Manalo v. Comelec (G.R. No. 201672; August 13, 2013)

FACTS: Petitioner Cesar G. Manalo (Manalo) and private respondent Ernesto M. Miranda (Miranda) were among the three candidates for Punong Barangay of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga during the 2010 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Synchronized Elections on 25 October 2010. After the canvass of votes, the Barangay Board of Canvassers of Sta. Maria proclaimed Miranda as the winner and duly elected Punong Barangay obtaining 344 votes as against 343 votes obtained by Manalo.On 4 November 2010, Manalo filed an election protest before the 6th Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Mabalacat and Magalang, Pampanga, contesting the proclamation of Miranda.

Upon tabulation, the results showed that Manalo was the winner of the election having garnered Three Hundred Forty-Four (344) votes, up from 343 votes while herein Miranda got three hundred thirty-three (333) votes, down from 344 votes, or a plurality of 11 votes. On 24 May 2011, the trial court rendered a decision in favor of Manalo and declared him as the true choice for Punong Barangay of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga.

Immediately on the same day, Miranda filed a Notice of Appeal, appealing the Decision of the lower court to the COMELEC. On 25 May 2011, Manalo filed a Motion for Immediate Execution of Decision Pending Appeal before the lower court citing good reasonsto justify immediate execution.

On 2 June 2011, Miranda protested the Motion for Immediate Execution Pending Appeal of Manalo mainly on the basis that no good reason was shown for its immediate execution as the defeat of the protestee and the victory of the protestant had been clearly established. The Trial court granted Manalos motion for immediate execution.

On 22 June 2011, Miranda before the COMELEC filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for Status Quo Ante or Restraining Order. COMELEC Second Division, acting on the petition filed by Miranda, issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the 24 May 2011 Decision and 3 June 2011 Special Order of the trial court as well as all other acts/incidents relating thereto. Manalo filed a Motion for Reconsideration which was denied in a COMELEC En Banc Resolution dated 17 April 2012. The COMELEC En Banc agreed with the findings that the Special Order is invalid as it failed to specify superior circumstances justifying execution pending appeal and merely lifted the reasons cited in jurisprudence without any explanation as to its applicability to the present case.

ISSUE: Did COMELEC err in affirming its Second Division's ruling?

HELD: An insight into the consequences of the case antecedents could have predicted for petitioner a course other than the present petition. Time and effort could have been saved, for better purposes, for all parties including specially this Court.

In the election protest filed by Manalo, as shown from the final tally of the result of the Courts appreciation of ballots, protestant CESAR MANALO is the true choice for Punong Barangay of Sta. Maria, Mabalacat, Pampanga having garnered THREE HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR (344) votes from 343 votes while herein protestee ERNESTO M. MIRANDA got THREE HUNDRED THIRTY-THREE (333) votes from 344 votes or a plurality of 11 votes in favor of the protestant.

This ruling was pushed into the background when, acting on Manalos motion for immediate execution of decision pending appeal, the trial court issued a Special Order granting Manalos prayer for the issuance of a writ of execution pending appeal. While Mirandas motion for reconsideration of the special order was yet pending, he filed with the Comelec a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibitions with Prayer for a Status Quo Ante or Retraining Order. A day after, Mirandas motion for reconsideration was eventually denied, the trial court petinently stated that Manalo has won in the barangay election of October 25, 2010 even if the Court had included in the appreciation of ballots those which were claimed by Miranda.

In his petition for certiorari and prohibition before the COMELEC, Miranda repeated his argument that the trial court erred when it did not include in the appreciation the ballots that he "claimed." Thus, said issue was once again, directly ruled upon, this time by the COMELEC itself through its Second Division.

The COMELEC Second Division ruling could have ended the case. The TRO order of the COMELEC Second Division dated 8 July 2011 enjoining the trial judge from implementing the Decision, Special Order and Writ of Execution was only for a period of sixty days and had already lapsed when, on 22 December 2011, the COMELEC held that "the victory of the private respondent [Manalo, before the COMELEC] and the defeat of petitioner [Miranda, before the COMELEC] are manifest in the Decision."

The said Decision could have been the subject of a motion for remand to the trial court for regular execution of judgment. The issue of propriety of execution pending appeal had, by then, become moot. As it would turn out, Miranda no longer questioned the Resolution of the COMELEC Second Division. It was Manalo himself, the declared winner before the trial court and on appeal before the COMELEC, who chose to file a Motion for Partial Reconsideration insisting on the correctness of the Special Order of Execution Pending Appeal.

Quite unexplainably, Manalo insisted on a ruling this time from us, on the decisions below on the validity of execution pending appeal. And Miranda, of course, obliged and by his comment to the petition, kept on going the debate on the moot issue. More for an orderly resolution of this election dispute than the personal ambitions of the party, we issued a TRO on 2 April 2013.