Asistio v. Aguirre (G.R. No. 191124; April 27, 2010)

CASE DIGEST: LUIS A. ASISTIO, Petitioner, v. HON. THELMA CANLAS TRINIDAD-PE AGUIRRE, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Caloocan City, Branch 129; HON. ARTHUR O. MALABAGUIO, Presiding Judge, Metropolitan Trial Court, Caloocan City, Branch 52; ENRICO R. ECHIVERRI, Board of Election Inspectors of Precinct 1811A, Barangay 15, Caloocan City; and the CITY ELECTION OFFICER, Caloocan City, Respondents. (G.R. No. 191124; April 27, 2010).

FACTS: On January 26, 2010, private respondent Enrico R. Echiverri (Echiverri) filed against petitioner Luis A. Asistio (Asistio) a Petition for Exclusion of Voter from the Permanent List of Voters of Caloocan City (Petition for Exclusion) before the MeTC, Branch 52,Caloocan City presided over by public respondent Judge Arthur O. Malabaguio. Echiverri alleged that Asistio is not a resident of Caloocan City, specifically not of123 Interior P. Zamora St.,Barangay 15,Caloocan City, the address stated in his Certificate of Candidacy (COC) for Mayor in the 2010 Automated National and Local Elections. Echiverri, also a candidate for Mayor of Caloocan City, was the respondent in a Petition to Deny Due Course and/or Cancellation of the Certificate of Candidacy filed by Asistio. According to Echiverri, when he was about to furnish Asistio a copy of his Answer to the latters petition, he found out that Asistios address is non-existent. To support this, Echiverri attached to his petition a Certification issued by the Tanggapan ng Punong Barangay of Barangay 15 Central, Zone 2, District II of Caloocan City. He mentioned that, upon verification of the 2009 Computerized Voters List (CVL) for Barangay 15, Asistios name appeared under voter number 8, with address at 109 Libis Gochuico,Barangay 15,Caloocan City. Judge Malabaguio rendered a decision removing the name of Asistio from the list of permanent voters of Caloocan City.

Meanwhile, Echiverri filed with the COMELEC a Petition for Disqualification,which was docketed as SPA No. 10-013 (DC). The Petition was anchored on the grounds that Asistio is not a resident ofCaloocanCityand that he had been previously convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. Asistio, in his Answer with Special and Affirmative Defenses (Com Memorandum),raised the same arguments with respect to his residency and also argued that the President of thePhilippines granted him an absolute pardon.

ISSUE: Should Asistios name be removed from the permanent list of voters in Precinct 1811A of Caloocan City?HELD: The right to vote is a most precious political right, as well as a bounden duty of every citizen, enabling and requiring him to participate in the process of government to ensure that it can truly be said to derive its power solely from the consent of its constituents. Time and again, it has been said that every Filipinos right to vote shall be respected, upheld, and given full effect. A citizen cannot be disenfranchised for the flimsiest of reasons. Only on the most serious grounds, and upon clear and convincing proof, may a citizen be deemed to have forfeited this precious heritage of freedom. In this case, even if the appellate docket fees were not filed on time, this incident alone should not thwart the proper determination and resolution of the instant case on substantial grounds. Blind adherence to a technicality, with the inevitable result of frustrating and nullifying the constitutionally guaranteed right of suffrage, cannot be countenanced.

The residency requirement of a voter is at least one (1) year residence in the Philippines and at least six (6) months in the place where the person proposes or intends to vote. Residence, as used in the law prescribing the qualifications for suffrage and for elective office, is doctrinally settled to mean domicile, importing not only an intention to reside in a fixed place but also personal presence in that place, coupled with conduct indicative of such intention inferable from a persons acts, activities, and utterances. Domicile denotes a fixed permanent residence where, when absent for business or pleasure, or for like reasons, one intends to return. In the consideration of circumstances obtaining in each particular case, three rules must be borne in mind, namely: (1) that a person must have a residence or domicile somewhere; (2) once established, it remains until a new one is acquired; and (3) that a person can have but one residence or domicile at a time.

Domicile is not easily lost. To successfully effect a transfer thereof, one must demonstrate: (1) an actual removal or change of domicile; (2) a bona fide intention of abandoning the former place of residence and establishing a new one; and (3) acts which correspond with that purpose. There must be animus manendi coupled with animo non revertendi. The purpose to remain in or at the domicile of choice must be for an indefinite period of time; the change of residence must be voluntary; and the residence at the place chosen for the new domicile must be actual.

Asistio has always been a resident of Caloocan City since his birth or for more than 72 years. His family is known to be among the prominent political families in Caloocan City. In fact, Asistio served in public office as Caloocan City Second District representative in the House of Representatives, having been elected as such in the 1992, 1995, 1998, and 2004 elections. In 2007, he also sought election as City Mayor. In all of these occasions, Asistio cast his vote in the same city. Taking these circumstances into consideration, gauged in the light of the doctrines above enunciated, it cannot be denied that Asistio has qualified, and continues to qualify, as a voter of Caloocan City. There is no showing that he has established domicile elsewhere, or that he had consciously and voluntarily abandoned his residence in Caloocan City. He should, therefore, remain in the list of permanent registered voters of Precinct No. 1811A,Barangay 15,Caloocan City.

That Asistio allegedly indicated in his Certificate of Candidacy for Mayor, both for the 2007 and 2010 elections, a non-existent or false address, or that he could not be physically found in the address he indicated when he registered as a voter, should not operate to exclude him as a voter of Caloocan City. These purported misrepresentations in Asistios COC, if true, might serve as basis for an election offense under the Omnibus Election Code (OEC),or an action to deny due course to the COC.But they do not serve as proof that Asistio has abandoned his domicile in Caloocan City, or that he has established residence outside of Caloocan City. GRANTED.