Case Digest: Maliksi v. COMELEC

G.R. No. 203302 : April 11, 2013

MAYOR EMMANUEL L. MALIKSI, Petitioner,v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND HOMER T. SAQUILAYAN, Respondents.

BERSAMIN, J.:


FACTS:

During the 2010 Elections, Saquilayan was proclaimed as winner for the position of Mayor of Imus, Cavite. Maliksi, the candidate who garnered the second highest number of votes, brought an election protest in the RTC in Imus, Cavite alleging that there were irregularities in the counting of votes in 209 clustered precincts. Subsequently, the RTC held a revision of the votes, and, based on the results of the revision, declared Maliksi as the duly elected Mayor of Imus commanding Saquilayan to cease and desist from performing the functions of said office. Saquilayan appealed to the COMELEC. In the meanwhile, the RTC granted Maliksi's motion for execution pending appeal, and Maliksi was then installed as Mayor.

The COMELEC First Division, without giving notice to the parties, decided to recount the ballots through the use of the printouts of the ballot images from the CF cards. Thus, it issued an order dated requiring Saquilayan to deposit the amount necessary to defray the expenses for the decryption and printing of the ballot images. Later, it issued another order for Saquilayan to augment his cash deposit.

The First Division nullified the decision of the RTC and declared Saquilayan as the duly elected Mayor.

Maliksi filed a motion for reconsideration, alleging that he had been denied his right to due process because he had not been notified of the decryption proceedings. He argued that the resort to the printouts of the ballot images, which were secondary evidence, had been unwarranted because there was no proof that the integrity of the paper ballots had not been preserved.

The COMELEC En Banc denied Maliksi's MR.

Maliksi then came to the Court via petition for certiorari, reiterating his objections to the decryption, printing, and examination of the ballot images without prior notice to him, and to the use of the printouts of the ballot images in the recount proceedings conducted by the First Division.

The Supreme Court via petition for certiorari dismissed the same. The Court then pronounced that the First Division did not abuse its discretion in deciding to use the ballot images instead of the paper ballots, explaining that the printouts of the ballot images were not secondary images, but considered original documents with the same evidentiary value as the official ballots under the Rule on Electronic Evidence; and that the First Divisions finding that the ballots and the ballot boxes had been tampered had been fully established by the large number of cases of double-shading discovered during the revision.

ISSUE: Whether the Supreme Court erred in dismissing the instant petition despite a clear violation of petitioner's constitutional right to due process of law considering that decryption, printing and examination of the digital images of the ballots were done inconspicuously upon motu propio directive of the COMELEC First Division sans any notice to the petitioner and for the first time on appeal.

HELD: The decision of the court a quo is granted.

POLITICAL LAW notice to parties

Based on the pronouncement in Alliance of Barangay Concerns (ABC) v. Commission on Elections, the power of the COMELEC to adopt procedures that will ensure the speedy resolution of its cases should still be exercised only after giving to all the parties the opportunity to be heard on their opposing claims. The parties right to be heard upon adversarial issues and matters is never to be waived or sacrificed, or to be treated so lightly because of the possibility of the substantial prejudice to be thereby caused to the parties, or to any of them. Thus, the COMELEC En Banc should not have upheld the First Divisions deviation from the regular procedure in the guise of speedily resolving the election protest, in view of its failure to provide the parties with notice of its proceedings and an opportunity to be heard, the most basic requirements of due process.

The picture images of the ballots are electronic documents that are regarded as the equivalents of the original official ballots themselves.In Vinzons-Chato v. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, G.R. No. 199149, January 22, 2013the Court held that "the picture images of the ballots, as scanned and recorded by the PCOS, are likewise official ballots that faithfully capture in electronic form the votes cast by the voter, as defined by Section 2(3) of R.A. No. 9369. As such, the printouts thereof are the functional equivalent of the paper ballots filled out by the voters and, thus, may be used for purposes of revision of votes in an electoral protest."

That the two documents the official ballot and its picture image are considered "original documents" simply means that both of them are given equal probative weight. In short, when either is presented as evidence, one is not considered as weightier than the other.

But this juridical reality does not authorize the courts, the COMELEC, and the Electoral Tribunals to quickly and unilaterally resort to the printouts of the picture images of the ballots in the proceedings had before them without notice to the parties. Despite the equal probative weight accorded to the official ballots and the printouts of their picture images, the rules for the revision of ballots adopted for their respective proceedings still consider the official ballots to be the primary or best evidence of the voters will. In that regard, the picture images of the ballots are to be used only when it is first shown that the official ballots are lost or their integrity has been compromised.

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