Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mayor Quintin B. Saludaga vs. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. Nos. 189431 & 191120, April 7, 2010.

Election case; forum shopping. Forum shopping is the institution of two (2) or more suits in different courts, either simultaneously or successively, in order to ask the courts to rule on the same or related causes and/or to grant the same or substantially the same reliefs. There is forum shopping when as a result of an adverse decision in one (1) forum, or in anticipation thereof, a party seeks favorable opinion in another forum through means other than appeal or certiorari. Under paragraph 2, Section 5, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, if the acts of the party or his counsel clearly constitute willful and deliberate forum shopping, the same shall be ground for summary dismissal with prejudice and shall constitute direct contempt, as well as a cause for administrative sanctions. 

In determining whether a party violated the rule against forum shopping, the most important factor to ask is whether the elements of litis pendencia are present, or whether a final judgment in one case will amount to res judicata in another. For the principle of res judicata to apply, the following elements must be present: (1) the judgment sought to bar the new action must be final; (2) the decision must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; (3) the disposition of the case must be a judgment on the merits; and (4) there must be as between the first and second actions, identity of parties, subject matter, and cause of action. In the present case, the second element is wanting. 

Under Section 5(c), Rule 3 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure, any motion to reconsider a decision, resolution, order or ruling of a division shall be resolved by the Commission en bancexcept motions on interlocutory orders of the division which shall be resolved by the division which issued the order. When the COMELEC, Second Division issued the September 4, 2009 Order, the appeal of respondent’s election protest was still pending resolution by the COMELEC en banc. Clearly, the September 4, 2009 Order of the COMELEC, Second Division granting execution pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration is in the nature of an interlocutory order – one which does not dispose of the case completely but leaves something to be decided upon. Therefore, in accordance with the Comelec Rules of Procedure, any motion to reconsider such interlocutory order of the division shall be resolved by the division which issued it. Otherwise stated, the Extremely Urgent Motion for Reconsideration filed by petitioner to question the September 4, 2009 Order issued by the COMELEC, Second Division had to be resolved also by the Second Division, not by the COMELEC en banc. Since the COMELEC en banc had no jurisdiction over petitioner’s Extremely Urgent Motion for Reconsideration, its January 20, 2010 Resolution does not amount to res judicata in relation to the present petition. 

Notably, in the certificate of forum shopping of Saludaga’s Petition before us, he disclosed that an Extremely Urgent Motion for Reconsideration of the September 4, 2009 Order is also pending before the COMELEC en banc. Even then, the mere filing of a separate case, as in the original action for certiorari and prohibition filed by petitioner in G.R. No. 189431, after filing a responsive pleading in the other case, does not necessarily constitute forum shopping. To reiterate, there is forum shopping when as a result of an adverse decision in one (1) forum, or in anticipation thereof, a party seeks favorable opinion in another forum through means other than appeal or certiorari. Clearly, there is no forum shopping in this case to warrant an outright dismissal of the petition in G.R. No. 189431. 


Election case; motion for execution pending resolution of motion for reconsideration. On May 3, 2007, the Supreme Court promulgated A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC or the Rules of Procedure in Election Contests Before the Courts Involving Elective Municipal and Barangay Officials. Section 11(a), Rule 14 of said rules sets the criteria for execution pending appeal as follows: 

SEC. 11. Execution pending appeal. – On motion of the prevailing party with notice to the adverse party, the court, while still in possession of the original records, may, at its discretion, order the execution of the decision in an election contest before the expiration of the period to appeal, subject to the following rules: 

(a) There must be a motion by the prevailing party with three-day notice to the adverse party. Execution pending appeal shall not issue without prior notice and hearing. There must be good reasons for the execution pending appeal. The court, in a special order, must state the good or special reasons justifying the execution pending appeal. 

Such reasons must: 
(1) constitute superior circumstances demanding urgency that will outweigh the injury or damage should the losing party secure a reversal of the judgment on appeal; and 
(2) be manifest, in the decision sought to be executed, that the defeat of the protestee or the victory of the protestant has been clearly established. 

By analogy, this standard is also applicable in the grant of execution pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration of a decision, resolution, order or ruling of a division of the COMELEC. 

Petitioner assails the September 4, 2009 Order for three (3) reasons. First, the Second Division of the COMELEC failed to certify and elevate the records of the case upon the lapse of ten (10) days in accordance with Item 6(b) of Comelec Resolution No. 8654. Second, the September 4, 2009 Order was signed by the Presiding Commissioner alone. Lastly, respondent’s Motion for Execution Pending Motion for Reconsideration does not satisfy the criteria in A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC. We shall tackle each objection separately. 

On August 4, 2009, the COMELEC promulgated COMELEC Resolution No. 8654 for the purpose of adopting rules on the payment of COMELEC appeal fees and on the disposition of motions for reconsideration of decisions, resolutions and orders on election protest cases, appeal cases and special relief cases of a division to conform to our ruling in Aguilar v. COMELEC and Insoy. 

Item 6 of Comelec Resolution No. 8654 provides: 
6. If a motion for the execution of the decision or resolution of the Division is filed prior to the filing of a Motion for Reconsideration, or within two days after the filing of the Motion for Reconsideration and the case was not yet certified to or elevated to the Commission en banc, the Division may, at its own discretion: 

a. Certify and elevate the case, together with the Motion for Execution as part of the records of the case, to the Commission En Banc within the two day period as prescribed in Section 5, Rule 19 of the Rules of Court. 

b. Stay for a period of not more than ten (10) days from the filing of the Motion for Execution, the elevation of the case to the Commission En Banc, in order to resolve said Motion for Execution. Upon the expiration of the ten-day period, the Divisionshall immediately certify and elevate the case, together with all the records, to the Commission En Banc for appropriate action. (Emphasis supplied). 

Prior to the filing of a motion for reconsideration of a decision or resolution issued by a division of the COMELEC or during the pendency of such motion for reconsideration but before the case is certified or elevated to the COMELEC en banc, the motion for execution may be acted upon by the division that issued the decision or resolution. Under Item 6(a), a division of the COMELEC may choose to elevate both the main action and the motion for execution to the COMELEC en banc. Item 6(b), on the other hand, contemplates a situation where the division decides to rule on the motion for the execution of its decision or resolution. In the latter, the division may defer the elevation of the case to the Commission en banc in order to resolve the motion. After the lapse of ten (10) days from the filing of the motion for execution, however, the division shall immediately certify and elevate the case, together with all the records – including the motion for execution – to the Commission en banc for appropriate action. This describes the second scenario when the COMELEC en banc may rule on a motion for execution pending the resolution of the motion for reconsideration of a decision or resolution of a division. In the case at hand, respondent filed a motion for execution of the Resolution dated August 12, 2009 on August 13, 2009. Thus, the Second Division of COMELEC had only until August 23, 2009 to resolve the same. In the Order dated September 4, 2009, Presiding Commissioner Ferrer, acting for the Second Division, justifies the delay in the resolution of the motion for execution by saying that it was in the interest of fair play that he required petitioner to file a comment. The Presiding Commissioner posits that the 10-day period is reckoned from the day the Second Division received petitioner’s comment on September 1, 2009. 

We cannot agree. In accordance with the express provision of the law, the ten (10) days within which a division of the COMELEC may suspend elevating the case to the Commission en banc is to be counted from the filing of the motion for execution. The language of the law is clear, plain and too simple to invite a different interpretation. Moreover, nowhere in COMELEC Resolution No. 8654 does it say that a comment is required, much less, indispensable before the division may rule on a motion for execution. ter the lapse of the 10-day period, the only power (and duty) that a division has is to certify and elevate the case, together with all the records, to the Commission en banc, for appropriate action. Hence, upon the lapse of the 10-day period or after August 23, 2009, the Second Division no longer had jurisdiction to rule on respondent’s motion for execution. Having done so, the September 4, 2009 Order is void for having been issued by the COMELEC, Second Division without jurisdiction. 

Indeed, even if said Order was promulgated within 10 days from the filing of the motion for execution, it would still be void because Presiding Commissioner Ferrer alone signed it. justify the Presiding Commissioner’s action, public respondent COMELEC invokes Section 6 (d), Rule 2 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure which provides, 

SEC. 6. Powers and Duties of the Presiding Commissioner.-The powers and duties of the Presiding Commissioner of a Division when discharging its functions in cases pending before the Division shall be as follows: 

x x x x 
(d) To sign interlocutory resolutions, orders or rulings and temporary restraining orders in cases already assigned to the Division; 
x x x x. 

However, this provision has been qualified by the amendment introduced by the Commission en banc as reflected in the Excerpts of its regular en banc meeting held on December 5, 1996. The relevant portion of the Excerpts reads: 

3) The ponente in the preceding two paragraphs shall prepare interlocutory orders for signature of the Chairman or Division Chairman. Orders of substance, however, shall be referred to the Division/En Banc for clearance. (Emphasis supplied.) 

An order resolving a motion for execution is one (1) such order of substance that requires more than the lone imprimatur of the Division Chairman. This is so because execution pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration may issue only upon good or special reasons contained in a special order. To reiterate, such reasons must: (1) constitute superior circumstances demanding urgency that will outweigh the injury or damage should the losing party secure a reversal of the judgment on appeal; and (2) be manifest, in the decision sought to be executed, that the defeat of the protestee or the victory of the protestant had been clearly established. These stringent requirements demand more than a cursory evaluation of a motion for execution pending reconsideration. Hence, the need to refer such order for clearance by the Division or the COMELEC en banc, as the case may be. 

This amendment is reflected in Item 6, COMELEC Resolution No. 8654 which identifies the division as the one (1) in possession of the discretion to either: (1) certify and elevate the case, together with the motion for execution, to the Commission en banc within the two-day period prescribed in Section 5, Rule 19 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure, or (2) stay, for a period of not more than ten (10) days from the filing of a motion for execution, the elevation of the case to the Commission en banc, in order to resolve said motion. Alternatively, upon the expiration of the 10-day period, the decision may immediately certify and elevate the case, together with all the records, to the Commission en banc for appropriate action. e discretion to allow execution pending reconsideration belongs to the division that rendered the assailed decision, order or resolution, or the COMELEC en banc, as the case may be – not to the Presiding Commissioner. To be sure, a writ of execution pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration of a decision of the division is not granted as a matter of right such that its issuance becomes a ministerial duty that may be dispensed even just by the Presiding Commissioner. 


Election case; questions of fact addressed to COMELEC. Finally, in his Verified Motion for Reconsideration, petitioner raised factual issues, specifically, 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 petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of the Resolution dated August 12, 2009 on the merits. Mayor Quintin B. Saludaga vs. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. Nos. 189431 & 191120, April 7, 2010.

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