G.R. No. 207900 : April 22, 2014




On October 5, 2012, Hayudini filed his Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) for the position of Municipal Mayor of South Ubian, Tawi-Tawi in the May 13, 2013 National and Local Elections held in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Ten days after, Mustapha J. Omar (Omar) filed a Petition to Deny Due Course or Cancel Hayudini's CoC. Omar basically asserted that Hayudini should be disqualified for making false representation regarding his residence. He claimed that Hayudini declared in his CoC that he is a resident of the Municipality of South Ubian when, in fact, he resides in Zamboanga City.

Thereafter, Hayudini filed a Petition for Inclusion in the Permanent List of Voters in Barangay Bintawlan, South Ubian before the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC). Despite the opposition of Ignacio Aguilar Baki, the MCTC granted Hayudini's petition on January 31, 2013. On that same day, the COMELEC's First Division dismissed Omar's earlier petition to cancel Hayudini's CoC for lack of substantial evidence that Hayudini committed false representation as to his residency.

Oppositor Baki, subsequently, elevated the case to the Bongao Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 5. The RTC, on March 8, 2013, reversed the MCTC ruling and ordered the deletion of Hayudini's name in Barangay Bintawlan's permanent list of voters. In view of said decision, Omar filed before the COMELEC a Petition to Cancel the Certificate of Candidacy of Gamal S. Hayudini by Virtue of a Supervening Event on March 26, 2013.

Hayudini appealed the March 8, 2013 RTC decision to the Court of Appeals but was denied.

On May 13, 2013, Hayudini won the mayoralty race in South Ubian, Tawi-Tawi. He was proclaimed and, consequently, took his oath of office.

On June 20, 2013, the COMELEC Second Division issued a Resolution granting Omars second petition to cancel Hayudini's CoC.

Hayudini, thus, filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the COMELEC En Banc, arguing that its Second Division committed grave error when it gave due course to a belatedly filed petition and treated the March 8, 2013 RTC Decision as a supervening event. The COMELEC En Banc denied Hayudinis Motion for Reconsideration for lack of merit. The COMELEC declared Omar as the mayor.

Thus, Hayudini filed the instant petition for certiorari and prohibition.

Hayudini mainly advances the following arguments:

ISSUES: Whether the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion in declaring Omar as the duly-elected mayor

HELD: The Court finds the petition to be without merit.

REMEDIAL LAW: special civil action for certiorari under rule 65; grave abuse of discretion

A special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 is an independent action based on the specific grounds and available only if there is no appeal or any other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. It will only prosper if grave abuse of discretion is alleged and is actually proved to exist.

Grave abuse of discretion has been defined as the arbitrary exercise of power due to passion, prejudice or personal hostility; or the whimsical, arbitrary, or capricious exercise of power that amounts to an evasion or refusal to perform a positive duty enjoined by law or to act at all in contemplation of law. For an act to be condemned as having been done with grave abuse of discretion, such an abuse must be patent and gross.

Here, Hayudini miserably failed to prove that the COMELEC rendered its assailed Resolutions with grave abuse of discretion.

POLITICAL LAW: COMELEC rules of procedures; liberal construction

Hayudini contends that the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion when it admitted, and later granted, Omars petition despite failure to comply with Sections 2 and 4 of Rule 23 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, as amended by Resolution No. 9523. The subject sections read:

Section 2. Period to File Petition. The Petition must be filed within five (5) days from the last day for filing of certificate of candidacy; but not later than twenty five (25) days from the time of filing of the certificate of candidacy subject of the Petition. In case of a substitute candidate, the Petition must be filed within five (5) days from the time the substitute candidate filed his certificate of candidacy.

x x x x

Notwithstanding the aforementioned procedural missteps, the Court sustains the COMELECs liberal treatment of Omars petition.

As a general rule, statutes providing for election contests are to be liberally construed in order that the will of the people in the choice of public officers may not be defeated by mere technical objections. Moreover, it is neither fair nor just to keep in office, for an indefinite period, one whose right to it is uncertain and under suspicion. It is imperative that his claim be immediately cleared, not only for the benefit of the winner but for the sake of public interest, which can only be achieved by brushing aside technicalities of procedure that protract and delay the trial of an ordinary action. This principle was reiterated in the cases of Tolentino v. Commission on Elections and De Castro v. Commission on Elections, where the Court held that in exercising its powers and jurisdiction, as defined by its mandate to protect the integrity of elections, the COMELEC must not be straitjacketed by procedural rules in resolving election disputes.

Settled is the rule that the COMELEC Rules of Procedure are subject to liberal construction. The COMELEC has the power to liberally interpret or even suspend its rules of procedure in the interest of justice, including obtaining a speedy disposition of all matters pending before it. This liberality is for the purpose of promoting the effective and efficient implementation of its objectives - ensuring the holding of free, orderly, honest, peaceful, and credible elections, as well as achieving just, expeditious, and inexpensive determination and disposition of every action and proceeding brought before the COMELEC. Unlike an ordinary civil action, an election contest is imbued with public interest. It involves not only the adjudication of private and pecuniary interests of rival candidates, but also the paramount need of dispelling the uncertainty which beclouds the real choice of the electorate. And the tribunal has the corresponding duty to ascertain, by all means within its command, whom the people truly chose as their rightful leader.

REMEDIAL LAW: supervening event

Given the finality of the RTC decision, the same should be considered a valid supervening event. A supervening event refers to facts and events transpiring after the judgment or order had become executory. These circumstances affect or change the substance of the judgment and render its execution inequitable. Here, the RTCs March 8, 2013 decision, ordering the deletion of Hayudinis name in the list of voters, which came after the dismissal of Omars first petition, is indubitably a supervening event which would render the execution of the ruling in SPA No. 13106(DC)(F) iniquitous and unjust. As the COMELEC aptly ruled, the decision to exclude Hayudini was still non-existent when the COMELEC first promulgated the Resolution in SPA No. 13-106(DC)(F) on January 31, 2013, or when the issues involved therein were passed upon. 27 The First Division even expressed that although the Election Registration Board (ERB) denied Hayudinis application for registration, it could not adopt the same because it was not yet final as Hayudini was still to file a Petition for Inclusion before the MCTC. Thus, it is not far-fetched to say that had this final RTC finding been existent before, the COMELEC First Division could have taken judicial notice of it and issued a substantially different ruling in SPA No. 13-106(DC)(F).

POLITICAL LAW: false representation in the certificate of candidacy

The same ruling adequately equipped Omar with the necessary ground to successfully have Hayudinis CoC struck down. Under the rules, a statement in a certificate of candidacy claiming that a candidate is eligible to run for public office when in truth he is not, is a false material representation, a ground for a petition under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code.

Sections 74 and 78 read:

Sec. 74. Contents of certificate of candidacy. The certificate of candidacy shall state that the person filing it is announcing his candidacy for the office stated therein and that he is eligible for said office; if for Member of the Batasang Pambansa, the province, including its component cities, highly urbanized city or district or sector which he seeks to represent; the political party to which he belongs; civil status; his date \of birth; residence; his post office address for all election purposes; his profession or occupation; that he will support and defend the Constitution of the Philippines and will maintain true faith and allegiance thereto; that he will obey the laws, legal orders, and decrees promulgated by the duly constituted authorities; that he is not a permanent resident or immigrant to a foreign country; that the obligation imposed by his oath is assumed voluntarily, without mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that the facts stated in the certificate of candidacy are true to the best of his knowledge.

Sec. 78. Petition to deny due course to or cancel a certificate of candidacy. A verified petition seeking to deny due course or to cancel a certificate of candidacy may be filed by the person exclusively on the ground that any material representation contained therein as required under Section 74 hereof is false. The petition may be filed at any time not later than twenty-five days from the time of the filing of the certificate of candidacy and shall be decided, after due notice and hearing, not later than fifteen days before the election.

The false representation mentioned in these provisions must pertain to a material fact, not to a mere innocuous mistake. A candidate who falsifies a material fact cannot run; if he runs and is elected, cannot serve; in both cases, he or she can be prosecuted for violation of the election laws. These facts pertain to a candidate's qualification for elective office, such as his or her citizenship and residence. Similarly, the candidate's status as a registered voter falls under this classification as it is a legal requirement which must be reflected in the CoC. The reason for this is obvious: the candidate, if he or she wins, will work for and represent the local government under which he or she is running. Even the will of the people, as expressed through the ballot, cannot cure the vice of ineligibility, especially if they mistakenly believed, as in the instant case, that the candidate was qualified.

Aside from the requirement of materiality, a false representation under Section 78 must consist of a "deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact which would otherwise render a candidate ineligible." Simply put, it must be made with a malicious intent to deceive the electorate as to the potential candidate's qualifications for public office.

Section 74 requires the candidate to state under oath in his CoC "that he is eligible for said office." A candidate is eligible if he has a right to run for the public office. If a candidate is not actually eligible because he is not a registered voter in the municipality where he intends to be elected, but still he states under oath in his certificate of candidacy that he is eligible to run for public office, then the candidate clearly makes a false material representation, a ground to support a petition under Section 78. It is interesting to note that Hayudini was, in fact, initially excluded by the ERB as a voter. On November 30, 2012, the ERB issued a certificate confirm in the disapproval of Hayudini's petition for registration. This is precisely the reason why he needed to file a Petition for Inclusion in the Permanent List of Voters in Barangay Bintawlan before the MCTC. Thus, when he stated in his CoC that he is eligible for said office," Hayudini made a clear and material misrepresentation as to his eligibility, because he was not, in fact, registered as a voter in Barangay Bintawlan.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED.