Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. 158466             June 15, 2004

PABLO V. OCAMPO, petitioner,
vs.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL AND MARIO B. CRESPO a.k.a. MARK JIMENEZ, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, J.:

The wreath of victory cannot be transferred from the disqualified winner to the repudiated loser because the law then as now only authorizes a declaration of election in favor of the person who obtained a plurality of votes and does not entitle a candidate receiving the next highest number of votes to be declared elected.1

This is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, filed by petitioner Pablo V. Ocampo. He alleged that the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), herein public respondent, committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing in HRET Case No. 01-024, Pablo Ocampo vs. Mario "Mark Jimenez" Crespo, the (a) Resolution2 dated March 27, 2003 holding that "protestant" (herein petitioner) cannot be proclaimed the duly elected Representative of the 6th District of Manila since being a second placer, he "cannot be proclaimed the first among the remaining qualified candidates"; and (b) Resolution3 dated June 2, 2003 denying his motion for reconsideration.

The facts are uncontroverted:

On May 23, 2001, the Manila City Board of Canvassers proclaimed private respondent Mario B. Crespo, a.k.a. Mark Jimenez, the duly elected Congressman of the 6th District of Manila pursuant to the May 14, 2001 elections. He was credited with 32,097 votes or a margin of 768 votes over petitioner who obtained 31,329 votes.

On May 31, 2001, petitioner filed with the HRET an electoral protest4 against private respondent, impugning the election in 807 precincts in the 6th District of Manila on the following grounds: (1) misreading of votes garnered by petitioner; (2) falsification of election returns; (3) substitution of election returns; (4) use of marked, spurious, fake and stray ballots; and (5) presence of ballots written by one person or two persons. The case was docketed as HRET Case No. 01-024. Petitioner prayed that a revision and appreciation of the ballots in the 807 contested precincts be conducted; and that, thereafter, he be proclaimed the duly elected Congressman of the 6th District of Manila.

On June 18, 2001, private respondent filed his answer with counter-protest5 vehemently denying that he engaged in massive vote buying. He also opposed petitioner’s allegation that there is a need for the revision and appreciation of ballots.

After the preliminary conference between the parties on July 12, 2001, the HRET issued a Resolution6 limiting the issues to: first, whether massive vote-buying was committed by private respondent; and second, whether petitioner can be proclaimed the duly elected Representative of the 6th District of Manila.

Meanwhile, on March 6, 2003, the HRET, in HRET Cases Nos. 01-020, Bienvenido Abante & Prudencio Jalandoni vs. Mario Crespo, and 01-023, Rosenda Ann M. Ocampo vs. Mario Crespo, issued Resolutions declaring that private respondent is "ineligible for the Office of Representative of Sixth District of Manila for lack of residence in the district" and ordering "him to vacate his office."7 Private respondent filed a motion for reconsideration but was denied.8

On March 12, 2003, petitioner filed a motion to implement Section 6 of Republic Act No. 6646,9 which reads:

"Section 6. Effects of Disqualification Case.Any candidate who has been declared by final judgment to be disqualified shall not be voted for, and the votes cast for him shall not be counted. If for any reason a candidate is not declared by final judgment before an election to be disqualified and he is voted for and receives the winning number of votes in such election, the Court or Commission shall continue with the trial and hearing of the action, inquiry or protest and, upon motion of the complainant or any intervenor, may during the pendency thereof, order the suspension of the proclamation of such candidate whenever the evidence of guilt is strong."

Petitioner averred that since private respondent was declared disqualified in HRET Cases Nos. 01-020 and 01-023, the votes cast for him should not be counted. And having garnered the second highest number of votes, he (petitioner) should be declared the winner in the May 14, 2001 elections and proclaimed the duly elected Congressman of the 6th District of Manila.

On March 26, 2003, private respondent filed an opposition to petitioner’s motion to implement the afore-quoted provision.

On March 27, 2003, the HRET issued a Resolution holding that private respondent was guilty of vote-buying and disqualifying him as Congressman of the 6th District of Manila. Anent the second issue of whether petitioner can be proclaimed the duly elected Congressman, the HRET held:

"x x x Jurisprudence has long established the doctrine that a second placer cannot be proclaimed the first among the remaining qualified candidates. The fact that the candidate who obtained the highest number of votes is later declared to be disqualified or not eligible for the office to which he was elected does not necessarily give the candidate who obtained the second highest number of votes the right to be declared the winner of the elective office. x x x

It is of no moment that there is only a margin of 768 votes between protestant and protestee. Whether the margin is ten or ten thousand, it still remains that protestant did not receive the mandate of the majority during the elections. Thus, to proclaim him as the duly elected representative in the stead of protestee would be anathema to the most basic precepts of republicanism and democracy as enshrined within our Constitution. In effect, we would be advocating a massive disenfranchisement of the majority of the voters of the sixth district of Manila.

Congressional elections are different from local government elections. In local government elections, when the winning candidate for governor or mayor is subsequently disqualified, the vice-governor or the vice-mayor, as the case may be, succeeds to the position by virtue of the Local Government Code. It is different in elections for representative. When a voter chooses his congressional candidate, he chooses only one. If his choice is concurred in by the majority of voters, that candidate is declared the winner. Voters are not afforded the opportunity of electing a ‘substitute congressman’ in the eventuality that their first choice dies, resigns, is disqualified, or in any other way leaves the post vacant. There can only be one representative for that particular legislative district. There are no runners-up or second placers. Thus, when the person vested with the mandate of the majority is disqualified from holding the post he was elected to, the only recourse to ascertain the new choice of the electorate is to hold another election. x x x

This does not mean that the Sixth Legislative District of Manila will be without adequate representation in Congress. Article VI, Section 9 of the Constitution, and Republic Act No. 6645 allows Congress to call a special election to fill up this vacancy. There are at least 13 months until the next congressional elections, which is more than sufficient time within which to hold a special election to enable the electorate of the Sixth District of Manila to elect their representative.

For this reason, the Tribunal holds that protestant cannot be proclaimed as the duly elected representative of the Sixth legislative District of Manila.

In view of the conclusion herein reached, it is unnecessary to rule on the recount and revision of ballots in the protested and counter-protested precincts.

WHEREFORE, the Tribunal Resolved to:

x x x x x x

2) DENY protestant’s (petitioner) Motion to Implement Section 6, Republic Act No. 6646 by declaring the votes cast for Mario Crespo as stray votes."

Petitioner filed a partial motion for reconsideration but was denied. Hence, the present petition for certiorari.

Petitioner contends that the HRET committed grave abuse of discretion when it ruled that "it is unnecessary to rule on the recount and revision of ballots in the protested and counter-protested precincts." He maintains that it is the ministerial duty of the HRET to implement the provisions of Section 6, R.A. No. 6646 specifically providing that "any candidate who has been declared by final judgment to be disqualified shall not be voted for, and the votes cast for him shall not be counted."

In his comment, private respondent counters that what the law requires is that the disqualification by final judgment takes place before the election. Here, the HRET Resolutions disqualifying him as Representative of the 6th District of Manila were rendered long after the May 14, 2001 elections. He also claims that the Resolutions are not yet final and executory because they are the subjects of certiorari proceedings before this Court. Hence, all his votes shall be counted and none shall be considered stray.

The HRET, in its comment, through the Office of the Solicitor General, merely reiterates its ruling.

The petition must be dismissed.

The issues here are: (1) whether the votes cast in favor of private respondent should not be counted pursuant to Section 6 of R.A. No. 6646; and (2) whether petitioner, a second placer in the May 14, 2001 congressional elections, can be proclaimed the duly elected Congressman of the 6th District of Manila.

The issues raised are not novel. In Codilla, Sr. vs. De Venecia,10 we expounded on the application of Section 6, R.A. No. 6646. There, we emphasized that there must be a final judgment before the election in order that the votes of a disqualified candidate can be considered "stray", thus:

"Section 6 of R.A. No. 6646 and section 72 of the Omnibus Election Code require a final judgment before the election for the votes of a disqualified candidate to be considered "stray." Hence, when a candidate has not yet been disqualified by final judgment during the election day and was voted for, the votes cast in his favor cannot be declared stray. To do so would amount to disenfranchising the electorate in whom sovereignty resides."

The obvious rationale behind the foregoing ruling is that in voting for a candidate who has not been disqualified by final judgment during the election day, the people voted for him bona fide, without any intention to misapply their franchise, and in the honest belief that the candidate was then qualified to be the person to whom they would entrust the exercise of the powers of government.11

In the present case, private respondent was declared disqualified almost twenty-two (22) months after the May 14, 2001 elections. Obviously, the requirement of "final judgment before election" is absent. Therefore, petitioner can not invoke Section 6 of R.A. No. 6646.

Anent the second issue, we revert back to the settled jurisprudence that the subsequent disqualification of a candidate who obtained the highest number of votes does not entitle the candidate who garnered the second highest number of votes to be declared the winner.12 This principle has been reiterated in a number our decisions, such as Labo, Jr. vs. COMELEC,13 Abella vs. COMELEC,14 Benito vs. COMELEC15 and Domino vs. COMELEC.16 As a matter of fact, even as early as 1912, it was held that the candidate who lost in an election cannot be proclaimed the winner in the event that the candidate who won is found to be ineligible for the office for which he was elected.17

In Geronimo vs. Ramos,18 if the winning candidate is not qualified and cannot qualify for the office to which he was elected, a permanent vacancy is thus created. The second placer is just that, a second placer – he lost in the elections, he was repudiated by either the majority or plurality of voters. He could not be proclaimed winner as he could not be considered the first among the qualified candidates. To rule otherwise is to misconstrue the nature of the democratic electroral process and the sociological and psychological underpinnings behind voters’ preferences.19

At any rate, the petition has become moot and academic. The Twelfth Congress formally adjourned on June 11, 2004. And on May 17, 2004, the City Board of Canvassers proclaimed Bienvenido Abante the duly elected Congressman of the Sixth District of Manila pursuant to the May 10, 2004 elections.

In the recent case of Enrile vs. Senate Electoral Tribunal,20 we ruled that a case becomes moot and academic when there is no more actual controversy between the parties or no useful purpose can be served in passing upon the merits. Worth reiterating is our pronouncement in Gancho-on vs. Secretary of Labor and Employment, thus:21

"It is a rule of universal application, almost, that courts of justice constituted to pass upon substantial rights will not consider questions in which no actual interests are involved; they decline jurisdiction of moot cases. And where the issue has become moot and academic, there is no justiciable controversy, so that a declaration thereon would be of no practical use or value. There is no actual substantial relief to which petitioner would be entitled and which would be negated by the dismissal of the petition."

WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., Puno, Vitug*, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Carpio-Morales, Corona, Azcuna, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

* On official leave.

1 Sunga vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 125629, March 25, 1998, 288 SCRA 76.

2 Petition, Annex "A", Rollo at 24-42.

3 Petition, Annex "B", id. at 43-44.

4 Petition, Annex "D," id. at 53-59.

5 Petition, Annex "E," id. at 60-69.

6 Petition, Annex "F," id. at 70-74.

7 Petition, id. at 27.

8 Petition, id. at 28.

9 The Electoral reform Law of 1987, January 5, 1988.

10 G.R. No. 150605, December 10, 2002, 393 SCRA 639.

11 Reyes vs. Comelec, G.R. No. 120905, March 7, 1996, 254 SCRA 514; Nolasco vs. Comelec, G.R. Nos. 122250 & 122258, July 21, 1997, 275 SCRA 762.

12 Sunga vs. COMELEC, supra.

13 G.R. No. 86564, August 1, 1989, 176 SCRA 1.

14 G.R. No. 100710, September 3, 1991, 201 SCRA 253.

15 G.R. No. 106053, August 17, 1994, 235 SCRA 436.

16 G.R. No. 134015, July 19, 1999, 310 SCRA 546.

17 Topacio vs. Paredes, 23 Phil. 238 (1912).

18 G.R. Nos. L-60504, L-60591, 60732-39, May 14, 1985, 136 SCRA 435.

19 Aquino vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 120265, September 18, 1995, 248 SCRA 400.

20 G.R. No. 132986, May 19, 2004.

21 G.R. No. 108033, April 14, 1997, 271 SCRA 204, 207-208.


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