SC gives "go signal" on vote recount for 2007 Pampanga gubernatorial race

July 16, 2009 9:23 am 

By Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr.

MANILA, July 16 — The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the petition for certiorari filed by Pampanga Governor Eddie Panlilio and lifted the Feb. 19, 2008 status quo order stopping the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from recounting the votes cast in the May 2007 Pampanga gubernatorial elections.

In a 14-page decision penned by Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, the High Court said it found Panlilio's petition without merit.

The SC ruled that the Comelec has authority to issue the assailed orders, hence, it did not commit grave abuse of discretion.

Panlilio sought in his petition to nullify the July 23, 2007 Comelec Second Division order giving due course to the election protest filed by Lilia Pineda; the Aug. 1, 2007 Comelec Second Division order denying Panlilio's motion for reconsideration (MR) of the said order; and the Feb. 6, 2008 Comelec en banc order denying his (Panlilio's) omnibus motion to certify his MR to the Comelec en banc and to stay the order for the collection of ballot boxes.

Panlilio and Pineda both ran for governor in Pampanga in the May 14, 2007 local elections.

The Pampanaga Provincial Board of Canvassers on May 18, 2007 proclaimed Panlilio as the duly-elected governor with a margin of 1,147 votes.

Pineda subsequently filed an election protest, citing alleged misreading of ballots cast, among others.

Panlilio cited Section 5, Rule 19 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure, arguing that the Presiding Commissioner of the Division of the Comelec is mandated to certify the case to the Comelec en banc once an MR is filed, regardless of whether the order or resolution sought to be reconsidered is an interlocutory order or a final one.

Such argument did not convince the SC.

The SC held that since the Comelec Division had issued the interlocutory order, the same Comelec Division should resolve the MR of the order.

It said the remedy of the aggrieved party is neither to file an MR for certification to the Comelec en banc nor to elevate the issue to the High Court via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.

The SC said that it was clear from the foregoing constitutional provision that the Comelec en banc shall decide MRs only of 'decisions' of a Division, meaning those acts having a final character.

In the case at bar, the SC said the assailed Comelec Second Division order did not completely dispose of the case, as there was something more to be done, which was to decide the election protest.

"This case is not among those specifically provided under the Comelec Rules of Procedure in which the Comelec may sit en banc…Thus the Comelec en banc is not the proper forum where petitioner may bring the assailed interlocutory orders for resolution," the SC said.

The SC also said there was no irregularity in the Aug. 1, 2007 order being signed only by the Presiding Commissioner of the Comelec Second Division who had only acted within the authority vested in him by Section 6, Rule 2 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure.

The High Court pointed out that the MR was a mere rehash of the ground already raised by petitioner Panlilio in his answer, noting that, the Comelec Second Division should even be commended for immediately resolving Panlilio's MR.

"The term of an elective office is short. There is the contestant's personal stake which generates feuds and discords. Above all is the public interest. A title to public elective office must not be left long under a cloud. The efficiency of public administration should not be impaired," the SC said. (PNA)

scs/PTR

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