CASE DIGEST: Abayon vs. HRET (G.R. No. 189466; February 11, 2010)

CASE DIGEST: DARYL GRACE J. ABAYON,Petitioner, v. THE HONORABLE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL, PERFECTO C. LUCABAN, JR., RONYL S. DE LA CRUZ and AGUSTIN C. DOROGA, Respondents. G.R. No. 189466; February 11, 2010.

FACTS: Petitioner Daryl Grace J. Abayon is the first nominee of the Aangat Tayo party-list organization that won a seat in the House of Representatives during the 2007 elections.

Respondents Perfecto C. Lucaban, Jr., Ronyl S. Dela Cruz, and Agustin C. Doroga, all registered voters, filed a petition for quo warranto with respondent HRET against Aangat Tayo and its nominee, petitioner Abayon, alleging that Aangat Tayo was not eligible for a party-list seat in the House of Representatives, since it did not represent the marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

Petitioner Abayon countered that the COMELEC had already confirmed the status of Aangat Tayo as a national multi-sectoral party-list organization representing the workers, woelecmen, youth, urban poor, and elderly and that she belonged to the women sector.

Finally, petitioner Abayon pointed out that respondent HRET had no jurisdiction over the petition for quo warranto since respondent Lucaban and the others with him collaterally attacked the registration of Aangat Tayo as a party-list organization, a matter that fell within the jurisdiction of the COMELEC.

On July 16, 2009 respondent HRET issued an order, dismissing the petition as against Aangat Tayo but upholding its jurisdiction over the qualifications of petitioner Abayon. The latter moved for reconsideration but the HRET denied the same on prompting Abayon to file the present petition for special civil action of certiorari.

In G.R. 189506, petitioner Jovito S. Palparan, Jr. is the first nominee of the Bantay party-list group that won a seat in the 2007 elections for the members of the House of Representatives. Respondents Reynaldo Lesaca, Jr., Cristina Palabay, Renato M. Reyes, Jr., Erlinda Cadapan, Antonio Flores, and Joselito Ustarez are members of some other party-list groups.

Shortly after the elections, respondent Lesaca and the others with him filed with respondent HRET a petition for quo warranto against Bantay and its nominee, petitioner Palparan, alleging that Palparan was ineligible to sit in the House of Representatives as party-list nominee because he did not belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors that Bantay represented, namely, the victims of communist rebels, Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs), former rebels, and security guards. Lesaca and the others said that Palparan committed gross human rights violations against marginalized and underrepresented sectors and organizations.

Petitioner Palparan countered that the HRET had no jurisdiction over his person since it was actually the party-list Bantay, not he, that was elected to and assumed membership in the House of Representatives. Palparan claimed that he was just Bantays nominee. Consequently, any question involving his eligibility as first nominee was an internal concern of Bantay. Such question must be brought, he said, before that party-list group, not before the HRET.

Respondent HRET issued an order dismissing the petition against Bantay for the reason that the issue of the ineligibility or qualification of the party-list group fell within the jurisdiction of the COMELEC pursuant to the Party-List System Act.
ISSUE: Does respondent HRET have jurisdiction over the question of qualifications of petitioners Abayon and Palparan as nominees of Aangat Tayo and Bantay party-list organizations, respectively, who took the seats at the House of Representatives that such organizations won in the 2007 elections?

HELD: HRET has jurisdiction. As this Court also held in Bantay Republic Act or BA-RA 7941 v. Commission on Elections, a party-list representative is in every sense "an elected member of the House of Representatives." Although the vote cast in a party-list election is a vote for a party, such vote, in the end, would be a vote for its nominees, who, in appropriate cases, would eventually sit in the House of Representatives.

Both the Constitution and the Party-List System Act set the qualifications and grounds for disqualification of party-list nominees.

In the cases before the Court, those who challenged the qualifications of petitioners Abayon and Palparan claim that the two do not belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors that they ought to represent. The Party-List System Act provides that a nominee must be a "bona fide member of the party or organization which he seeks to represent."

It is for the HRET to interpret the meaning of this particular qualification of a nominee the need for him or her to be a bona fide member or a representative of his party-list organization in the context of the facts that characterize petitioners Abayon and Palparans relation to Aangat Tayo and Bantay, respectively, and the marginalized and underrepresented interests that they presumably embody.

Parenthetically, although the Party-List System Act does not so state, the COMELEC seems to believe, when it resolved the challenge to petitioner Abayon, that it has the power to do so as an incident of its authority to approve the registration of party-list organizations. But the Court need not resolve this question since it is not raised here and has not been argued by the parties.

What is inevitable is that Section 17, Article VI of the Constitution provides that the HRET shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to, among other things, the qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives. Since, as pointed out above, party-list nominees are "elected members" of the House of Representatives no less than the district representatives are, the HRET has jurisdiction to hear and pass upon their qualifications. By analogy with the cases of district representatives, once the party or organization of the party-list nominee has been proclaimed and the nominee has taken his oath and assumed office as member of the House of Representatives, the COMELEC's jurisdiction over election contests relating to his qualifications ends and the HRET's own jurisdiction begins.

Hence, respondent HRET did not gravely abuse its discretion when it dismissed the petitions for quo warranto against Aangat Tayo party-list and Bantay party-list but upheld its jurisdiction over the question of the qualifications of petitioners Abayon and Palparan.
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