Martinez v. HRET (G.R. No.189034; January 11, 2010)


FACTS: In the May 14, 2007 elections, petitioner Martinez, private respondent Salimbangon and Edilito C. Martinez were among the candidates for Representative in the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu Province. On April 3, 2007, Martinez filed a petition to declare Edilito C. Martinez a nuisance candidate.However, the Commission on Elections Second Division issued its Resolution declaring Edilito C. Martinez a nuisance candidate only on June 12, 2007 or almost one (1) month after the elections. On July 9, 2007, Salimbangon was proclaimed winner on the basis of official results showing that he garnered sixty-seven thousand two hundred seventy-seven (67,277) votes as against Martinez who garnered sixty-seven thousand one hundred seventy-three (67,173) votes, or a difference of one hundred four (104) votes. Martinez filed an election protest based on three hundred (300) ballots more or less with only "MARTINEZ" or "C. MARTINEZ" written on the line for Representative which the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) did not count for Martinez on the ground that there was another congressional candidate (Edilito C. Martinez) who had the same surname.HRET dismissed the election protest, affirmed the proclamation of Salimbangon and declared him to be the duly elected Representative of the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu, having won by a plurality margin of 453 votes.

Petitioner alleges that the HRET gravely abused its discretion when it failed to credit the "MARTINEZ" or "C. MARTINEZ" votes in his favor despite the finality of the COMELEC resolution declaring Edilito C. Martinez a nuisance candidate. Petitioner argues that the Decision disenfranchised 5,401 voters when it ruled that said votes cannot be counted as votes for him since "there is no way of determining the real intention of the voter",in utter disregard of the mandate of Art. VIII, Sec. 14 of the Constitution.He maintains that there is no clear and good reason to justify the rejection of those 5,401 ballots, and points out that at the time private respondent was proclaimed by the Board of Canvassers, only 104 votes separated private respondent from him (private respondent was credited with 67,277 votes as against 67,173 votes of petitioner, while nuisance candidate Edilito C. Martinez got a measly 363 votes.)

ISSUES: [1] What is the legal effect of declaring a nuisance candidate as such in a final judgment after the elections? 

[2] Should ballots containing only the similar surname of two (2) candidates be considered as stray votes or counted in favor of the bona fide candidate?

HELD: By their very nature, proceedings in cases of nuisance candidates require prompt disposition.The declaration of a duly registered candidate as nuisance candidate results in the cancellation of his certificate of candidacy. The law mandates the Commission and the courts to give priority to cases of disqualification to the end that a final decision shall be rendered not later than seven days before the election in which the disqualification is sought.In many instances, however, proceedings against nuisance candidates remained pending and undecided until election day and even after canvassing of votes had been completed.Here, petitioner sought to declare Edilito C. Martinez as a nuisance candidate immediately after the latter filed his certificate of candidacy as an independent candidate and long before the May 14, 2007 elections.Petitioner averred that Edilito C. Martinez who was a driver of a motorcycle for hire,did not own any real property in his municipality, had not filed his income tax return for the past years, and being an independent candidate did not have any political machinery to propel his candidacy nor did he have political supporters to help him in his campaign.Petitioner claimed that Edilito C. Martinez after the filing of his certificate of candidacy, was never heard of again and neither did he start an electoral campaign.Given such lack ofbona fide intention of Edilito C. Martinez to run for the office for which he filed a certificate of candidacy, petitioner contended that his candidacy would just cause confusion among the voters by the similarity of their surnames, considering that petitioner was undeniably the frontrunner in the congressional district in the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu as his mother, Rep. Clavel A. Martinez, was the incumbent Representative of the district.

In controversies pertaining to nuisance candidates as in the case at bar, the law contemplates the likelihood of confusion which the similarity of surnames of two (2) candidates may generate.A nuisance candidate is thus defined as one who, based on the attendant circumstances, has no bona fide intention to run for the office for which the certificate of candidacy has been filed, his sole purpose being the reduction of the votes of a strong candidate, upon the expectation that ballots with only the surname of such candidate will be considered stray and not counted for either of them.

What needs to be stressed at this point is the apparent failure of the HRET to give weighttorelevant circumstances that make the will of the electoratedeterminable, following the precedent inBautista.These can be gleaned from the findings of the Commission on the personal circumstances of Edilito C. Martinezclearly indicating lack of serious intent to run for the position for which he filed his certificate of candidacy, foremost of which is his sudden absence after such filing.In contrast to petitioner who is a well-known politician, a former municipal mayor for three (3) terms and a strong contender for the position of Representative of the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu (then occupied by his mother),it seems too obvious that Edilito C. Martinez was far from the voters' consciousness as he did not even campaign nor formally launch his candidacy. The HRET likewise failed to mention the total number of votes actually cast forEdilito C. Martinez, which can support petitioner's contention that the "MARTINEZ" and "C. MARTINEZ" votes could not have been intended as votes for Edilito C. Martinez.

Petitioner should not be prejudiced by COMELEC's inefficiency and lethargy.Nor should the absence of objection over straying of votes during the actual counting bar petitioner from raising the issue in his election protest.The evidence clearly shows that Edilito C. Martinez,who did not even bother to file an answer and simply disappeared after filing his certificate of candidacy, was an unknown in politics within the district, a driver who had neither the financial resources nor political support to sustain his candidacy.The similarity of his surname with that of petitioner was meant to cause confusion among the voters and spoil petitioner's chances of winning the congressional race for the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu. As it turned out, there were thousands of ballots with only "MARTINEZ" or "C. MARTINEZ" written on the line for Representative, votes considered stray by the BEI and not counted in favor of petitioner, and which the HRET affirmed to be invalid votes.Had the Commission timely resolved the petition to declare Edilito C. Martinez a nuisance candidate, all such ballots with "MARTINEZ" or "C. MARTINEZ" would have been counted in favor of petitioner and not considered stray.

Respondent HRET gravely abused its discretion in affirming the proclamation of respondent Salimbangon as the duly elected Representative of the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu despite the final outcome of revision showing 5,401 ballots with only "MARTINEZ" or "C. "MARTINEZ" written on the line for Representative, votes which should have been properly counted in favor of petitioner and not nullified as stray votes, after considering all relevant circumstances clearly establishing that such votes could not have been intended for "Edilito C. Martinez" who was declared a nuisance candidate in a final judgment. GRANTED.

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