Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

 

G.R. No. 123169 November 4, 1996

DANILO E. PARAS, petitioner,
vs.
COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, respondent.

R E S O L U T I O N

 

FRANCISCO, J.:

Petitioner Danilo E. Paras is the incumbent Punong Barangay of Pula, Cabanatuan City who won during the last regular barangay election in 1994. A petition for his recall as Punong Barangay was filed by the registered voters of the barangay. Acting on the petition for recall, public respondent Commission on Elections (COMELEC) resolved to approve the petition, scheduled the petition signing on October 14, 1995, and set the recall election on November 13,
1995.1 At least 29.30% of the registered voters signed the petition, well above the 25% requirement provided by law. The COMELEC, however, deferred the recall election in view of petitioner's opposition. On December 6, 1995, the COMELEC set anew the recall election, this time on December 16, 1995. To prevent the holding of the recall election, petitioner filed before the Regional Trial Court of Cabanatuan City a petition for injunction, docketed as SP Civil Action No. 2254-AF, with the trial court issuing a temporary restraining order. After conducting a summary hearing, the trial court lifted the restraining order, dismissed the petition and required petitioner and his counsel to explain why they should not be cited for contempt for misrepresenting that the barangay recall election was without COMELEC approval.2

In a resolution dated January 5, 1996, the COMELEC, for the third time, re-scheduled the recall election an January 13, 1996; hence, the instant petition for certiorari with urgent prayer for injunction. On January 12, 1996, the Court issued a temporary restraining order and required the Office of the Solicitor General, in behalf of public respondent, to comment on the petition. In view of the Office of the Solicitor General's manifestation maintaining an opinion adverse to that of the COMELEC, the latter through its law department filed the required comment. Petitioner thereafter filed a reply.3

Petitioner's argument is simple and to the point. Citing Section 74 (b) of Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code, which states that "no recall shall take place within one (1) year from the date of the official's assumption to office or one (1) year immediately preceding a regular local election", petitioner insists that the scheduled January 13, 1996 recall election is now barred as the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) election was set by Republic Act No. 7808 on the first Monday of May 1996, and every three years thereafter. In support thereof, petitioner cites Associated Labor Union v. Letrondo-Montejo, 237 SCRA 621, where the Court considered the SK election as a regular local election. Petitioner maintains that as the SK election is a regular local election, hence no recall election can be had for barely four months separate the SK election from the recall election. We do not agree.

The subject provision of the Local Government Code provides:

Sec. 74. Limitations on Recall. (a) Any elective local official may be the subject of a recall election only once during his term of office for loss of confidence.

(b) No recall shall take place within one (1) year from the date of the official's assumption to office or one (1) year immediately preceding a regular local election.

[Emphasis added]

It is a rule in statutory construction that every part of the statute must be interpreted with reference to the context, i.e., that every part of the statute must be considered together with the other parts, and kept subservient to the general intent of the whole enactment.4 The evident intent of Section 74 is to subject an elective local official to recall election once during his term of office. Paragraph (b) construed together with paragraph (a) merely designates the period when such elective local official may be subject of a recall election, that is, during the second year of his term of office. Thus, subscribing to petitioner's interpretation of the phrase regular local election to include the SK election will unduly circumscribe the novel provision of the Local Government Code on recall, a mode of removal of public officers by initiation of the people before the end of his term. And if the SK election which is set by R.A No. 7808 to be held every three years from May 1996 were to be deemed within the purview of the phrase "regular local election", as erroneously insisted by petitioner, then no recall election can be conducted rendering inutile the recall provision of the Local Government Code.

In the interpretation of a statute, the Court should start with the assumption that the legislature intended to enact an effective law, and the legislature is not presumed to have done a vain thing in the enactment of a statute.5 An interpretation should, if possible, be avoided under which a statute or provision being construed is defeated, or as otherwise expressed, nullified, destroyed, emasculated, repealed, explained away, or rendered insignificant, meaningless, inoperative or nugatory.6

It is likewise a basic precept in statutory construction that a statute should be interpreted in harmony with the Constitution.7 Thus, the interpretation of Section 74 of the Local Government Code, specifically paragraph (b) thereof, should not be in conflict with the Constitutional mandate of Section 3 of Article X of the Constitution to "enact a local government code which shall provide for a more responsive and accountable local government structure instituted through a system of decentralization with effective mechanism of recall, initiative, and referendum . . . ."

Moreover, petitioner's too literal interpretation of the law leads to absurdity which we cannot countenance. Thus, in a case, the Court made the following admonition:

We admonish against a too-literal reading of the law as this is apt to constrict rather than fulfill its purpose and defeat the intention of its authors. That intention is usually found not in "the letter that killeth but in the spirit that vivifieth". . .8

The spirit, rather than the letter of a law determines its construction; hence, a statute, as in this case, must be read according to its spirit and intent.

Finally, recall election is potentially disruptive of the normal working of the local government unit necessitating additional expenses, hence the prohibition against the conduct of recall election one year immediately preceding the regular local election. The proscription is due to the proximity of the next regular election for the office of the local elective official concerned. The electorate could choose the official's replacement in the said election who certainly has a longer tenure in office than a successor elected through a recall election. It would, therefore, be more in keeping with the intent of the recall provision of the Code to construe regular local election as one referring to an election where the office held by the local elective official sought to be recalled will be contested and be filled by the electorate.

Nevertheless, recall at this time is no longer possible because of the limitation stated under Section 74 (b) of the Code considering that the next regular election involving the barangay office concerned is barely seven (7) months away, the same having been scheduled on May 1997. 9

ACCORDINGLY, the petition is hereby dismissed for having become moot and academic. The temporary restraining order issued by the Court on January 12, 1996, enjoining the recall election should be as it is hereby made permanent.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Regalado, Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Hermosisima, Jr., Panganiban and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.

 

 

 

Separate Opinions

 

DAVIDE, JR., J., concurring:

I concur with Mr. Justice Ricardo J. Francisco in his ponencia.

However, I wish to add another reason as to why the SK election cannot be considered a "regular local election" for purposes of recall under Section 74 of the Local Government Code of 1991.

The term "regular local election" must be confined to the regular election of elective local officials, as distinguished from the regular election of national officials. The elective national officials are the President, Vice-President, Senators and Congressmen. The elective local officials are Provincial Governors, Vice-Governors of provinces, Mayors and Vice-Mayors of cities and municipalities, Members of the Sanggunians of provinces, cities and municipalities, punong barangays and members of the sangguniang barangays, and the elective regional officials of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. These are the only local elective officials deemed recognized by Section 2(2) of Article IX-C of the Constitution, which provides:

Sec. 2. The Commission on Elections shall exercise the following powers and functions:

xxx xxx xxx

(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.

A regular election, whether national or local, can only refer to an election participated in by those who possess the right of suffrage, are not otherwise disqualified by law, and who are registered voters. One of the requirements for the exercise of suffrage under Section 1, Article V of the Constitution is that the person must be at least 18 years of age, and one requisite before he can vote is that he be a registered voter pursuant to the rules on registration prescribed in the Omnibus Election Code (Section 113-118).

Under the law, the SK includes the youth with ages ranging from 15 to 21 (Sec. 424, Local Government Code of 1991). Accordingly, they include many who are not qualified to vote in a regular election, viz., those from ages 15 to less than 18. In no manner then may SK elections be considered a regular election (whether national or local).

Indeed the Sangguniang Kabataan is nothing more than a youth organization, and although fully recognized in the Local Government Code and vested with certain powers and functions, its elective officials have not attained the status of local elective officials. So, in Mercado vs. Board of Election Supervisors (243 SCRA 422 [1995]), this Court ruled that although the SK Chairman is an ex-officio member of the sangguniang barangay an elective body that fact does not make him "an elective barangay official," since the law specifically provides who comprise the elective officials of the sangguniang barangay, viz., the punong barangay and the seven (7) regular sangguniang barangay members elected at large by those qualified to exercise the right of suffrage under Article V of the Constitution, who are likewise registered voters of the barangay. This shows further that the SK election is not a regular local election for purposes of recall under Section 74 of the Local Government Code.

 

Separate Opinions

DAVIDE, JR., J., concurring:

I concur with Mr. Justice Ricardo J. Francisco in his ponencia.

However, I wish to add another reason as to why the SK election cannot be considered a "regular local election" for purposes of recall under Section 74 of the Local Government Code of 1991.

The term "regular local election" must be confined to the regular election of elective local officials, as distinguished from the regular election of national officials. The elective national officials are the President, Vice-President, Senators and Congressmen. The elective local officials are Provincial Governors, Vice-Governors of provinces, Mayors and Vice-Mayors of cities and municipalities, Members of the Sanggunians of provinces, cities and municipalities, punong barangays and members of the sangguniang barangays, and the elective regional officials of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. These are the only local elective officials deemed recognized by Section 2(2) of Article IX-C of the Constitution, which provides:

Sec. 2. The Commission on Elections shall exercise the following powers and functions:

xxx xxx xxx

(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.

A regular election, whether national or local, can only refer to an election participated in by those who possess the right of suffrage, are not otherwise disqualified by law, and who are registered voters. One of the requirements for the exercise of suffrage under Section 1, Article V of the Constitution is that the person must be at least 18 years of age, and one requisite before he can vote is that he be a registered voter pursuant to the rules on registration prescribed in the Omnibus Election Code (Section 113-118).

Under the law, the SK includes the youth with ages ranging from 15 to 21 (Sec. 424, Local Government Code of 1991). Accordingly, they include many who are not qualified to vote in a regular election, viz., those from ages 15 to less than 18. In no manner then may SK elections be considered a regular election (whether national or local).

Indeed the Sangguniang Kabataan is nothing more than a youth organization, and although fully recognized in the Local Government Code and vested with certain powers and functions, its elective officials have not attained the status of local elective officials. So, in Mercado vs. Board of Election Supervisors (243 SCRA 422 [1995]), this Court ruled that although the SK Chairman is an ex-officio member of the sangguniang barangay an elective body that fact does not make him "an elective barangay official," since the law specifically provides who comprise the elective officials of the sangguniang barangay, viz., the punong barangay and the seven (7) regular sangguniang barangay members elected at large by those qualified to exercise the right of suffrage under Article V of the Constitution, who are likewise registered voters of the barangay. This shows further that the SK election is not a regular local election for purposes of recall under Section 74 of the Local Government Code.

Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Regalado, Bellosillo, Vitug and Mendoza, JJ., concur.

Footnotes

1 COMELEC Resolution No. 95-3345, September 5, 1995.

2 RTC, Cabanatuan City, Order dated December 20, 1995; Rollo, p. 28.

3 Rollo, pp. 64-66.

4 Aisporna v. Court of Appeals, 113 SCRA 464, 467.

5 Asturias Sugar Central, Inc. v. Commissioner of Customs, 29 SCRA 617, 627.

6 Id. at p. 628.

7 PLDT v. Collector of Internal Revenue, 90 Phil. 674.

8 People v. Salas, 143 SCRA 163, 167.

9 Petition, p. 3; Rollo, p. 5; See: Evardorne v. COMELEC, 204 SCRA 464.


The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation