Vinzons-Chato vs. HRET (G.R. No. 199149; January 22, 2013)


FACTS: Liwayway Vinzons-Chato (Chato) renewed her bid in the May 10, 2010 elections as representative of the Second Legislative District of Camarines Norte, composed of the seven (7) Municipalities of Daet, Vinzons, Basud, Mercedes, Talisay, San Vicente, and San Lorenzo, with a total of 205 clustered precincts. She lost to Elmer E. Panotes (Panotes) who was proclaimed the winner on May 12, 2010 having garnered a total of 51,707 votes as against Chato's 47,822 votes, or a plurality of 3,885 votes.

Chato filed an electoral protest before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) assailing the results in four (4) municipalities, namely: Daet, Vinzons, Basud and Mercedes. Panotes moved for the suspension of the proceedings and prayed that a preliminary hearing be set in order to determine the integrity of the ballots and the ballot boxes used in the elections. In its resolution, the HRET directed the copying of the picture image files of ballots relative to the protest. Chato then filed an Urgent Motion to Prohibit the Use by Protestee of the Decrypted and Copied Ballot Images reiterating the lack of legal basis for the decryption and copying of ballot images inasmuch as no preliminary hearing had been conducted showing that the integrity of the ballots and ballot boxes was not preserved. The HRET denied Chato’s motion. HRET declared that, although the actual ballots used in the May 10, 2010 elections are the best evidence of the will of the voters, the picture images of the ballots are regarded as the equivalent of the original ballots. Chato filed a motion for reconsideration but the HRET denied the same.

Chato then moved for the revision of the ballots in all of the protested clustered precincts arguing that the results of the revision of twenty-five percent (25%) of the precincts indicate a reasonable recovery of votes in her favor. She filed a second motion reiterating her prayer for the continuance of the revision. The HRET denied the motion.

However, on March 22, 2012, the HRET issued the assailed Resolution No. 12-079 directing the continuation of the revision of ballots in the remaining seventy-five percent (75%) protested clustered precincts, or a total of 120 precincts. Panotes moved for reconsideration but the HRET denied the same.

Hence, Panotes filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the Supreme Court.

ISSUE: Did HRET gravely abuse its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in issuing Resolution No. 12-079?

No. It is hornbook principle that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to review decisions and orders of electoral tribunals is exercised only upon showing of grave abuse of discretion committed by the tribunal; otherwise, the Court shall not interfere with the electoral tribunal’s exercise of its discretion or jurisdiction. Grave abuse of discretion has been defined as the capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment, or the exercise of power in an arbitrary manner, where the abuse is so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty.To substitute our own judgment to the findings of the HRET will doubtless constitute an intrusion into its domain and a curtailment of its power to act of its own accord on its evaluation of the evidentiary weight of testimonies presented before it.

In the main, Panotes ascribes grave abuse of discretion on the part of the HRET in ordering the continuation of the revision of ballots in the remaining 75% of the protested clustered precincts.

The Constitution mandates that the HRET “shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications” of its members. By employing the word “sole”, the Constitution is emphatic that the jurisdiction of the HRET in the adjudication of election contests involving its members is intended to be its own – full, complete and unimpaired.

There can be no challenge, therefore, to such exclusive control absent any clear showing, as in this case, of arbitrary and improvident use by the Tribunal of its power that constitutes a denial of due process of law, or upon a demonstration of a very clear unmitigated error, manifestly constituting such grave abuse of discretion that there has to be a remedy therefor. DISMISSED.