Monday, December 05, 2011

Fernando V. Gonzalez v. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. No. 192856, March 8, 2011

COMELEC; House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal; Jurisdiction. The Supreme Court held in this case that despite recourse to it, it cannot rule on the issue of citizenship of petitioner Gonzalez. Subsequent events showed that Gonzalez had not only been duly proclaimed, he had also taken his oath of office and assumed office as Member of the House of Representatives. Once a winning candidate has been proclaimed, taken his oath, and assumed office as a member of the House of Representatives, COMELEC’s jurisdiction over election contests relating to the candidate’s election and qualifications ends, and the HRET’s own jurisdiction begins. 

Cancellation of Certificate of Candidacy; Disqualification of Candidate; Period for Filing Petition. Petitioner Fernando V. Gonzalez and private respondent Reno G. Lim both filed certificates of candidacy for the position of Representative of the 3rd congressional district of the Province of Albay in the May 10, 2010 elections. On March 30, 2010, a Petition for Disqualification and Cancellation of Certificate of Candidacy (COC) was filed by Stephen Bichara [SPA No. 10-074 (DC)] on the ground that Gonzalez is a Spanish national, being the legitimate child of a Spanish father and a Filipino mother, and that he failed to elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority in accordance with the provisions of Commonwealth Act (C.A.) No. 625. The SC explained the difference between Cancellation under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code and Disqualification under Section 68 of the OEC. A petition to cancel a candidate’s COC may be filed under Section 78 of the OEC exclusively on the ground that any material representation contained therein as required by law is false. On the other hand, a petition for disqualification of a candidate may also be filed pursuant to Section 68 for committing prohibited acts referred to in said section. As to the ground of false representation in the COC under Section 78, the Court in a previous case elaborated that the misrepresentation must be material, i.e. misrepresentation regarding age,residence and citizenship or non-possession of natural-born Filipino status. In this case, the petition in SPA No. 10-074 (DC) based on the allegation that Gonzalez was not a natural-born Filipino which was filed before the elections is in the nature of a petition filed under Section 78. The recitals in the petition in said case, however, state that it was filed pursuant to Section 4 (b) of COMELEC Resolution No. 8696 and Section 68 of the OEC to disqualify a candidate for lack of qualifications or possessing some grounds for disqualification. The COMELEC treated the petition as one filed both for disqualification and cancellation of COC, with the effect that Section 68, in relation to Section 3, Rule 25 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, is applicable insofar as determining the period for filing the petition. This Rule provides the prescriptive period of filing to be not later than the date of proclamation. On the other hand, the procedure for filing a petition for cancellation of COC is covered by Rule 23 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, which provides as the prescriptive period to be within five (5) days following the last day for the filing of certificate of candidacy. Section 4(B) of Resolution No. 8696 represents another attempt to modify by a mere procedural rule the statutory period for filing a petition to cancel COC on the ground of false representation therein regarding a candidate’s qualifications. Section 4(B) of Resolution No. 8696 would supplant the prescribed period of filing of petition under Section 78 with that provided in Section 68 even if the latter provision does not at all cover the false representation regarding age, residence and citizenship which may be raised in a petition under Section 78. If the purpose behind this rule promulgated by the COMELEC – allowing a petition to cancel COC based on the candidate’s non-compliance with constitutional and statutory requirements for elective office, such as citizenship, to be filed even beyond the period provided in Section 78 – was simply to remedy a perceived “procedural gap” though not expressly stated in Resolution No. 8696, the Court, in a previous case, had already rejected such justification. Fernando V. Gonzalez v. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. No. 192856, March 8, 2011.

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