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G.R. No.

154198

January 20, 2003

PETRONILA S. RULLODA, petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS (COMELEC), ELECTION OFFICER LUDIVICO L. ASUNCION OF SAN JACINTO, PANGASINAN; BARANGAY BOARD OF CANVASSERS OF BRGY. STO. TOMAS, SAN JACINTO, PANGASINAN, Board of Election Tellers of Prec. Nos. 30A/30A1, 31A, 31A1, and 32A1, and REMEGIO PLACIDO, respondents. YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.: In the barangay elections of July 15, 2002, Romeo N. Rulloda and Remegio L. Placido were the contending candidates for Barangay Chairman of Sto. Tomas, San Jacinto, Pangasinan. On June 22, 2002, Romeo suffered a heart attack and passed away at the Mandaluyong City Medical Center.1 His widow, petitioner Petronila "Betty" Rulloda, wrote a letter to the Commission on Elections on June 25, 2002 seeking permission to run as candidate for Barangay Chairman of Sto. Tomas in lieu of her late husband.2 Petitioners request was supported by the Appeal-Petition containing several signatures of people purporting to be members of the electorate of Barangay Sto. Tomas.3 On July 14, 2002, Election Officer Ludivico L. Asuncion issued a directive to the Chairman and Members of the Barangay Board of Canvassers of Sto. Tomas as follows: Just in case the names "BETTY" or "PETRONILA" or the surname "RULLODA" is written on the ballot, read the same as it is written but add the words "NOT COUNTED" like "BETTY NOT COUNTED" or "RULLODA NOT COUNTED."4 Based on the tally of petitioners watchers who were allowed to witness the canvass of votes during the July 15, 2002 elections, petitioner garnered 516 votes while respondent Remegio Placido received 290 votes.5 Despite this, the Board of Canvassers proclaimed Placido as the Barangay Chairman of Sto. Tomas.6 After the elections, petitioner learned that the COMELEC, acting on the separate requests of Andres Perez Manalaysay and Petronila Rulloda to be substituted as candidates for Barangay Chairman of Barangay La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija and Barangay Sto. Tomas, San Jacinto, Pangasinan, respectively, issued Resolution No. 5217 dated July 13, 2002 which states: PREMISES CONSIDERED, the Commission RESOLVED, as it hereby RESOLVES, to ADOPT the recommendation of the Law Department as follows: 1. To deny due course the Certificates of Candidacy of ANDRES PEREZ MANALAYSAY and PETRONILA S. RULLODA; and 2. To direct the Election Officer of Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija and San Jacinto, Pangasinan to delete the name of ANDRES PEREZ MANALAYSAY, candidate for Barangay Chairman in Barangay La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija; and the name of PETRONILA S. RULLODA, candidate for Barangay Captain in Barangay Sto. Tomas, San Jacinto, Pangasinan. Let the Law Department implement this resolution. SO ORDERED.7

The above-quoted Resolution cited as authority the COMELECs Resolution No. 4801 dated May 23, 2002, setting forth the guidelines on the filing of certificates of candidacy in connection with the July 15, 2002 synchronized Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, more particularly Section 9 thereof which reads: Sec. 9. Substitution of candidates. There shall be no substitution of candidates for barangay and sangguniang kabataan officials.8 Hence, petitioner filed the instant petition for certiorari, seeking to annul Section 9 of Resolution No. 4801 and Resolution No. 5217, both of the COMELEC, insofar as they prohibited petitioner from running as substitute candidate in lieu of her deceased husband; to nullify the proclamation of respondent; and to proclaim her as the duly elected Barangay Chairman of Sto. Tomas, San Jacinto, Pangasinan. Private respondent Remegio Placido filed his Comment, arguing that since the barangay election is non-partisan, substitution of candidates is not allowed. Moreover, petitioner did not file any certificate of candidacy; hence, there was only one candidate for Barangay Chairman of Sto. Tomas, namely, respondent Placido.9 Public respondent COMELEC also filed its Comment. It contends that its Resolution No. 4801 was issued not pursuant to its quasi-judicial functions but as an incident of its inherent administrative functions over the conduct of the barangay elections. Therefore, the same may not be the subject of review in a petition for certiorari. Further, the COMELEC alleges that it did not commit grave abuse of discretion in denying due course to petitioners certificate of candidacy and in proclaiming respondent considering that he was the only candidate for Barangay Chairman of Sto. Tomas.10 We find merit in the petition. At the outset, there is no dispute that petitioner garnered 516 votes while respondent got only 290 votes. Respondents did not deny this in their respective Comments. In our jurisdiction, an election means the choice or selection of candidates to public office by popular vote through the use of the ballot, and the elected officials which are determined through the will of the electorate. An election is the embodiment of the popular will, the expression of the sovereign power of the people. The winner is the candidate who has obtained a majority or plurality of valid votes cast in the election. Sound policy dictates that public elective offices are filled by those who receive the highest number of votes cast in the election for that office. For, in all republican forms of government the basic idea is that no one can be declared elected and no measure can be declared carried unless he or it receives a majority or plurality of the legal votes cast in the election.11 Respondents base their argument that the substitution of candidates is not allowed in barangay elections on Section 77 of the Omnibus Elections Code, which states: Section 77. Candidates in case of death, disqualification or withdrawal of another. If after the last day of the filing of certificates of candidacy, an official candidate of a registered or accredited political party dies, withdraws or is disqualified for any cause, only a person belonging to, and certified by the same political party may file a certificate of candidacy to replace the candidate who died, withdrew or was disqualified. The substitute candidate nominated by the political party concerned may file his certificate of candidacy for the office affected in accordance with the preceding sections not later than mid-day of the election. If the death, withdrawal or disqualification should occur between the day before the election and mid-day of election day, said certificate may be filed with any board of election inspectors in

the political subdivision where he is a candidate or, in the case of candidates to be voted by the entire electorate of the country, with the Commission. Private respondent argues that inasmuch as the barangay election is non-partisan, there can be no substitution because there is no political party from which to designate the substitute. Such an interpretation, aside from being non sequitur, ignores the purpose of election laws which is to give effect to, rather than frustrate, the will of the voters.12 It is a solemn duty to uphold the clear and unmistakable mandate of the people. It is well-settled that in case of doubt, political laws must be so construed as to give life and spirit to the popular mandate freely expressed through the ballot.13 Contrary to respondents claim, the absence of a specific provision governing substitution of candidates in barangay elections can not be inferred as a prohibition against said substitution. Such a restrictive construction cannot be read into the law where the same is not written. Indeed, there is more reason to allow the substitution of candidates where no political parties are involved than when political considerations or party affiliations reign, a fact that must have been subsumed by law. Private respondent likewise contends that the votes in petitioners favor can not be counted because she did not file any certificate of candidacy. In other words, he was the only candidate for Barangay Chairman. His claim is refuted by the Memorandum of the COMELEC Law Department as well as the assailed Resolution No. 5217, wherein it indubitably appears that petitioners letter-request to be allowed to run as Barangay Chairman of Sto. Tomas in lieu of her late husband was treated as a certificate of candidacy.14 To reiterate, it was petitioner who obtained the plurality of votes in the contested election. Technicalities and procedural niceties in election cases should not be made to stand in the way of the true will of the electorate. Laws governing election contests must be liberally construed to the end that the will of the people in the choice of public officials may not be defeated by mere technical objections.15 Election contests involve public interest, and technicalities and procedural barriers must yield if they constitute an obstacle to the determination of the true will of the electorate in the choice of their elective officials. The Court frowns upon any interpretation of the law that would hinder in any way not only the free and intelligent casting of the votes in an election but also the correct ascertainment of the results.16 WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the instant petition is GRANTED. The assailed Resolution No. 5217 of the Commission on Elections, insofar as it denied due course to petitioners certificate of candidacy, is declared NULL and VOID. The proclamation of respondent Remegio L. Placido as Barangay Chairman of Sto. Tomas, San Jacinto, Pangasinan is SET ASIDE, and the Board of Canvassers of the said Barangay is ORDERED to proclaim petitioner as the duly elected Barangay Chairman thereof. SO ORDERED.

G.R. No. 142907

November 29, 2000

JOSE EMMANUEL L. CARLOS, petitioner, vs. HON. ADORACION G. ANGELES, IN HER CAPACITY AS THE ACTING PRESIDING JUDGE OF THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT IN CALOOCAN CITY (BRANCH 125) and ANTONIO M. SERAPIO, respondents. PARDO, J.: The Case The case before the Court is an original special civil action for certiorari and prohibition with preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order seeking to annul the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Caloocan City, Branch 125, the dispositive portion of which reads as follows: "WHEREFORE, premises considered, the proclamation of the Protestee, Jose Emmanuel Carlos, by the Board of Canvassers is accordingly SET ASIDE. "The Court hereby FINDS the Protestant, ANTONIO SERAPIO, as the DULY ELECTED MAYOR OF VALENZUELA CITY. "SO ORDERED."1 The Facts Petitioner Jose Emmanuel L. Carlos and respondent Antonio M. Serapio were candidates for the position of mayor of the municipality of Valenzuela, Metro Manila (later converted into a City) during the May 11, 1998 elections. On May 21, 1998, the Municipal Board of Canvassers, Valenzuela, Metro Manila proclaimed petitioner as the duly elected mayor of Valenzuela having obtained 102,688 votes, the highest number of votes in the election returns. On June 1, 1998, respondent Antonio M. Serapio who obtained 77,270 votes, the second highest number of votes, filed with the Regional Trial Court, Valenzuela, Metro Manila, an election protest challenging the results. Due to the inhibition of all judges of the Regional Trial Court in Valenzuela, the case was ultimately assigned to the Regional Trial Court, Caloocan City, Branch 125, presided over by respondent Judge Adoracion G. Angeles. On June 26, 1998, petitioner filed with the trial court an answer with affirmative defenses and motion to dismiss. The court denied the motion to dismiss by order dated January 14, 1999. Petitioner elevated the order to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on petition for certiorari and prohibition,2 which, however, has remained unresolved up to this moment. In the course of the protest, the municipal treasurer of Valenzuela, who by law has custody of the ballot boxes, collected the ballot boxes and delivered them to the Regional Trial Court, Caloocan City. The trial court conducted a pre-trial conference of the parties but it did not produce a substantial result as the parties merely paid superficial service and only agreed on the following:

1. Both parties admit their capacity to sue and be sued; 2. Both parties admit that the protestant was a candidate during the May 11, 1998 election; 3. Both parties admit that the protestee has been proclaimed as the elected mayor of Valenzuela, Metro Manila, on May 21, 1998; 4. Both parties admit that the protestee allegedly obtained 102,688 votes while the protestant obtained 77,270 votes per canvass of election returns of the Board of Canvassers. The pre-trial was then concluded and the parties agreed to the creation of seven (7) revision committees consisting of a chairman designated by the court and two members representing the protestant and the protestee. Meantime, on May 12, 1999, petitioner filed a consolidated motion that included a prayer for authority to photocopy all the official copies of the revision reports in the custody of the trial court. However, the trial court denied the issuance of such authorization.3 The court likewise denied a motion for reconsideration of the denial.4Then petitioner raised the denial to the COMELEC on petition for certiorari and mandamus,5 which also remains unresolved until this date. The Revision Results The revision of the ballots showed the following results: (1) Per physical count of the ballots: (a) protestant Serapio - 76,246 votes. (b) protestee Carlos - 103,551 votes. (2) Per revision, the court invalidated 9,697 votes of the protestant but validated 53 stray votes in his favor. The court invalidated 19,975 votes of the protestee and validated 33 stray votes in his favor. The final tally showed: (a) protestant Serapio - 66,602 votes. (b) protestee Carlos - 83,609 votes, giving the latter a winning margin of 17,007 votes. The Trial Court's Ruling Nevertheless, in its decision, the trial court set aside the final tally of valid votes because of its finding of "significant badges of fraud," namely: 1. The keys turned over by the City Treasurer to the court did not fit into the padlocks of the ballot boxes that had to be forcibly opened; 2. Seven (7) ballot boxes did not contain any ballot and two (2) ballot boxes out of the seven (7) ballot boxes did not contain any election returns;

3. Some schools where various precincts were located experienced brownouts during the counting of votes causing delay in the counting although there was no undue commotion or violence that occurred; 4. Some of the assigned watchers of protestant were not in their posts during the counting of votes. On the basis of the foregoing badges of fraud, the trial court declared that there was enough pattern of fraud in the conduct of the election for mayor in Valenzuela. The court held that the fraud was attributable to the protestee who had control over the election paraphernalia and the basic services in the community such as the supply of electricity. On April 24, 2000, the trial court rendered a judgment ruling that the perpetuation of fraud had undoubtedly suppressed the true will of the electorate of Valenzuela and substituted it with the will of the protestee. Notwithstanding the plurality of valid votes in favor of the protestee, the trial court set aside the proclamation of protestee Jose Emmanuel Carlos by the Municipal Board of Canvassers and declared protestant Antonio M. Serapio as the duly elected mayor of Valenzuela City.6 Hearing news that the protestant had won the election protest, the protestee secured a copy of the decision from the trial court on May 4, 2000. On the other hand, notice of the decision was received by the protestant on May 03, 2000. On May 4, 2000, protestant filed with the trial court a motion for execution pending appeal.7 On May 4, 2000, the trial court gave protestee five (5) days within which to submit his comment or opposition to the motion.8 Petitioner's Appeal to Comelec Meantime, on May 04, 2000, petitioner filed a notice of appeal from the decision of the trial court to the Commission on Elections.9 The Petition at bar On May 8, 2000, petitioner filed the present recourse.10 Petitioner raised the following legal basis: (1) The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction to entertain special civil actions of certiorari and prohibition; (2) There are important reasons and compelling circumstances which justify petitioner's direct recourse to the Supreme Court; (3) Respondent judge committed grave abuse of discretion when she declared respondent Serapio as the duly elected mayor of Valenzuela despite the fact that she found that petitioner obtained 17,007 valid votes higher than the valid votes of respondent Serapio; (4) The assailed decision is contrary to law, based on speculations and not supported by the evidence as shown in the decision itself.11 The Issues

The issues raised are the following: 1. Whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review, by petition for certiorari as a special civil action, the decision of the regional trial court in an election protest case involving an elective municipal official considering that it has no appellate jurisdiction over such decision. 2. Whether the trial court acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion when the court set aside the proclamation of petitioner and declared respondent Serapio as the duly elected mayor of Valenzuela City despite its finding that petitioner garnered 83,609 valid votes while respondent obtained 66,602 valid votes, or a winning margin of 17,007 votes. TRO Issued On May 8, 2000, we issued a temporary restraining order ordering respondent court to cease and desist from further taking cognizance of Election Protest No. 14-V-98 more specifically from taking cognizance of and acting on the Motion for Execution Pending Appeal filed by respondent Serapio on May 4, 2000.12 Respondent's Position On May 15, 2000, respondent Serapio filed his comment with omnibus motion to lift the temporary restraining order and to declare petitioner in contempt of court for violating the rule against forum shopping.13 He submitted that Comelec and not the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the present petition for certiorari assailing the decision dated April 24, 2000 of the regional trial court. Assuming that this Court and Comelec have concurrent jurisdiction and applying the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, the Comelec has jurisdiction since petitioner has perfected his appeal therewith before the filing of the instant petition. Certiorari cannot be a substitute for an appeal; the present petition is violative of Revised Circular No. 28-91 on forum-shopping; issues raised are factual, not correctible by certiorari; and that the temporary restraining order should be lifted, the petition dismissed, and petitioner and counsel should be made to explain why they should not be punished for contempt of court. The Court's Ruling We find the petition impressed with merit.14 I. The Supreme Court is vested with original jurisdiction to issue writs of certiorari, prohibition and mandamus against the decision of the regional trial court in the election protest case before it, regardless of whether it has appellate jurisdiction over such decision. Article VIII, Section 5 (1) of the 1987 Constitution provides that: "Sec. 5. The Supreme Court shall have the following powers: "(1) Exercise original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, andover petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus." xxx xxx xxx Rule 65, Section 1 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, provides that:

"SECTION 1. Petition for certiorari.When any tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions has acted without or in excess of its or his jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, and there is no appeal, or any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the course of law, a person aggrieved thereby may file a verified petition in the proper court, alleging the facts with certainty and praying that judgment be rendered annulling or modifying the proceedings of such tribunal, board or officer, and granting such incidental reliefs as law and justice may require. The petition shall be accompanied by a certified true copy of the judgment, order or resolution subject thereof, copies of all pleadings and documents relevant and pertinent thereto, and a sworn certification of non-forum shopping as provided in the third paragraph of section 3, Rule 46." By Constitutional fiat, the Commission on Election (Comelec) has appellate jurisdiction over election protest cases involving elective municipal officials decided by courts of general jurisdiction, as provided for in Article IX (C), Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution: "Sec. 2. The Commission on Elections shall exercise the following powers and functions: "(1) x x x. "(2) Exercise exclusive original jurisdiction over all contests relating to the elections, returns and qualifications of all elective regional, provincial, and city officials, and appellate jurisdiction over all contests involving elective municipal officials decided by trial courts of general jurisdiction, or involving elective barangay officials decided by trial courts of limited jurisdiction." In like manner, the Comelec has original jurisdiction to issue writs of certiorari, prohibition and mandamus involving election cases in aid of its appellate jurisdiction.15 This point has been settled in the case of Relampagos vs. Cumba,16 where we held: "In the face of the foregoing disquisitions, the court must, as it now does, abandon the ruling in the Garciaand Uy and Veloria cases. We now hold that the last paragraph of Section 50 of B. P. Blg. 697 providing as follows: The Commission is vested with exclusive authority to hear and decide petitions for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus involving election cases. remains in full force and effect but only in such cases where, under paragraph (2), Section 1, Article IX-C of the Constitution, it has exclusive appellate jurisdiction. Simply put, the COMELEC has the authority to issue the extraordinary writs of certiorari, prohibition, and mandamus only in aid of its appellate jurisdiction." (Emphasis ours). Consequently, both the Supreme Court and Comelec have concurrent jurisdiction to issue writs of certiorari, prohibition, and mandamus over decisions of trial courts of general jurisdiction (regional trial courts) in election cases involving elective municipal officials. The Court that takes jurisdiction first shall exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the case.17 Ergo, this Court has jurisdiction over the present petition of certiorari as a special civil action expressly conferred on it and provided for in the Constitution. Relative to the appeal that petitioner filed with the COMELEC, the same would not bar the present action as an exception to the rule because under the circumstances, appeal would not be a speedy

and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.18 The exception is sparingly allowed in situations where the abuse of discretion is not only grave and whimsical but also palpable and patent, and the invalidity of the assailed act is shown on its face. II. Certiorari lies. The trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Its decision is void. The next question that arises is whether certiorari lies because the trial court committed a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in deciding the way it did Election Protest Case No. 14-V-98, declaring respondent Serapio as the duly "elected" mayor of Valenzuela, Metro Manila. In this jurisdiction, an election means "the choice or selection of candidates to public office by popular vote"19through the use of the ballot, and the elected officials of which are determined through the will of the electorate.20"An election is the embodiment of the popular will, the expression of the sovereign power of the people."21"Specifically, the term 'election', in the context of the Constitution, may refer to the conduct of the polls, including the listing of voters, the holding of the electoral campaign, and the casting and counting of votes."22 The winner is the candidate who has obtained a majority or plurality of valid votes cast in the election.23 "Sound policy dictates that public elective offices are filled by those who receive the highest number of votes cast in the election for that office. For, in all republican forms of government the basic idea is that no one can be declared elected and no measure can be declared carried unless he or it receives a majority or plurality of the legal votes cast in the election."24 In case of protest, a revision or recount of the ballots cast for the candidates decides the election protest case. The candidate receiving the highest number or plurality of votes shall be proclaimed the winner. Even if the candidate receiving the majority votes is ineligible or disqualified, the candidate receiving the next highest number of votes or the second placer, can not be declared elected.25 "The wreath of victory cannot be transferred from the disqualified winner to the repudiated loser because the law then as now only authorizes a declaration of election in favor of the person who has obtained a plurality of votes and does not entitle a candidate receiving the next highest number of votes to be declared elected."26 In other words, "a defeated candidate cannot be deemed elected to the office."27 "Election contests involve public interest, and technicalities and procedural barriers should not be allowed to stand if they constitute an obstacle to the determination of the true will of the electorate in the choice of their elective officials. Laws governing election contests must be liberally construed to the end that the will of the people in the choice of public officials may not be defeated by mere technical objections. In an election case, the court has an imperative duty to ascertain by all means within its command who is the real candidate elected by the electorate. The Supreme Court frowns upon any interpretation of the law or the rules that would hinder in any way not only the free and intelligent casting of the votes in an election but also the correct ascertainment of the results."28 In this case, based on the revision of ballots, the trial court found that: First, by canvass of the Municipal Board of Canvassers the results were: Carlos - 102,668 votes Serapio - 77,270 votes, or a winning margin of 25,418 votes Ramon Ignacio - 20 votes.

and consequently, the Board of Canvassers proclaimed petitioner Carlos the duly elected mayor of Valenzuela, Metro Manila. Second, by physical count of the ballots, the results were: Carlos - 103,551 votes Serapio - 76,246 votes, or a winning margin of 27,305 votes. Third, by revision of the ballots, the trial court found in a final tally that the "valid" votes obtained by the candidates were as follows: Carlos - 83,609 votes Serapio - 66,602 votes, or a winning margin of 17,007 votes. Consequently, the final tally clearly showed petitioner Carlos as the overwhelming winner in the May 11, 1998 elections. However, the trial court set aside the final tally of votes because of what the trial court perceived to be "significant badges of fraud" attributable to the protestee.29 These are: First: The failure of the keys turned over by the City Treasurer to the trial court to fit the padlocks on the ballot boxes that compelled the court to forcibly open the padlocks. The trial court concluded that the real keys were lost or the padlocks substituted pointing to possible tampering of the contents of the ballot boxes. Procedurally, the keys to the ballot boxes were turned over by the Board of Election Inspectors from the precinct level to the Municipal Board of Canvassers and finally to the municipal treasurer for safekeeping. The three-level turn-over of the keys will not prevent the possibility of these keys being mixed up. This is an ordinary occurrence during elections. The mere inability of the keys to fit into the padlocks attached to the ballot boxes does not affect the integrity of the ballots. At any rate, the trial court easily forced open the padlocks and found valid votes cast therein; Second: Seven (7) ballot boxes were found empty. Thus, the trial court concluded that there were "missing ballots" and "missing election returns." This is pure speculation without factual basis. "The sea of suspicion has no shore, and the court that embarks upon it is without rudder or compass."30 On the other hand, the Summary of Votes as revised does not show any unaccounted precinct or whether there was any precinct without any ballot or election returns. It is a standard procedure of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to provide extra empty ballot boxes for the use of the Board of Election Inspectors or the Board of Canvassers, in case of necessity. The empty ballot boxes found could be the empty reserve ballot boxes that were not used by the Board of Election Inspectors or the Board of Canvassers since there was neither proof nor even a claim of missing ballots or missing election returns. Third: Some schoolhouses experienced brownout during the counting of votes. There was nothing extraordinary that would invite serious doubts or suspicion that fraud was committed during the brownout that occurred. Indeed, one witness stated that it was the first time that he observed brownout in Dalandanan Elementary School and another stated that the brownout was localized in Coloong Elementary School. Since counting of votes lasted until midnight, the brownouts had caused

only slight delay in the canvassing of votes because the election officials availed themselves of candles, flashlights and emergency lights. There were no reports of cheating or tampering of the election returns. In fact, witnesses testified that the counting of votes proceeded smoothly and no commotion or violence occurred. So, the brownouts had no effect on the integrity of the canvass. Fourth: The absence of watchers for candidate Serapio from their posts during the counting of votes. This cannot be taken against candidate Carlos since it is the candidate's own look-out to protect his interest during the counting of votes and canvassing of election returns. As long as notices were duly served to the parties, the counting and canvassing of votes may validly proceed in the absence of watchers. Otherwise, candidates may easily delay the counting of votes or canvassing of returns by simply not sending their watchers. There was no incomplete canvass of returns, contrary to what the trial court declared. The evidence showed complete canvassin Valenzuela, Metro Manila.31 "We cannot allow an election protest on such flimsy averments to prosper, otherwise, the whole election process will deteriorate into an endless stream of crabs pulling at each other, racing to disembank from the water."32 Assuming for the nonce that the trial court was correct in holding that the final tally of valid votes as per revision report may be set aside because of the "significant badges of fraud", the same would be tantamount to a ruling that there were no valid votes cast at all for the candidates, and, thus, no winner could be declared in the election protest case. In short, there was failure of election. In such case, the proper remedy is an action before the Commission on Elections en banc to declare a failure of election or to annul the election.33 However, the case below was an election protest case involving an elective municipal position which, under Section 251 of the Election Code, falls within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the appropriate regional trial court.34 Nonetheless, the annulment of an election on the ground of fraud, irregularities and violations of election laws may be raised as an incident to an election contest. Such grounds for annulment of an election may be invoked in an election protest case. However, an election must not be nullified and the voters disenfranchised whenever it is possible to determine a winner on the basis of valid votes cast, and discard the illegally cast ballots. In this case, the petitioner admittedly received 17,007 valid votes more than the protestee, and therefore the nullification of the election would not lie. The power to nullify an election must be exercised with the greatest care with a view not to disenfranchise the voters, and only under circumstances that clearly call for such drastic remedial measure.35 As heretofore stated, in this jurisdiction, elections are won on the basis of a majority or plurality of votes cast and received by the candidates. "The right to hold an elective office is rooted on electoral mandate, not perceived entitlement to the office."36 More importantly, the trial court has no jurisdiction to declare a failure of election.37 Section 6 of the Omnibus Election Code provides that: "Sec. 6. Failure of Election.If, on account of force majeure, violence, terrorism, fraud or other analogous causes the election in any polling place has not been held on the date fixed, or had been suspended before the hour fixed by law for the closing of the voting, or after the voting and during the preparation and the transmission of the election returns or in the custody of canvass thereof, such election results in a failure to elect, and in any of such cases the failure or suspension of election would affect the result of the election, the Commission shall, on the basis of a verified petition by any interested party and after due notice and hearing, call for the holding or continuation of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to

elect on a date reasonably close to the date of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect but not later than thirty (30) days after the cessation of the cause of such postponement or suspension of the election or failure to elect." (Emphasis supplied) Likewise, RA 7166 provides that: "Sec. 4. Postponement, Failure of Election and Special Elections".-- The postponement, declaration of failure of election and the calling of special elections as provided in Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Omnibus Election Code shall be decided by the Commission sitting en banc by a majority vote of its members. The causes for the declaration of a failure of election may occur before or after the casting of votes or on the day of the election." (Emphasis supplied) It is the Commission (Comelec) sitting en banc that is vested with exclusive jurisdiction to declare a failure of election.38 "In a petition to annul an election under Section 6, Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, two conditions must be averred in order to support a sufficient cause of action. These are: (1) the illegality must affect more than 50% of the votescast and (2) the good votes can be distinguished from the bad ones. It is only when these two conditions are established that the annulment of the election can be justified because the remaining votes do not constitute a valid constituency."39 We have held that: "To declare a failure of election, two (2) conditions must occur: first, no voting has taken place in the precincts concerned on the date fixed by law or, even if there were voting, the election nevertheless resulted in a failure to elect; and, second, the votes not cast would affect the result of the election."40 Neither of these conditions was present in the case at bar. More recently, we clarified that, "Under the pertinent codal provision of the Omnibus Election Code, there are only three (3) instances where a failure of elections may be declared, namely: (a) the election in any polling place has not been held on the date fixed on account of force majeure, violence, terrorism, fraud, or other analogous causes; (b) the election in any polling place had been suspended before the hour fixed by law for the closing of the voting on account of force majeure, violence, terrorism, fraud, or other analogous causes; or (c) after the voting and during the preparation and transmission of the election returns or in the custody or canvass thereof, such election results in a failure to elect on account of force majeure, violence, terrorism, fraud, or other analogous causes."41 Thus, the trial court in its decision actually pronounced a failure of election by disregarding and setting aside the results of the election. Nonetheless, as herein-above stated, the trial court erred to the extent of ousting itself of jurisdiction because the grounds for failure of election were not significant and even non-existent. More importantly, the commission of fraud can not be attributed to the protestee. There was no evidence on record that protestee had a hand in any of the irregularities that protestant averred. It is wrong for the trial court to state that the protestee had control over the "election paraphernalia" or over electric services. The Commission on Elections has control over election paraphernalia, through its officials and deputies.42 The Comelec can deputize with the concurrence of the President, law enforcement agencies and instrumentalities of the government, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, for the exclusive purpose of ensuring free, orderly, honest, peaceful, and credible elections.43 On the other hand, electric utility services in Metro Manila, including Valenzuela are under the control of its franchise holder, particularly the Manila Electric Company, a public service company, certainly not owned or controlled by the protestee. In fact, during election period, Comelec has control over such utilities as electric and even telephone service.44 What is important, however, is that the voters of Valenzuela were able to cast their votes

freely and fairly. And in the election protest case, the trial court was able to recount and determine the valid votes cast. Assuming that the trial court has jurisdiction to declare a failure of election, the extent of that power is limited to the annulment of the election and the calling of special elections.45 The result is a failure of election for that particular office. In such case, the court can not declare a winner.46 A permanent vacancy is thus created. In such eventuality, the duly elected vice-mayor shall succeed as provided by law.47 We find that the trial court committed a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in rendering its decision proclaiming respondent Serapio the duly elected mayor of Valenzuela, Metro Manila, on the basis of its perception of the voice of the people of Valenzuela, even without a majority or plurality votes cast in his favor. In fact, without a single vote in his favor as the trial court discarded all the votes. Thus, the decision is not supported by the highest number of valid votes cast in his favor. This violated the right to due process of law of petitioner who was not heard on the issue of failure of election, an issue that was not raised by the protestant. "A decision is void for lack of due process if, as a result, a party is deprived of the opportunity of being heard."48 The trial court can not decide the election protest case outside the issues raised. If it does, as in this case, the trial court is ousted of its jurisdiction. Likewise, it is a basic principle that a decision with absolutely nothing to support it is void.49 "A void decision may be assailed or impugned at any time either directly or collaterally, by means of a petition filed in the same case or by means of a separate action, or by resisting such decision in any action or proceeding where it is invoked."50Here, the trial court indulged in speculations on its view of the voice of the people, and decided the case disregarding the evidence, but on its own intuition, ipse dixit.51 How was this voice communicated to the trial court? Certainly not by competent evidence adduced before the court as it should be, but by extra-sensory perception. This is invalid in law. Contrary to its own finding that petitioner obtained 83,600 valid votes against 66,602 valid votes for the respondent as second placer, or a plurality of 17,007 votes, the trial court declared the second placer as the winner. This is a blatant abuse of judicial discretion by any account. It is a raw exercise of judicial function in an arbitrary or despotic manner, amounting to evasion of the positive duty to act in accord with law.52 In a special civil action for certiorari, the burden is on petitioner to prove not merely reversible error, but grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the public respondent Judge. "By grave abuse of discretion is meant capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. Mere abuse of discretion is not enough. It must be grave abuse of discretion as when the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, and must be so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law."53 We must emphasize that election to office is determined by the highest number of votes obtained by a candidate in the election. The Judgment WHEREFORE, the Court GRANTS the petition. The Court ANNULS and DECLARES VOID the decision dated April 24, 2000 of the trial court in Election Protest Case No. V-14-98. The temporary restraining order we issued on May 8, 2000, is made permanent. Let Election Protest Case No. V-14-98 be remanded to the trial court for decision within a nonextendible period of fifteen (15) days from notice of this decision. The judge shall report to this Court on the decision rendered within five (5) days from rendition submitting a copy thereof to the Office of the Clerk of Court en banc.

This decision is immediately executory. No costs. SO ORDERED.

G.R. No. 106291 February 9, 1993 ALFONSO C. BINCE, JR., petitioner, vs. THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, PROVINCIAL BOARD OF CANVASSERS OF PANGASINAN and EMILIANO MICU respondents. Constante P. Pimentel and Alfonso C. Bince, Jr. and Pimentel. Apostol. Layosa and Sibayan Law Offices for petitioner. The Solicitor General for public respondents

DAVIDE, JR., J.: This is a special civil action for certiorari under Section 7, Article IX-A of the 1987 Constitution, in relation to Section 1, Rule 39 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure and Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, to set aside the 29 July 1992 Resolution promulgated by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) en banc without prior notice and hearing in connection with Special Cases SPC. No. 92208 and SPC No. 92-384. The challenged resolution annulled the proclamation of the petitioner as the second winning candidate for theSangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Pangasinan, representing its Sixth Legislative District, in the synchronized elections of 11 May 1992. The grounds relied upon by the petitioner are: 4.1. THE ASSAILED RESOLUTION, ("ANNEX A", supra) OF JULY 29, 1992 IS ULTRA VIRES AND VOID AB INITIO BECAUSE IT WAS ISSUED EX-PARTE, WITHOUT NOTICE AND OPPORTUNITY AFFORDED THE PETITIONER TO BE HEARD AND THEREFORE VIOLATIVE OF DUE PROCESS; 4.2. THE QUESTIONED RESOLUTION IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND VIOLATES THE COMMISSION'S OWN RULES OF PROCEDURE; AND FINALLY; 4.3. THE UNCONTESTED COCS LONG COMPLETED, FINAL AND ALREADY USED FOR THE PROCLAMATION OF OTHER PROVINCIAL CANDIDATES, CANNOT BE CORRECTED THRU A MERE PETITION, TWENTY-ONE DAYS THEREAFTER, BUT MAY BE A PROPER SUBJECT OF A REGULAR ELECTION PROTEST. 1 In the Resolution of 11 August 1992, 2 this court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) directing the respondent COMELEC to cease and desist from enforcing its 29 July 1992 Resolution and requiring the respondents to comment on the petition. After the filing of separate comments by the private and public respondents and the consolidated reply thereto by the petitioner, this Court gave due course to the petition, considered the separate comments of the public and private respondents as their answers thereto and declared the case submitted for decision. The pleadings disclose the following uncontroverted facts:

Petitioner and private respondent were among the candidates in the synchronized elections of 11 May 1992 for the two (2) seats in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Pangasinan allotted to its Sixth Legislative District under COMELEC Resolution No. 2379 in relation to Section 3 of R.A. No. 7166. 3 Ten (10) municipalities, including San Quintin, Tayug and San Manuel, comprise the said district. During the canvassing, on 21 May 1992, by the Provincial Board of Canvassers (PBC) of the Certificates of Canvass (COCs) for these ten (10) municipalities, private respondent objected to the inclusion of the COC for San Quintin. This was the only COC that was contested. Accordingly, the COCs for the remaining nine (9) municipalities were included in the canvass. The PBC thereafter overruled the objection, prompting the private respondent to appeal the ruling to the COMELEC, which docketed the same as SPC No. 92-208. On 6 June 1992, the COMELEC en banc promulgated therein a resolution which reads: Acting on the appeal filed by petitioner/appellant Atty. Emiliano S. Micu to the ruling of the Provincial Board of Canvassers of Pangasinan, dated May 21, 1992, the Commission en banc tabulated the votes obtained by candidates Emiliano S. Micu and Atty. Alfonso C. Bince for the position of Sangguniang Panlalawigan member of the province of Pangasinan, using as basis thereof the statement of votes by precinct submitted by the municipality of San Quintin, Pangasinan, as (sic) a result of said examination, the Commission rules, as follows: 1. That the actual number of votes obtained by candidate Alfonso C. Bince in the municipality of San Quintin, Pangasinan is 1,055 votes whereas petitioner/appellant Atty. Emiliano S. Micu obtained 1,535 votes for the same municipality. Accordingly, the Provincial Board of Canvassers for the province of Pangasinan is directed to CREDIT in favor of petitioner/appellant Atty. Emiliano S. Micu with 1,535 votes and candidate Alfonso C. Bince with 1,055 votes in the municipality of San Quintin, Pangasinan. 4 On 11 June 1992 or twenty-one days (21) days after the canvass of COCs for the nine (9) municipalities was completed private respondent and the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBCs) of Tayug and San Manuel simultaneously filed with the PBC petitions for the correction of the Statements of Votes (SOVs) earlier prepared for alleged manifest errors committed in the "addition" therein. 5 On 18 June 1992, acting on the motion of the petitioner to implement the aforesaid 6 June 1992 Resolution, which was claimed to have become final, the PBC credited in favor of the petitioner and private respondent the votes for each as indicated in the said resolution. As of that date, on the basis of the COCs for San Quintin and nine (9) other municipalities, petitioner had a total of 27,370 votes while the private respondents had 27,369 votes. Petitioner thus led the private respondent by a margin of one (1) vote. This notwithstanding, petitioner was not proclaimed winner because of the absence of authority from the COMELEC. Accordingly, petitioner filed in SPC No. 92-208 a formal motion for such authority. It was, however, only on 29 June 1992 that the COMELEC en banc promulgated a Supplemental Order directing the PBC "to reconvene, continue with the provincial canvass and proclaim the winning candidates for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for the Province of Pangasinan, and other candidates for provincial offices who have not been proclaimed as of this date." 6

Meanwhile, on 24 June 1992, the PBC now headed by Director Felimon Asperin of the COMELEC who was designated to replace one Atty. Obsequio who had earlier returned to his station in Zamboanga City acting on the aforementioned petitions for correction of the SOV's of Tayug and San Manuel heard the testimonies of Nelly Valera and Bonita Vidal, Election Registrars and Chairpersons of the Municipal Boards of Canvassers of Tayug and San Manuel, respectively, and of Dr. Corazon Lagmay, Member of the MBC of Tayug, despite the objections of the petitioner who also asked, on grounds of bias and partiality, for the disqualification of Atty. Asperin. Valera and Lagmay both testified that the total number of votes for the petitioner in Tayug should be 2,415 instead of the 2,486 reflected in the Statement of Votes. On the other hand, Bonita Vidal testified that the total number of votes for the petitioner in San Manuel should be 2,179 instead of the 2,185 reported in the Statement of Votes, while that of the private respondent should be 2,888 instead of the 2,892 also stated in the said SOVs. It then ruled "to allow the Municipal Board of Canvassers of the municipalities of Tayug and San Manuel, Pangasinan, to correct the Statement of Votes and Certificates of Canvass." 7 Petitioner seasonably appealed this ruling to the COMELEC which docketed the appeal as SPC No. 92-384. On 1 July 1992, Atty. Asperin prepared and submitted in SPC No. 92-384 (erroneously denominated by him as 92-3894) a "Report on the Appeal From The Ruling of the Provincial Board of Canvassing (sic) of Pangasinan" 8stating therein that "the Board found the petitions for corrections meritorious and ruled to allow the MBCs of Tayug and San Manuel to correct their respective Statement of Votes and, subsequently, their Certificates of Canvass with respect to the votes" of the petitioner and private respondents. 9 The report also discloses that on that same date, the herein private respondent filed with the PBC a Motion To Continue Canvass and To Proclaim Winner. 10 On 4 July 1992, the PBC reconvened and voted to refer the matter of whom to proclaim to the COMELEC. 11The petition for that purpose was filed by Atty. Asperin, who represented to the Commission that "as per Order of the same Board there were corrections already made in a separate sheet of paper of the Statement of Votes and Certificates of Canvass of Tayug and San Manuel, Pangasinan which corrections if to be considered by the Board in its canvass and proclamation, candidate (sic) Emiliano Micu will win by 72 votes. On the other hand, if these corrections will not be considered, candidate Alfonso Bince, Jr. will win by one (1) vote." 12 On 9 July 1992, the COMELEC en banc, describing the proceeding as "(Connected with SPC No. 92208 and SPC No. 384)," and without assigning a specific docket number therefor, promulgated a resolution 13 the dispositive portion of which reads: . . . RESOLVED, as it hereby RESOLVES, to DIRECT the Provincial Board of Canvassers of Pangasinan, as follows: (1) To RECONVENE immediately and complete the canvass of the Certificate of Votes, as corrected, of the Municipal Board of Canvassers of the municipalities comprising the 6th District of Pangasinan; (2) To PROCLAIM the winning candidate for Member of the Provincial Board, 6th District of Pangasinan, on the basis of the completed and corrected Certificates of Canvass, aforesaid, in accordance with the law, the rules and guidelines on canvassing and proclamation. 14 It is to be noted that the purported corrections in the SOVs and COCs are not actually incorporated in any of these documents; they appear on separate sheets of paper and were signed merely by the Election Registrar/Chairman of the MBC concerned. Thus, the document pertaining to the Municipality of Tayug reads:

CORRECTION OF MANIFEST ERROR IN THE STATEMENT OF VOTES AND CERTIFICATE OF CANVASS. Total votes of Candidate Alfonso Bince, Jr. in the Certificate of Canvass and in the Statement of Votes of Tayug, Pangasinan 2,486 Total votes of Candidate Alfonso Bince, Jr. as corrected 2,415 CERTIFIED CORRECT: July 6, 1992 (SGD) (TYP) NELLY M. VALERA Election Registrar and Chairman of the Municipal Board of Canvassers Tayug, Pangasinan
15

while that for the Municipality of San Manuel reads: CORRECTION OF MANIFEST ERROR IN THE STATEMENT OF VOTES AND CERTIFICATE OF CANVASS. Votes of Alfonso Bince, Jr. as it appears in the Statement of Votes (page 3) 427 (subtotal); Corrected sub-total 421. Votes of Emiliano Micu as it appears in the Statement of Votes (page 3) 669 (sub-total); Corrected sub-total 665. Total votes of Candidate Alfonso Bince, Jr. as it appears in the Certificate of Canvass 2,185; Corrected total 2,179 Total votes of Candidate Emiliano Micu as it appears in the Certificate of Canvass 2,892; Corrected total 2,888 6 July 1992 CERTIFIED TRUE AND CORRECT: (SGD) BONITA C. VIDAL (TYP) ELECTION REGISTRAR II CHAIRMAN, MUN. BOARD OF CANVASSERS SAN MANUEL, PANGASINAN
16

On 21 July 1992, the PBC, with Atty. Asperin dissenting, promulgated a resolution 17 proclaiming herein petitioner as the second duly elected member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Pangasinan, representing its Sixth Legislative District, with a lead of one (1) vote over the private respondent. It maintained that the completed and corrected COCs mentioned in the 9 July 1992 Resolution refer to the COCs of the nine (9) municipalities the canvass of which was completed on 21 May 1992, and the corrected COC of San Quintin duly accomplished pursuant to the resolution of respondent COMELEC of 6 June 1992 in SPC No. 92-208. It was also of the opinion that no correction should be made on the COCs of Tayug and San Manuel after the completion and finality of their canvass. Consequently, petitioner took his oath of office before Governor Aguedo F. Agbayani on 21 July 1992 18 and thereafter, assumed office. Private respondent then filed with the COMELEC an Urgent Motion For Contempt and to Annul Proclamation alleging therein that the act of the majority of the PBC in proclaiming the petitioner was "an utter defiance, disregard and disobedience to a lawful order of" the COMELEC. 19 The order referred to is the 9 July 1992 Resolution earlier adverted to. He then prayed that (a) the two (2) PBC members who voted for the proclamation of the petitioner be punished for contempt for defying and disobeying the said resolution, (b) the proclamation of the petitioner be annulled for being void ab initio and (c) he, the herein private respondent, be proclaimed instead as the second winning candidate for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Pangasinan, representing its Sixth Legislative district. No copy of this motion was furnished to the petitioner. Neither did the respondent COMELEC set the same for hearing. 20 On 29 July 1992, the respondent COMELEC en banc, by the affirmative vote of the Chairman and six (6) Members with Commissioner Dario C. Rama voting "to require candidate Bince and the respondent Provincial Board of Canvassers to comment on the motion to annul proclamation" promulgated a resolution 21 under no specific docket number but merely indicating the same as: (Connected with SPC No. 92-208 and SPC No. 92-384). The dispositive portion of the resolution reads: . . . the Commission RESOLVED, as it hereby RESOLVES: 1. To DIRECT Prosecutor Jose Antonio Guillermo and Supt. Primo Mina, vice-chairman and secretary, respectively, of the Provincial Board of Canvassers of Pangasinan, to show cause why they should not be declared in contempt for defying and disobeying the Resolution of this Commission dated 09 July 1992, directing them to RECONVENE immediately and complete the canvass of the Certificate of Votes as corrected, of the Municipal Board of Canvassers of the Municipalities comprising the 6th District of Pangasinan; and to PROCLAIM the winning candidate of the Provincial Board, 6th District (sic) of Pangasinan, on the basis of the completed and corrected Certificates of Canvass, aforesaid, instead they excluded (sic) the corrected Certificates of Canvass of the Municipal Boards of Canvassers of Tayug and San Manuel, Pangasinan;

2. To ANNUL the proclamation dated 21 July 1992, by the said Provincial Board of Canvassers (dissented by (sic) Chairman Felimon Asperin), of candidate Alfonso Bince; 3. To DIRECT the Provincial Board of Canvassers to reconvene immediately and proclaim the winning candidate for the second position of the Provincial Board; 6th District of Pangasinan; on the basis of the completed and corrected Certificates of Canvass submitted by the Municipal Boards of Canvassers of all the municipalities in the 6th District of Pangasinan, in accordance with law. 22 This is the resolution assailed in the instant petition. It appears that on 13 August 1992, or after the respondent COMELEC received a copy of the TRO issued by this Court on 11 August 1992, the PBC, with Vice-Chairman Jose Antonio Guillermo dissenting, promulgated a resolution, allegedly pursuant to the aforesaid 29 July 1992 Resolution, proclaiming the private respondent as the second winning candidate for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Pangasinan for its Sixth Legislative District. 23 We find merit in this petition and accordingly rule for the petitioner. Respondent COMELEC acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion in annulling the petitioner's proclamation without the requisite due notice and hearing, thereby depriving the latter of due process. Moreover, there was no valid correction of the SOVs and COCs for the municipalities of Tayug and San Manuel to warrant the annulment of the petitioner's proclamation. 1. Petitioner had been proclaimed, had taken his oath of office and had assumed the position as the second elected member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Pangasinan for its Sixth Legislative District. Such proclamation enjoys the presumption of regularity and validity. The ruling of the majority of the PBC to proclaim the petitioner is based on its interpretation of the 9 July 1992 Resolution of respondent COMELEC does not expressly single out the corrected COCs of Tayug and San Manuel; since, as of that time, the only corrected COC which existed was that for San Quintin, which was made by the PBC on 18 June 1992, the majority of the PBC cannot be faulted for ruling the way it did. The 9 July 1992 Resolution 24 merely directed it: (1) To RECONVENE immediately and complete the canvass of the Certificates of Votes, as corrected, of the Municipal Boards of Canvassers of the municipalities comprising the 6th District of Pangasinan; (2) To PROCLAIM the winning candidate for Member of the Provincial Board, 6th District of Pangasinan, on the basis of the completed and corrected Certificates of Canvass, aforesaid; in accordance with the law, the rules and guidelines on canvassing and proclamation. (Emphasis supplied) The PBC thus had every reason to believe that the phrase "completed and corrected" COCs could only refer to the nine (9) COCs for the nine municipalities, the canvass for which was completed on 21 May 1992, and that of San Quintin, respectively. Verily, the above resolution is vague and ambiguous. 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, 25 and one cannot acquire a vested right to public office, 26 it is, nevertheless, a protected right. 27 Due process in proceedings

before the respondent 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, 28 We had ruled in Farias vs. Commission on Elections, 29 Reyes vs. Commission on Elections 30 and Gallardo vs.Commission on Elections 31 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 Farias vs. COMELEC, this Court further stated that: As aptly pointed out by the Solicitor General, "to sanction the immediate annulment or even the suspension of the effects of a proclamation before the petition seeking such annulment or suspension of its effects shall have been heard would open the floodgates of (sic) unsubstantiated petitions after the results are known, considering the propensity of the losing candidate to put up all sorts of obstacles in an open display of unwillingness to accept defeat (Guiao v. Comelec, supra), or would encourage the filing of baseless petitions not only to the damage and prejudice of winning candidates but also to the frustration of the sovereign will of the electorate (Singko v. Comelec, 101 SCRA 420)." 31 Commissioner Rama's recommendation to direct first the petitioner and the PBC to comment on the motion to annul was thus correctly and wisely entered for he precisely had in mind the due process requirement; without compliance with such requirement, the COMELEC's action would be fataly flawed. Furthermore, the said motion to annul proclamation was treated by the respondent COMELEC as a Special Case (SPC) because its ruling therein was made in connection with SPC No. 92-208 and SPC No. 92-384. Special Cases under the COMELEC RULES OF PROCEDURE involve the preproclamation controversies. 32 We have categorically declared in Sarmiento vs. Commission on Elections 33 that pursuant to Section 3, Article IX-C of the 1987 Constitution, which reads: Sec. 3. The commission on Elections may sit en banc or in two divisions, and shall promulgate its rules of procedure in order to expedite disposition of election cases, including pre-proclamation controversies. All such election cases shall be heard and decided in division, provided that motions for reconsideration of decisions shall be decided by the Commission en banc. the Commission en banc does not have jurisdiction to hear and decide pre-proclamation cases at the first instance. Such cases should first be referred to a division. Hence, the COMELEC en banc had no jurisdiction to decide on the aforesaid motion to annul the proclamation; consequently, its 29 July 1992 Resolution is null and void. For this reason too, the COMELEC en banc Resolution of 6 June 1992 in SPC No. 92-208 resolving the private respondent's appeal from the ruling of the PBC with respect to the COC of San Quintin is similarly void. 2. It is to be noted, as correctly stressed by the petitioner, that there are no valid corrected Statement of Votes and Certificates of Canvass for Tayug and San Manuel; thus, any reference to such would be clearly unfounded. While it may be true that on 24 June 1992, the PBC, acting on simultaneous petitions to correct the SOVs and COCs for Tayug and San Manuel, ordered the MBCs for these two (2) municipalities to make the appropriate corrections in the said SOVs and their corresponding COCs, none of the members of said Boards convened to actually implement the order. Such failure could have been due to the appeal seasonably interposed by the petitioner to the COMELEC or the fact that said members simply chose not to act thereon. As already adverted to, the so-called

"corrected" Statements of Votes and Certificates of Canvass consist of sheets of paper signed by the respective Election Registrars of Tayug 34 and San Manuel. 35 These are not valid corrections because the Election Registrars, as Chairmen of the MBCs cannot, by themselves, act for their respective Boards. Section 225 of the Omnibus Election Code (B.P. Blg. 881) provides that "[A] majority vote of all the members of the board of canvassers shall be necessary to render a decision." That majority means at least two (2) of the three (3) members constituting the Board. 36 As to why the Election Registrars, in their capacities as Chairmen, were the only ones who prepared the so-called correction sheets, is beyond Us. There is no showing that the other members of the Boards were no longer available. Since they are from the Province of Pangasinan, they could have been easily summoned by the PBC to appear before it and effect the corrections on the Statements of Votes and Certificates of Canvass. Besides, by no stretch of the imagination can these sheets of paper be considered as the corrected SOVs and COCs. Corrections in a Statement of Vote and a Certificate of Canvass could only be accomplished either by inserting the authorized corrections into the SOV and COC which were originally prepared and submitted by the MBC or by preparing a new SOV and COC incorporating therein the authorized corrections. Thus, the statement in the 29 July 1992 Resolution of the respondent COMELEC referring to "the corrected Certificates of Canvass of the Municipal Boards of Canvassers of Tayug and San Manuel," 37 is palpably unfounded. The Commission could have been misled by Atty. Asperin's ambiguous reference to "corrections already made in separate sheets of paper of the Statement of Votes and Certificate of Canvass of Tayug and San Manuel, Pangasinan," 38 in his petition asking the COMELEC to rule on who shall be proclaimed. However, if it only took the trouble to carefully examine what was held out to be as the corrected documents, respondent COMELEC should not have been misled. Even if We are to assume for the sake of argument that these sheets if paper constitute sufficient corrections, they are, nevertheless, void and of no effect. At the time the Election Registrars prepared them on 6 July 1992 respondent COMELEC had not yet acted on the petitioner's appeal (SPC No. 92-384) from the 24 June 1992 ruling of the PBC authorizing the corrections. Petitioner maintains that until now, his appeal has not been resolved. The public respondent, on the other hand, through the Office of the Solicitor General, claims that the same had been: . . . resolved in the questioned resolution of July 29, 1992, where COMELEC affirmed respondents (sic) Board's correction that petitioner only received 2,415 votes in Tayug and 2,179 in San Manuel (see p. 2, Annex "A", Petition). 39 On the same matter, the private respondent asserts that: This SPC-92-384, is however, deemed terminated and the ruling of the PBC is likewise deemed affirmed by virtue of the 2nd par., Sec. 16, R.A. No. 7166, supra and Comelec en banc Resolution No. 2489, supra, dated June 29, 1992; 40 If We follow the respondent COMELEC's contention to its logical conclusion, it was only on 29 July 1992 that SPC No. 92-384 was resolved; consequently, the so-called "correction sheets" were still prematurely prepared. In any event, the COMELEC could not have validly ruled on such appeal in its 29 July 1992 Resolution because the same was promulgated to resolve the Urgent Motion For Contempt and to Annul Proclamation filed by the private respondent. Furthermore, before the resolution of SPC No. 92-384 on the above-mentioned date, no hearing was set or conducted to resolve the pending motion. Therefore, on this ground alone, the 29 July 1992 Resolution, even if it was meant to resolve the appeal, is a patent nullity for having been issued in gross violation of the requirement of notice and hearing mandated by Section 246 of the Omnibus Election Code, in relation to Section 18 of R.A. No. 7166 and Section 6, Rule 27 of the COMELEC Rules and

Procedure, and for having been resolved by the COMELEC en banc at the first instance. The case should have been referred first to a division pursuant to Section 3, Article IX-C of the 1987 Constitution and Our ruling in Sarmiento vs. Commission on Elections. 41Moreover, the COMELEC's claim that the questioned resolution affirmed the correction made by the Board is totally baseless. The PBC did not make any corrections. It merely ordered the Municipal Boards of Canvassers of Tayug and San Manuel to make such corrections. As earlier stated, however, the said MBCs did not convene to make these corrections. It was the Chairmen alone who signed the sheets of paper purporting to be corrections. For being clearly inconsistent with the intention and official stand of respondent COMELEC, private respondent's theory of termination under the second paragraph of Section 16 of R.A. No. 7166, and the consequent affirmance of the ruling of the PBC ordering the correction of the number of voted, must necessarily fail. The foregoing considered, the proclamation of the private respondent of 13 August 1992 by the Provincial Board of Canvassers of Pangasinan is null and void. Wherefore, the instant petition is GRANTED. The challenged resolution of the respondent Commission on Elections of 29 July 1992 and the proclamation of private respondent on 13 August 1992 as the second Member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Pangasinan, representing its Sixth Legislative District, are hereby ANNULED and SET ASIDE and respondent Commission on Elections is DIRECTED to resolve the pending incidents comformably with the foregoing disquisitions and pronouncements. No costs. SO ORDERED.

G.R. No. 125629 March 25, 1998 MANUEL C. SUNGA, petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and FERDINAND B. TRINIDAD, respondents.

BELLOSILLO, J.: This petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure seeks to annul and set aside, for having been rendered with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, the 17 May 1996 Resolution of the COMELEC 2nd Division in Sunga v. Trinidad, SPA No. 95-213 1 dismissing the petition for disqualification against private respondent Ferdinand B. Trinidad pursuant to COMELEC Resolution No. 2050 promulgated 3 November 1988, as amended by COMELEC Resolution No. 2050-A promulgated 8 August 1990, and 30 July 1996 Resolution of the COMELEC En Banc affirming the 17 May 1996 Resolution of the COMELEC 2nd Division. Petitioner Manuel C. Sunga was one of the candidates for the position of Mayor in the Municipality of Iguig, Province of Cagayan, in the 8 May 1995 elections. Private respondent Ferdinand B. Trinidad, then incumbent mayor, was a candidate for re-election in the same municipality. On 22 April 1995 Sunga filed with the COMELEC a letter-complaint 2 for disqualification against Trinidad, accusing him of using three (3) local government vehicles in his campaign, in violation of Sec. 261, par. (o), Art. XXII, of BP Blg. 881 (Omnibus Election Code, as amended). On 7 May 1995, Sunga filed another letter-complaint 3 with the COMELEC charging Trinidad this time with violation of Sec. 261, par. (e) (referring to threats, intimidation, terrorism or other forms of coercion) of the Omnibus Election Code, in addition to the earlier violation imputed to him in the first letter-complaint. This was followed by an Amended Petition 4 for disqualification consolidating the charges in the two (2) letters-complaint, including vote buying, and providing more specific details of the violations committed by Trinidad. The case was docketed as SPA No. 95-213. In a Minute Resolution dated 25 May 1995, 5 the COMELEC 2nd Division referred the complaint to its Law Department for investigation. Hearings were held wherein Sunga adduced evidence to prove his accusations. Trinidad, on the other hand, opted not to submit any evidence at all. Meanwhile, the election results showed that Trinidad garnered the highest number of votes, while Sunga trailed second. On 10 May 1995 Sunga moved for the suspension of the proclamation of Trinidad. However, notwithstanding the motion, Trinidad was proclaimed the elected mayor, prompting Sunga to file another motion to suspend the effectsof the proclamation. Both motions were not acted upon by the COMELEC 2nd Division. On 28 June 1995 the COMELEC Law Department submitted its Report 6 to the COMELEC En Banc recommending that Trinidad be charged in court for violation of the following penal provisions of the Omnibus Election Code: (a) Sec. 261, par. (a), on vote buying; (b) Sec. 261, par. (e), on threats, intimidation, terrorism or other forms of coercion; and, (c) Sec. 261, par. (o), on use of any equipment, vehicle owned by the government or any of its political subdivisions. The Law Department likewise

recommended to recall and revoke the proclamation of Ferdinand B. Trinidad as the duly elected Mayor of Iguig, Cagayan; proclaim Manuel C. Sunga as the duly elected Mayor; and, direct Sunga to take his oath and assume the duties and functions of the office. The COMELEC En Banc approved the findings of the Law Department and directed the filing of the corresponding informations in the Regional Trial Court against Trinidad. Accordingly, four (4) informations 7 for various elections offenses were filed in the Regional Trial Court of Tuguegarao, Cagayan. The disqualification case, on the other hand, was referred to the COMELEC 2nd Division for hearing. On 2 May 1996 Sunga filed a Second Urgent Motion to Suspend the Effects and Annul the Proclamation with Urgent Motion for Early Resolution of the Petition. But in its 17 May 1996 Resolution, the COMELEC 2nd Division dismissed the petition for disqualification, holding in its Resolution No. 2050 that 1. Any complaint for disqualification of a duly registered candidate based upon any of the grounds specifically enumerated under Sec. 68 of the Omnibus Election Code, filed directly with the Commission before an election in which respondent is a candidate, shall be inquired into by the Commission for the purpose of determining whether the acts complained of have in fact been committed . . . . In case such complaint was not resolved before the election, the Commission may motu propio, or on motion of any of the parties, refer the complaint to the Law Department of the Commission as the instrument of the latter in the exercise of its exclusive power to conduct a preliminary investigation of all cases involving criminal infractions of the election laws . . . . 2. Any complaint for disqualification based on Sec. 68 of the Omnibus Election Code in relation to Sec. 6 of Republic Act No. 6646 filed after the election against a candidate who has already been proclaimed as a winner shall be dismissed as a disqualification case. However, the complaint shall be referred for preliminary investigation to the Law Department of this Commission. Where a similar complaint is filed after election but before proclamation of the respondent candidate, the complaint shall, nevertheless, be dismissed as a disqualification case. However, the complaint shall be referred for preliminary investigation to the Law Department. If, before proclamation, the Law Department makes a prima facie finding of guilt and the corresponding information has been filed with the appropriate trial court, the complainant may file a petition for suspension of the proclamation of the respondent with the court before which the criminal case is pending and said court may order the suspension of the proclamation if the evidence of guilt is strong. As interpreted in the case of Silvestre v. Duavit, SPA 94-003, Resolution No. 2050 provides for the outright dismissal of the disqualification case in three cases: (1) The disqualification case was filed before the election but remains unresolved until after the election; (2) The disqualification case was filed after the election and before the proclamation of winners; and (3) The disqualification case was filed after election and after proclamation. If the instant case is deemed to have been filed upon receipt by the COMELEC of the lettercomplaint on April 26 1995, it nevertheless remained pending until after the election. If it is deemed to have been filed upon filing of the amended petition on 11 May 1995, it was clearly

filed after the election. In either case, Resolution No. 2050 mandates the dismissal of the disqualification case. His motion for reconsideration having been denied by the COMELEC En Banc, Sunga filed the instant petition contending that the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the petition for disqualification in that: first, Sec. 6 of RA No. 6646 requires the COMELEC to resolve the disqualification case even after the election and proclamation, and the proclamation and assumption of office by Trinidad did not deprive the COMELEC of its jurisdiction; second COMELEC Resolution No. 2050 is null and void as it contravenes Sec. 6 of R.A. No. 6646; third, the fact that COMELEC authorized the filing of four (4) informations against private respondent for violation of the penal provisions of the Omnibus Election Code shows more than sufficient and substantial evidence to disqualify Trinidad, and he should have been so disqualified; and fourth, since Trinidad was a disqualified candidate, it is as if petitioner was the only candidate entitled to be proclaimed as the duly elected mayor. In his 17-page Comment and Manifestation dated 3 December 1996, the Solicitor General concurred with petitioner's arguments. Private respondent, on the other hand, postulates inter alia that Sunga's letters-complaint of 22 April 1995 and 7 May 1995 were not petitions for disqualification because no filing fee was paid by Sunga; the letters-complaint were never docketed by the COMELEC; and, no summons was ever issued by the COMELEC and private respondent was not required to answer the letters-complaint. It was only on 13 May 1995 when petitioner filed the so-called Amended Petition, docketed for the first time as SPA No. 95-213. Thus, the COMELEC correctly dismissed the disqualification case for having been filed only after the 8 May 1995 elections and the proclamation of private respondent on 10 May 1995, pursuant to COMELEC Resolution No. 2050. COMELEC filed its Comment on 21 April 1997 relying heavily on Resolution No. 2050 and the Silvestre v. Duavit 8ruling in support of the dismissal of the disqualification case. The COMELEC insisted that the outright dismissal of a disqualification case was warranted under any of the following circumstances: (a) the disqualification case was filed before the election but was still pending (unresolved) after the election; (b) the disqualification case was filed after the election but before the proclamation of the winner; and, (c) the disqualification case was filed after the election and after the proclamation of the winner. The issue in this case is whether the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed the disqualification case against private respondent Trinidad. The petition is partly meritorious. We find private respondent's arguments on the propriety of the letters-complaint puerile. COMELEC itself impliedly recognized in its Resolution that the petition was filed before the 8 May 1995 election in the form of letters-complaint, thus This case originally came to the attention of this Commission on 26 April 1995 in a form of letter from petitioner accusing respondent of utilizing government properties in his campaign and praying for the latter's immediate disqualification. Another letter dated 7 May 1995 and addressed to the COMELEC Regional Director of Region II reiterated petitioner's prayer while alleging that respondent and his men committed acts of terrorism and violated the gun ban. Finally, on 11 May 1995, an Amended Petition was filed with the Clerk of Court of the Commission containing substantially the same allegations as the previous letters but supported by affidavits and other documentary evidence.

That the Amended Petition was filed only on 11 May 1995, or after the elections, is of no consequence. It was merely a reiteration of the charges filed by petitioner against private respondent on 26 April 1995 and 7 May 1995 or before the elections. Consequently, the Amended Petition retroacted to such earlier dates. An amendment which merely supplements and amplifies facts originally alleged in the complaint relates back to the date of the commencement of the action and is not barred by the statute of limitations which expired after the service of the original complaint. 9 The fact that no docket fee was paid therefor was not a fatal procedural lapse on the part of petitioner. Sec. 18, Rule 42, of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure provides, "If the fees above described are not paid, the Commission may refuse to take action thereon until they are paid and may dismiss the action or proceeding." The use of the word "may" indicates that it is permissive only and operates to confer a discretion on the COMELEC whether to entertain the petition or not in case of non-payment of legal fees. That the COMELEC acted on and did not dismiss the petition outright shows that the non-payment of fees was not considered by it as a legal obstacle to entertaining the same. Be that as it may, the procedural defects have been cured by the subsequent payment of docket fees, and private respondent was served with summons, albeit belatedly, and he submitted his answer to the complaint. Hence, private respondent has no cause to complain that no docket fee was paid, no summons served upon him, or that he was not required to answer. Neither do we agree with the conclusions of the COMELEC. We discern nothing in COMELEC Resolution No. 2050 declaring, ordering or directing the dismissal of a disqualification case filed before the election but which remained unresolved after the election. What the Resolution mandates in such a case is for the Commission to refer the complaint to its Law Department for investigation to determine whether the acts complained of have in fact been committed by the candidate sought to be disqualified. The findings of the Law Department then become the basis for disqualifying the erring candidate. This is totally different from the other two situations contemplated by Resolution No. 2050, i.e., a disqualification case filed after the election but before the proclamation of winners and that filed after the election and the proclamation of winners, wherein it was specifically directed by the same Resolution to be dismissed as a disqualification case. Moreover, Resolution No. 2050 as interpreted in Silvestre v. Duavit infringes on Sec. 6 of RA No. 6646, 10 which provides: Sec. 6. Effects of Disqualification Case. Any candidate who has been declared by final judgment to be disqualified shall not be voted for, and the votes cast for him shall not be counted. If for any reason a candidate is not declared by final judgment before an election to be disqualified and he is voted for and receives the winning number of votes in such election, the Court or Commission shall continue with the trial and hearing of the action, inquiry or protest and, upon motion of the complainant or any intervenor, may during the pendency thereof order the suspension of the proclamation of such candidate whenever the evidence of his guilt is strong (emphasis supplied). Clearly, the legislative intent is that the COMELEC should continue the trial and hearing of the disqualification case to its conclusion, i.e., until judgment is rendered thereon. The word "shall" signifies that this requirement of the law is mandatory, operating to impose a positive duty which must be enforced. 11 The implication is that the COMELEC is left with no discretion but to proceed with the disqualification case even after the election. Thus, in providing for the outright dismissal of the disqualification case which remains unresolved after the election,Silvestre v. Duavit in effect disallows what RA No. 6646 imperatively requires. This amounts to a quasi-judiciallegislation by the COMELEC which cannot be countenanced and is invalid for having been issued beyond the scope of its authority. Interpretative rulings of quasi-judicial bodies or administrative agencies must always be in perfect harmony with statutes and should be for the sole purpose of carrying their general provisions

into effect. By such interpretative or administrative rulings, of course, the scope of the law itself cannot be limited. Indeed, aquasi-judicial body or an administrative agency for that matter cannot amend an act of Congress. Hence, in case of a discrepancy between the basic law and an interpretative or administrative ruling, the basic law prevails. Besides, the deleterious effect of the Silvestre ruling is not difficult to foresee. A candidate guilty of election offenses would be undeservedly rewarded, instead of punished, by the dismissal of the disqualification case against him simply because the investigating body was unable, for any reason caused upon it, to determine before the election if the offenses were indeed committed by the candidate sought to be disqualified. All that the erring aspirant would need to do is to employ delaying tactics so that the disqualification case based on the commission of election offenses would not be decided before the election. This scenario is productive of more fraud which certainly is not the main intent and purpose of the law. The fact that Trinidad was already proclaimed and had assumed the position of mayor did not divest the COMELEC of authority and jurisdiction to continue the hearing and eventually decide the disqualification case. InAguam v. COMELEC 12 this Court held Time and again this Court has given its imprimatur on the principle that COMELEC is with authority to annul any canvass and proclamation which was illegally made. The fact that a candidate proclaimed has assumed office, we have said, is no bar to the exercise of such power. It of course may not be availed of where there has been a valid proclamation. Since private respondent's petition before the COMELEC is precisely directed at the annulment of the canvass and proclamation, we perceive that inquiry into this issue is within the area allocated by the Constitution and law to COMELEC . . . Really, were a victim of a proclamation to be precluded from challenging the validity thereof after that proclamation and the assumption of office thereunder, baneful effects may easily supervene. It must be emphasized that the purpose of a disqualification proceeding is to prevent the candidate from running or, if elected, from serving, or to prosecute him for violation of the election laws. Obviously, the fact that a candidate has been proclaimed elected does not signify that his disqualification is deemed condoned and may no longer be the subject of a separate investigation. It is worth to note that an election offense has criminal as well as electoral aspects. Its criminal aspect involves the ascertainment of the guilt or innocence of the accused candidate. Like in any other criminal case, it usually entails a full-blown hearing and the quantum of proof required to secure a conviction is beyond reasonable doubt. Its electoral aspect, on the other hand, is a determination of whether the offender should be disqualified from office. This is done through an administrative proceeding which is summary in character and requires only a clear preponderance of evidence. Thus, under Sec. 4 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, petitions for disqualification "shall be heard summarily after due notice." It is the electoral aspect that we are more concerned with, under which an erring candidate may be disqualified even without prior criminal conviction. 13 It is quite puzzling that the COMELEC never acted on Sunga's motion to suspend the proclamation of Trinidad. The last sentence of Sec. 6 of RA No. 6646 categorically declares that the Commission may order the suspension of the proclamation of a candidate sought to be disqualified whenever the evidence of his guilt is strong. And there is not a scintilla of doubt that the evidence of Trinidad's guilt was strong as shown in the Report and Recommendation of the COMELEC Law Department Parenthetically, there is merit to petitioner's petition against the respondent for disqualification for the alleged commission of election offenses under Sec. 68 of the Omnibus Election Code, such as use of armed men and act of terrorism, intimidation and coercion of voters, massive

vote-buying and others, duly supported by affidavits of witnesses and other documents. Consequently, the petitioner's evidence supporting the disqualification of respondent remain unrebutted simply because respondent has expressly waived his right to present evidence in SPA No. 95-213 in his Manifestation and objection to the presentation of evidence in SPA No. 95-213 dated 16 June 1995, thus the waiver is the intentional relinquishing of a known right of respondent TRINIDAD. In fact, on the basis of this Report and Recommendation the COMELEC directed the filing of four (4) criminal informations against Trinidad before the Regional Trial Court, an indication that there was indeed prima facieevidence of violation of election laws. However, Sunga's contention that he is entitled to be proclaimed as the duly elected Mayor of the Municipality of Iguig, Province of Cagayan, in the event that Trinidad is disqualified finds no support in law and jurisprudence. The fact that the candidate who obtained the highest number of votes is later disqualified for the office to which he was elected does not entitle the candidate who obtained the second highest number of votes to be declared the winner of the elective office. The votes cast for a disqualified person may not be valid to install the winner into office or maintain him there. But in the absence of a statute which clearly asserts a contrary political and legislative policy on the matter, if the votes were cast in the sincere belief that the candidate was qualified, they should not be treated as stray, void or meaningless. 14 Sunga totally miscontrued the nature of our democratic electoral process as well as the sociological and psychological elements behind voters' preferences. Election is the process of complete ascertainment of the expression of the popular will. Its ultimate purpose is to give effect to the will of the electorate by giving them direct participation in choosing the men and women who will run their government. Thus, it would be extremely repugnant to the basic concept of the constitutionally guaranteed right to suffrage if a candidate who has not acquired the majority or plurality of votes is proclaimed winner and imposed as the representative of a constituency, the majority of whom have positively declared through their ballots that they do not choose him. 15 While Sunga may have garnered the second highest number of votes, the fact remains that he was not the choice of the people of Iguig, Cagayan. "The wreath of victory cannot be transferred from the disqualified winner to the repudiated loser because the law then as now only authorizes a declaration of election in favor of the person who has obtained a plurality of votes and does not entitle a candidate receiving the next highest number of votes to be declared elected." 16 In Aquino v. COMELEC, 17 this Court made the following pronouncement: To simplistically assume that the second placer would have received the other votes would be to substitute our judgment for the voter. The second placer is just that, a second placer. He lost the election. He was repudiated by either a majority or plurality of voters. He could not be considered the first among qualified candidates because in a field which excludes the disqualified candidate; the conditions would have substantially changed. We are not prepared to extrapolate the results under such circumstances. Also, what Sunga wants us to do is to disregard the express mandate of Sec. 44, RA No. 7160, 18 which provides in part Sec. 44. Permanent vacancies in the office of the Governor, Vice-Governor, Mayor, ViceMayor. (a) If a permanent vacancy occurs in the office of the Governor or Mayor, the ViceGovernor or Vice-Mayor concerned shall become the Governor or Mayor . . .

For purposes of this chapter, a permanent vacancy arises when an elective local official fills a higher vacant office, refuses to assume office, fails to qualify, dies, is removed from office, voluntarily resigns or is otherwise permanently incapacitated to discharge the functions of his office . . . . This provision is echoed in Art. 83 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Local Government Code of 1991. The language of the law is clear, explicit and unequivocal, thus admits no room for interpretation but merely application. This is the basic legal precept. Accordingly, in the event that Trinidad is adjudged to be disqualified, a permanent vacancy will be created for failure of the elected mayor to qualify for the said office. In such eventuality, the duly elected vice-mayor shall succeed as provided by law. 19 WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED. The 17 May 1996 and 30 July 1996 Resolutions of the COMELEC are ANNULLED and SET ASIDE. COMELEC is ordered to REINSTATE SPA No. 95-213, "Manuel C. Sunga v. Ferdinand B. Trinidad," for disqualification, and ACT on the case taking its bearings from the opinion herein expressed. No costs. SO ORDERED.

G.R. No. 139357 May 5, 2000 ABDULMADID P.B. MARUHOM, petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and HADJI JAMIL DIMAPORO, respondents.

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.: Whether or not a motion to dismiss, filed after an answer has been filed, is a prohibited pleading in an election protest pending before the Regional Trial Court is the issue posed in this petition for certiorari with prayer for preliminary injunction challenging the Resolution of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) dated July 6, 1999 1dismissing Comelec Case SPR No. 52-98. The COMELEC's challenged order summarizes the relevant facts of the controversy thus: 1. Petitioner and private respondent were both candidates for Mayor in the Municipality of Marogong, Lanao del Sur and voted as such in the last May 11, 1998 national and local election (sic). Petitioner is a re-electionist and a veteran politician; 2. The election in Marogong functioned on May 11, 1998, and after the voting the ballot boxes were transmitted to the Kalimodan Hall, Provincial Capitol of Lanao del Sur at Marawi City where the automated counting of votes and canvass of election returns were centralized; 3. During the counting of votes, serious irregularities, anomalies and electoral frauds were committed at the instance of petitioner or his followers in that votes actually casted (sic) for the private respondent were not counted and credited in his favor thru (sic) the concerted acts, conspiracy and manipulation of the Board of Election Inspectors, military, Election Officer and the Machine Operator who happens to be a nephew of the petitioner; 4. In Precincts Nos. 1A-1A1, 7A1, 8A, 10A-10A1 and 11A about 115 official ballots were refused or rejected by the counting machine which the private respondent's watchers or representatives have requested and insisted to be refed to the automated machine for the second and third times pursuant to the provisions of Comelec Resolution No. 3030 but their requests were not heeded by the Election Officer and the Machine Operator, Solaiman Rasad, who is a close kin of the Petitioner, and instead considered the said ballots as finally rejected, while in Precincts Nos. 12A, 23A1 and 6A, around 56 ballots were found therein which were not drawn from the official ballots and were included in the counting of votes over the objection of the private respondent's watchers or representatives; 5. Before the termination of the counting of votes and the consolidation of the results, the machine operator and the Election Officer carried away from the Kalimodan Hall the diskette and brought the same to the down town without the knowledge of the private respondent's watchers or representatives;

6. As a result of the foregoing irregularities, anomalies and electoral frauds, the petitioner was illegally proclaimed as winner because he appeared to have obtained 2,020 votes while the private respondent garnered 2,000 votes with a slight margin of only 20 votes; 7. After the counting of votes, the ballot boxes were kept at the Kalimodan Hall, Provincial Capitol, Marawi City guarded and secured by military and PNP personnel together with the watchers/representatives of the petitioner and the private respondent and other candidates or political parties until they were transported and delivered to the respondent court at Malabang, Lanao del Sur sometime on August 13, 1998 by 1Lt. Napisa AG together with the duly authorized representatives of both parties. xxx xxx xxx 1. On May 22, 1998, private respondent, knowing that he was cheated and the true winner for Mayor, filed before this Honorable Commission a petition to annul the proclamation of petitioner Abdulmadid Maruhom as the duly elected Mayor of Marogong, Lanao del Sur docketed as SPC No. 98-226. 2 2. As precautionary measure to avoid any technicality, private respondent filed on May 25, 1998, an ordinary "Protest ad Cautelam" against the petitioner before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 11, Malabang, Lanao del Sur entitled "Hadji Jamil D. Dimaporo vs. Abdulmadid Maruhom" for election protest (Manual Judicial Recount, revision and reappreciation of ballots) docketed as Election Case No. 11-127. 3 3. On June 1, 1998, petitioner Abdulmadid Maruhom filed an answer with counter-protest in Election Case No. 11-127 special and affirmative defenses and counter-protest. 4 In his answer petitioner prayed to hold in abeyance further proceedings since the protest is ad cautelam or subject to the petition filed before this Honorable Commission. 4. On July 2, 1998, before SPC No. 98-228 could be set for hearing by this Honorable Commission, the private respondent as petitioner therein, filed a motion to withdraw his petition in said SPC No. 98-228 albeit said case was among those cases the proceedings of which were ordered to be continued beyond June 30, 1998, under Comelec Resolution No. 3049 promulgated on June 29, 1998. 5 . . . . 5. On July 17, 1998, an order was issued by this Honorable Commission, (First Division) granting the private respondent's motion to withdraw petition in SPC No. 98-228 and considered the same withdrawn.6 . . . . 6. Upon receipt of a copy of said order, dated July 17, 1998, private respondent filed an urgent motion before the respondent court on July 27, 1998, praying for the issuance of an order directing the proper officials/officers concerned to bring and produce before said court the ballot boxes subjects of the protest and counter-protest and to set the case for hearing as mandated by law. 7 . . . . 7. After the delivery of the ballot boxes involved in the protest and counterprotest, the public respondent issued an order, dated August 17, 1998, setting

Election Case No. 11-127 for hearing (a) for the creation of the Committee on Revision and appointment of the Chairman and Members thereof; (b) making of the cash deposit and payment of the revisor's compensation; (c) partial determination of the case, etc. on September 1, 1998, at 8:30 o'clock in the morning. 8 8. When the case was called for hearing on September 2, 1998, a Revision Committee was created and its membership were duly appointed in open court which committee was directed by the respondent court to finish the revision of ballots, if possible, within 20 days from the commencement of the revision.9 . . . . 9. After the Revision Committee was directed by the respondent to commence the revision of ballots, the petitioner Abdulmadid Maruhom thru counsel orally moved for the dismissal of the protest on the grounds that (1) The ballot boxes containing the ballots in the protested and counter-protested precincts have been violated; (2) Automated counting of ballots does not contemplate a manual recount of the ballots; and (3) Protestant is guilty of forum shopping warranting summary dismissal of the petitioner of the protest. 10. The private respondent thru (sic) undersigned counsel, vigorously opposed the said oral motion to dismiss and orally argued that the motion is clearly dilatory having been made only after the Revision Committee has been ordered to commence the revision of ballots on September 1, 1998 and maintained that (1) The motion to dismiss is not allowed in an election protest; (2) The sanctity and integrity of the ballot boxes subject matter of the protest and counter-protest have been preserved and never violated; (3) The automated counting of ballots does not preclude the filing of the election protest for the judicial recount and revision of ballots; and (4) The private respondent is not guilty of forum shopping because his petition of protest is clearly and explicitly a Protest Ad Cautelam in view of the pendency of his petition before this Honorable Commission which was withdrawn by the private respondent before it could be set for hearing or acted upon by this Honorable Commission. 11. After the oral arguments of both parties, the petitioner's counsel asked that he be given ample time to file a written Omnibus Motion to Dismiss and the respondent court thru then Acting Presiding Judge Rasad Balindong, issued an order dated September 2, 1998, giving ten (10) days to Atty. Tingcap T. Mortaba to file an Omnibus Motion in substantiation of all the oral motions he made, furnishing a copy thereof to the undersigned counsel for the private respondent who was likewise given an equal period of time to comment. 10 12. On September 11, 1998, petitioner filed his motion to dismiss 11 and on September 21, 1998, the private respondent filed a vigorous opposition to motion to dismiss. 12 13. During the hearing on the motion to dismiss and the opposition thereto on September 21, 1998, the petitioner's counsel requested for ample time to file a rejoinder to the vigorous opposition to motion to dismiss submitted by the private respondent which was granted by the court and on September 28, 1998, petitioner filed his rejoinder 1 and on October 5, 1998 private respondent filed his comment 14thereto and thereafter all incidents were submitted for resolution of the court.

14. On November 10, 1998, the respondent court thru Honorable Presiding Judge Moslemen T. Macarambon, issued the assailed order denying the petitioner's motion to dismiss for lack of merit and ordering the Revision Committee to report to the court on November 19, 1998, at 8:30 o'clock in the morning for their oath taking and to receive the instruction of the court in the revision of the ballots and other allied matters. 15 15. On November 18, 1998, the petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration of the order dated November 10, 1998, 16 and on November 23, 1998, private respondent filed a vigorous opposition [to motion] for reconsideration. 17 16. Finding no compelling reason to disturb its order dated November 10, 1998, the respondent court issued the assailed order dated December 1, 1998 which denied the motion for reconsideration for lack of merit. In the same order, the respondent court reiterated its previous order to the members of the Revision Committee to take their oaths before Atty. Raqueza T. Umbaro or Atty. Khalil Laguindab and thereafter to convene and start the revision of ballots on December 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, 1998, morning and afternoon. 18 17. As a diabolical scheme to cause further delay of the proceedings of the case more specifically the revision of ballots, the petitioner filed on December 10, 1998, the instant petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for preliminary injunction and on December 11, 1998, petitioner filed an urgent motion before the respondent court praying that further proceedings in Election Case No. 11-127 be deferred until after protestee's petition for certiorari and prohibition before this Honorable Commission shall have been finally resolved, copy of which was served upon the undersigned counsel only on December 12, 1998, at 10:50 A.M. 19 . . . . 18. That before the undersigned counsel could file his opposition to said urgent motion on December 14, 1998 and in the absence of a restraining order or writ of preliminary injunction issued by (the COMELEC), the respondent judge already issued an order granting the same motion and ordering the Revision Committee to hold in abeyance the scheduled revision of ballots on December 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, 1998, etc. until further order from the court . . . . 20 Petitioner alleges that in dismissing the petition the COMELEC acted in excess of, or with grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack of jurisdiction in 1.] holding that a motion to dismiss an election protest case filed in the Regional Trial Court is a prohibited pleading; 2.] holding that the motion to dismiss filed after the answer is not allowed; 3.] failing to resolve the issues raised in SPR No. 52-98 which are sufficient legal bases to dismiss Election Case No. 11-127. In sum, petitioner insists that in refusing to pass upon the three (3) principal issues raised in COMELEC Case SPR No. 52-98, to wit:

1. Whether or not public respondent acted in excess of, or with grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack of jurisdiction in holding that a motion to dismiss an election protest case in the Regional Trial Court is a prohibited pleading; 2. Whether or not public respondent acted in excess of, or with grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack of jurisdiction, in holding that a motion to dismiss filed after the answer to an election protest case in the Regional Trial court is not allowed; and 3. Whether or not public respondent gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction, in failing to resolve the relevant material and substantial issues raised in SPR No. 52-98. the COMELEC "abdicated its duty under its own rules of procedure and under the Constitution and the election laws." Such abdication of duty, according to petitioner, amounts to grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction. It must be borne in mind that the purpose of governing statutes on the conduct of elections . . . [i]s to protect the integrity of elections to suppress all evils that may violate its purity and defeat the will of the voters. The purity of the elections is one of the most fundamental requisites of popular government. The Commission on Elections, by constitutional mandate must do everything in its power to secure a fair and honest canvass of the votes cast in the elections. In the performance of its duties, the Commission must be given a considerable latitude in adopting means and methods that will insure the accomplishment of the great objective for which it was created to promote free, orderly and honest elections. The choice of means taken by the Commission on Elections, unless they are clearly illegal or constitute grave abuse of discretion, should not be interfered with. 21 Sec. 2 (1) of Article IX of the Constitution gives the COMELEC the broad power to "enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall." There can hardly be any doubt that the text and intent of this constitutional provision is to give COMELEC all the necessary and incidental powers for it to achieve the holding of free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections. In accordance with this intent, the Court has been liberal in defining the parameters of the COMELEC's powers in conducting elections. Sumulong v. COMELEC 22 aptly points out that Politics is a practical matter, and political questions must be dealt with realistically not from the standpoint of pure theory. The Commission on Elections, because of its factfinding facilities, its contacts with political strategists, and its knowledge derived from actual experience in dealing with political controversies, is in a peculiarly advantageous position to decide complex political questions . . . . There are no ready made formulas for solving public problems. Time and experience are necessary to evolve patterns that will serve the ends of good government. In the matter of the administration of laws relative to the conduct of election . . . we must not by any excessive zeal take away from the Commission on Elections that initiative which by constitutional and legal mandates properly belongs to it.

Succinctly stated, laws and statutes governing election contests especially the appreciation of ballots must be liberally construed to the end that the will of the electorate in the choice of public officials may not be defeated by technical infirmities. 2 An election protest is imbued with public interest so much so that the need to dispel uncertainties which becloud the real choice of the people is imperative, 24 much more so in this case considering that a mere twenty (20) votes separates the winner from the loser of the contested election results. The primordial issue to be resolved herein is whether or not the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in dismissing SPR No. 52-98. In support of his cause, petitioner insists that there is "nothing irregular or anomalous in the filing of the motion to dismiss" after the filing of the answer because in effect he is merely insisting on a preliminary hearing of his special and affirmative defenses. Thus, he claims that the summary dismissal of his motion to dismiss is tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. We disagree. The filing of the motion to dismiss, in fact, appears to be part of a perfidious plot to prevent the early termination of the proceedings in Election Case No. 4847 as evidenced by a confluence of events clearly showing a pattern of delay employed by petitioner to avert the revision ballots. These events, pointed out by private respondent 25 and borne by the record, show that 1. It was only on September 1, 1999 after the creation of the Revision Committee and the appointment of its Chairman and Members and after the said committee was ordered by the trial court to commence the revision and to render its report within 20 days that the petitioner orally moved for the dismissal of the case on the flimsy grounds that (1) the ballot boxes subject of the protest and counter protest have been violated; (2) the automated counting of ballots does not contemplate a manual recount of ballots; and (3) protestant is guilty of forum-shopping warranting summary dismissal of the protest; 2. After the oral arguments on the oral motion to dismiss the petitioner requested for ample time within which to file an Omnibus Motion to Dismiss and over the vigorous opposition of the private respondent the same was granted by the court and the petitioner was given a period of ten (10) days to file the same and the private respondent was likewise given a period of ten (10) days to file his comment; 3. On September 11, 1998, the motion to dismiss 26 and during the hearing on the said motion and the opposition 27 thereto on September 21, 1998, the petitioner again asked for ample time to file a rejoinder to the vigorous opposition to motion to dismiss which was again granted by the court and it was only on September 28, 1998 that said rejoinder was filed; 4. After a denial of the motion to dismiss on November 10, 1998, 28 the petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration on November 18, 1998; 29 5. When the motion for reconsideration was denied on December 1, 1998, 30 petitioner filed on December 18, 1998 before the Commission on Elections a petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for preliminary injunction and asked the trial court to defer the proceedings of Election Case No. 11-27 until after his petition shall

have been finally resolved which was granted by the trial court. Hence, the scheduled revision of the ballots on December 14, 15, 16 and 17, 1998 was cancelled and the proceedings of the case held in abeyance; 31 6. As the Comelec En Banc did not give due course to petitioner's prayer for writ of preliminary injunction, the trial court, upon motion of the private respondent, issued an order for the revision of ballots on February 8, 1999. 32 On said day, neither the petitioner's counsel nor his designated revisors appeared, instead the petitioner, assisted by his numerous armed men, numbering around 30 stated (sic) in strategic places, prevented the court personnel to enter the court premises. Were it not for the maximum tolerance exercised by the PNP personnel and the intervention of the local datus/leaders, there would have been bloodshed; 7. On February 9, 1999, the petitioner's counsel filed a withdrawal of appearance with the attached letter-request of the petitioner asking for the deferment of the revision of ballots for at least two (2) weeks to enable him to engage the services of another counsel. Considering that the incident was designed to delay the further the early disposition of the case which would frustrate the ends of justice, the court held in abeyance its ruling on the withdrawal of appearance of and directed petitioner's counsel to handle the case after the appearance of a new counsel; 3 8. To further delay the proceedings of the case, the petitioner filed a petition for transfer of venue of the trial to from RTC, Branch 11, Malabang, Lanao del Sur to Iligan City or in Metro Manila which the private respondent did not oppose so as not to delay the early resolution of this Honorable Supreme Court on the said petition; 9. Again, the proceedings of the case was held in abeyance in view of the pendency of the said petition for transfer of venue; 10. After the dismissal of the petition in Election Case No. 52-98, the petitioner filed the instant petition for certiorari before this Honorable Supreme Court with a prayer for issuance of temporary restraining order; 11. As a diabolical scheme to cause further delay of the proceedings of the case, the petitioner filed an urgent motion before this Honorable Supreme Court praying for the immediate issuance of a TRO directing the Presiding Judge, RTC, Branch III, Iligan City to cease, desist and refrain from conducting any further proceedings of Election Case No. 4847 until the instant case shall have been resolved. This Honorable Supreme Court, without granting the prayer for TRO, directed the RTC, Branch III, Iligan City not to promulgate any decision in the said election case until further order[s] from this most Honorable Court. 34 It is clear, given the foregoing facts of this case, that the roundabout manner within which petitioner virtually substituted his answer by belatedly filing a motion to dismiss three (3) months later is a frivolous resort to procedure calculated to frustrate the will of the electorate. As pointedly observed by the COMELEC in its challenged Resolution dated July 6, 1999, 35 petitioner only filed his motion to dismiss "when the results of the trial appear[ed] to be adverse to him" 36 or right after the creation of the Revision Committee had been ordered by the trial court. If petitioner truly intended to move for the preliminary hearing of his special and affirmative defenses as he claims, then he should have simultaneously moved for the preliminary hearing of his special and affirmative defenses at the time he filed his answer. Otherwise, he should have filed his motion to dismiss "within the time for but before filing the answer. . ." pursuant to Section 1, Rule 16 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

Suffice it to state in this regard that such a whimsical change of mind by petitioner can not be countenanced much more so in election cases where time is of the essence in the resolution thereof. Indeed, the Omnibus Election Code states in no uncertain terms that Sec. 258. Preferential disposition of contests in courts. The RTC, in their respective cases, shall give preference to election contests over all other cases, except those of habeas corpus, and shall, without delay, hear and within thirty (30) days from the date of their submission for decision, but in every case within six (6) months after filing, decide the same. . . . 37 (emphasis and italics supplied). Petitioner further argues that his submissions that a.] the integrity of the ballot boxes has been violated; b.] only rejected ballots or ballots manually counted are the proper subjects of an election protest; and c.] private respondent is guilty of forum-shopping, are enough grounds to dismiss the case. We remain unconvinced. As aptly observed by the COMELEC in the challenged Resolution, these grounds are "evidentiary in nature and can be best ventilated during the trial of the case." 38 It needs be stressed in this regard that the purpose of an election protest is to ascertain whether the candidate proclaimed elected by the board of canvassers is really the lawful choice of the electorate. 39 In an election contest where the correctness of the number of votes is involved, the best and most conclusive evidence are the ballots themselves; where the ballots can not be produced or are not available, the election returns would be the best evidence. 40 In this case, the counted official ballots are available and there is no evidence, other than the bare allegation of petitioner, that the sanctity of the ballot boxes subject matter of the protest have been violated or the official ballots contained therein impaired. The best way, therefore, to test the truthfulness of petitioner's claim is to open the ballot boxes in the protested precincts followed by the examination, revision, recounting and re-appreciation of the official ballots therein contained in accordance with law and pertinent rules on the matter. Needless to state this can only be done through a full-blown trial on the merits, not a peremptory resolution of the motion to dismiss on the basis of the bare and one-sided averments made therein. Petitioner's reliance on COMELEC Resolution No. 2868 41 to support his restrictive claim that only rejected ballots or ballots manually counted in case of failure of the automated counting machines are the proper subjects of an election protest, is just as unpersuasive. There is admittedly a lacuna leges in R.A. No. 8436 which prescribes the adoption of an automated election system. However, while conceding as much, this Court ruled in Tupay Loong v. COMELEC, 42 that the Commission is nevertheless not precluded from conducting a manual count when the automated counting system fails, reasoning thus: . . . In enacting R.A. No. 8436, Congress obviously failed to provide a remedy where the error in counting is not machine related for human foresight is not allseeing. We hold, however, that the vacuum in the law cannot prevent the COMELEC from levitating above the problem. Section 2(1) of Article IX (C) of the Constitution gives the COMELEC the broad power "to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall." Undoubtedly, the text and intent of this provision is to give the COMELEC all the necessary and incidental powers for it to achieve the objective of holding free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections. Congruent to this intent, this Court has not been niggardly in defining the parameters of powers of COMELEC in the conduct of our elections . . . In the

case at bar, the COMELEC order for a manual count was not only reasonable. It was the only way to count the decisive local votes . . . The bottom line is that by means of the manual count, the will of the voters of Sulu was honestly determined. We cannot kick away the will of the people by giving a literal interpretation to R.A. 8436. R.A. 8436 did not prohibit manual counting when machine count does not work. Counting is part and parcel of the conduct of an election which is under the control and supervision of the COMELEC . . . . . . Our elections are not conducted under laboratory conditions. In running for public offices, candidates do not follow the rules of Emily Post. Too often, COMELEC has to make snap judgments to meet unforeseen circumstances that threaten to subvert the will of our voters. In the process, the actions of COMELEC may not be impeccable, indeed, may even be debatable. We cannot, however, engage in a swivel chair criticism of these actions often taken under very difficult circumstances. Verily, the legal compass from which the COMELEC should take its bearings in acting upon election controversies is the principle that "clean elections control the appropriateness of the remedy." 4 Be that as it may, the fact is the averments in petitioner's counter-protest and private respondent's protest already justified the determination of the issues through a judicial revision and recounting of the ballots pursuant to Section 255 of the Omnibus Election Code which provides that Sec. 255. Judicial counting of votes in election contest. Where allegations in a protest or counter-protest so warrant or whenever in the opinion of the court the interests of justice so require, it shall immediately order the book of voters, ballot boxes and their keys, ballots and other documents used in the election be brought before it and that the ballots be examined and votes recounted. (Emphasis supplied) So too must fall petitioner's procedural objection that private respondent should be faulted for forumshopping vis--vis this Court's pronouncement in Samad v. COMELEC 44 which states in no uncertain terms that As a general rule, the filing of an election protest or a petition for quo warranto precludes the subsequent filing of a pre-proclamation controversy, or amounts to the abandonment of one earlier filed, thus depriving the COMELEC of the authority to inquire into and pass upon the title of the protestee or the validity of his proclamation. The reason is that once the competent tribunal has acquired jurisdiction of an election protest or a petition for quo warranto, all questions relative thereto will have to be decided in the case itself and not in another proceeding. This procedure will prevent confusion and conflict of authority. Conformably, we have ruled in a number of cases that after a proclamation has been made, a pre-proclamation case before the COMELEC is no longer viable. The rule admits of exceptions, however, as where: (1) the board of canvassers was improperly constituted; (2) quo warranto was not the proper remedy; (3) what was filed was not really a petition for quo warranto or an election protest but a petition to annul a proclamation; (4) the filing of a quo warranto petition or an election protest was expressly made without prejudice to the pre-proclamation controversy or was made ad cautelam; and (5) the proclamation was null and void. Petitioner's argument that the filing of a motion to dismiss in an election contest filed with a regular court is not a prohibited pleading is well taken. As we pointed out in Melendres, Jr. v. COMELEC: 45

Neither can petitioner seek refuge behind his argument that the motion to dismiss filed by private respondent is a prohibited pleading under Section 1, Rule 13 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure because the said provision refers to proceedings filed before the COMELEC. The applicable provisions on the matter are found in Part VI of the Rules of Procedure titled "PROVISIONS GOVERNING ELECTION CONTESTS BEFORE TRIAL COURT" and as this Court pointedly stated in Aruelo v. Court of Appeals 46 It must be noted that nowhere in Part VI of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure is it provided that motions to dismiss and bill of particulars are not allowed in election protests or quo warranto cases pending before regular courts. Constitutionally speaking, the COMELEC cannot adopt a rule prohibiting the filing of a certain pleading in the regular courts. The power to promulgate rules concerning pleadings, practice and procedure in all courts is vested in the Supreme Court. 47 The foregoing pronouncement, however, will not extricate petitioner from his predicament because the denial of petitioner's motion to dismiss was based on the fact that the other grounds relied therein was considered unmeritorious and not because the said motion is a prohibited pleading in electoral protest cases. While the challenged COMELEC Resolution may not have been entirely correct in dismissing the petition in this regard, the soundness of its discretion to accord unto the trial court the competence to resolve the factual issues raised in the controversy cannot be doubted. Indeed, as reasoned by the COMELEC, the . . . Commission assumes the competence of the trial court to handle electoral protest and cannot encroach on its original and exclusive jurisdiction on electoral protest cases involving the contested mayoralty seat. To our mind, the trial court should be allowed to resolve the case on the merits to be able to rule on the factual and legal grounds raised by the petitioner as his defenses in his Answer. Should the petitioner be dissatisfied with the outcome of the case in the lower court, he can still appeal, as his relief, to this Commission within the reglementary period provided by law. Moreover At balance, the question really boils down to a choice of philosophy and perception of how to interpret and apply the laws relating to elections; literal or liberal; the letter or the spirit; the naked provision or the ultimate purpose; legal syllogism or substantial justice; in isolation or in the context of social conditions; harshly against or gently in favor of the voter's obvious choice. In applying elections laws, it would be far better to err in favor of popular sovereignty than to be right in complex but little understood legalisms. 48 WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the petition is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit. SO ORDERED.

Republic Act No. 9369 Amending RA 8436

January 23, 2007

AN ACT AMENDING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 8436, ENTITLED "AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS TO USE AN AUTOMATED ELECTION SYSTEM IN THE MAY 11, 1998 NATIONAL OR LOCAL ELECTIONS AND IN SUBSEQUENT NATIONAL AND LOCAL ELECTORAL EXERCISES, TO ENCOURAGE TRANSPARENCY, CREDIBILITY, FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY OF ELECTIONS, AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE BATAS PAMPANSA BLG. 881, AS AMEMDED, REPUBLIC ACT NO. 7166 AND OTHER RELATED ELECTIONS LAWS, PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES" Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the Philippines in Congress assembled: SECTION 1. Section 1 of Republic act No.8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SECTION 1.Declation of Policy. - It is policy of the State to ensure free, orderly, honest, peaceful, credible and informed elections, plebiscites, referenda, recall and other similar electoral exercises by improving on the election process and adopting systems, which shall involved the use of an automated election system that will ensure the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot and all election, consolidation and transmission documents on order that the process shall be transparent and credible and that the results shall be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people. "The State recognizes the mandate and authority of the Commission to prescribe adoption and use of the most suitable technology of demonstrated capability taking into account the situation prevailing in the area and the funds available for the purpose." SEC. 2. Section 2 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 2. Definition of Terms. - As used in this Act, the following terms shall mean: "1. Automated election system, hereinafter to as AES - a system using appropriate technology which has been demonstrated in the voting, counting, consolidating, canvassing, and transmission of election result, and other electoral process; "2. Electronic transmission - conveying data in electronic form from one location to other; "3. Official ballot - where AES is utilized, refers to the paper ballot, whether printed or generated by the technology applied, that faithfully captures or represents the votes cast by a voter recorded or to be recorded in electronic form; "4. Election returns - a document in electronic and printed form directly produced by the counting or voting machine, showing the date of the election, the province, municipality and the precinct in which it is held and the votes in figures for each candidate in a precinct in areas where AES is utilized; "5. Statement of votes - a document containing the votes obtained by candidates in each precinct in a city/municipality;

"6. City/municipal/district/provincial certificate of canvass - a document in electronic and printed form containing the total votes in figures obtained by each candidate in a city/municipality/district/province as the case may be. The electronic certificates of canvass shall be the official canvass result in the aforementioned jurisdictions; "7. Paper-based election system - a type of automated election system that use paper ballots, records and counts votes, tabulates, consolidates/canvasses and transmits electronically the results of the vote count;" "8. Direct recording electronic election system - a type or automated election system that uses electronic ballots, records, votes by means of a ballot display provided with mechanical or electro-optical component that can be activated by the voter, processes data by means of a computer programs, record voting data and ballot images, and transmits voting results electronically; "9. Counting center - a public places within the city/municipality or in such other places as may be designated by the Commission where the official ballots cast in various precincts of the city/municipality shall be counted. Polling places or voting centers may also be designated as counting centers; "10. Continuity plan - a list of contingency measures, and the policies for activation of such, that are put in place to ensure continuous operation of the AES; "11. Disabled voters - a person with impaired capacity to use the AES; "12. Source code - human readable instructions that define what the computer equipment will do; and "13. Station- refers to a polling place, counting center, municipal or provincial canvassing center." SEC. 3. Section 3 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC 3. Board of Election Inspectors. - Where AES shall be adopted, at least one member of the Board of Election Inspectors shall be an information technology-capable person, who is trained or certified by the DOST to use the EAS. Such certification shall be issued by the DOST, free of charge." SEC. 4. Section 4 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby deleted. The succeeding section are hereby renumbered accordingly. SEC. 5. Section 5 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 4 Information Technology Support for the Board of Canvassers. - To implement the AES, each board of canvassers shall be assisted by an information technology-capable person authorized to operate the equipment adopted for the elections. The Commission shall deputized information technology personnel from among the agencies and instrumentalities of the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations. The per diem of the deputized personnel shall be the same as that of the members of the board of canvassers." SEC. 6. Section 6 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows:

"SEC. 5 Authority to Use an Automated Election System. - To carry out the above-stated policy, the Commission on Elections, herein referred to as the Commission, is hereby authorized to use an automated election system or systems in the same election in different provinces, whether paper-based or a direct recording electronic election system as it may deem appropriate and practical for the process of voting, counting of votes and canvassing/consolidation and transmittal of results of electoral exercises: Provided, that for the regular national and local election, which shall be held immediately after effectivity of this Act, the AES shall be used in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, to be chosen by the Commission: Provided, further, That local government units whose officials have been the subject of administrative charges within sixteen (16) month prior to the May 14, 2007 election shall not be chosen: Provided, finally, That no area shall be chosen without the consent of the Sanggunian of the local government unit concerned. The term local government unit as used in this provision shall refer to a highly urbanized city or province. In succeeding regular national or local elections, the AES shall be implemented nationwide." SEC. 7. Section 7 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read the follows: "SEC.6. Minimum System Capabilities. - "The automated election system must at least have the following functional capabilities: (a) Adequate security against unauthorized access: (b) Accuracy in recording and reading of votes as well as in the tabulation, consolidation/canvassing, electronic transmission, and storage of results; (c) Error recovery in case of non-catastrophic failure of device; (d) System integrity which ensures physical stability and functioning of the vote recording and counting process; (e) Provision for voter verified paper audit trail; (f) System auditability which provides supporting documentation for verifying the correctness of reported election results; (g) An election management system for preparing ballots and programs for use in the casting and counting of votes and to consolidate, report and display election result in the shortest time possible; (h) Accessibility to illiterates and disable voters; (i) Vote tabulating program for election, referendum or plebiscite; (j) Accurate ballot counters; (k) Data retention provision; (l) Provide for the safekeeping, storing and archiving of physical or paper resource used in the election process;

(m) Utilize or generate official ballots as herein defined; (n) Provide the voter a system of verification to find out whether or not the machine has registered his choice; and (o) Configure access control for sensitive system data and function. "In the procurement of this system, the Commission shall develop and adopt an evaluation system to ascertain that the above minimum system capabilities are met. This evaluation system shall be developed with the assistance of an advisory council." SEC.8. A new Section 7 is hereby provided to read as follows: "SEC.7 Communication Channels for Electronic Transmissions. - all electronic transmissions by and among the EAS and its related components shall utilizes secure communication channels as recommended by the Advisory Council, to ensure authentication and integrity of transmission." SEC. 9. New section 8,9, 10 and 11 are hereby provided to read as follows: "SEC.8. The Advisory Council. - The Commission shall create an advisory Council, hereafter referred to as the Council, which shall be convened not later than eighteen (18) months prior to the next schedule electoral exercise, and deactivated six months after completion of canvassing: Provided, for purposes of the 2007 elections, the Advisory Council shall be immediately convened within ten (10) days after the effectivity of this Act. "The Council shall be composed of the following members, who must be registered Filipino voters, of known independence, competence and probity; "(a) The Chairman of the Commission on information and Communications Technology (CICT) who shall act as the chairman of the council; "(b) One member from the Department of Science and Technology; "(c) One member from the Department of Education; "(d) One member representing the academe, to be selected by the chair of the Advisory Council from among the list of nominees submitted by the country's academic institutions; "(e) Three members representing ICT professional organizations to be selected by the chair of the Advisory Council from among the list of nominees submitted by Philippines-based ICT professional organization. Nominees shall be individuals, at least one of whom shall be experience in managing or implementing large-scale IT projects. "(f) Two members representing nongovernmental electoral reform organizations, to be selected by the chair of the Advisory Council from among the list of nominees submitted by the country's nongovernmental electoral reform organizations. "A person who is affiliated with any political party or candidate for any national position, or is related to a candidate for any national position by affinity or consanguinity within the fourth civil degree, shall not be eligible for appointment or designation to the Advisory Council. Should

any such situation arise at any time during the incumbency of a member, the designation or appointment of that member, shall ipso facto be terminated. "Any member of the advisory council is prohibited from engaging, directly or indirectly, with any entity that advocates, markets, imports, produces or in any manner handles software, hardware or any equipment that may be used for election purposes for personal gain". "Any violation of the two immediate preceding paragraphs shall disqualify said member from the Advisory Council and shall be punishable as provided in this Act and shall be penalized in accordance with the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and other related laws. "The council may avail itself of the expertise and services of resource person who are known independence, competence and probity, are nonpartisan, and do not posses any of the disqualifications applicable to a member of the Advisory Council as provided herein. The resource persons shall also be subject to the same prohibitions and penalties as the members of the Advisory Council. "The commission on information and communications technology (CICT), shall include in its annual appropriation the funds necessary to enable the council to effectively perform its functions". "SEC. 9. Function of the Advisory Council. - the Council shall have the following functions: 1. Recommend the most appropriate, secure, applicable and cost-effective technology to be applied in the AES, in whole or in part, at that specific form in time. 2. Participate as nonvoting members of the Bids and Awards Committee in the conduct of the bidding process for the AES. Members of the Advisory Council representing the ICT Professionals organizations are hereby excluded from participating in any manner in the Bids and Awards Committee. 3. Participate as nonvoting members of the steering committee tasked with the implementation of the AES, Members of the Advisory Council representing the ICT professional organization are hereby excluded from participating in any manner in the steering committee. 4. Provide advice and assistance in the review of the systems planning, inception, development, testing, operationalization, and evaluation stages. 5. Provided advice and/or assistance in the identification, assessment and resolution of systems problems or inadequacies as may surface or resurface in the course of the bidding, acquisition, testing, operationalization, re-use, storage or disposition of the AES equipment and/or resources as the case may be. 6. Provided advice and/or assistance in the risk management of the AES especially when a contingency or disaster situation arises. 7. Prepare and submit a written report, which shall be submitted within six months from the date of the election to the oversight committee, evaluating the use of the AES.

Nothing in the role of the Council or any outside intervention or influence shall be construed as an abdication or diminution of the Commission's authority and responsibility for the effective development, management and implementation of the AES and this Act." The Advisory Council shall be entitled to a just and reasonable amount of per diem allowances and/orhonoraria to cover the expenses of the services rendered chargeable against the budget of the Commission." "SEC. 10. The Technical Evaluation Committee. - The Commission, in collaboration with the chairman of the Advisory Council, shall establish an independent technical evaluation committee, herein known as the Committee, composed of a representative each from the Commission, the Commission on Information and Communications Technology and the Department of Science and Technology who shall act as chairman of the Committee. "The Committee shall be immediately convened within ten (10) days after the effectively of this Act." "SEC. 11. Functions of the Technical Evaluation Committee. - The Committee shall certify, through an established international certification entity to be chosen by the Commission from the recommendations of the Advisory Council, not later than three months before the date of the electoral exercises, categorically stating that the AES, including its hardware and software components, is operating properly, securely, and accurately, in accordance with the provisions of this Act based, among others, on the following documented results: 1. The successful conduct of a field testing process followed by a mock election event in one or more cities/municipalities; 2. The successful completion of audit on the accuracy, functionally and security controls of the AES software; 3. The successful completion of a source code review; 4. A certification that the source code is kept in escrow with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas; 5. A certification that the source code reviewed is one and the same as that used by the equipment; and 6. The development, provisioning, and operationalization of a continuity plan to cover risks to the AES at all points in the process such that a failure of elections, whether at voting, counting or consolidation, may be avoided. For purposes of the 2007 elections, the certification shall be done not later than eight weeks prior to the date of the elections. "If the Commission decides to proceed with the use of the AES without the Committee's certification, it must submit its reason in writing, to the Oversight Committee, no less than thirty (30) days prior to the electoral exercise where the AES will be used. "The Committee may avail itself of the expertise and service of resource persons who are of known independence, competence and probity, are no partisan, and who do not possess any of the disqualification applicable to a member of the Advisory Council as provided herein. The

resource persons shall also be subject to the same prohibitions and penalties as the members of the Advisory Council. "The Committee shall closely coordinate with the steering committee of the Commission tasked with the implementation of the AES in the identification and agreement of the project deliverables and timelines, and in the formulation of the acceptance criteria for each deliverable." SEC. 10. Section 8 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follow: "SEC.12. Procurement of Equipment and Materials. - To achieve the purpose of this Act, the Commission in authorized to procure, in accordance with existing laws, by purchase, lease, rent or other forms of acquisition, supplies, equipment, materials, software, facilities, and other service, from local or foreign sources free from taxes and import duties, subject to accounting and auditing rules and regulation. With respect to the May 10, 2010 election and succeeding electoral exercises, the system procured must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or board. Participation in the 2007 pilot exercise shall not be conclusive of the system's fitness. "In determining the amount of any bid from a technology, software or equipment supplier, the cost to the government of its deployment and implementation shall be added to the bid price as integral thereto. The value of any alternative use to which such technology, software or equipment can be put for public use shall not be deducted from the original face value of the said bid." SEC. 11. Section 9 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follow: "SEC.13. Continuity Plan. - The AES shall be so designed to include a continuity plan in case of a systems breakdown or any such eventuality which shall result in the delay, obstruction or nonperformance of the electoral process. Activation of such continuity and contingency measures shall be undertaken in the presence of representatives of political parties and citizen's arm of the Commission who shall be notified by the election officer of such activation. "All political parties and party-lists shall be furnished copies of said continuity plan at their official addresses as submitted to the Commission. The list shall be published in at least two newspaper of national of circulation and shall be posted at the website of the Commission at least fifteen (15) days prior to the electoral activity concerned." SEC. 12. Section 10 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC.14. Examination and Testing of Equipment or Device of the AES and Opening of the Source Code for Review. - The Commission shall allow the political parties and candidates or their representatives, citizens' arm or their representatives to examine and test. "The equipment or device to be used in the voting and counting on the day of the electoral exercise, before voting start. Test ballots and test forms shall be provided by the Commission. "Immediately after the examination and testing of the equipment or device, parties and candidates or their representatives, citizen's arms or their representatives, may submit a written comment to the election officer who shall immediately transmit it to the Commission for appropriate action.

"The election officer shall keep minutes of the testing, a copy of which shall be submitted to the Commission together with the minute of voting." "Once an AES technology is selected for implementation, the Commission shall promptly make the source code of that technology available and open to any interested political party or groups which may conduct their own review thereof." SEC. 13. Section 11 of republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC.15. Official Ballot. - The Commission shall prescribe the format of the electronic display and/or the size and form of the official ballot, which shall contain the titles of the position to be filled and/or the proposition to be voted upon in an initiative, referendum or plebiscite. Where practicable, electronic displays must be constructed to present the names of all candidates for the same position in the same page or screen, otherwise, the electronic displays must be constructed to present the entire ballot to the voter, in a series of sequential pages, and to ensure that the voter sees all of the ballot options on all pages before completing his or her vote and to allow the voter to review and change all ballot choices prior to completing and casting his or her ballot. Under each position to be filled, the names of candidates shall be arranged alphabetically by surname and uniformly indicated using the same type size. The maiden or married name shall be listed in the official ballot, as preferred by the female candidate. Under each proposition to be vote upon, the choices should be uniformly indicated using the same font and size. "A fixed space where the chairman of the board of election inspector shall affix her/her signature to authenticate the official ballot shall be provided. "For this purpose, the Commission shall set the deadline for the filing of certificate of candidacy/petition of registration/manifestation to participate in the election. Any person who files his certificate of candidacy within this period shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy: Provided, That, unlawful acts or omissions applicable to a candidate shall effect only upon that start of the aforesaid campaign period: Provided, finally, That any person holding a public appointive office or position, including active members of the armed forces, and officers, and employees in government-owned or-controlled corporations, shall be considered ipso factor resigned from his/her office and must vacate the same at the start of the day of the filing of his/her certification of candidacy. "Political parties may hold political conventions to nominate their official candidate within thirty (30) days before the start of the period for filing certificate of candidacy. "With respect to a paper-based election system, the official ballots shall be printed by the National Printing Office and/or the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas at the price comparable with that of private printers under proper security measures which the Commission shall adopt. The Commission may contact the services of private printers upon certification by the National Printing Office/Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas that it cannot meet the printing requirements. Accredited political parties and deputized citizen's arms of the Commission shall assign watchers in the printing, storage and distribution of official ballots. "To prevent the use of fake ballots, the Commission through the Committee shall ensure that the necessary safeguards, such as, but not limited to, bar codes, holograms, color shifting ink, microprinting, are provided on the ballot.

"The official ballots shall be printed and distributed to each city/municipality at the rate of one ballot for every registered voter with a provision of additional three ballots per precinct." SEC. 14. Section 13 of republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 17. Ballot box. - Where applicable, there shall be in each precinct on election day a ballot box with such safety features that the Commission may prescribe and of such size as to accommodate the official ballots." SEC. 15. Section 14 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 18. Procedure in voting. - The Commission shall prescribe the manner and procedure of voting, which can be easily understood and followed by the voters, taking into consideration, among other things, the secrecy of the voting." SEC. 16. Section 15 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 19. Closing of polls.- The Commission shall prescribe the time, manner and procedure of closing the polls and the steps for the correct reporting of votes cast and the proper conduct of counting for areas covered by the AES." SEC. 17. Section 16 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 20. Notice of Designation of Counting Centers. - The election officer shall post prominently in his/her office, in the bulletin boards at the city/municipal hall and in three other conspicuous places in the city/municipality, the notice on the designated counting center(s) for at least three weeks prior to election day. The notice shall specify the precincts covered by each counting center and the number of registered voters in each of said precincts. The election officer shall also furnish a copy of the notice to the headquarters or official address of the political parties or independent candidates within the same period. The election officer shall post in the Commission website concerned the said notice and publish the notice in the local newspaper. Where the polling place or voting center is also the designated counting center, such information shall be contained in the notice. "The Commission may not designate as counting center any building or facility located within the premises of a camp, reservation compound, headquarters, detachment, or field office of the military, police, prison or detention bureau, or any law enforcement or investigation agency." SEC. 18. Section 17 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 21. Counting procedure. - The Commission shall prescribe the manner and procedure of counting the votes under the automated system: Provided, that apart from the electronically stored result, thirty (30) copies of the election return are printed." SEC. 19. Section 18 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 22. Electronic Returns. - Each copy of the of the printed election returns shall bear appropriate control marks to determine the time and place of printing. Each copy shall be signed and thumbmarked by all the members of the board of election inspectors and the watchers present. If any member of the board of election inspectors present refuses to sign,

the chairman of the board shall note the same copy in each copy of the printed election returns. The member of the board of election inspectors concerned refusing to sign shall be compelled to explain his or her refusal to do so. Failure to explain an unjustifiable refusal to sign each copy of the printed election return by any member of the board of election inspectors shall be punishable as provided in this Act. The chairman of the boards shall then publicly read and announce the total numbers of registered voters, the total number of voters who actually voted and the total numbers of votes obtained by each candidate based on the election returns. "Thereafter, the copies of the election returns shall be sealed and placed in the proper envelopes for distribution as follows: "A. In the election of president, vice-president, senators and party-list system; 1) The first copy shall be delivered to the city or municipal board of canvassers; 2) The second copy, to the congress, directed to the President of the Senate; 3) The third copy, to the commission; 4) The fourth copy, to the citizen's arm authorized by the Commission to conduct an unofficial count 5) The fifth copy, to the dominant majority party as determined by the Commission in accordance with law; 6) The six copy, to the dominant minority party as determined by the Commission in accordance with law; and 7) The seventh copy shall be deposited inside the compartment of the ballot box for valid ballots. 8) The eight copy to the Provincial Board of canvassers; 9) The ninth to the eighteenth copies, shall be given to the ten (10) accredited major national parties, excluding the dominant majority and minority parties, in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the Commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies on the basis of the criteria provided in Section 26 of Republic Act No. 7166; 10) The nineteenth and twentieth copies, to the two accredited major local parties in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies on the basis of criteria analogous to that provided in Section 26 of Republic Act No. 7166; 11) The twenty-first to the twenty-fourth copies, to national broadcast or print media entities as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible;

12) The twenty-fifth and twenty-six copies, to local broadcast or print media entities as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; and 13) The twenty-seventh to the thirtieth copies, to the major citizen's arms, including the accredited citizen's arm, and other non-partisan groups or organization enlisted by the Commission pursuant to Section 52(k) of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881. Such citizens' arm, groups and organization may use the four certified copies of election returns for the conduct of citizens' quick counts at the local or national levels; "B. In the election of local officials and members of the House of Representatives: 1) The First copy shall be delivered to the city or municipal board of canvassers; 2) The second copy, to the Commission; 3) The third copy, to the provincial board of canvassers; 4) The fourth copy, to the citizens' arm authorized by the Commission to conduct an unofficial count; 5) The fifth copy, to the dominant majority party as determined by the Commission in accordance with law; 6) The sixth copy, to the dominant minority party as determined by the Commission in accordance with law; and 7) The seventh copy shall be deposited inside the copy shall deposited inside the compartment of the ballot box for valid ballots. 8) The eight copy to be posted conspicuously on a wall within the premises of the polling place or counting center; 9) The ninth to the eighteenth copies, shall be given to the ten (10) accredited major national parties, excluding the dominant majority and minority parties, in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the Commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies on the basis of the criteria provided in Section 26 of Republic Act No. 7166; 10) The nineteenth and twentieth copies shall be given to the two accredited major local parties in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the Commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies on the basis of criteria analogous to that provided in Section 26 of republic Act No. 7166; 11) The twenty-first to the twenty-fifth copies, to national broadcast or print media entities as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; 12) The twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh copies, to local broadcast or print media entities as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; and

13) The twenty-eighth to the thirtieth copies to the major citizens' arms, including the accredited citizens' arm, and other non-partisan groups or organization enlisted by the Commission pursuant to section 52(k) of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881. Such citizens' arms, groups and organization may use the five certified copies of election returns for the conduct of citizens' quick counts at the local or national levels. "Immediately after the eight copy is printed, the poll clerk shall announce the posting of said copy on a wall within the premises of the polling place or counting center, which must be sufficiently lighted and accessible to the public. Any person may view or capture an image of the election return by means of any data capturing device such as, but not limited to cameras at any time of the day for forty-eight (48) hours following its posting. After such period, the chairman of the board of election inspectors shall detach the election return from the wall and keep the same in his custody to be produced as may be requested by any voter for image or data capturing or for any lawful purpose as may be ordered by competent authority. "Within one hour after the printing of the election returns, the chairman of the board of election inspectors or any official authorized by the Commission shall, in the presence of watchers and representatives of the accredited citizens' arm, political parties/candidates, if any, electronically transmit the precinct results to the respective levels of board of canvassers, to the dominant majority and minority party, to the accredited citizen's arm, and to the Kapisanan ng mga Brodcaster ng Pilipinas (KBP). "The election results at the city/municipality canvassing centers shall be transmitted in the same manner by the election officer or any official authorized by the commission to the district or provincial canvassing centers. "The election returns transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as the basis for the canvassing of votes and the proclamation of a candidate." "After the electronic results have been transmitted additional copies not to exceed thirty (30) may be printed and given to requesting parties at their own expense." SEC. 20. Section 21 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 25. Canvassing by Provincial, City, District and Municipal Boards of Canvassers. - The City or Municipal board of canvassers shall canvass the votes for the president, vice-president, senators, and parties, organization or coalitions participating under the party-list system by consolidating the electronically transmitted results contained in the data storage devices used in the printing of the election returns. Upon completion of the canvass, it shall print the certificate of canvass of votes for president, vice-president, senators and members of the House of Representatives and elective provincial officials and thereafter, proclaim the elected city or municipal officials, as the case may be. "The city board of canvassers of cities comprising one or more legislative districts shall canvass the votes for president, vice-president, senators, members of the House Representatives and elective city officials by consolidating the certificates of canvass electronically transmitted or the results contained in the data storage devices used in the printing of the election returns. Upon completion of the canvass, the board shall procedure the canvass of votes for president, vice-president, and senators thereafter, proclaim the elected members of the House of Representatives and city officials.

"In the Metro Manila area, each municipality comprising a legislative district shall have a district board of canvassers which shall canvass the votes for president, vice-president, senators, members of the House of Representatives and elective municipal officials by consolidating the electronically transmitted results or the results contained in the data storage devices used in the printing of the election returns. Upon completion of the canvass, it shall produce the certificate of canvass of votes for president, vice-president, and senators and thereafter, proclaim the elected members of the House Representatives and municipal officials. "Each component municipality in a legislative district in the Metro Manila area shall have a municipal board of canvassers which shall canvass the votes for president, vice-president, senators, members of the house of Representatives and elective municipal officials by consolidating the results electronically transmitted from the counting centers or the results contained in the data storage devices used in the printing of the election returns. Upon completion of the canvass, it shall prepare the certificate of canvass of votes for president, vice-president, senators, members of the House of Representatives and thereafter, proclaim the elected municipal officials. "The district board of canvassers of each legislative district comprising two municipalities in the Metro Manila area shall canvass the votes for president, vice-president, senators and members of the House of Representatives by consolidating the certificates of canvass electronically transmitted from the city/municipal consolidating centers or the results contained in the data storage devices submitted by the municipal board of canvassers of the component municipalities. Upon completion of the canvass. It shall produce a certificate of the canvass votes for president, vice-president, senators and thereafter, proclaim the elected members of the House of Representatives in the legislative district. "The district/provincial board of canvassers shall canvass the votes for president, vicepresident, senators, members of the House of Representatives and elective provincial officials by consolidating the results electronically transmitted from the city/municipal consolidating centers or the results contained in the data storage devices submitted by the board of canvassers of the municipalities and component cities. Upon completion of the canvass, it shall produce the certificates of canvass votes for president, vice-president and senators and thereafter, proclaim the elected members of the House of Representatives and the provincial official. "The municipal, city, district and provincial certificates of canvass of votes shall each be supported by a statement of votes. "Within one hour after the canvassing, the Chairman of the district or provincial Board of Canvassers or the city board of canvassers of those cities which comprise one or more legislative districts shall electronically transmit the certificate of canvass to the commission sitting as the national board of canvassers for senators and party-list representatives and to the Congress as the National Board of Canvassers for the president and vice president, directed to the President of the Senate. "The Commission shall adopt adequate and effective measures to preserve the integrity of the certificates of canvass transmitted electronically and the results in the storage devices at the various levels of the boards of canvassers. "The certificates of canvass transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as the basis for the proclamation of a winning candidate."

SEC. 21. Section 22 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 26. Number of Copies of Certificates of Canvass of Votes and their distribution. - (a) The certificate of canvass of votes for president, vice-president, senators, members of the House of Representatives, parties, organization or coalitions participating under the party-list system and elective provincial officials shall be produced by the city or municipal board of canvassers and distributed as follows: "(1) The first copy shall be delivered to the provincial board of canvassers for use in the canvass of election results for president, vice-president, senators, members of the House of Representatives, parties, organization or coalitions participating under the party-list system and elective provincial officials; "(2) The second copy shall be sent to the Commission; "(3) The third copy shall be kept by the chairman of the board; and "(4) The fourth copy shall be given to the citizen arm designated by the Commission to conduct an unofficial count. It shall be the duty of the citizens' arm to furnish independent candidates' copies of the certificate of canvass at the expense of the requesting party. "(5) The fifth copy to Congress, directed to the President of Senate; "(6) The sixth copy to be posted on a wall within the premises of the canvassing center; "(7) The seventh and eighth copies shall be given to the dominant majority and minority parties; "(8) The ninth to eighteenth copies shall be given to the ten (10) accredited major national parties, excluding the dominant majority and minority parties, in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the Commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies on the basis of the criteria provided in Section 26 of Republic Act no. 7166; "(9) The nineteenth and twentieth copies shall be given to the two accredited major local parties in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the Commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies on the basis of criteria analogous to that provided in Section 26 of Republic Act No. 7166; "(10) The twenty-first to the twenty-fifth copies to national broadcast or print media entities as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; "(11) The twenty-six and twenty-seven copies, to local broadcast or print media entities as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; and "(12) The twenty-eighth to the thirtieth copies, to the major citizens' arms, including the accredited citizens' arm, and other non-partisan groups or organizations enlisted by the commission pursuant to Section 52(k) of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881. Such citizens' arms,

groups and organization may use the three certified copies of election returns for the conduct of citizens' quick counts at the local or national levels; "The board of canvassers shall furnish all other registered parties copies of the certificate of canvass at the expense of the requesting party. "(b) The certificate of canvass of votes for president, vice-president and senators, parties, organization or coalitions participating under the party-list system shall be produced by the city boards of canvassers of cities comprising one or more legislative districts, by provincial boards of canvassers and by district boards of canvassers in the Metro Manila area, and other highly urbanized areas and distributed as follows: "(1) The first copy shall be sent to congress , directed to the president of the Senate for use in the canvass of election results for president and vice-president; "(2) The second copy shall be sent to the Commission for use in the canvass of the election results for senators; "(3) The third copy shall be kept the chairman of the board; and "(4) The fourth copy shall be given to the citizens' arm designated by the Commission to conduct an unofficial count. It shall be the duty of the citizens' arm to furnish independent candidates copies of the certificate of canvass at the expense of the requesting party. "(5) The fifth copy to Congress, directed to the President of the Senate; "(6) The six copy to be posted on a wall within the premises of the canvassing center; "(7) The seventh and eight copies to the dominant majority and minority parties; "(8) The ninth and tenth copies to two accredited major national parties representing the majority and minority, excluding the dominant majority and minority parties, to be determined by the Commission on the basis of the criteria provided in Section 26 of Republic Act No. 7166; "(9) The eleventh to thirteenth copies to broadcast media entities as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; and "(10) The fourteenth copy to another citizens' arm or in the absence thereof, to a non-partisan group or organization enlisted by the Commission pursuant to Section 52(k) of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881. Such citizens' arm or non-partisan group or organization may use the copy of election return for the conduct of citizens' quick counts at the local or national levels. "The board of canvassers shall furnish all other registered parties copies of the certificate of canvass at the expense of the requesting party. "(c) The certificates of canvass printed by the provincial, district, city or municipal boards of canvassers shall be signed and thumb marked by the chairman and members of the board and the principal watchers, if available. Thereafter, it shall be sealed and placed inside an envelope which shall likewise be properly sealed.

"In all instances, where the board of Canvassers has the duty to furnish registered political parties with copies of the certificate of canvass, the pertinent election returns shall be attached thereto, where appropriate." "Immediately after the six copy and its supporting statement of votes are printed, the chairman of the board of canvassers shall announce the posting of said prints on a wall within the premises of the canvassing center, which must be sufficiently lighted and accessible to the public. Any person may view or capture an image of the Certificate of Canvass or the supporting statement of votes by means of any data capturing device such as, but not limited to, cameras at any time of the day for forty-eight (48) hours following the posting. After such period, the chairman of the board of canvassers shall detach the election return from the wall and keep the same in his custody to be produced as may be requested by any voter for image or data capturing or for any lawful purpose as may be ordered by competent authority." SEC. 22. Section 23 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 27. National Board of Canvassers for Senators and Party-List Representatives. - The chairman and members of the Commission on Election sitting en banc, shall compose the national board of canvassers for senators and party-list representatives. It shall canvass the results by consolidating the certificates of canvass electronically transmitted. Thereafter, the national board shall proclaim the winning candidates for senators and party-list representatives." SEC. 23. Section 24 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 28. Congress as the National Board of Canvassers for President and Vice-President. The Senate and the House of Representatives in joint public session shall compose the national board of canvassers for president and vice-president. The certificate of canvass for president and vice-president duly certified by the board of canvassers of each province or city, shall be electronically transmitted to the Congress, directed to the president of the Senate. Upon receipt of the certificates of canvass, the President of the Senate shall, not later than thirty (30) days after the day of the election, open all the certificates in the presence of the Senate and the House of representatives in joint public session and the Congress upon determination of the authenticity and the due execution thereof in the manner provided by law, canvass all the results for president and vice-president and thereafter, proclaim the winning candidates." SEC. 24. A new Section 29 is hereby provided to reads as follows: "SEC 29. Random Manual Audit. - Where the AES is used, there shall be a random manual audit in one precinct per congressional district randomly chosen by the Commission in each province and city. Any difference between the automated and manual count will result in the determination of root cause and initiate a manual count for those precincts affected by the computer or procedural error." SEC. 25. A new Section 30 is hereby provided to read as follows: "Sec. 30. Authentication of Electronically Transmitted Election Results. - The manner of determining the authenticity and due execution of the certificates shall conform with the provisions of Republic Act No. 7166 as may be supplement or modified by the provision of this Act, where applicable, by appropriate authentication and certification procedures for electronic

signatures as provided in Republic Act No. 8792 as well as the rules promulgated by the Supreme Court pursuant thereto." SEC. 26. Section 25 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to reads as follows: "SEC. 31. Stakeholder education and training. - The Commission shall, not later than six months before the actual automated election exercise, undertake a widespread stakeholder education and training program, through newspaper of general circulation, radio, television and other media forms, as well as through seminars, symposia, fora and other nontraditional means, to educate the public and fully inform the electorate about the AES and inculcate values on honest, peaceful, orderly and informed elections. "Such program shall ensure the acceptance and readiness of the following stakeholders to understand and appreciate the benefits of the AES: 1. General public/voters; 2. Commission's staff; 3. Department of Education, Department of Finance (municipal, city and provincial treasurers) and all other government agencies who will play a role in the electoral exercise; 4. Local government officials (provincial, municipal, barangay levels); 5. Incumbent elected officials in the legislative and executive departments; 6. Political parties and candidates; 7. Members of the military and police. "The general public or voters training will focus on building the capability to use the automated system to cast their vote, as well as general appreciation of the AES. All other stakeholders mentioned above will receive additional information in order to build a deeper understanding of the voting, counting, canvassing procedures, so that they may act as advocates of he AES. "The Commission together with and in support of accredited citizens' arms shall carry out a continuing and systematic campaign through newspaper of general circulation, radio and other media forms, as well as through seminars, symposia, fora and other nontraditional means to educate the public and fully inform the electorate about the AES and inculcate values on honest, peaceful and orderly election." SEC. 27. Section 27 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: SEC. 33. Joint Congressional Oversight Committee. - An Oversight Committee is hereby created composed of seven members each from the Senate and the House of Representatives, four of whom shall come from the majority and three from the minority, to monitor and evaluate the implementation of this Act. A written report to the Senate and the House of Representatives shall be submitted by the Advisory Council within six months from the date of election. The oversight committee shall conduct a mandatory review of this Act every twelve (12) months from the date of the last regular national or local elections."

"The oversight committee shall conduct a comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the performance of the different AES technologies implemented and shall make appropriate recommendations to Congress, in session assembled, specifically including the following: 1. An assessment and comparison of each of the AES technologies utilized, including their strengths, weakness, applicability or inapplicability in specific areas and situations; 2. An evaluation of their accuracy through a comparison of a random sample of the AES election results with a manual tabulation, and the conduct of similar tests; 3. As to the scope of AES implementation in the subsequent elections, provide for recommendations as to whether any of the following should be adopted: "a. Further test application of the AES or a particular AES technology used in the 2007 elections, whether in the same or others areas; "b. An increase or enlargement of areas for implementation of the AES or an AES technology and not a full implementation; or "c. A full implementation of the AES. 4. As to the kind of AES technology, provide for proposals as to whether: a) A particular AES technology should no longer be utilized for being obsolete, inapplicable, inaccurate or with a defect which cannot be remedied; b) An enhancement or improvement is needed to an AES technology which was used in the 2007 election to make it more functional, appropriate and accurate; c) A particular AES technology is already appropriate and should be utilized fully for subsequent election; or d) The testing or adoption of new technologies which may have emerged after the 2007 elections is needed." SEC. 28. Section 29 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 35. Prohibited Acts and Penalties. - The following shall be penalized as provided in this Act, whether or not said acts affect the electoral process or results: "(a) Utilizing without authorization, tampering with, damaging, destroying or stealing: "(1) Official ballots, election returns, and certificates of canvass of votes used in the system; and "(2) Electronic devices or their components, peripherals or supplies used in the AES such as counting machine, memory pack/diskette, memory pack receiver and computer set;

"(b) Interfering with, impeding, absconding for purpose of gain, preventing the installation or use of computer counting devices and the processing, storage, generation and transmission of election results, data or information; "(c) Gaining or causing access to using, altering, destroying or disclosing any computer data, program, system software, network, or any computer-related devices, facilities, hardware or equipment, whether classified or declassified; "(d) Refusal of the citizens' arm to present for perusal its copy of election return to the board of canvassers; "(e) Presentation by the citizens' arm of tampered or spurious election returns; "(f) Refusal or failure to provide the dominant majority and dominant minority parties or the citizens'' arm their copy of election returns; and "(g) The failure to post the voters' list within the specified time, duration and in the designated location shall constitute an election offense on the part the election officer concerned." "Any person convicted for violation of this Act, except those convicted of the crime of electoral sabotage, shall be penalized with imprisonment of eight years and one day to twelve (12) years without possibility of parole, and perpetual disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage. Moreover, the offender shall be perpetually disqualified to hold any non-elective public office." SEC. 29. Section 30 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 36. Applicability. - The provision of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, as amended, otherwise known as the 'Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines', and other election laws not inconsistent with this Act shall apply." SEC. 30. Section 31 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 37. Rules and Regulations. - The Commission shall promulgate rules and regulation for the implementation and enforcement of this Act. "Notwithstanding the foregoing canvassing procedure, the Commission is authorized to prescribe other manner or procedure for the canvassing and consolidation of votes as technology evolves, subject to the provisions of Section 7 hereof on the minimum capabilities of the AES and other pertinent laws." SEC. 31. Section 25 of Republic Act No. 7166 is hereby amended to read as follows: "Sec 25. Manner of Counting Votes. - In addition to the requirement in the fourth paragraph of Section 12 of the Republic Act No. 6646 and Section 210 of the Omnibus Election Code, in reading the official ballots during the counting, the chairman, the poll clerk and the third member shall assume such positions as to provide the watchers and the members of the public as may be conveniently accommodated in the polling place, an unimpeded view of the ballot being ready by the chairman, of the election return and the tally board being simultaneously accomplished by the, poll clerk and the third member respectively, without touching any of these election documents. The table shall be cleared of all unnecessary writing

paraphernalia. Any violation of this requirement shall constitute an election offense punishable under Section 263 and 264 the Omnibus Election Code. "The chairman shall first read the votes for national positions. "Any violation of this Section, or its pertinent portion, shall constitute an election offense and shall be penalized in accordance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 881. Sec. 32. Section 212 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881 as amended, is hereby to read as follows: "SEC. 212. Election Returns. - The board of election inspectors shall prepare the election returns simultaneously with the counting of votes in the polling places as prescribe in Section 210 hereof. The recording of vote shall be made as prescribed in said section. The entry of votes in words and figures for each candidate shall be closed with the signature and the clear imprint of the thumbmark of the right hand of all the members, likewise to be affixed in full view of the public, immediately after the last vote recorded or immediately after the name of the candidate who did not receive any vote." "The returns shall also show the date of the election, the polling place, the barangay and the city or municipality in which it was held, the total number of ballots found in the compartment for valid ballots, the total number of valid ballots withdrawn from the compartment for spoiled ballots because they were erroneously placed therein, the total number of excess ballots, the total number of marked or void ballots, and the total numbers of votes obtained by each candidate, writing out the said number in words and figures and, at the end thereof, the board of election inspectors shall certify that the contents are correct. The returns shall be accomplished in a single sheet of paper, but if this is not possible, additional sheets may be used which shall be prepared in the same manner as the first sheet and likewise certified by the board of election inspectors." "The commission shall take steps so that the entries on the first copy of the election returns are clearly reproduced on the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth copies thereof, and for the purpose this Commission shall use a special kind of paper." "Immediately upon the accomplishment of the election return for national position, the poll clerk shall announce the posting of the second copy of the election return on a wall with sufficient lighting within the premises of the polling place or counting center. He shall then proceed to do the same in the presence of the other members of the Board, the watchers and those present in the polling place or counting center. Without delay and, when feasible, he shall secure an image of the election return using a secured data capturing device and immediately thereafter, while in the premises of the polling place or counting center, directly print thirty (30) copies of the election return. Once the prints have been produced, the poll clerk shall call the other members of the board to authenticate each print copy by closely comparing the same with the election return posted on the wall in the presence of the watchers and within view of the public. If the Board finds each print a faithful reproduction of the election return, all members thereof shall annotate and sign a certification to that effect on the bottom front of the print. "Each certified printed copy shall be placed in an envelope and distributed as herein provided. Designated recipients of the certified print copies may receive their copies at the polling place or counting center.

"Immediately upon the accomplishment of the election returns for local position, the second copy of the same shall be posted on a wall with sufficient lighting within the premises of the polling place. "The other copies of election returns for both national and local position shall be sealed in the presence of the watchers and the public, and placed in the proper envelope, which shall likewise be sealed and distributed as herein provided." "Any election return with a separately printed serial number or which bears a different serial number from that assigned to the particular polling place concerned shall not be canvassed. This is to be determined by the board canvassers prior to its canvassing on the basis of the certification of the provincial, city or municipal treasurer as to the serial number of the election return assigned to said voting precinct, unless the Commission shall order in writing for its canvassing, stating the reason for the variance in serial numbers." "If the signatures and/or thumbmarks of the members of the board of election inspectors or some of them as required in this provision are missing in the election returns, the board of canvassers may summon the members of the board of election inspectors concerned to complete the returns. "The citizen's arm is mandated to present for perusal its copy of the election return to the board of election canvassers upon the request of any interested candidate. "Any violation of this election or its pertinent portion, shall constitute an election offense and shall be penalized in accordance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 881 "In addition, the following shall likewise be guilty of an election offense: "(a) Any Person who removes the election return posted on the wall, whether within or after the prescribed forty-eight (48) hours of posting, or defaces the same in any manner; "(b) Any person who simulates an actual election return, or a print or digital copy thereof; "(c) Any person who simulates the certification in a print of an election return; "(d) The chairman or any member of the board of election inspectors who, during the prescribe period of posting, removes the election return from the wall on which it had been posted other than for the purpose of immediately transferring it to a more suitable place; "(e) The chairman or any member of the board of election inspectors who signs or authenticates a print of the election return outside of the polling place; and "(f) The chairman or any member of the board of election inspectors who signs or authenticates a print which bears an image different from the election return produced after counting and posted on the wall." SEC. 33. Section 27 of Republic Act No. 7166, as amended by Republic Act No. 8045 and Republic Act No. 8173 is hereby further amended to read as follows: SEC. 27. Number of Copies of Election Returns and their Distribution. - The board of election inspectors shall prepare in handwriting the election returns in their respective polling place, in

the number of copies herein provided and in the form to be prescribed and provided by the Commission. "The copies of election returns shall be distributed by the chairman of the board of election inspectors as follows: "(a) In the election of president, vice-president, senators and members of the House of Representatives including the party-list representatives: "(1) The first copy shall be delivered to the city or municipal board of canvassers; "(2) The second copy to be posted on a wall within the premises of the polling place; "(3) The third copy, to the congress, directed to the President of the Senate; "(4) The fourth copy. to the Commission; "(5) The fifth copy, to the dominant majority party as determined by the Commission in accordance with law; "(6) The sixth copy, to the dominant minority party as determined by the Commission in accordance with law; "(7) The seventh copy, to a citizens' authorized by the Commission to conduct an unofficial count:Provided, however, That the accreditation of the citizens' arm shall be subject to the provision of Section 52(k) of Batas Pambansa Bldg. 881; and "(8) The eight copy shall be deposited inside the compartment of the ballot box for valid ballots; and "(b) In the election of local officials; "(1) The First copy shall be delivered to the city or municipal board of canvassers; "(2) The second copy to be posted on a wall within the premises of the polling place; "(3) The third copy, to the Commission; "(4) The fourth copy, to the provincial board of canvassers; "(5) The fifth copy, to the dominant majority party as determined by the Commission in accordance with law; "(6) The sixth copy, to the dominant minority party as determined by the Commission in accordance with law; "(7) The seventh copy, to a citizens' authorized by the Commission to conduct an unofficial count:Provided, however, That the accreditation of the citizens' arm shall be subject to the provisions of Section 52(k) of Batas Pambansa Bldg. 881; and

"(8) The eighth copy shall be deposited inside the compartment of the ballot box for valid votes. "The copy of the election return posted on the wall shall be open for public viewing at any time of the day for forty-eight (48) hours following its posting. Any person may view or capture an image of the election return by means of any data capturing device such as, but not limited to, cameras at any time of the day for forty-eight (48) hours following its posting. After the prescribed period for posting, the chairman of the board of election inspectors shall collect the posted election returns and keep the same in his custody to be produced for image or data capturing as may be requested by any voter or any lawful purpose as may be ordered by competent authority. "Except for those copies that are required to be delivered, copies of election returns may be claimed at the polling place. Any unclaimed copy shall be brought by the chairman of the board of election inspectors to the canvassing center where the recipients or their representatives may claim them. Copies still unclaimed at the canvassing center shall be deemed placed in the custody of the chairman of the board of election inspectors, who shall produce them when requested by the recipient or when ordered by a competent authority. "The Thirty (30) certified print copies of the election return for national positions shall be distributed as follows: "(a) The first fourteen (14) copies shall be given to the fourteen (14) accredited major national parties in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the Commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies on the basis of the criteria provided in Section 26 hereof; "(b) The next three copies shall be given to the three accredited major local parties in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the Commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies on the basis of criteria analogous to that provided in Section 26 Hereof; "(c) The next five copies shall be given to national broadcast or print media entities as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; "(d) The next two copies shall be given to local broadcast or print media entities as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; "(e) The next four copies to the major citizens' arms, including the accredited citizens' arms and other non-partisan groups or organizations enlisted by the Commission pursuant to Section 52(k) of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881; "(f) The next copy to be placed inside the compartment of the ballot box for valid ballots; and "(g) The last copy to the provincial board of canvassers." "The certified print copies may be claimed at the polling place. Any unclaimed copy shall be brought by the chairman of the board of election inspectors to the canvassing center where the recipients or representatives may claim them. Copies still unclaimed at the canvassing center

shall be placed in the custody of the chairman of the board election inspectors, who shall produce them when requested by the recipient or when ordered by a competent authority. "Any provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, any of the recipients of the print or digital copies of the election return may conduct an unofficial consolidation of votes and may announce the result to the public. "The Commission shall post its digital files in its website for the public to view or download at any time of the day. The Commission shall maintain the files at least three years from the date of posting. "Any violation of this section, or its pertinent portion, shall constitute an election offense and shall be penalized in accordance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 881; SEC. 34. Sec. 26 of Republic Act No. 7166 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 26. Official Watchers. - Every registered political party or coalition of political parties, and every candidate shall each be entitled to one watcher in every polling place and canvassing center: ProvidedThat, candidates for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Sangguniang Panlunsod, or Sangguniang Bayan belonging to the same slate or ticket shall collectively be entitled to only one watcher. "The dominant majority party and dominant minority party, which the Commission shall determine in accordance with law, shall each be entitled to one official watcher who shall be paid a fixed per diem of four hundred pesos (400,00). "There shall also recognized six principal watchers, representing the six accredited major political parties excluding the dominant majority and minority parties, who shall be designated by the Commission upon nomination of the said parties. These political parties shall be determined by the Commission upon notice and hearing on the basis of the following circumstances: "(a) The established record of the said parties, coalition of groups that now composed them, taking into account, among other things, their showing in past election; "(b) The number of incumbent elective officials belonging to them ninety (90) days before the date of election; "c) Their identifiable political organizations and strengths as evidenced by their organized/chapters; "(d) The ability to fill a complete slate of candidates from the municipal level to the position of President; and "(e) Other analogous circumstances that may determine their relative organizations and strengths." Sec. 35. Section. 206 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC. 206 Counting to be Public and without Interruption. - As soon as the voting is finished, the board of election inspectors shall publicly count in the polling place the votes cast and

ascertain the results. The board may rearrange the physical set up of the polling place for the counting or perform any other activity with respect to the transition from voting counting. However, it may do so only in the presence of the watchers and within close view of the public. At all times, the ballot boxes and all election documents and paraphernalia shall be within close view of the watchers and the public. "The board of election inspectors shall not adjourn or postpone or delay the count until it has been fully completed, unless otherwise ordered by the Commission. "The Commission, in the interest of free, orderly, and honest election, may authorize the board of election inspectors to count the votes and to accomplish the election return and other forms prescribed under the code in any other place within a public building in the same municipality or city on account of imminent danger of widespread violence or similar causes of comparable magnitude: Provided, That the transfer shall been recommended in writing by the board of election inspectors by unanimous vote and endorsed in writing by the majority of watchers present: Provided, further, that the said public building shall not located within the perimeter of or inside a military or police camp, reservation, headquarters, detachment or field office nor within the premises of a prison or detention bureau or any law enforcement or investigation agency. "Any violation of this section, or its pertinent portion, shall constitute and election offense and shall be penalized in accordance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 881." SEC.36. Section 18 of Republic Act No. 6646 is hereby repealed. SEC.37. Section 30 of Republic Act No. 7166 is hereby amended to read as follows" "SEC. 30. Congress as the National Board of Canvassers for the Election of President and Vice President: The Commission en banc as the National Board of Canvassers for the election of senators: Determination of Authenticity and Due Execution of Certificates of Canvass.Congress and the Commission en banc shall determine the authenticity and due execution of the certificate of canvas for president and vice - president and senators, respectively, as accomplished and transmitted to it by the local boards of canvassers, on a showing that: (1) each certificate of canvass was executed, signed and thumbmarked by the chairman and member of the board of canvassers and transmitted or caused to be transmitted to Congress by them; (2) each certificate of canvass contains the names of all of the candidates for president and vice - president or senator, as the case may be, and their corresponding votes in words and their corresponding votes in words and in figures; (3) there exits no discrepancy in other authentic copies of the document such as statement of votes of any of its supporting document such as statement of votes by city/municipality/by precinct or discrepancy in the votes of any candidate in words and figures in the certificate; and (4) there exist no discrepancy in the votes of any candidate in words and figures in the certificates of canvass againts the aggregate number of votes appearing in the election returns of precincts covered by the certificate of canvass: Provided, That certified print copies of election returns or certificates of canvass may be used for the purpose of verifying the existence of the discrepancy. "When the certificate of canvass, duly certified by the board of canvass of each province, city of district, appears to be incomplete, the Senate President or the Chairman of the Commission, as the case may be, shall require the board of canvassers concerned to transmit by personal delivery, the election returns form polling places that were not included in the certificate of

canvass and supporting statements. Said election returns shall be submitted by personal delivery within two (2) days from receipt of notice. "When it appears that any certification of canvass or supporting statement of each province, city of district, appears to be incomplete, the Senate President or the Chairman of the Commission, as the case may be, shall require the board of canvassers concerned to transmit by personal delivery, the election returns from polling places that were not included in the certificate of canvass and supporting statements. Said election returns shall be submitted by personal delivery within two (2) days from receipt of notice. "When it appears that any certificate of canvass or supporting statement of votes by city/municipality or by precinct bears erasures or alteration which may cast doubt as to the veracity of the number of votes stated herein and may affect the result of the election, upon requested of the presidential, vice - presidential or senatorial candidate concerned or his party, Congress or the Commission en banc, as the case may be shall , for the sole purpose of verifying the actual the votes as they appear in the copies if the election returns submitted to it. "In case of any discrepancy, incompleteness, erasure or alteration as mentioned above, the procedure on pre-proclamation controversies shall be adopted and applied as provided in Section 17,18,19 and 20. "Any person who present in evidence a simulated copy of an election return, certificate of canvass or statement of votes, or a printed copy of an election return, certificate of canvass or statement of votes bearing a simulated certification or a simulated image, shall be guilty of an election offense shall be penalized in accordance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 881." SEC.38. Section 15 of Republic Act No.7166 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC.15. Pre - proclamation Cases in Elections for President, Vice-President, Senator, and Member of the House of Representatives. - For purpose of the elections for president, vice president, senator, and member of the House of Representatives, no pre-proclamation cases shall be allowed on matters relating to the preparation, transmission, receipt, custody and appreciation of election returns or the certificates of canvass, as the case may be, expect as provided for in Section 30 hereof. However, this does not preclude the authority of the appropriate canvassing body motu propio or upon written complaint of an interested person to correct manifest errors in the certificate of canvass or election before it. "Question affecting the composition or proceedings of the board of canvassers may be initiated in the board or directly with the Commission in accordance with Section 19 hereof. "Any objection on the election return before the city or municipal board of canvassers, or the municipal certificates of canvass before the provincial board of canvassers or district board of canvassers in Metro Manila Area, shall specifically notice in the minutes of their respective proceeding." SEC. 39. Section 28 of Republic Act No. 7166 is hereby amended as follows: "SEC. 28. Canvassing by Provincial City, District, and Municipal Board of Canvassers. - a) The City or municipal of board of canvassers shall canvass the election return of President, Vice president, Senator and Members of the House of Representatives and for elective provincial and city or municipal officials:Provided, That the returns for national positions shall be canvassed first Upon completion of the canvass, it shall prepare the certificate of canvass for

of Representatives and elective provincial officials, announce the results of the election for national positions in the city or municipality, and thereafter, proclaims the elected city or municipal officials, as the case may be. "b) The city board of canvassers of cities comprising one or more legislative district shall canvass the election returns for president, vice-president, senator, members of the House of Representatives and elective city officials: Provided, That the returns for positions shall be canvassed first. Upon completion of the canvass, the board shall prepare the certificate of canvass, of president, vice-president, and senator, announce the results of the election for national positions in the city, and thereafter, proclaim the elected members of the House of the Representatives and city officials. "c) (1) In the Metro Manila Area such municipality comprising a legislative district shall have district board of canvass the election return for President, Vice-Presidents, Senator, Members for the House of Representatives and elective municipal officials: Provided, That the return for national positions shall be prepare the certificate of canvass for president, vice-presidents, senators, announce the results of the election for national position in the municipality, and thereafter, proclaim the elected member of the House of the Representatives and city officials. "(2) Each component municipality in a legislative district in the Metro Manila Area shall have a municipal board of canvassers which shall canvass the election returns for president, vicepresident, senator, members of the House of representatives and elective municipal officials: Provided, That the returns for national positions shall be canvassed first. Upon completion of the canvass, it shall prepare the certificate of canvass for presidents, vicepresidents, senators, and members of the House of the Representatives, announce the results of the election for national position in the municipality, and thereafter, proclaim the elected municipal officials. "(3) The district board of canvassers of each legislative district comprising two municipalities in Metro Manila area shall canvass the certificate of canvass the for President, Vice-Presidents, Senator and Members of the House of representatives submitted by the municipal board of canvassers of the Component municipalities. Upon completion of the canvass, it shall prepare a certificate of canvass for president, vice-president, and senator, announce the results of the election for national positions in the district, and thereafter, proclaim the elected member of the House of the Representatives in the legislative district. "(d) The provincial board of canvassers shall canvass the certificate of canvass for president, vice president, senators and members of the House of Representatives and elective provincial officials as well as plebiscite results, if any plebiscite is conducted simultaneously with the same election, as submitted by the board of canvassers of municipalities and component cities: Provided, That the returns for national position shall be canvassed first. Upon completion of the canvass, it shall prepare the certificate of canvass for president, vicepresident, and senator, announce the results of the election for national position in the province, proclaim the elected member of the House of Representatives and provincial officials as well as the plebiscite results, if any. "In conducting the canvass of election return of certificates of canvass, as the case may be, the board of canvassers in a municipality, city, district or province shall project each election return or certificate of canvass on a wall from which its contents shall be read in order that those present in the canvassing canter may follow the progress of the canvassing process from beginning to end. The Commission may utilize the appropriate projection equipment for this purpose.

"Immediately after the certificate of canvass for national positions is accomplished, the chairman of the Board of Canvassers shall announce the posting of the second copy thereof and its supporting statement of votes on a wall with sufficient lighting within the premises of the canvassing center. He shall then proceed to do the same in the present in the canvassing center. Without delay and when feasible, he shall capture images of the certificate of canvass and supporting statements of votes using a secured data capturing device and thereafter, while in the premises of the canvassing center, immediately print the data so captured in thirty (30) copies. The board of canvassers shall then authenticates each printed copy, in the presence of watchers and within public view, by closely comparing the same with the certificate of canvass or statement of votes, as the case may be, posted on of the wall. If the board finds each printed copy a faithful reproduction of the certificate of canvass or statement of votes, all members thereof shall annotate and sign a certification to that effect on the bottom front of the printed copy. "Each certified printed copy shall be placed in an envelope and distributed as herein provided. Designated recipient of the certified printed copies may receive their copies at the canvassing center. "The Chairman of the board shall transmit the digital files of the certificate of canvass and its supporting statement of votes using a secured transmission device with authentication features to the secured tabulation system of the Commission and to the systems of the other designated recipients as herein provided. "Any provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, any of the recipients of the print or digital copies of the certificate of canvass and the supporting statements of votes may conduct an unofficial consolidation of votes and may announce the result thereof to the public. "Any violation of this section, or its pertinent portion, shall constitute an election offence and shall be penalized in accordance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 881. "In addition, the following shall likewise be guilty of an election offence: "(a) Any person who remove the certificate of canvass posted on the wall, whether within or after the prescribed forty-eight (48) hours of posting, or defaces the same in any manner; "(b) Any person who simulates an actual certificates of canvass or statement of votes, or a print or digital copy thereof; "(c) Any person who simulates the certification of a certificate of canvass or statement of votes; "(d) The chairman or any member of the board of canvassers who, during the prescribed period of posting, remove the certificate of canvass or its supporting statement of votes from the wall on which they have been posted other than for the purpose of immediately transferring them to a more suitable place; "(e) The chairman of any member of the board of canvassers who sign or authenticates a print of the certificate of canvass or its supporting statement of votes outside of the polling place: and "(f) The chairman or any member of the board of canvassers who sign or authenticates a print which bears an image different from the certificate of canvass or statement of votes produced after counting and posted on the wall."

SEC. 40. Section 29 of Republic Act No. 7166 is hereby amended to read as follows: "SEC.29. Number of Copies of Certificate of Canvass and their Distribution. - a) the certificate of canvass for president, vice-president, senator and member of the house of Representatives and elective provincial official shall be prepared in seven copies by the city or municipal board of canvassers and distributed as follows: "(1) The first copy shall be delivered to the provincial board of canvassers for use in the canvass election results for president, vice- president, senator and member of the House of representatives and elective provincial officials: "(2) The second copy shall be sent to the Commission; "(3) The third copy shall be posted on a wall within the premises of the canvassing center "(4) The fourth copy shall be kept by the chairman of the Board: and "(5) the fifth copy shall be given the citizens' arm designated by the Commission to conduct a media-based unofficial count, and the sixth and seventh copies shall be given to the citizen's arm designated by the Commission to conduct a media - based unofficial count , and the sixth and seventh copies shall be given to the representatives of two of the six major political parties in accordance with the voluntary agreement of the parties. If no such agreement is reached, the commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies of the certificate of the canvass on the basis of the criteria provided in Section 26 hereof. The parties receiving the certificate shall have obligation to furnish the other parties with authentic copies thereof with the at least possible delay. "b) The certificates of canvass for president, vice president, senators shall be prepared in seven (7) copies by the city boards of canvassers of cities comprising one or more legislative districts, by provincial boards of canvassers in the Metro Manila Area, and distributed as follows: "(1) The first copy shall be sent to the Congress directed to the President of the Senate for use in the canvass of election results for president and vice-president; "(2) The second copy shall be sent to the Commission for use in the canvass of the election results for Senators; "(3) The third copy shall be posted on a wall within the premises of the canvassing center; "(4) The fourth copy shall be kept by the Chairman of the Board; and "(5) The fifth copy shall be given to the citizens' s arm designated by the Commission to conduct a media -based unofficial count, and the sixth and seventh copies shall be given to the representatives of two of the six major political parties. If no such agreement is reached, the commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies of the certificate of canvass on the basis of the criteria provided in Section 26 hereof. The parties receiving the certificates shall have the obligation to furnish the other parties with authentic copies thereof with the least possible delay.

"The of the certificate of canvass posted on the wall shall be open for public viewing at any time of the day for forty -eight (48) hours following its posting. Any person may view or capture an image of the certificate of canvass .After the prescribed period for posting, the chairman of the board of canvassers shall collect the posted certificate of canvass and keep the same in his custody to be produced for image or data capturing as may be requested by any voter or for any lawful purpose as may be ordered competent authority. "Except for those copies that are required to be delivered, copies of certificates of canvass may be claimed at the canvassing center. Any unclaimed copy shall be deemed placed in the custody of the chairman of the board of canvassers, who shall produce them requested by the recipient or when ordered by a competent authority. "The thirty (30) certified print copies of the certificate canvass for national positions shall be distributed as follows: "(a) The first fourteen (14) copies shall be given to the fourteen (14) accredited major national parties in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies on the basis of the criteria provided in Section 26 hereof; "(b) The next three copies shall be given to the three accredited major local parties in accordance with a voluntary agreement among them. If no such agreement is reached, the Commission shall decide which parties shall receive the copies in the basis of criteria analogous to the provided in Section 26 hereof; "(c) The next five copies shall be given to national broadcast or print media entities as may be equitably determined by the commission in view of propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; "(d) The next two copies shall be given to local broadcast or print media entitles as may be equitably determined by the Commission in view propagating the copies to the widest extent possible; "(e) The next four copies to the major citizen's arms, including accredited citizen' arm, and other non -partisan groups or organizations enlisted by the commission pursuant to section 52(K) of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881; and (f) The last two copies to be kept in file by the chairman of the board of canvassers to be subsequently distributed as the national board of canvassers may direct. "The certified print copies may be claimed at the canvassing center. Any unclaimed copy shall be deemed place in the custody of the chairman of the board of canvassers, who shall produce them when requested by the recipient or when ordered by a competent authority. "The commission shall post its digital files in its website for the public to view or download at any time of the day. The commission shall maintain the files for at least three years from the date of posting. "Any violation of this section, or its pertinent portion, shall constitute an election offense and shall be penalized in accordance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 881."

SEC. 41 The first paragraph of Sec. 52 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881 is hereby amended to read as follows: "Sec. 52. Powers and Functions of the Commission on Elections, - In addition to the powers and functions conferred upon it buy the constitution the commission shall have exclusive charge of the enforcement and administration of all laws relative to conduct of elections for the purpose of ensuring free, orderly and honest elections, except as otherwise provided herein and shall." SEC. 42. Section27 (b) of Republic Act No. 6646 is hereby amended to read as follows : "Sec. 27. Election Offenses; Electoral Sabotage. - In additional to the prohibited acts and election offenses enumerated in Section 261 and 262 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881,as amended, the following shall be guilty of an election offense or a special election offense to be known as eletoral sabotage: "(a) x x x "(b) Any person or member of the board of election inspectors or board of canvassers who tampers, increases or decreases the votes received by a candidates in any election or any member of the board who refuses after proper verification and hearing ,to credit the correct votes or deduct such tampered votes:Provided, however, That when the tampering, increase or decrease of votes or the refusal to credit the correct votes and /or to deduct tampered to deduct tampered votes are perpetrated on large scale or in substantial numbers, the same shall be considered not as an ordinary election offense under Section 261 of the omnibus election code. But a special election offense to be known as electoral sabotage and the penalty to be imposed shall be life imprisonment. "The act or offense committed shall fall under the category of electoral sabotage in any of the following instances; "(1) When the tampering, increase and / or decrease of votes perpetrated or the refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes, is/are committed in the election of a national elective office which is voted upon nationwide and the tampering, increase and/ or decrease votes refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes, shall adversely affect the results of the election to the said national office to the extent that losing candidate/s is /are made to appear the winner/s; "(2) Regardless of the elective office involved, when the tampering, increase and/or decrease of votes committed or the refusal to credit the correct votes or to deduct tampered votes perpetrated , is a accomplished in a single election document or in the transposition of the figure / results from one election document to another and involved in the said tampering increase and/or decrease or refusal to credit correct votes or deduct tampered votes exceed five thousand (5,000) votes, and that the same adversely affects the true results of the election ; "(3) Any and all other forms or tampering increase/s and/ or decrease/s of votes perpetuated or in cases of refusal to credit the correct votes or deduct the tampered votes, where the total votes involved exceed ten thousand (10,000) votes;

"Provided finally; That any and all either persons or individuals determined to be conspiracy or in connivance with the members of the BEIs or BOCs involved, shall be meted the same penalty of life imprisonment." SEC. 43. Section 265 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881 is hereby amended to read as follow: "SEC. 265. Prosecution. - The Commission shall, through its duly authorized legal officers, have the power, concurrent with the other prosecuting arms of the government, to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses punishable under this Code, and prosecute the same" SEC. 44. Appropriations. - To carry out the provisions of this Act, the amount necessary for the automated system shall be charged against the Two billion six hundred million pesos (2,600,000,000.00) modernization fund in the current year's appropriations of the commission. Further, the amount necessary to carry out the manual system, at a maximum of Three billion pesos (3,000,000,000) shall be charged against the current year's appropriation of the commission. Thereafter, such sums as may be necessary for the continuous implementation of this Act or any part thereof, or the application such be included in the annual General Appropriations Act. If the said funds shall not be fully utilized the same shall continue to be appropriated for the electoral modernization as set forth in this Act and shall not revert to the General Fund. SEC. 45. Separability Clause. - If, for any reason, any section or provision of this Act or any part thereof , or the application of such section, provision or portion is declared invalid or unconstitutional, the remainder thereof shall not be affected by such declaration. SEC. 46. Repealing Clause. - All laws, presidential decrees, executive orders, rules and regulations or part thereof inconsistent with the provisions of this Act are hereby repealed or modified accordingly. SEC. 47. Effectivity. - This Act Shall take effect fifteen (15) days after its publication in a newspaper of general circulation. Approved, JOSE DE VENECIA JR. Speaker of the House of Representatives MANNY VILLAR President of the Senate

This Act which is a consolidation of Senate Bill No. 2231 and House Bill No. 5352 was finally passed by the Senate and the House of Representative on December 7, 2006 and December 19, 2006, respectively. ROBERTO P. NAZARENO Secretary General House of Represenatives Approved: JAN 23, 2007 OSCAR G. YABES Secretary of Senate

GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO President of the Philippines