The Commission on Elections (Comelec) should resolve all election cases and other election incidents “with deliberate haste,” the Supreme Court (SC) said.
“By their very nature and given the public interest involved, election cases must be resolved speedily, otherwise the will of the electorate will be frustrated,” the SC stressed.
The SC’s exhortation was contained in a resolution that annulled the Comelec’s cancellation of the certificate of candidacy (COC) of Rovelyn Echave Villamor for the 2019 mayoralty election in Lagangilang, Abra.
With the ruling, the SC granted the petition of Villamor who assailed the resolutions dated April 26, 2019 and Nov. 27, 2019 of the Comelec’s second division and en banc, respectively.
The SC also dismissed the electoral protest filed against Villamor by Antonio Bello Viernes, her lone rival in the 2019 election.
The High Court said its resolution is immediately executory. A copy of the resolution was not immediately available. A summary of the ruling was provided by the SC’s public information office (PIO).
Villamor garnered 5,879 votes as against Viernes’ 1,534 votes. She was proclaimed mayor of Lagangilang town on May 14, 2019.
Viernes had asked the Comelec to cancel Villamor’s COC on the ground of alleged false material representation as he claimed that she is a naturalized American citizen.
In her defense, Villamor told the Comelec that while she was a naturalized American citizen, she had duly complied with all the requirements for the reacquisition of her Filipino citizenship under Republic Act No. 9225, or the Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003.
The Comelec’s second division granted Viernes’ petition. The ruling was affirmed by the Comelec en banc. Villamor elevated the case to the SC.
In granting Villamor’s petition, the SC said that the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion when it ordered the cancellation of her COC without any prior determination of whether or not she had intended to deceive or mislead the electorate.
It said a false representation under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) must also consist of a “deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact which would otherwise render a candidate ineligible.”
Otherwise stated, the SC said false representation must be made with a malicious intent to deceive the electorate as to the potential candidate’s qualifications for public office.
In the case of Villamor, the SC said the absence of the Comelec’s determination of her intent to deceive or mislead the electorate constitutes grave abuse of discretion consistent with case law.
It said there was no bad faith on the part of Villamor since she never hid the fact of her naturalization as an American citizen or the date when she had renounced the same.
It pointed out that there was sufficient proof to support Villamor’s claim that she had re-established residence in the Philippines after her naturalization as an American citizen in 2009.
At the same time, the SC said the Comelec’s failure to suspend Villamor’s proclamation was inconsistent with its finding that she was ineligible for failing to meet the residency requirement.
“Comelec should not have allowed Villamor to be proclaimed (much less assume) the position of mayor if it truly believed that Villamor did not possess the requisite qualifications for the said post,” the SC stressed.
Those who granted Villamor’s petition were Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo and Associate Justices Ramon Paul L. Hernando, Rosmari D. Carandang, Amy C. Lazaro-Javier, Henri Jean Paul B. Inting, Rodil V. Zalameda, Mario V. Lopez, Samuel H. Gaerlan, Ricardo R. Rosario, Jhosep Y. Lopez, and Japar B. Dimaampao.
Those who dissented were Senior Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas Bernabe and Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa. Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen was on leave when the case was tackled by the SC’s full court.