G.R. No. 204828 : December 3, 2013


FACTS: Petitioner Regio and private respondent Co, among other candidates, ran in the October 25, 2010 barangay elections in District III of the City of Manila for the position of punong barangay. Immediately following the counting and canvassing of the votes, from 7 clustered precincts in the adverted barangay, Regio, who garnered highest votes was proclaimed winner for the contested post.

On November 4, 2010, Co filed an election protest before the MeTC. He claimed, among other things, that the Board of Election Tellers (BET) did not follow COMELEC Resolution No. 9030, as it ignored the rules on appreciation of ballots, resulting in misreading, miscounting, and misappreciation of ballots.

Of the seven clustered precincts (CPs) initially protested, Co would later exclude CP Nos. 1304A and 1305A from the protest. During the preliminary conference, the trial court allowed the revision of ballots. During his turn to present evidence, Co limited his offer to the revision committee report, showing that he garnered the highest number of votes. Regio, on the other hand, denied that the elections were tainted with irregularities. He claimed that the results of the revision are products of post-elections operations, as the ballots were tampered with, switched, and altered drastically to change the results of the elections.

The trial court dismissed Cos protest and declared Regio as the duly-elected punong barangay.

According to the trial court, before it can accord credence to the results of the revision, it should first be ascertained that the ballots found in the box during the revision are the same ballots deposited by the voters. In fine, the court "should first be convinced that the ballots counted during the revision have not been tampered with before it can declare the ballots a) as superior evidence of how the electorate voted, and b) as sufficient evidence to set aside the election returns. For the ballots to be considered the best evidence of how the voters voted, their integrity should be satisfactorily established."Invoking Rosal v. COMELEC, G.R. Nos. 168253 & 172741, March 16, 2007the trial court ruled that Co failed to sufficiently show that the integrity of the contested ballots had been preserved. It then cited the presumption that election returns are genuine, and that the data and information supplied by the board of election inspectors are true and correct.

The trial court said that the misreading, miscounting, and misappreciation of ballots should be proven by other independent evidence. Without any evidence, the allegation of misreading, miscounting, and misappreciation of ballots remains a mere allegation without any probative value.

Aggrieved, Co filed an appeal before the COMELEC,

The COMELEC First Divisiondismissed the appeal, noting, as the MeTC did, that Co failed to show that the integrity of the ballots in question was in fact preserved.

Co then filed a Motion for Reconsideration. The COMELEC En Banc reconsidered the Resolution of the First Division, and accordingly declared Co as the duly elected punong barangay.

Thus, the present recourse, on the argument that the COMELEC En Banc committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it arbitrarily set aside the Decision of the MeTC and the Resolution of the COMELEC First Division. Petitioner further argues that the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion when it demanded from protestee direct proof of actual tampering of ballots to justify consideration of the use of the election returns in determining the winning candidate in the elections. In fine, petitioner questions the ruling of the COMELEC giving precedence to the results of the revision over the official canvassing results.

ISSUE: Whether or not the COMELEC En Banc committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in ruling that Co had successfully discharged the burden of proving the integrity of the ballots subjected to revision.

HELD: The decision of the COMELEC Division is reinstated.

POLITICAL LAW moot and academic

At the outset, it must be noted that the protest case is dismissible for being moot and academic. A case becomes moot when there is no more actual controversy between the parties or no useful purpose can be served in passing upon the merits. Generally, courts will not determine a moot question in a case in which no practical relief can be granted. Baldo v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 176135, June 16, 2009

In Malaluan v. COMELEC, 324 Phil. 676, (1996),this Court settled the matter on when an election protest case becomes moot and academic: When the appeal from a decision in an election case has already become moot, the case being an election protest involving the office of mayor the term of which had expired, the appeal is dismissible on that ground, unless the rendering of a decision on the merits would be of practical value.

In the case at bar, the position involved is that of a punong barangay. The governing law, therefore, is Republic Act No. (RA) 9164, as amended by RA 9340. Sec. 4 of the law states that xxx the term of office of the barangay and sangguniang kabataan officials elected in the October 2007 election and subsequent elections shall commence at noon of November 30 next following their election.

In fine, with the election of a new punong barangay during the October 28, 2013 elections, the issue of who the rightful winner of the 2010 barangay elections has already been rendered moot and academic.

COMELEC En Banc, committed grave abuse of discretion by the specifically ignoring the rules on evidence, merits consideration. Still in line with the Courts decision in Malaluanto the effect that the Court can decide on the merits a moot protest if there is practical value in so doing, We find that the nullification of the COMELEC En Bancs Resolution is in order, due to its gross contravention of established rules on evidence in election protest cases.

POLITICAL LAW election protest

The doctrine in Rosal v. COMELEC and considering the results of the revision vis-vis the results reflected in the official canvassing In Rosal, this Court summarized the standards to be observed in an election contest predicated on the theory that the election returns do not accurately reflect the will of the voters due to alleged irregularities in the appreciation and counting of ballots.

The Rosal ruling does not involve issues merely related to the appreciation or calibration of evidence; its critical ruling is on the propriety of relying on the revision of ballot results instead of the election returns in the proclamation of a winning candidate.

The Rosal doctrine ensures that in election protest cases, the supreme mandate of the people is ultimately determined. In laying down the rules in appreciating the conflicting results of the canvassing and the results of a revision later made, the Court has no other intention but to determine the will of the electorate. The Rosal doctrine is also supplemented by A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC establishing the following disputable presumptions.

Private respondent Co has not proved that the integrity of the ballots has been preserved applying Rosal, viewed in conjunction with A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC, this Court rules that the COMELEC En Banc committed grave abuse of discretion in ruling that private respondent had successfully discharged the burden of proving that the ballots counted during the revision proceedings are the same ballots cast and counted during the day of the elections.

What the protestant should endeavor to prove, however, in presenting evidence of preservation, is not that the ballots themselves are genuine or official, but that they are the very same ones cast by the electorate. The Report, therefore, cannot be considered as evidence of the preservation, as required by Rosal.

The fact of preservation is not, as respondent Co claims, "incontrovertible." In fact, there is total absence of evidence to that effect. The incontrovertible fact is that private respondent, during the proceedings before the trial court, did not present any independent evidence to prove his claim. Without any independent evidence, the trial court, the COMELEC, as well as this Court, is constrained to affirm as a fact the disputable presumption that the ballots were properly counted during the counting and canvassing of votes.

In sum, We find that the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in ruling that private respondent had discharged the burden of proving the integrity of the ballots.

Petitioner need not prove actual tampering of the ballots Corollarily, the COMELEC En Banc had ruled that petitioner, as protestee, failed to adduce evidence that the ballots found inside the ballot boxes were compromised and tampered. This strikes us as baseless and a clear departure from the teachings of Rosal.

The duty of the protestee in an election contest to provide evidence of actual tampering or any likelihood arises only when the protestant has first successfully discharge the burden or providing that the ballots have been secured to prevent tampering or susceptibility of charge, abstraction or substitution. Such need to present proof of tampering did not arise since protestant himself failed to provide evidence of the integrity of the ballots.