CASE DIGEST: Mendoza v. COMELEC (G.R. No. 191084; March 25, 2010)

CASE DIGEST: JOSELITO R. MENDOZA, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND ROBERTO M. PAGDANGANAN, Respondents. G.R. No. 191084; March 25, 2010.

FACTS: Petitioner Joselito R. Mendoza was proclaimed the winner of the 2007 gubernatorial election for the province of Bulacan, besting respondent Roberto M. Pagdanganan by a margin of 15,732 votes. Respondent filed the Election Protest which, anchored on the massive electoral fraud allegedly perpetrated by petitioner.

Upon the evidence adduced and the memoranda subsequently filed by the parties, the COMELEC Second Division went on to render the 1 December 2009 Resolution, which annulled and set aside petitioners proclamation as governor of Bulacan and proclaimed respondent duly elected to said position. Coupled with a directive to the DILG to implement the same, the resolution ordered petitioner to immediately vacate said office, to cease and desist from discharging the functions pertaining thereto and to cause a peaceful turn-over thereof to respondent.

Dissatisfied, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the foregoing resolution with the COMELEC En Banc on the ground that lack of concurrence of the majority of the members of the Commission pursuant to Section 5, Rule 3 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure. However, the motion was dismissed in a Resolution dated 8 Feb 2010. Petitioner filed before the COMELEC an Urgent Motion to Recall the Resolution Promulgated on February 8, 2010. Anchored on the same ground, petitioner filed the instant Petition for Certiorari with an Urgent Prayer for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or a Status Quo Order and Writ of Preliminary Injunction.

In their respective Comments thereto, both respondent and the Office of the Solicitor General argue that, in addition to its premature filing, the petition at bench violated the rule against forum shopping.

ISSUE: Is the assailed COMELEC Resolution valid?

HELD: No, the assailed resolution is not valid. The failure of the COMELEC En Banc to muster the required majority vote even after the 15 February 2010 re-hearing should have caused the dismissal of respondent's Election Protest.

Even before petitioners filing of his Urgent Motion to Recall the Resolution Promulgated on 8 February 2010 and the instant Petition for Certiorari with an Urgent Prayer for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or a Status Quo Order and Writ of Preliminary Injunction, the record shows that the COMELEC En Banc issued the 10 February 2010 Resolution, ordering the re-hearing of the case on the ground that "there was no majority vote of the members obtained in the Resolution of the Commission En Banc promulgated on February 8, 2010." Having conceded one of the grounds subsequently raised in petitioners Urgent Motion to Recall the Resolution Promulgated on February 8, 2010, the COMELEC En Banc significantly failed to obtain the votes required under Section 5(a), Rule 3 of its own Rules of Procedure for a second time.
The failure of the COMELEC En Banc to muster the required majority vote even after the 15 February 2010 re-hearing should have caused the dismissal of respondents Election Protest. Promulgated on 15 February 1993 pursuant to Section 6, Article IX-A and Section 3, Article IX-C of the Constitution, the COMELEC Rules of Procedure is clear on this matter. Without any trace of ambiguity, Section 6, Rule 18 of said Rule categorically provides as follows:

Sec. 6. Procedure if Opinion is Equally Divided. When the Commission en banc is equally divided in opinion, or the necessary majority cannot be had, the case shall be reheard, and if on rehearing no decision is reached, the action or proceeding shall be dismissed if originally commenced in the Commission; in appealed cases, the judgment or order appealed from shall stand affirmed; and in all incidental matters, the petition or motion shall be denied.

The propriety of applying the foregoing provision according to its literal tenor cannot be gainsaid. As one pertaining to the election of the provincial governor of Bulacan, respondents Election Protest was originally commenced in the COMELEC, pursuant to its exclusive original jurisdiction over the case. Although initially raffled to the COMELEC Second Division, the elevation of said election protest on motion for reconsideration before the Commission En Banc cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered an appeal.

Tersely put, there is no appeal within the COMELEC itself. As aptly observed in the lone dissent penned by COMELEC Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento, respondents Election Protest was filed with the Commission "at the first instance" and should be, accordingly, considered an action or proceeding "originally commenced in the Commission."

There is a difference in the result of the exercise of jurisdiction by the COMELEC over election contests. The difference inheres in the kind of jurisdiction invoked, which in turn, is determined by the case brought before the COMELEC. When a decision of a trial court is brought before the COMELEC for it to exercise appellate jurisdiction, the division decides the appeal but, if there is a motion for reconsideration, the appeal proceeds to the banc where a majority is needed for a decision. If the process ends without the required majority at the banc, the appealed decision stands affirmed.

Upon the other hand, and this is what happened in the instant case, if what is brought before the COMELEC is an original protest invoking the original jurisdiction of the Commission, the protest, as one whole process, is first decided by the division, which process is continued in the banc if there is a motion for reconsideration of the division ruling. If no majority decision is reached in the banc, the protest, which is an original action, shall be dismissed. There is no first instance decision that can be deemed affirmed.

In a protest originally brought before the COMELEC, no completed process comes to the banc. It is the banc which will complete the process. If, at that completion, no conclusive result in the form of a majority vote is reached, the COMELEC has no other choice except to dismiss the protest. In a protest placed before the Commission as an appeal, there has been a completed proceeding that has resulted in a decision. So that when the COMELEC, as an appellate body, and after the appellate process is completed, reaches an inconclusive result, the appeal is in effect dismissed and resultingly, the decision appealed from is affirmed. GRANTED.
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