Senior Citizens v. Comelec (G.R. Nos. 206844-45; July 23, 2013)


FACTS: The present petitions were filed by the two rival factions within the same party-list organization, the Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Phil., Inc. (SENIOR CITIZENS). One group is headed by Rep. Arquiza (Arquiza group) and the other by Francisco Datol (Datol group). SENIOR CITIZENS was allocated one seat in Congress. Rep. Arquiza, then the organizations first nominee, served as a member of the House of Representatives.The nominees of SENIOR CITIZENS signed an agreement, entitled Irrevocable Covenant, which contains the list of their candidates and terms on sharing of their powers. It contained an agreement on who among the candidates will serve the terms according to the power sharing agreement.

After the conduct of the May 10, 2010 elections, SENIOR CITIZENS ranked second among all the party-list candidates and was allocated two seats in the House of Representatives. The first seat was occupied by its first nominee, Rep. Arquiza, while the second was given to its second nominee, David L. Kho (Rep. Kho).

On December 14, 2011, Rep. Arquiza informed the office of COMELEC Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes, Jr. in a letter dated December 8, 2011 that the second nominee of SENIOR CITIZENS, Rep. Kho, had tendered his resignation. By virtue of such resignation and as provided under their agreement, Rep. Arquiza stated that its fourth nominee shall assume position since their third nominee, Datol, has been previously expelled in their party. However, the board of the party list, headed by Rep. Arquiza, recalled the previous acceptance of the resignation of Rep. Kho.

The COMELEC en Banc issued a resolution that the list submitted to them is deemed to be permanent as the law deprives the party the right to change their nominees. Thus, even if the expulsion of Datol in the petitioner party-list were true, the list and order of nominees of the Senior Citizens party-list remains the same in so far as the COMELEC and the law are concerned as it does not fall under one of the three grounds mentioned in law for the changing of nominees. And that the resignation of Kho, pursuant to the party nominees term-sharing agreement, cannot be recognized and be given effect so as to create a vacancy in the list and change the order of the nominees.

ISSUES: Was the right to due process of Senior Citizens violated?

HELD: The twin requirements of due notice and hearing are indispensable before the COMELEC may properly order the cancellation of the registration and accreditation of a party-list organization.

The appropriate due process standards that apply to the COMELEC, as an administrative or quasi-judicial tribunal, are those outlined in the seminal case of Ang Tibay v. Court of Industrial Relations.

The first of the enumerated rights pertain to the substantive rights of a party at hearing stage of the proceedings. The essence of this aspect of due process, we have consistently held, is simply the opportunity to be heard, or as applied to administrative proceedings, an opportunity to explain ones side or an opportunity to seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. A formal or trial-type hearing is not at all times and in all instances essential; in the case of COMELEC, Rule 17 of its Rules of Procedure defines the requirements for a hearing and these serve as the standards in the determination of the presence or denial of due process.

The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth aspects of the Ang Tibay requirements are reinforcements of the right to a hearing and are the inviolable rights applicable at the deliberative stage, as the decision-maker decides on the evidence presented during the hearing. These standards set forth the guiding considerations in deliberating on the case and are the material and substantial components of decision-making. Briefly, the tribunal must consider the totality of the evidence presented which must all be found in the records of the case (i.e., those presented or submitted by the parties); the conclusion, reached by the decision-maker himself and not by a subordinate, must be based on substantial evidence.

Finally, the last requirement, relating to the form and substance of the decision of a quasi-judicial body, further complements the hearing and decision-making due process rights and is similar in substance to the constitutional requirement that a decision of a court must state distinctly the facts and the law upon which it is based. As a component of the rule of fairness that underlies due process, this is the "duty to give reason" to enable the affected person to understand how the rule of fairness has been administered in his case, to expose the reason to public scrutiny and criticism, and to ensure that the decision will be thought through by the decision-maker. (Emphases ours, citations omitted.)

In the instant case, the review of the registration of SENIOR CITIZENS was made pursuant to COMELEC Resolution No. 9513 through a summary evidentiary hearing carried out on August 24, 2012 in SPP No. 12-157 (PLM) and SPP No. 12-191 (PLM). In this hearing, both the Arquiza Group and the Datol Group were indeed given the opportunity to adduce evidence as to their continuing compliance with the requirements for party-list accreditation.

Nevertheless, the due process violation was committed when they were not apprised of the fact that the term-sharing agreement entered into by the nominees of SENIOR CITIZENS in 2010 would be a material consideration in the evaluation of the organizations qualifications as a party-list group for the May 13, 2013 elections. As it were, both factions of SENIOR CITIZENS were not able to answer this issue squarely. In other words, they were deprived of the opportunity to adequately explain their side regarding the term-sharing agreement and/or to adduce evidence, accordingly, in support of their position.

It is true that during the April 18, 2012 hearing, the rival groups of SENIOR CITIZENS admitted to the existence of the term-sharing agreement. Contrary to the claim of COMELEC, however, said hearing was conducted for purposes of discussing the petition of the Arquiza Group in E.M. No. 12-040. To recall, said petition asked for the confirmation of the replacement of Rep. Kho, who had tendered his resignation effective on December 31, 2011.

More specifically, the transcript of the hearing reveals that the focus thereof was on the petition filed by the Arquiza group and its subsequent manifestation, praying that the group be allowed to withdraw its petition. Also, during the hearing, COMELEC Chairman Brillantes did admonish the rival factions of SENIOR CITIZENS about their conflicts and warned them about the complications brought about by their term-sharing agreement.

However, E.M. No. 12-040 was not a proceeding regarding the qualifications of SENIOR CITIZENS as a party-list group and the issue of whether the term-sharing agreement may be a ground for disqualification was neither raised nor resolved in that case. Chairman Brillantess remonstration was not sufficient as to constitute a fair warning that the term-sharing agreement would be considered as a ground for the cancellation of SENIOR CITIZENS registration and accreditation.