Case Digest: Liberal Part, et al. v. COMELEC

G.R. No. 191771 : May 6, 2010




OnJuly 14, 2009, the COMELEC promulgated Resolution No. 8646 settingAugust 17, 2009as the last day for the filing of petitions for registration of political parties.On January 21, 2010, the COMELEC promulgated Resolution No. 8752, providing, among others, for the rules for the filing of petitions for accreditation for the determination of the dominant majority party, the dominant minority party, ten major national parties, and two major local parties for the May 10, 2010 elections.Resolution No. 8752 also set thedeadline for filing of petitions for accreditation onFebruary 12, 2010and required that accreditation applicants be registered political parties, organizations or coalitions.

OnFebruary 12, 2010, the LP filed with the COMELEC its petition for accreditation as dominant minority party.On the same date, the Nacionalista Party (NP) and the Nationalist Peoples Coalition (NPC) filed a petition for registration as a coalition (NP-NPC) and asked that it be recognized and accredited as the dominant minority party for purposes of theMay 10, 2010elections. It was docketed as an SPP (DM) case, indicating pursuant to COMELEC Resolution No. 8752 that it was an accreditation case.

OnFebruary 23, 2010, the LP filed its Oppositionto the NP-NPCs petition on the following grounds:

1)The NP-NPCs petition should be denied since it was not a duly registered coalition of political parties at the time of filing of their petition for accreditation as dominant minority party;

2)The COMELECen banchas no jurisdiction to entertain the petition for registration as a coalition because the petition should have been first brought before the proper Division;

3)The petition for registration as a coalition was filed with the Clerk of the Commission instead of the Law Department in violation of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure;

4)The petition for registration as a coalition was filed beyond theAugust 17, 2009deadline set by the COMELEC; and

5)The respective chapters, incumbents and candidates of the NP and the NPC separately cannot be taken into account for purposes of accreditation as dominant minority party because the NP-NPC as a coalition is an entirely different entity.

On April 12, 2010, theen bancgranted the NP-NPCs petition for registration as a coalition through the Resolution assailed in the present case.In the same Resolution, theen bancdeferred the resolution of the NP-NPCs application for accreditation as dominant minority party.

On the issue of jurisdiction, theen banccitingBaytan v. Comelec held that the registration of coalitions involves the exercise of its administrative powers and not its quasi-judicial powers; hence, theen banccan directly act on it.It further held that there is no constitutional requirement that a petition for registration of a coalition should be decided first by a division

On thetimeliness of the filing of the petition, theen bancheld that no rule exists setting a deadline for the registrationof coalitions.It opined that the registration of a coalition is simply a recognition by the COMELEC of a political reality.It held that if the NP-NPC is genuine, then the approval of its registration by the COMELEC is a mere recognition of an operative fact.

On the merits, theen bancfound that both the NP and the NPC have validly agreed to join forces for political or election purposes.It held that the NP-NPC satisfactorily submitted all the documentary requirements to prove the mergers validity.It opined, too, that if the Constitution and By-Laws of either the NP or the NPC was violated by the merger, the representatives or members of either party possess the legal standing to question the coalition; the LP, a stranger to the internal dynamics of both parties, does not have this required standing.

Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento dissented on various grounds. First, he ruled thatthe COMELEC sitting en banc had no jurisdiction over NP-NPCs petition for registration as a coalition and accreditation as dominant minority party.

Commissioner Sarmientosecondlytook the position thatthe relaxation of the Rules is inappropriate in the present case.

Commissioner Sarmientosthird pointis thatno valid coalition was formed between the NP and the NPC.

Commissioner Sarmiento pointed out as hislast pointthatthe NP-NPC cannot seek accreditation as the dominant minority party without the requisite recognition by the COMELEC.

The LP now assails theApril 12, 2010COMELEC Resolution for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion, as follows:

1)The COMELECen banchas no jurisdictionat the first instanceto entertain petitions for registration of political coalitions;

2)The COMELEC gravely abused its discretion when it allowed the registration of the purported NP-NPC coalition despite the lapse of the deadline for registration;

3)The COMELEC gravely abused its discretion when it allowed the registration of the purported NP-NPC coalition despite patent and manifest violations of the NPC Constitution and By-Laws; and

4)The purported NP-NPC coalition is a bogus, sham and paper coalition that makes a mockery of the electoral process.

In support of its petition, the petitioner attached the Sworn Affidavits of two prominent members of the NPC, namely: Atty. Sixto S. Brillantes (the current NPC Legal Counsel) and Daniel Laogan (a member of the NPCs National Central Committee) to show that the NP-NPC was entered into without consultations; much less, the approval of the NPCs National Convention which was not even convened.


1) Should the petition be dismissed outright for procedural and technical infirmities?;

2) Is the present petition premature since its object is to foreclose a ruling on the unsettled NP-NPC issue?;

3) Is the NP-NPC petition before the COMELEC, viewed as a petition for registration, time-barred?;

4) Is the NP-NPC an operative fact that the COMELEC simply has to note and recognize without need of registration?;

5) Does the en banc have jurisdiction at the first instance to entertain the petition?

6)On the merits and assuming that the en banc has jurisdiction, did it gravely abuse its discretion when it allowed the registration of the NP-NPC?

HELD: We find the petition meritorious.

REMEDIAL LAW: The technical and procedural questions

We have indicated many times in the past that a primary factor in considering technical and procedural objections is the nature of the issues involved.We have been strict when the issues are solely confined to the parties private interests and carry no massive ripple effects directly affecting the public, but have viewed with liberality the technical and procedural threshold issues raised when grave public interests are involved. Our liberality has even gone beyond the purely technical and procedural where Court intervention has become imperative. Thus, we have recognized exceptions to the threshold issues of ripeness and mootnessof the petitions before us, as well as questions onlocus standi.We have also brushed aside procedural technicalities where the issues raised, because of the paramount public interest involved and their gravity, novelty or weight as precedents deserve the Courts attention and active intervention.

We see every reason to be liberal in the present case in view of interests involved which are indisputably important to the coming electoral exercise now fast approaching.The registration of political parties, their accreditation as dominant parties, and the benefits these recognitions provide particularly, the on-line real time electronic transmission of election results from the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) through the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines; the immediate access to official election results; theper diemsfrom the government that watchers of accredited parties enjoy; and the representation at the printing, storage and distribution of ballots that the dominant-party status brings constitute distinct advantages to any party and its candidates, if only in terms of the ready information enabling them to react faster to developing situations. The value of these advantages exponentially rises in an election under an automated system whose effectiveness and reliability, even at this late stage, are question marks to some. To the public, the proper registration and the accreditation of dominant parties are evidence of equitable party representation at the scene of electoral action, and translate in no small measure to transparency and to the elections credibility.

Thus, our focus is on the core issues that confront us and the parties, by-passing the technical and procedural questions raised that do not anyway affect the integrity of the petition before us or prejudice the parties involved,and concentrating as well on the issues that would resolve the case soonest so that the parties involved and the COMELEC can move on to their assigned time-sensitive roles and tasks in the coming elections.

We note that while the respondents placed in issue defects in the attachments to the petition, their objection is a formal one as they do not deny the existence and basic correctness of these attachments.We see no resulting harm or prejudice therefore ifwe overrule the objection raised, given the weight of the counterbalancing factors we considered above.

REMEDIAL LAW: failure to formally implead the NP-NPC

We do not likewise find the failure to formally implead the NP-NPC a sufficient reason to dismiss the petition outright.Without any finally confirmed registration in the coalitions favor, NP-NPC does not legally exist as a coalition with a personality separate and distinct from the component NP and NPC parties.We find it sufficient that the NP and the NPC have separately been impleaded;as of the moment, they are the real parties-in-interest as they are the parties truly interested in legally establishing the existence of their coalition.Again, we find no resulting harm or prejudice in the omission to implead NP-NPC, as the component parties have voiced out the concerns the coalition would have raised had it been impleaded as a separate and properly existing personality.

REMEDIAL LAW: facial objection

The respondents next argue that the petitions cited grounds are mere errors of law and do not constitute grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.This objection can be read as afacial objectionto the petition or asasubstantiveone that goes into the merits of the petition.We will discuss under the present topic the facial objection, as it is a threshold issue that determines whether we shall proceed to consider the case or simply dismiss the petition outright.

A facial objection is meritorious if,expressly and on the face of the petition, what is evident as cited grounds are erroneous applications of the law rather than grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.After due consideration, we conclude that the petition passes the facial objection test.

REMEDIAL LAW: substantial distinctions between an appeal and a petition for certiorari

InMadrigal Transport, Inc. v. Lapanday Holdings Corporation,the Court, through former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, gave a very succinct exposition of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in relation to errors of law.The Court then said:

A writ of certiorari may be issued only for the correction of errors of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. The writ cannot be used for any other purpose, as its function is limited to keeping the inferior court within the bounds of its jurisdiction.

Without jurisdiction means that the court acted with absolute lack of authority. There is excess of jurisdiction when the court transcends its power or acts without any statutory authority. Grave abuse of discretion implies such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as to be equivalent to lack or excess of jurisdiction; in other words, power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion, prejudice, or personal hostility; and such exercise is so patent or so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal either to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law.

Between an appeal and a petition for certiorari, there are substantial distinctions which shall be explained below.

As to the Purpose.Certiorariis a remedy designed for the correction of errors of jurisdiction, not errors of judgment. InPure Foods Corporation v. NLRC, we explained the simple reason for the rule in this light:

When a court exercises its jurisdiction, an error committed while so engaged does not deprive it of the jurisdiction being exercised when the error is committed. If it did, every error committed by a court would deprive it of its jurisdiction and every erroneous judgment would be a void judgment. This cannot be allowed. The administration of justice would not survive such a rule. Consequently, an error of judgment that the court may commit in the exercise of its jurisdiction is not correct[a]ble through the original civil action ofcertiorari.

The supervisory jurisdiction of a court over the issuance of a writ ofcertioraricannot be exercised for the purpose of reviewing the intrinsic correctness of a judgment of the lower court on the basis either of the law or the facts of the case, or of the wisdom or legal soundness of the decision. Even if the findings of the court are incorrect, as long as it has jurisdiction over the case, such correction is normally beyond the province ofcertiorari. Where the error is not one of jurisdiction, but of an error of law or fact a mistake of judgment appeal is the remedy.

The most obvious ground cited in the petition that, ifproperly established,would constitute grave abuse of discretion is the alleged unwarranted action of theen bancin acting on the registration of the NP-NPC when the COMELECs own Rules of Procedure provides that registration is under the jurisdiction of the Division at the first instance.This alleged error is more than an error of law.If this cited ground is correct, then theen bancacted without legal authority and thereby committed a jurisdictional transgression;its action, beingultra vires,would be a nullity.

Another allegation of anultra viresact is that the COMELEC, by appropriate resolution, ordered that August 17, 2009 be the cut-off date for the registration of parties, and yet approved the registration of NP-NPC long after this cut-off date had passed without any valid justification or reason for suspending the rule.For theen bancto so act was not a mere error of law.The grant of registration was an actoutside mandatory legal parametersand was therefore done when the COMELEC no longer had the authority to act on it.In this sense, it is a proper allegation of grave abuse of discretion under Rule 64 of the Rules of Court.

In our view, these jurisdictional challenges to theen bancResolution, if established, constituteultra viresacts that would render the Resolution void.

REMEDIAL LAW: OSGs objection

This is another threshold issue, raised this time by the OSG, and we rule that the OSGs objection has no merit.

The root of the present petition is the NP-NPC petition before the COMELEC for registration as a coalition and accreditation as the dominant minority party.While theen bancclaimed that it had jurisdiction over the registration of coalitions and in fact decreed the NP-NPCs registration, it strangely did not rule on the accreditation aspect of the petition.

The registration of a coalition and the accreditation of a dominant minority party are two separate matters that are substantively distinct from each other.Registrationis the act that bestows juridical personality for purposes of our election laws; accreditation,on the other hand, relates to the privileged participation that our election laws grant to qualified registered parties.

Section 2(5), Article IX-C of the Constitution and Rule32 of the COMELEC Rules regulate the registration of political parties, organizations or coalitions of political parties.Accreditation as a dominant party is governed by COMELEC Resolution No. 8752, Section 1 of which states that the petition for accreditation shall be filed with the Clerk of the Commission who shall docket it as an SPP (DM) case, in the manner that the NP-NPC petition before the COMELEC was docketed.While the registration of political parties is a special proceeding clearly assigned to a Division for handling under the COMELEC Rules, no similar clear-cut rule is available for a petition for accreditation as a dominant party.We thus make no statement on this point, as it is not a matter in issue.

Under the circumstances of the present case where the registration was handled at theen banc,action at the COMELEC ended upon the en banc issuance of the assailed Resolution; under Rule 13, Section 1(d) of the COMELEC Rules, a motion for reconsideration of an en banc ruling is a prohibited pleading, except in election offense cases.Any request for accreditation that may be filed is conceptually a separate matter for the COMELEC to handle. Thus, after the en banc issued the assailed Resolution resolving the NP-NPCs application for registration as a coalition, the COMELECs part inthe registration process was brought to a close, rendering the Resolution ripe for review by this Court.

The present petition has openly stated its objective of forestalling the accreditation of the respondent NP-NPC; the petition expressly and frontally sought the issuance of a writ of prohibition and restraining orderto prevent the COMELEC from accrediting a coalition that is not registered as a party. The combination of a petition for certiorari and for prohibition under the circumstances of the present case is fully justified, as the registration and the accreditation that the petition covers are linked with and in fact sequentially follow one another. Accreditation can only be granted to aregisteredpolitical party, organization or coalition; stated otherwise, a registration must first take place before a request for accreditation can be made.Once registration has been carried out, accreditation is the next natural step to follow.

Where the registration is flawed for having been attended by grave abuse of discretion, as alleged in the petition, the filing of a petition for prohibition with a prayer for a preliminary injunction can only be expected as a logical remedial move; otherwise, accreditation, unless restrained, will follow. Thus, from the point of view ofprohibition, there is absolutely no prematurity as its avowed intent is in fact to forestall an event the accreditation that according to the assailed Resolution shall soon take place.From the point of view of the petition forcertiorariquestioning the registration made, no prematurity issue is involved as the nullification of a past and accomplished act is prayed for.From these perspectives, the OSG objection based on prematurity is shown to be completely groundless.

REMEDIAL LAW: time-barred

Our short answer to the question posed is: yes, the NP-NPCs petition for registration as a coalition is time-barred.Thus, theen bancwas wrong in ordering the out-of-time registration of the NP-NPC coalition.

Admittedly, Resolution No. 8646 simply states that August 17, 2009 is the Last day for filing petitions for registration of political parties, without mentioning organizations and coalitions in the way that the three entities are separately mentioned under Section 2(5), Article IX-C of the Constitution and Rule 32, Section 1 of the COMELEC Rules.Resolution No. 8646, however, is simply a listing of electoral activities and deadlines for theMay 10, 2010elections; it is not in any way a resolution aimed at establishing distinctions among political parties, organizations, and coalitions.In the absence of any note, explanation or reason why the deadline only mentions political parties, the term political parties should be understood in its generic sense that covers political organizations and political coalitions as well.

To rule otherwise is to introduce, through a COMELEC deadline-setting resolution, a meaning or intent into Section 2(5), Article IX-C, which was not clearly intended by the Constitution or by the COMELEC Rules; Resolution No. 8646 would effectively differentiate between political parties, on the one hand, and political organizations and coalitions, on the other.

In fact, no substantial distinction exists among these entities germane to the act of registration that would justify creating distinctions among them in terms of deadlines.Such distinctions in the deadlines for the registration of political organizations and coalitions, if allowed, may even wreak havoc on the procedural orderliness of elections by allowing these registrations to introduce late and confusing signals to the electorate, not to mention their possible adverse effects on election systems and procedures.This, the en banc very well knows, and their lack of unanimity on the disputed point of timeliness shows how unusual the majoritys reading has been.

The en bancs failure to follow its own rules on deadlines may, at first blush, be a negligible error that does not affect its jurisdiction (assuming for the sake of argument that theen banchas the authority to act at the first instance).An examination of Resolution No. 8646, however, shows that the deadline for registration cannot but be afirm and mandatory deadline that the COMELEC has set.

All these are related to show that the COMELEC deadline cannot but be mandatory;the whole electoral exercise may fail or at least suffer disruptions, if the deadlines are not observed. For this reason, the COMELEC has in the past in fact rejected applications for registration for having been filed out of time.A case in point is the application of the political party Philippine Guardians Brotherhood, Inc., where the COMELEC denied the plea for registration for having been filed out of time, among other grounds.Philippine Guardians Brotherhood might not have been the only political party whose application for registration was denied at the COMELEC level for late filing.We are sure that all these other organizations would now cry foul and rightly so because of the denial of their applications on the ground of late filing, when the NP-NPC has been made an exception without rhyme or reason.

Given the mandatory nature of the deadline, subject only to a systemic change (as contrasted to anad hocchange or a suspension of the deadline in favor of a partyin the course of application), theen bancacted in excess of its jurisdiction when it granted the registration of NP-NPC as a coalition beyond the deadline the COMELEC itself had set; the authority to register political parties under mandatory terms is only up to the deadline.Effectively, the mandatory deadline is a jurisdictional matter that should have been satisfied and was not.Where conditions that authorize the exercise of a general power are wanting, fatal excess of jurisdiction results.

Separately from the above consideration, we view theen bancs position that the deadline for registration is only for political parties and not for organizations and coalitions to be preposterous, given the importance of the participation of political parties in the election process and the rigid schedules that have to be observed in order to implement automated elections as efficiently and as harmoniously as possible. We note that the COMELEC has not even bothered to explain why it imposed a deadline applicable only to political parties, but not to political organizations and coalitions.In our view, this kind of ruling was patently unreasonable, made as it was without basis in law, in fact or in reason; and was a grave abuse of discretion that fatally afflicted the assailed COMELEC Resolution.

REMEDIAL LAW: grave abuse of discretion

Aside from the threshold and timeliness questions we have extensively discussed, this case raises other important questions as well that, without the time constraints the coming elections impose on us, would have been fertile areas for discussion in exploring the limits and parameters of COMELEC authority on the registration of coalitions.These questions, however, are not for us to answer now, given our time constraints and the decisive impact on the present case of our ruling on timeliness.Thus, we reserve for another case and another time the answers to these no less important questions.

We solely rule for now that theen bancgravely abused its discretion when it disregarded its own deadline in ruling on the registration of the NP-NPC as a coalition.In so ruling, we emphasize that the matter of party registration raises critical election concerns that should be handled with discretion commensurate with the importance of elections to our democratic system.The COMELEC should be at its most strict in implementing and complying with the standards and procedures the Constitution and our laws impose.

In light of the time constraints facing the COMELEC and the parties as the election is no more than a week away, we find it compelling to declare this Decision immediately executory.
WHEREFORE, premises considered,we hereby GRANT the petition and, accordingly,NULLIFY and SET ASIDE the Resolution of the Commission on Elections dated April 12, 2010 in the application for registration of the Nacionalista Party-Nationalist Peoples Coalition as a political coalition, docketed as SPP-10-(DM). The Commission on Elections isDECLARED BARREDfrom granting accreditation to the proposed NP-NPC Coalition in the May 10, 2010 elections for lack of the requisite registration as a political coalition.This Decision is declared immediately executory.