SC resolves Camarines Norte gubernatorial dispute

March 7, 2010 1:24 am 

By Priam F. Nepomuceno

MANILA, March 6 — The Supreme Court (SC), by an 11-2 vote with one abstention, has upheld several resolutions of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) which, among others, had annulled the proclamation of Jesus O. Typoco as winner in the gubernatorial race in Camarines Norte in the May 14, 2007 elections and instead directed the proclamation of Edgardo A. Tallado.

In particular, the April 30, 2008 resolution of the Comelec’s First Division granted the petition for correction of manifest of error filed by Tallado on the ground that based on the copies in the custody of its Election Records and Statistics Division (ERSD) of the concerned Statement of Votes by Precinct (SOVP) and Certificate of Canvass of Votes (COC), the votes in the municipality of Labo, as recorded in the said documents, did not correspond.

It therefore directed the Municipal Board of Canvassers of Labo to correct the manifest error in the aforesaid COC to reflect the actual votes of the parties based on the ERSD and SOVP and submit the corrected COC to a new Provincial Board of Canvassers for the Province of Camarines Norte, which in turn was directed to proclaim Tallado as the winning gubernatorial candidate with 79,969 votes to Typoco’s 79,904.

The Comelec, however, found no irregularity in the election documents pertaining to the municipality of Jose Panganiban. The Feb. 24, 2009 resolution, issued by the Comelec en banc, denied the motion for reconsideration of Typoco.

“We find that the Comelec, in ordering the correction of manifest errors in the SOVP and COC, merely exercised its bounden duty to ascertain the true will of the electorate of the province,” the SC en banc held in a 17-page decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura.

The SC stressed that “the proclamation and assumption of office of petitioner [Typoco] based on a faulty tabulation is flawed right from the beginning, and may, therefore, be annulled.”

It also brushed aside Typoco’s contention that the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion when it decided the controversy based on the ERSD copies of the SOVP when the National Bureau of Investigation had found the said copies spurious. It held that the appreciation of election documents involves a question of fact best left to the determination of the Comelec, stressing that “the findings of fact of administrative bodies, when supported by substantial evidence, are final and non-reviewable by courts of justice.”

The SC noted that even Typoco himself admitted that the Comelec has the competence to determine the authenticity of election documents because it is the only entity which knows the security features or secret markings of the said documents.

"The court is not a trier of facts and function," it said, adding that as mandated by the Constitution, its role is merely to check whether or not the governmental branch or agency has gone beyond the constitutional limits of its jurisdiction, not that it simply erred or has a different view.

The SC also did not find merit in Typoco’s contention that a recanvass of the election returns (ERs) should be undertaken in order to truly determine the mandate of the electorate.

It noted that the original petition filed before the Comelec was a pre-proclamation controversy which, ordinarily, does not involve the opening of ballot boxes or the examination and appreciation of ballots and/or election returns.

Concurring with Justice Nachura are Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno and Justices Renato C. Corona, Conchita Carpio Morales, Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo D. Brion, Lucas P. Bersamin, Roberto A. Abad, Martin S. Villarama Jr., Jose P. Perez, and Jose C. Mendoza.

Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, joined by Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo, dissented, opining that the pieces of evidence presented by Typoco “appear to be compelling as to arouse, at the minimum, reasonable suspicion that the respective copies of the SOVP Tallado presented and in the possession of the ERSD were both spurious and/or tampered.”

Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio did not take part in the voting, while Justice Diosdado M. Peralta is on official leave.

Both Tallado and Typoco vied for the gubernatorial position in Camarines Norte in the May 14, 2007 elections. Typoco was at first proclaimed winner with 80,830 votes as against Tallado’s 78,287 votes. Subsequently, Tallado filed before the Comelec a petition for correction of manifest errors. (PNA) scs/PFN

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