclamation.

Clearly, the prevailing ruling is that if the certificate of candidacy is void ab initio, the candidate is not considered a candidate from the very beginning even if his certificate of candidacy was cancelled after the elections.

Patad’s disqualification arose from his being a fugitive from justice. It does not matter that the disqualification case against him was finally decided by the COMELEC En Banc only on 14 November 2011. Patad’s certificate of candidacy was void ab initio. As such, Diambrang, being the first-placer among the qualified candidates, should have been proclaimed as the duly­ elected Punong Barangay of Barangay Kaludan, Nunungan, Lanao del Norte. However, due to supervening events as we previously discussed, Diambrang can no longer hold office.

WHEREFORE, we DISMISS the petition for being moot and academic.

SO ORDERED.

CARPIO, ACTING C.J.:**

Sereno, C. J., on official leave.

Leonardo-De Castro, Brion, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Perez, Mendoza, Reyes, Perlas-Bernabe, and Caguioa, JJ., concur.

Velasco, Jr., J., on leave.

Leonen, J., on official business.

Jardeleza, J., no part.

(Citations omitted.  Please clink the case title to see the original of the decision)

EN BANC, G.R. No. 201809, October 11, 2016, H. SOHRIA PASAGI DIAMBRANG, PETITIONER, VS. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND H. HAMIM SARIP PATAD, RESPONDENTS.

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