Thursday, March 01, 2012

Namil vs. COMELEC, [G.R. No. 150540, October 28, 2003]

Facts: On May 14, 2001, the election for the members of the Sangguniang Bayan was held in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.On May 20, 2001, the Municipal Board of Canvassers of Palimbang issued Certificate of Canvass of Votes and Proclamation (COCVP) No. 8031108 which contained, inter alia, the petitioners and the Sangguniang Bayan winning candidates.The next day, May 21, 2001, the Municipal Board of Canvassers of Palimbang issued COCVP No. 8031109 which listed the private respondents as winners. After investigation, Commissioner Sadain submitted his Recommendation to the Comelec that there was a valid proclamation of the winning candidates as contained in the COCVP No. 8031109, and the immediate installation of private respondents as winning members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Palimbang. This Recommendation was adopted by the public respondent which was contained in the assailed Resolution No. 4615 issued on November 6, 2001. 

The petitioners contend that the public respondent’s Resolution No. 4615 is null and void since it was issued without according them due notice and hearing, contrary to the enshrined principle of due process. The public respondent thus committed a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. 

The petitioners allege that they were never accorded the chance to present their side in connection with the investigation that was purportedly conducted by Commissioner Sadain and on the memoranda/report of the public respondent’s officers. The public respondent simply approved the recommendation of Commissioner Sadain. The petitioners were kept in the dark, learned about the controversy only when they were notified of the assailed resolution of the public respondent. 

Issue: Whether or not the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it issued Resolution No. 4615 without according them due notice and hearing, contrary to the enshrined principle of due process. 

Held: Yes. While it is true that the COMELEC is vested with a broad power to enforce all election laws, the same is subject to the right of the parties to due process. In this case, the petitioners had been proclaimed as the winning candidates and had assumed their office. Since then, they had been exercising their rights and performing their duties as members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat. Their proclamation on May 20, 2001 enjoys the presumption of regularity and validity since no contest or protest was even filed assailing the same. The petitioners cannot be removed from office without due process of law. Due process in the proceedings before the public respondent exercising its quasi-judicial functions, requires due notice and hearing, among others. Thus, although the COMELEC possesses, in appropriate cases, the power to annul or suspend the proclamation of any candidate, we also ruled in Fariñas vs. Commission on Elections, Reyes vs. Commission on Elections and Gallardo vs. Commission on Elections that the COMELEC is without power to partially or totally annul a proclamation or suspend the effects of a proclamation without notice and hearing. 

In this case, the public respondent nullified the proclamation of the petitioners and ousted them from their office as members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Palimbang, based solely on the recommendations of its law department and of Commissioner Sadain, and on the memoranda of its officers. The petitioners were not accorded a chance to be heard on the said recommendations and the memorandum of Regional Election Director Clarita Callar, certification of Celia Romero, and certification of Election Officer Malic Sansarona dated September 12, 2001 before it issued the assailed resolution. 

“Petitioner cannot be deprived of his office without due process of law. Although public office is not property under Section 1 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, and one cannot acquire a vested right to public office, it is, nevertheless, a protected right. Due process in proceedings before the COMELEC, exercising its quasi-judicial functions, requires due notice and hearing, among others. Thus, although the COMELEC possesses, in appropriate cases, the power to annul or suspend the proclamation of any candidate, We had ruled in Farinas vs. Commission on Elections, Reyes vs. Commission on Elections and Gallardo vs. Commission on Elections that the COMELEC is without power to partially or totally annul a proclamation or suspend the effects of a proclamation without notice and hearing.”

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