CASE DIGEST: ARARO vs. COMELEC

G.R. No. 192803: December 10, 2013

ALLIANCE FOR RURAL AND AGRARIAN RECONSTRUCTION, INC., ALSO KNOWN AS ARARO PARTY-LIST, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Respondent.

LEONEN, J.:

FACTS:

The COMELEC En Banc sitting as the National Board of Canvassers in the May 10, 2010 elections initially proclaimed (28) party-list organizations as winners involving a total of (35) seats guaranteed and additional seats. Petitioner, Alliance for Rural and Agrarian Reconstruction, Inc., (ARARO) was a duly accredited party-list under Republic Act No. 7941 ranked fiftieth (50th).

Petitioner then filed an election protest before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) questioning the Resolution of the COMELEC that proclaimed the 28 party-list groups.

Petitioner asks that this Court to modify the COMELEC's interpretation of the formula stated in BANAT v. COMELEC by making the divisor for the computation of the percentage votes, from total number of votes cast minus the votes for the disqualified party-list candidates, to the total number of votes cast regardless whether party-list groups are disqualified; and enjoin the public COMELEC from proclaiming the remaining winning party-list candidates until it modifies the interpretation of the formula used in BANAT v. COMELEC to the formula proposed by the petitioner.

The Court did not issue any TRO, the National Board of Canvassers proclaimed the winning party-list groups.

The petitioner suggests that the formula used by the COMELEC is flawed because votes that were spoiled or that were not made for any party-lists were not counted.

The National Board of Canvassers Resolution No. 10-009 applies the formula used in BANAT v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 179271 and G.R. No. 179295, April 21, 2009to arrive at the winning party-list groups and their guaranteed seats, where:

Number of votes of party-list over Proportion or Percentage of votes garnered by party-list equals the Total number of votes for party-list candidates

The Proportion or Percentage of votes garnered by party-list should be greater than or equal to 2% or 0.02 to entitle a party-list candidate to one (1) seat in the first round. There will be a second round if the total number of guaranteed seats awarded in the first round is less than the total number of party-list seats available. Thus:

Total number of party-list seats available - Number of seats allocated in first round x Proportion or Percentage of votes garnered by party-list = Additional seats awarded

If the total seats available for party-lists are not yet awarded after the second round (this is computed by getting the sum of the seats awarded in the first round and the additional seats awarded in the second round), the next in the party-list ranking will be given one (1) seat each until all seats are fully distributed. A three-seat cap per party-list, however, is imposed on winning groups. Fractional seats are not rounded off and are disregarded.

The petitioner argues that the Commission on Elections interpretation of the formula used in BANAT v. COMELEC is flawed because it is not in accordance with the law.The petitioner distinguishes the phrases,valid votes cast for party-list candidates on the one hand as against votes cast for the party-list system on the other.

The petitioner argues that the correct interpretation of the provisions of Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-list Law does not distinguish between valid and invalid votes.

The COMELEC argues that this will contradict CIBAC v. COMELEC, 549 Phil. 767 (2007) and BANAT v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 179271 and G.R. No. 179295, April 21, 2009. It asserts that neither can the phrase be construed to include the number of voters who did not even vote for any qualified party-list candidate, as these voters cannot be considered to have cast any vote "for the party-list system."

ISSUES:

Whether the case is already moot and academic

Whether petitioners have legal standing

Whether the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion in its interpretation of the formula used in BANAT v. COMELEC to determine the party-list groups that would be proclaimed in the 2010 elections.


HELD: The petition is moot and academic

POLITICAL LAW - moot and academic case


A moot and academic case is one that ceases to present a justiciable controversy by virtue of supervening events, so that a declaration thereon would be of no practical value. As a rule, courts decline jurisdiction over such case, or dismiss it on ground of mootness. Mendoza v. Villas, G.R. No. 187256, February 23, 2011

Several supervening events have already rendered this case moot and academic. First, the Commission on Elections En Banc already proclaimed other winning party-list groups.Second, the term of office of the winning party-list groups in the May 2010 national elections ended on June 30, 2013. Finally, the conduct of the May 13, 2013 elections resulted in a new set of party-list groups.

We held that the expiration of the challenged term of office renders the corresponding Petition moot and academic.

However, the following exceptions to the rule of declining jurisdiction over moot and academic cases are allowed: (1) there was a grave violation of the Constitution; (2) the case involved a situation of exceptional character and was of paramount public interest; (3) the issues raised required the formulation of controlling principles to guide the Bench, the Bar and the public; and (4) the case was capable of repetition yet evading review. Funa v. Acting Secretary of Justice Agra,G.R. No. 191644, February 19, 2013

On the importance of the assailed formula, this Court will discuss the issues raised by the petitioner as these are capable of repetition yet evading review and for the guidance of the bench, bar, and public.

POLITICAL LAW - real party in interest

"A real party in interest is the party who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgement in the suit, or the party entitled to the avails of the suit." The party's interest must be direct, substantial, and material.

However despite any new computation, ARAROs proposed divisor of total votes cast for the party-list system whether valid or invalid still fails to secure one seat for ARARO. Petitioner does not suffer a direct, substantial or material injury from the application of the formula interpreted and used in BANAT in proclaiming the winning party-lists in the assailed National Board of Canvassers Resolution. The computation proposed by petitioner ARARO even lowers its chances to meet the 2% threshold required by law for a guaranteed seat. Its arguments will neither benefit nor injure the party. Thus, it has no legal standing to raise the argument in this Court.

POLITICAL LAW formula used for determination of winning party list candidates

In applying and interpreting the provisions of Section 6 of Republic Act No. 6646, we said inCayat v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 163776. April 24, 2007that votes cast in favor of a candidate "disqualified with finality" should be considered stray and not be counted. To be consistent, the party-list group in the ballot that has been disqualified with finality and whose final disqualification was made known to the electorate by the Commission on Elections should also not be included in the divisor. This is to accord weight to the disqualification as well as accord respect to the inherent right of suffrage of the voters.

Thus, the formula to determine the proportion garnered by the party-list group would now henceforth be:

Number of votes of party-list over the Total number of valid votes for party-list candidates equals the Proportion or Percentage of votes garnered by party-list

The total votes cast for the party-list system include those votes made for party-list groups indicated in the ballot regardless of the pendency of their motions for reconsideration or petitions before any tribunal in relation to their cancellation or disqualification cases. However, votes made for those party-list groups whose disqualification attained finality prior to the elections should be excluded if the electorate is notified of the finality of their disqualification by the Commission on Elections. The divisor also shall not include invalid votes.

Hence, modifying the formula used in BANAT v. COMELEC. The refined formula shall apply prospectively to succeeding party-list elections from the date of the finality of the case.

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