Case Digest: Saludaga v. COMELEC & Balag G.R. Nos. 189431 & 191120 : April 7, 2010




Petitioner Quintin B. Saludaga and respondent Artemio Balag were candidates for Mayor of Lavezares, Northern Samar in the May 14, 2007 elections. On May 16, 2007, the Municipal Board of Canvassers proclaimed Saludaga as the duly elected Mayor with 5,913 votes. He won by a margin of 635 votes over Balag who obtained 5,278 votes.

On May 25, 2007, Balag filed an election protest against Saludaga, docketed as EP Case No. A-88 before the RTC of Allen, Northern Samar, Branch 23. Balag contested the results of the election in 18 precincts, essentially on grounds of massive terrorism and misappreciation of ballots. Saludaga, too, filed a counter-protest disputing the election results in nine (9) precincts on alleged irregularities and fraud committed by the Board of Election Inspectors therein and for misappreciation of ballots.

In a Decision dated March 12, 2008, the RTC declared Balag as the winning mayoralty candidate of Lavezares, Northern Samar with 5,251 votes, 71 votes more than Saludagas 5,180 votes. The trial court invalidated 733 of Saludagas ballots: 698 of which were found to have been written by only one (1) person; 25, written by two (2) persons; while 10 were considered marked. Against Balag, the court discounted 27 marked ballots.

On March 26, 2008, Saludaga appealed the RTC Decision to the COMELEC. In the meantime, Balag moved for execution pending appeal, but the motion was denied in an Orderdated March 31, 2008. The trial court found no special reason to warrant execution pending appeal, opining that Balags victory in the polls had not been clearly established.

On August 12, 2009, the COMELEC, Second Division, affirmed with modification the Decision of the RTC. It found that Balag won as Mayor of Lavezares, Northern Samar, by 127 votes with 5,276 votes compared to Saludagas 5,149 votes. Balag again promptly moved for execution and filed a Motion for Execution Pending Motion for Reconsideration on August 13, 2009. Saludaga, for his part, filed on August 17, 2009 a Verified Motion for Reconsideration of the August 12, 2009 COMELEC Resolution. On August 18, 2009, the Second Division directed Saludaga to file his Comment within five (5) days from notice. The latter complied therewith on September 1, 2009.

On September 4, 2009, the Second Division of COMELEC issued the first assailed Order, signed solely by Presiding Commissioner Nicodemo T. Ferrer, granting Balags Motion for Execution Pending Motion for Reconsideration. The order directed the Second Division clerk of court to issue a writ of execution ordering Saludaga to cease and desist from discharging the powers and duties of Mayor of Lavezares, Northern Samar and to relinquish said office in favor of Balag. The Order cited the briefness of the remaining term for Mayor as a good reason for immediate execution.

Aggrieved, Saludaga filed an Extremely Urgent Motion for Reconsideration with the COMELEC en banc on September 8, 2009. Later, on September 28, 2009, Saludaga also filed a Petition for Certiorari with this Court, docketed as G.R. No. 189431, challenging the September 4, 2009 Order of the COMELEC, Second Division. Thus, on October 28, 2009, Balag filed a Manifestation and Motion to Dismiss with the COMELEC en banc contending that Saludaga engaged in forum shopping. Balag in the meantime had taken his oath and assumed the post of Mayor of Lavezares, Northern Samar.

While the petition in G.R. No. 189431 was pending, the COMELEC en banc issued the assailed Resolution dated January 20, 2010 denying reconsideration to both the September 4, 2009 Order and August 12, 2009 Resolution of the Second Division, and granting Balags motion to dismiss. The COMELEC en banc based its denials solely on a finding that Saludaga committed forum shopping when he filed a motion for reconsideration with the Second Division and a petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court, both to question the Order dated September 4, 2009.

Hence, the Ad Cautelam Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition in G.R. No. 191120.

ISSUE: Whether the petitioner is the rightful mayor of Lavezares.

HELD: The case is remanded to the COMELEC En Banc

POLITICAL LAW: jurisdiction

On the appreciation of votes and the discrepancy in the number of votes credited to each candidate in four (4) precincts. However, the appreciation of contested ballots and election documents involves a question of fact best left to the determination of the COMELEC, a specialized agency tasked with the supervision of elections all over the country. After all, it is the constitutional commission vested with the exclusive original jurisdiction over election contests involving regional, provincial and city officials, as well as appellate jurisdiction over election protests involving elective municipal and barangay officials. Hence, we deem it proper to remand this case to the COMELEC en banc, in order that it may resolve petitioners motion for reconsideration of the Resolution dated August 12, 2009 on the merits.

The Case is remanded to the COMELEC en banc.