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Case Digest

Case Digest: ARSENIO A. AGUSTIN VS. COMELEC G.R. No. 207105, November 10, 2015

ARSENIO A. AGUSTIN, PETITIONER, VS. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND SALVADOR S. PILLOS, RESPONDENTS.
[G.R. No. 207105, EN BANC, November 10, 2015, BERSAMIN, J.] 

FACTS: 

In 1997, petitioner Agustin was naturalized as a citizen of the United States of America (USA). 

In 2012, he filed his certificate of candidacy (CoC) for the position of Mayor of the Municipality of Marcos, Ilocos Norte to be contested in the May 2013 local elections. As the official candidate of the Nacionalista Party, he declared in his CoC that he was eligible for the office he was seeking to be elected to; that he was a natural-born Filipino citizen; and that he had been a resident of the Municipality of Marcos, Ilocos Norte for 25 years. 

Respondent Salvador S. Pillos, a rival mayoralty candidate, filed in the COMELEC a Petition To Deny Due Course and/or to Cancel the Certificate of Candidacy of Arsenio A. Agustin, alleging that the petitioner had made a material misrepresentation in his CoC by stating that he had been a resident of the Municipality of Marcos for 25 years despite having registered as a voter therein only on May 31, 2012. 

In his answer, the petitioner countered that the one-year requirement referred to residency, not to voter registration; that residency was not dependent on citizenship, such that his travel to Hawaii for business purposes did not violate the residency requirement pursuant to prevailing jurisprudence; and that as regards citizenship, he attached a copy of his Affidavit of Renunciation of U.S. American Citizenship. 

The COMELEC Second Division issued its omnibus resolution holding that the requirement that a candidate must be a registered voter does not carry with it the requirement that he must be so one year before the elections because this refers to the residency qualification. 

As far as registration as a voter is concerned, it should suffice that they are duly registered upon the filing of their COCs or within the period prescribed by law for such registration. 

Pillos moved for the reconsideration with the COMELEC En Banc. He alleged that the certification issued by the Bureau of Immigration reflected that the petitioner had voluntarily declared in his travel documents that he was a citizen of the USA; that when he travelled to Hawaii, USA on October 6, 2012, he still used his USA passport despite his renunciation of his USA citizenship on October 2, 2012 and after filing his CoC on October 5, 2012, in which he declared that he was a resident of the Municipality of Marcos, Ilocos Norte; and that the petitioner’s declaration of his eligibility in his CoC constituted material misrepresentation because of his failure to meet the citizenship and residency requirements. 

On April 23, 2013, the COMELEC En Banc issued its assailed resolution cancelling and denying due course to the petitioner’s CoC, observing that while Agustin presented a copy of his Affidavit of Renunciation, he failed to furnish this Commission a copy of his Oath of Allegiance. 

Noteworthy is the fact, that in Agustin’s Affidavit of Renunciation, it was stated that his Oath of Allegiance is attached; however, said attachment has not been made available for the perusal of this Commission. Having failed to sufficiently show that he complied with the provisions of RA 9225, Agustin’s COC must be cancelled and/or denied due course. 

On election day, the name of the petitioner remained in the ballot. He was later on proclaimed as the duly elected Municipal Mayor of Marcos, Ilocos Norte, the highest among the contending parties. 

The petitioner filed on an Urgent Motion to Withdraw Verified Urgent Motion for Reconsideration with Leave of Court. The petitioner then instituted this case, alleging grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the COMELEC En Banc. 

ISSUE: 

1st issue: Whether or not petitioner Agustin is eligible as a candidate for the position of Mayor of the Municipality of Marcos, Ilocos Norte.  (NO)

2nd issue: Whether or not Pillos’ claim that he is the rightful occupant of the contested elective position correct. (YES)

RULING: 

1st issue: 

No. Petitioner Agustin is not eligible as a candidate for the position of Mayor of the Municipality of Marcos, Ilocos Norte. 

The petitioner filed a valid CoC, but the use of his USA passport after his renunciation of foreign citizenship rendered him disqualified from continuing as a mayoralty candidate. 

There are two remedies available under existing laws to prevent a candidate from running in an electoral race. One is by petition for disqualification, and the other by petition to deny due course to or to cancel his certificate of candidacy. 

A petition for disqualification can be premised on Section 12 or 68 of the OEC, or Section 40 of the LGC. 

On the other hand, a petition to deny due course to or cancel a CoC can only be grounded on a statement of a material representation in the said certificate that is false. The petitions also have different effects. 

While a person who is disqualified under Section 68 is merely prohibited to continue as a candidate, the person whose certificate is cancelled or denied due course under Section 78 is not treated as a candidate at all, as if he/she never filed a CoC. 

Section 78 of the OEC, therefore, is to be read in relation to the constitutional and statutory provisions on qualifications or eligibility for public office. 

If the candidate subsequently states a material representation in the CoC that is false, the COMELEC, following the law, is empowered to deny due course to or cancel such certificate. 

The petition of Pillos was in the nature of the Section 78 petition to deny due course to or to cancel the CoC of the Yet, the COMELEC En Banc canceled the petitioner’s CoC not because of his failure to meet the residency requirement but because of his failure “to sufficiently show that he complied with the provisions of RA 9225.” Such basis for cancellation was unwarranted considering that he became eligible to run for public office when he expressly renounced his USA citizenship, by which he fully complied with the requirements stated in Section 5(2) of Republic Act No. 9225. His CoC was valid for all intents and purposes of the election laws because he did not make therein any material misrepresentation of his eligibility to run as Mayor of the Municipality of Marcos, Ilocos Norte. 

The Court uphold the declaration by the COMELEC En Banc that the petitioner was ineligible to run and be voted for as Mayor of the Municipality of Marcos, Ilocos Norte. It is not disputed that on October 6, 2012, after having renounced his USA citizenship and having already filed his CoC, he travelled abroad using his USA passport, thereby representing himself as a citizen of the USA. He continued using his USA passport in his subsequent travels abroad despite having been already issued his Philippine passport on August 23, 2012. He thereby effectively repudiated his oath of renunciation on October 6, 2012, the first time he used his USA passport after renouncing his USA citizenship on October 2, 2012. Consequently, he could be considered an exclusively Filipino citizen only for the four days from October 2, 2012 until October 6, 2012. 

The petitioner’s continued exercise of his rights as a citizen of the USA through using his USA passport after the renunciation of his USA citizenship reverted him to his earlier status as a dual citizen. Such reversion disqualified him from being elected to public office in the Philippines pursuant to Section 40(d) of the Local Government Code. 

2nd issue: 

Yes. Pillos’ claim that he is the rightful occupant of the contested elective position is correct. 

Petitioner was declared disqualified by final judgment before election day; hence, the votes cast for him should not be counted. His rival, respondent Pillos, should be proclaimed duly elected Mayor for obtaining the highest number of votes in the elections. 

The effect of the petitioner’s disqualification under the April 23, 2013 resolution depended on when the disqualification attained finality. The distinction exists because of Section 6 of Republic Act No. 6646 (The Electoral Reforms Law of 1987), which states: 

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. 

Section 6 of the said law covers two situations. The first is when the disqualification becomes final before the elections, which is the situation covered in the first sentence of Section 6. The second is when the disqualification becomes final after the elections, which is the situation covered in the second sentence of Section 6. 

The present case falls under the first situation. Section 6 of the Electoral Reforms Law governing the first situation is categorical: a candidate disqualified by final judgment before an election cannot be voted for, and votes cast for him shall not be counted. 

The effect was to render the votes cast in his favor stray, resulting in Pillos being proclaimed the winning candidate. 

It is crucial, therefore, to determine with certainty the time when the judgment declaring the petitioner disqualified from running for the local elective position attained finality. 

Pillos submits that the April 23, 2013 resolution was already deemed final and executory as of May 4, 2013; hence, the writ of execution was issued on June 18, 2013; and that the petitioner’s disqualification thus attained finality prior to the May 13, 2013 elections. 

Pillos’ submission is correct. Although the petitioner filed his Verified Urgent Motion for Reconsideration with Leave of Court, the April 23, 2013 resolution granting Pillos’ motion for reconsideration, such filing did not impede the April 23, 2013 resolution from being deemed final and executory because Section 1(d), Rule 13 of the 1993 COMELEC Rules of Procedure expressly disallowed the filing of the motion for reconsideration.

Within the context of Section 13, Rule 18, and Section 3, Rule 37, both of the 1993 COMELEC Rules of Procedure, the April 23, 2013 resolution became final and executory as of May 4, 2013 upon the lapse of five days from its promulgation without a restraining order being issued by the Supreme Court. 

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