EN BANC

[G.R. No. 143351. September 14, 2000]

MA. AMELITA C. VILLAROSA, petitioner, vs. THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL and RICARDO V. QUINTOS, respondents.

[G.R. No. 144129. September 14, 2000]

MA. AMELITA C. VILLAROSA, petitioner, vs. THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL and RICARDO V. QUINTOS, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

DAVIDE, JR., C.J.:

These cases, which were ordered consolidated on 15 August 2000, have their genesis in HRET Case No. 98-030,[1] an election protest case filed by private respondent Ricardo V. Quintos (hereafter QUINTOS) against petitioner Amelita C. Villarosa (hereafter VILLAROSA) before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (hereafter HRET).

VILLAROSA and QUINTOS were the only candidates for the office of Representative of the Lone Legislative District of Occidental Mindoro in the 11 May 1998 synchronized national and local elections. On 27 May 1998 the Provincial Board of Canvassers proclaimed VILLAROSA as the winning candidate with a margin of 3,032 votes.

On 4 June 1998 QUINTOS filed an election protest against VILLAROSA[2] contesting the results of the election in all the 882 precincts in the eleven municipalities of Occidental Mindoro on the following grounds: (1) the ballots were misread and counted in favor of protestee; (2) there was rampant substitute voting, i.e., persons other than the registered voters voted; (3) violence and intimidation were committed by protestee and her followers against known supporters of protestant to enhance protestees candidacy; 4) previously prepared ballots for the protestee were deposited in the ballot boxes; and (5) illiterate Mangyan voters voting for protestant were assisted by self-appointed assistors of protestee, who wrote JTV on the ballots contrary to the instruction of said illiterate voters.

On 6 July 1998 VILLAROSA filed her Answer with Counter-Protest and Counterclaim.[3] She counter-protested the results of the election in 497 precincts.

During the preliminary conference conducted by the HRET on 6 August 1998, QUINTOS and VILLAROSA agreed on the following facts:

1. Protestant and Protestee were registered candidates for and voted as Representatives, Lone Legislative District of Occidental Mindoro in the May 11, 1998 elections;

2. On May 27, 1998, after canvass of returns, the Provincial Board of Canvassers proclaimed Protestee Villarosa as the winning candidate for having obtained fifty-five thousand four hundred (55,400) votes, or a margin of three thousand thirty-two (3,032) votes over Protestant Quintos who was credited fifty-two thousand three hundred sixty-eight (52,368) votes;

3. All the precints in the Lone Legislative District of Occidental Mindoro functioned in the elections;

4. Protestant contests the results of the elections in all the precints of the eleven (11) municipalities comprising the Lone Legislative District of Occidental Mindoro; upon the other hand, Protestee counter-protests the results of the elections in four hundred ninety-seven (497) precints;

5. Protestee is wife of JOSE T. VILLAROSA, who was Representative of the District in question for two terms, the last of which ended on June 30, 1998; in his certificate of candidacy for the election of May 8, 1995, JOSE T. VILLAROSA wrote as his nickname or stage name: JOE-JTV.

6. In her certificate of candidacy, Protestee wrote JTV as her nickname/stage name.

7. In her affidavit dated April 16, 1998 sent to the Office of the Provincial Election Supervisor, Occidental Mindoro, Protestee asked that she be allowed to insert in her certificate of candidacy the name GIRLIE such that her name should read in full as MA. AMELITA Girlie C. VILLAROSA as in every barangays [sic] of the Province of Occidental Mindoro she is known as Girlie Villarosa;

8. In a letter dated March 27, 1998 sent by Provincial Election Supervisor (PES) Arsenio Guste of Occidental Mindoro to Director Jose B. Balbuena, Law Department, COMELEC, the former notified the latter that the nickname of protestee in her certificate of candidacy is JTV;

9. In his Memorandum dated May 10, 1998 to all Election Officers, PES Guste informed them that JTV is the authorized nickname or stage name of protestee and that henceforth JTV, for all intents and purposes, in the appreciation of official ballots, should be counted in her favor;

10. One Atty. Dan Restor of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, had filed with the COMELEC a petition to invalidate/cancel JTV as the official nickname of the protestee; the petition was docketed as Election Matter No. 98-044; both Protestant and Protestee were not made formal parties thereto;

11. In its Resolution of May 11, 1998, the COMELEC en banc unanimously granted the petition in Election Matter No. 98-044; it ruled that the Protestee cannot use the nickname JTV considering that the same is not her nickname to which she is popularly known. Protestees motion to reconsider the resolution was denied by the COMELEC in its Order of May 13, 1998; Protestee thereafter filed with the Supreme Court a Special Civil Action for Certiorari to challenge the resolution and order, which was docketed as G.R. No. 133927, which is still pending therein;

12. Per joint affidavit of Ms. Michelle Vizcarra and Mrs. Carmen Antonio (Annex D of Petition) a copy of the COMELEC Resolution of May 11, 1998 in Election Matter No. 98-044 was received by PES Guste at around 4:00 p.m., but were seen by him at 4:20 p.m. of May 11, 1998;

13. Before the filing of this protest, Protestant filed with the COMELEC a petition to disqualify Protestee, which was docke[te]d therein as SPA No. 98-342, on the grounds that protestee had given money or material consideration to influence, induce or corrupt the voters or public officials performing electoral functions and committed acts of terrorism to enhance her candidacy. The case is still pending.[4]

The parties further agreed and stipulated on the following issues:

1. Whether or not the votes JTV should be counted in favor of Protestee;

2. Recount and appreciation of ballots;

3. Damages, attorneys fees and litigation expenses as alleged and prayed for by Protestee, and according to Protestant, as indicated in prayer for other relief, just and equitable.[5]

The HRET thereafter required the parties to designate 25% of the protested and counter-protested precincts as their respective pilot precincts pursuant to Rule 68 of the HRET Rules of Procedure.

During the revision, ballots bearing JTV, JTB, GTV, GTB, Jitivi, Gitivi, Jitibi and Gitibi on the line for Representative were classified as ballots for VILLAROSA, which the revisors of QUINTOS objected to. Likewise, ballots bearing Girlie on the line for Representative were classified as votes for VILLAROSA.

On 5 August 1999, QUINTOS filed a Motion to Withdraw Remaining Non-Pilot Protested Precincts.[6]

On 7 October 1999, after granting this motion, the HRET promulgated a resolution[7]stating that with QUINTOS withdrawal of the remaining non-pilot protested precincts, QUINTOS impliedly limited the issue to

WHETHER OR NOT THE JTV VOTES SHOULD BE COUNTED IN FAVOR OF PROTESTEE AMELITA C. VILLAROSA

On 9 December 1999 the HRET conducted an oral argument and heard QUINTOS and VILLAROSA on the aforestated issue.[8]

On 18 May 2000, the HRET promulgated Resolution No. 00-65[9] wherein it resolved to PROCEED with the revision of the ballots in the remaining 75%; and DIRECT the Secretariat to continue with the revision. This resolution prompted VILLAROSA to file an Omnibus Motion[10] praying for (1) the suspension of the revision of the ballots pursuant to HRET Resolution No. 00-65; (2) a categorical ruling that all ballots cast for JTV are valid votes for VILLAROSA; and (3) the dismissal of the protest.

On 8 June 2000 the HRET issued Resolution No. 00-82[11] informing the parties that the Tribunal ruled on May 18, 2000, by [a] vote of 5-4 of its members, not to count JTV and its variations as valid votes for Protestee Amelita C. Villarosa, the same being considered stray ballots... [and that it] directed that the revision of ballots proceed with respect to the 75% counter-protest precincts.

On 14 June 2000, VILLAROSA filed with this Court a petition for certiorari docketed as G.R. No. 143351. She alleged therein that the HRET gravely abused its discretion in (a) issuing the above-mentioned resolutions of 18 May and 8 June 2000 in that it violated her right to due process when it disposed by a 5-4 ruling a vital election incident without stating therein the findings of fact and law on which the resolutions were based; and (b) treating JTV votes as stray and invalid, resulting in the disenfranchisement of the voters of Occidental Mindoro. She argued that JTV was her designated nickname in the official list of candidates submitted by the provincial election supervisor to the COMELEC in Manila; it was the nickname she used in her posters, handbills and other election propaganda throughout the campaign period. In her speeches during the rallies, she urged the voters who might have found her full name difficult to write to simply vote JTV, as she had decided to use that nickname as a shortcut of her name as a married woman under Article 370 of the Civil Code. Under this Article, a married woman may use (1) her maiden first name and surname and add her husbands surname; (2) her maiden first name and her husbands surname; or (3) her husbands full name, but prefixing a word indicating that she is his wife, such as Mrs.

VILLAROSA then prayed that this Court issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a writ of preliminary injunction in G.R. No. 143351 to enjoin the HRET from resuming the revision of the remaining ballots in HRET Case No. 98-030. The Court, however, did not issue a TRO but required the HRET and QUINTOS to file a comment on the petition.

In his Comment, QUINTOS alleged that the petition in G.R. No. 143351 is premature because the HRET had not yet rendered a decision on the election protest. The assailed resolutions of the HRET are not decisions or formal resolutions which, as mandated by the Constitution, should set out the facts and the law on which they are based; nor are they acts which may be reviewed by certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. As to the use of JTV as VILLAROSAs nickname, QUINTOS claims that the HRETs ruling on the matter should be maintained because under Section 211 of the Omnibus Election Code any vote containing initials only shall be considered a stray vote. Moreover, VILLAROSAs use of such nickname was attended by bad faith, fraud and misrepresentation, and could have been for no other purpose than to make voters believe that they are voting for her husband, who was the Congressman of Occidental Mindoro for two terms and the incumbent Congressman at the time of the elections on 11 May 1998.

The Office of the Solicitor General submitted a Manifestation in Lieu of Comment and took the position that JTV votes should be declared valid and counted in favor of VILLAROSA, and to declare otherwise would frustrate the sovereign will of the people of Occidental Mindoro.

No TRO having been issued by this Court, the revision of the ballots of the remaining 75% of the counter-protested precincts went on and was completed on 28 June 2000. Because of the ruling that JTV votes or votes consisting of variations of JTV are stray votes, VILLAROSA lost 1,842 votes in the 75% counter-protested precincts and 4,336 votes in the 25% pilot precincts.

Accordingly, in its decision promulgated on 27 July 2000,[12] the HRET, by a vote of 5-4, (1) ruled that QUINTOS obtained 51,465 votes, while VILLAROSA garnered 48,617 votes; (2) declared QUINTOS as the duly elected Representative of the Lone District of Occidental Mindoro, having obtained the highest number of votes with a margin of 2,848 votes over VILLAROSA; and (3) ordered VILLAROSA to vacate her office at the House of Representatives.

The HRET maintained that the issue of whether to count in favor of VILLAROSA votes for JTV or its variations necessitated a determination of whether VILLAROSA was in fact generally or popularly known as such in the locality of Occidental Mindoro.

The HRET held against VILLAROSA for various reasons. First, in her affidavit asking for the insertion of GIRLIE between her given name and surname she stated that she was known as GIRLIE in every barangay of the Province of Occidental Mindoro. This is an admission that, indeed, her nickname is not JTV but GIRLIE. In fact, votes cast for GIRLIE were credited in her favor. Hence, the counting in her favor of ballots bearing JTV votes on the line for Representative would be tantamount to injustice because that would allow VILLAROSA to use two nicknames, GIRLIE and JTV, which would be in violation of the second paragraph of Section 74 of the Omnibus Election Code allowing candidates to use only one nickname or stage name by which they are generally or popularly known in the locality. Moreover, Rule 13, Section 211 of the Omnibus Election Code on appreciation of ballots provides:

The use of nicknames and appellations of affection and friendship, if accompanied by the first name or surname of the candidate, does not annul such vote, except when they were used as a means to identify the voter, in which case the whole ballot is invalid; Provided, That if the nickname used is unaccompanied by the name or surname of a candidate and it is the one by which he is generally or popularly known in the locality, the name shall be counted in favor of said candidate, if there is no other candidate for the same office with the same nickname.

The HRET thus agreed with the COMELEC in its resolution[13] that disallowed VILLAROSA to use JTV as a nickname because the same was not her nickname with which she was popularly known. In other cases the COMELEC en banc in its Resolution No. 95-0707 of 9 February 1995 required the following senatorial candidates in the 8 May 1995 elections to submit other names considering that the nicknames or stage names they submitted were not acceptable under the law for purposes of their candidacy:

1. Juan Flavier, who submitted the nickname Lets DOH it, which is a slogan of the Department of Health and not the nickname of a person;

2. Rodolfo Biazon, who submitted the nickname General, which cannot refer to Rodolfo Biazon only;

3. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who submitted the nickname GMA, which is more associated with Channel 7; and

4. Sergio Osmea III, who submitted the nickname OK Eskapo, which is a title of a recent movie and not a general or popular nickname of Osmea.

Finally, the HRET invoked Rule 14 of Section 211 of the Omnibus Election Code, which provides that any vote containing initials only or which does not sufficiently identify the candidate for whom it is intended shall be considered stray vote. The letters JTV and its derivatives do not adequately describe the identity of VILLAROSA considering that they are part of the JOE-JTV nickname of Jose Tapales Villarosa who had been the representative of the district in question for two terms, the last of which ended on 30 June 1998. The letters JTV could not definitely impress upon the voters that the person running for election was indeed petitioner VILLAROSA.

Her motion for the reconsideration of the decision having been denied, VILLAROSA filed in G.R. No. 143351 a Supplemental Manifestation with Urgent Motion to Act on a Pending Prayer and pleaded that this Court issue a temporary restraining order or a status quo order pending deliberation on, and resolution of, the petition.

On 8 August 2000 this Court required QUINTOS to comment on the Supplemental Manifestation, and set the case for oral argument on 15 August 2000.

On 11 August 2000 VILLAROSA filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, which was docketed as G.R. No. 144129, (1) assailing the HRET decision; (2) reiterating the issue of the validity of the JTV votes; and (3) charging the HRET with grave abuse of discretion in dispensing with the hearings and appreciation of ballots in the remaining 75% counter-protested precincts, thereby depriving her of the right to due process.

QUINTOS filed his Comment on the Supplemental Manifestation in G.R. No. 143351. Later, in his Addendum to Comment he informed the Court that on 12 August 2000, following the denial by the HRET of VILLAROSAs motion for reconsideration, he took his oath of office as Representative of the Lone Legislative District of Occidental Mindoro. He then prayed that the petition in G.R. No. 14335 be dismissed for having been rendered moot and academic.

At the oral argument on 15 August 2000, the parties argued on the following issues:

(1) Whether or not due process was observed by the HRET in rendering the decision in question.

(2) Whether or not the HRET committed grave abuse of discretion in not counting in favor of VILLAROSA the votes for JTV or derivatives thereof.

(3) Whether or not this Court can still sustain the enforcement of the decision of the HRET considering its rules on finality of judgment and the fact that QUINTOS has taken his oath of office.

By a vote of 7-4, the Court resolved to issue a Status Quo Order allowing VILLAROSA to continue holding her office until 29 August 2000.

On 29 August 2000, by a vote of 7-4, with Davide, Jr., C.J.; Bellosillo; Kapunan; Quisumbing; Purisima; Buena and Santiago, JJ., voting in favor of the dismissal of these petitions; and with Puno, Panganiban, Reyes and De Leon, JJ., dissenting, the Court resolved to dismiss the petitions in these cases, without prejudice to an extended opinion. We also ordered the immediate lifting of the status quo order issued on 15 August 2000.

This ponencia is an extended opinion.

The first two issues revolve on the ruling of the HRET limiting the issue to the validity of the votes for JTV or derivatives thereof and in dispensing with the hearings and appreciation of ballots in the remaining 75% of the counter-protested precincts.

We hold that VILLAROSA was not denied due process in this regard. As to the limitation of the issue, VILLAROSA has herself to blame. First, she sought no reconsideration of the pronouncement of the HRET in its 7 October 1999 Resolution that [w]ith Protestants withdrawal of the remaining non-pilot protested precincts, Protestant impliedly limited the issue to whether or not JTV votes should be counted in favor of protestee Amelita C. Villarosa. Second, at the oral argument before the HRET on 9 December 1999, VILLAROSAs counsel did not object to, but instead concurred with, QUINTOS submission that the case would rise or fall on how the Tribunal would rule on the JTV votes.

The assailed decision of the HRET quotes the statements of Atty. Felizmea, counsel for QUINTOS, and Atty. Makalintal, counsel for VILLAROSA, during the oral argument, thus:

Atty. Felizmea: x x x Our case will rise or fall on JTV on whether or not it is valid or not x x x (TSN of December 9, 1999, Part I, p. 10)

x x x

Atty. Felizmea: x x x if this Tribunal will validate JTV ballots, I have no case. (Ibid, ibid, p. 14)

x x x

Atty. Felizmea: x x x as I said earlier, I already withdrew the balance of our protest, Your Honor, and I will only submit for resolution on the precincts so revised, referring to the pilot precincts of both parties. Now, even in the pilot precincts of the protestee, Your Honor, there were 865 ballots containing JTV and its derivatives so it will increase even the lead of the protestant should the Hon. Tribunal rule[ ] that JTV is null and void. However, if the rule is valid, I have no more case (Ibid, Part II, p. 10)

x x x

Atty. Felizmea: x x x And finally, Your Honors, there are sufficient ballots containing JTV and its derivatives including Girlie which will offset the winning margin of the protestee by more than one thousand eight hundred (1,800). And the protestee, in the remaining non-pilot counter-protested [precincts] will not anymore recover what she had lost here in the pilot precincts because the pilot precincts are supposedly the precincts where the anomaly is more notorious. So, there is no more chance for the protestee to recover what she had lost if JTV ballots are considered stray. (Ibid, Part III, p. 23)

x x x

Atty. Felizmea: x x x we already withdrew our remaining non-pilot protested precincts. What is now left for the Tribunal is to decide whether or not it will continue the revision of the non-pilot counter-protested precincts x x x We submit, Your Honors, that if this Honorable Tribunal will consider as stray JTV ballots, we will sufficiently overcome the winning margin. And the protestee cannot overcome our winning margin in the non-pilot counter-protested precincts. So that, therefore, Your Honors, there is no need anymore to go though [sic] and this case could be decided without anymore revising. That is why we withdrew, as we stated earlier, our case will rise and fall on JTV. x x x (Ibid, ibid, pp. 24-25)

x x x

Atty. Macalintal: x x x Well, I have nothing more to discuss, Your Honors, because I think the only issue here is whether we could validate the use[ ] of initials, Your Honors. (Ibid, Part IV, p. 25).[14] (underscoring supplied for emphasis)

Finally, after the HRET promulgated its resolution of 18 May 2000 directing the revision of the ballots in the remaining 75% precincts, VILLAROSA filed an Omnibus Motion, praying for, inter alia, a categorical ruling that all ballots cast for JTV are valid votes for her. In its resolution of 8 June 2000 the HRET ruled by a 5-4 vote not to count JTV and its variations as valid votes for VILLAROSA.

In the 1918 case of Banco Espaol-Filipino v. Palanca[15] this Court held:

As applied to a judicial proceeding, however, it may be laid down with certainty that the requirement of due process is satisfied if the following conditions are present, namely; (1) there must be a court or tribunal clothed with judicial power to hear and determine the matter before it; (2) jurisdiction must be lawfully acquired over the person of the defendant or over the property which is the subject of the proceeding; (3) the defendant must be given an opportunity to be heard; and (4) judgment must be rendered upon the lawful hearing.

The essence of due process is the reasonable opportunity to be heard and submit evidence in support of ones defense. To be heard does not only mean verbal arguments in court; one may be heard also through pleadings. Where opportunity to be heard, either through oral arguments or pleadings, is accorded, there is no denial of due process.[16]

From the foregoing, it is too plain and obvious that not only was VILLAROSA heard on the issue, she even moved that the HRET make a categorical ruling that all ballots cast for JTV are valid ballots for her. VILLAROSA cannot now be heard to complain that she was denied due process.

With the ruling that the only issue left for determination was whether to count in favor of VILLAROSA votes cast for JTV or variations thereof, it logically follows that a hearing or appreciation of ballots other than those cast for JTV or variations thereof in the remaining 75% counter-protested precincts was unnecessary. All that was to be done was to segregate therefrom ballots bearing JTV or variations thereof.

Concretely then, the only issue that can justify our taking cognizance of these cases is to determine, pursuant to our duty under Section 1 of Article VIII of the Constitution, whether the HRET committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in declaring the JTV votes as stray votes. It should not be forgotten that under the Constitution the HRET is the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of the Members of the House of Representatives.[17] Grave abuse of discretion implies such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction; or, in other words, where the power is exercised in an arbitrary manner by reason of passion or personal hostility. It must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law.[18]

If the HRET had committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, then the aggrieved party may come to us for redress by way of a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure even if by the HRET Rules of Procedure the assailed judgment has become final and the prevailing party has taken his oath of office or assumed his position. The HRET rule on finality of its judgment cannot divest the Supreme Court of its power and duty under Section 1 of Article VIII of the Constitution to determine in a proper case whether there has been grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of HRET.

Explaining this duty of the courts, then Commissioner Roberto R. Concepcion, former Chief Justice, stated:

Briefly stated, courts of justice determine the limits of power of the agencies and offices of the government as well as those of its offices. In other words, the judiciary is the final arbiter on the question whether or not a branch of government or any of its officials has acted without jurisdiction or in excess of jurisdiction, or so capriciously as to constitute an abuse of discretion amounting to excess of jurisdiction or lack of jurisdiction. This is not only a judicial power but a duty to pass judgment on matters of this nature.[19]

The facts established in this case, strengthened by the admission of the parties at the preliminary conference conducted by the HRET on 6 August 1998 and during the oral argument before the Court on 15 August 2000, lead us to no other conclusion than that the use by VILLAROSA of JTV as her nickname or stage name, as indicated in her Certificate of Candidacy, was a clever ruse or ploy to make a mockery of the election process. Therefore, the HRET did not commit any grave abuse of discretion in ruling that JTV votes should not be counted in favor of VILLAROSA. They are stray votes. Here are the facts:

1. The husband of petitioner is Jose Tapales Villarosa.

2. Jose Tapales Villarosa was elected Representative of the Lone Legislative District of Occidental Mindoro in the 1992 and 1995 elections, thereby serving two full terms.

3. During the election and campaign periods for the 11 May 1998 elections Jose Tapales Villarosa was the incumbent Representative of the Lone Legislative District of Occidental Mindoro.

4. In his certificate of candidacy for the May 1995 elections Jose Tapales Villarosa entered as his nickname JOE-JTV. As stated by counsel for VILLAROSA during the 15 August 2000 oral argument, JOE and JTV are two nicknames of Jose Tapales Villarosa.

5. Per admission of VILLAROSAs counsel during the oral argument on 15 August 2000, JTV was used by Jose Tapales Villarosa as his nickname in both the 1992 and 1995 elections, and the public was publicly informed thereof.[20]

6. JTV refers actually to the initials of Jose Tapales Villarosa.

7. Before VILLAROSA filed her certificate of candidacy on 27 March 1998 for the 11 May 1998 elections, VILLAROSA never used JTV as her nickname or stage name. Her nickname was GIRLIE. In her affidavit dated 16 April 1998 which she filed with the Provincial Election Supervisor, she requested that she be allowed to insert in her Certificate of Candidacy the name GIRLIE between her given name Amelita and the initial of her maiden surname C so that her name would read in full as follows: MA. AMELITA Girlie C. VILLAROSA.

8. In said affidavit of 16 April 1998, VILLAROSA solemnly declared under oath that she was known as GIRLIE Villarosa in every barangay of the Province of Occidental Mindoro.

9. During the campaign period for the 11 May 1998 elections, VILLAROSAs campaign streamers (e.g., Annex P-1 of Petition in G.R. No. 144129) and handbills (e.g., Annex P-2, id.) did not at all show that JTV was her nickname. She earlier wanted her real nickname GIRLIE to be placed between AMELITA and VILLAROSA per the request in her affidavit of 16 April 1998, which request was not acted upon.

From the foregoing, the following conclusions are beyond dispute:

First, JTV represents either the initials or the nickname of Jose Tapales Villarosa.

Second, VILLAROSA was never generally or popularly known as JTV. She was generally or popularly known as GIRLIE. Clearly then, since JTV remains to be either the initials or nickname of Jose Tapales Villarosa, who was the incumbent Congressman during the election and campaign periods for the 11 May 1998 elections, votes entered or written as JTV cannot be considered as votes for petitioner. The votes JTV or any variations thereof are, therefore, stray votes.

It would be the height of naivety to believe that, indeed, JTV is petitioners nickname, or that she used it for any other purpose than to ride on the popularity of her husband to mislead the voters, especially the less informed.

The plea that the voters intention must prevail is misplaced. It assumes that those who wrote JTV actually intended to vote for petitioner. This could be true only if the person who actually owns the nickname or the initials JTV were not (a) VILLAROSAs husband, (b) the incumbent Representative who had won as such in both the 1992 and 1995 elections, (c) generally and popularly known as JTV when he ran and campaigned for Representative in both elections in the same legislative district where VILLAROSA ran in the May 1998 elections. But since these were the immutable facts, the voters who wrote JTV or variations thereof had no other person in mind except the then incumbent Representative, Jose Tapales Villarosa, or the very person whom they have known for a long time as JTV.

The foregoing facts distinguish these cases from those relied upon by VILLAROSA and in the concurring and dissenting opinion of Mme. Justice Gonzaga-Reyes.

Since JTV undoubtedly refers to the initials or nickname of VILLAROSAs husband, Jose Tapales Villarosa, who was, let it be stressed again, the incumbent Representative of the district in question at the time of the election for his successor, neither reason nor rhyme can support or justify a claim that JTV votes were intended for petitioner VILLAROSA.

Article 370 of the Civil Code, which VILLAROSA invokes, provides no relief for her. The article enumerates the names which a married woman may use. One of them is her husbands full name, but prefixing a word indicating that she is his wife, such as Mrs. If VILLAROSA had availed herself of this, as she suggested in her petition and during the oral argument, then her name would be MRS. JOSE TAPALES VILLAROSA. If for expediency and convenience she would use the initials of her husband, then her name, in initials would be MRS. JTV. Yet, on this point, VILLAROSA even attempted to confuse us. During the oral argument on 15 August 2000 she tried to convince us that MRS. JTV is also her nickname, thus:

CHIEF JUSTICE:

And before 1995 can you inform the Court if Mrs. Villarosa the petitioner here had ever used the nickname JTV?

ATTY. DE LIMA BOHOL:

As Mrs. JTV, yes, but not purely as JTV. I am not aware of any instance where she used purely as JTV but as Mrs. JTV.

CHIEF JUSTICE:

Do you have evidence to show that before 1995 elections JTV was the nickname of Mrs. Villarosa or the petitioner now?

ATTY. DE LIMA BOHOL:

We dont have evidence, Your Honor.

CHIEF JUSTICE:

Can you tell the Court if at any time before the filing of the certificate of candidacy of the petitioner before the May 11, 1998 election she ever used the nickname JTV?

ATTY. DE LIMA BOHOL:

As Mrs. JTV, yes.

CHIEF JUSTICE:

So, before the filing of the certificate of candidacy for the May 11, 1998 election the petitioner here used the nickname Mrs. JTV?

ATTY. DE LIMA BOHOL:

Yes, Your Honor.

CHIEF JUSTICE:

Meaning, I stress Mrs. JTV?

ATTY. DE LIMA BOHOL:

Yes, your Honor.[21] (Emphasis supplied)

This attempt further proves beyond doubt that, indeed, JTV had never been VILLAROSAs nickname.

Even if VILLAROSA decided to use JTV as her nickname for purposes of the 11 May 1998 elections, one must never forget that she never used it as a nickname before she filed her certificate of candidacy. The nickname which the second paragraph of Section 74 of the Omnibus Election Code allows to be included in the certificate of candidacy is that by which [the candidate] is generally or popularly known. This clearly means the nickname by which one has been generally or popularly known BEFORE the filing of the certificate of candidacy, but NOT what the candidate wants to THEREAFTER use. By her own statement under oath in her affidavit of 16 April 1998, VILLAROSA solemnly declared that she was generally and popularly known in every barangay in Occidental Mindoro as GIRLIE BEFORE and AFTER she filed her certificate of candidacy. And, as asserted by her counsel during the oral argument on 15 August 2000, her other nickname before she filed her certificate of candidacy was MRS. JTV, not JTV.

Rule 13 of Section 211 of the Omnibus Election Code cannot be applied in favor of VILLAROSA. That rule allows the use of (a) a nickname and appellation of affection and friendship, provided that it is accompanied by the first name or surname of the candidate, unless the nickname or appellation is used to identify the voter; and (b) a nickname, which is not accompanied by the name or surname of a candidate, provided that it is the one by which the candidate is generally or popularly known in the locality. In both instances, the vote cast for the nickname is a valid vote for the candidate concerned. The JTV votes are unaccompanied by her first name or surname; and JTV is not, to repeat, a nickname by which VILLAROSA was generally and popularly known in the Legislative District of Occidental Mindoro. The HRET then committed no error in not applying in favor of VILLAROSA Rule 13, Section 211 of the Omnibus Election Code.

Significantly, VILLAROSAs original counsel admitted during the oral argument on 9 December 1999 that JTV are mere initials, thus:

Atty. Macalintal: xxx Well, I have nothing more to discuss, Your Honors, because I think the very issue here is whether, we could validate the used [sic] of initials, Your Honors.

The HRET was thus correct in applying Rule 14 of Section 211 of the Omnibus Election Code, which provides:

14. Any vote containing initials only or which is illegible or which does not sufficiently identify the candidate for whom it is intended shall be considered as a stray vote but shall not invalidate the whole ballot.

Under this rule three kinds of votes are considered stray: (1) a vote containing initials only, (2) a vote which is illegible, and (3) a vote which does not sufficiently identify the candidate for whom it is intended. The only error of the HRET is its ruling that if the votes are in initials only, they are to be considered stray votes if they do not sufficiently identify the candidate for whom the votes are intended. The first category of stray votes under this rule is not to be qualified by the third category in the sense that votes in initials only may be counted for a candidate provided that the initials would sufficiently identify the candidate voted for. Such construction of the rule fails to give meaning to the disjunctive conjunction OR separating the first category from the second, and the second from the third.

Furthermore, since votes for GIRLIE written in the space for Representative were in fact claimed by VILLAROSA and credited in her favor, then the HRET correctly ruled that JTV votes or variations thereof, under the idem sonans rule, cannot be counted for VILLAROSA because only one nickname or stage name is allowed.

From all the foregoing, bad faith or malice on the part of VILLAROSA was evident when, in her certificate of candidacy and campaign materials, she appropriated the initials or nickname of her husband, the incumbent Representative of the district in question whom she wanted to succeed in office. She tried to make a mockery of a process whose credibility is essential in preserving democracy. Nullus commodum potest de injuria sua propia. No one should be allowed to take advantage of his own wrong.

Howsoever viewed, public respondent HRET did not commit any abuse of discretion in holding that the only issue for its determination was whether JTV votes or variations thereof should be counted in favor of VILLAROSA and in ruling that such votes are stray votes.

WHEREFORE, the petitions in these cases are DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, Kapunan, Quisumbing, Purisima, and Buena, JJ., concur.

Melo, J., no part. Chairman of the HRET.

Vitug, J., no part; a member of the House Electoral Tribunal.

Mendoza, J., no part. Member of HRET, which decided the case.

Pardo, J., no part, was Comelec Chair at the time.

Gonzaga-Reyes, J., see concurring & dissenting opinion.

Puno ,Panganiban, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., join the concurring and dissenting opinion J. Gonzaga-Reyes.

Ynares-Santiago, J., on leave.



[1] Entitled Ricardo V. Quintos, protestant, versus Amelita C. Villarosa, protestee.

[2] Rollo, G.R. No. 144129, 110-115.

[3] Id., 116-129.

[4] Rollo, G.R. No. 143351, 50-52.

[5] Id., 52.

[6] Id., 66.

[7] Rollo, G.R. No. 143351, 48 et seq.

[8] Id., G.R. No. 144129, 52.

[9] Id., G.R. No. 143351, 33.

[10] Id., 36.

[11] Id., 30.

[12] With Honorable Members Asani S. Tammang, Didagen P. Dilangalen, Simeon E. Garcia, Jr., Danton Q. Bueser, and Napoleon R. Beratio voting for the majority, and with Honorable Justice Chairman Jose A.R. Melo, Justices Jose C. Vitug and Vicente Mendoza and Hon. Raul M. Gonzalez, dissenting.

[13] This resolution was annulled by the decision of this Court in G.R. No. 133927, promulgated on 29 November 1999, not on the issue of whether JTV votes should be counted in favor of VILLAROSA but on a procedural issue.

[14] Rollo, G.R. No. 144129, 57.

[15] 37 Phil. 921, 934 [1918].

[16] Richards v. Asoy, 152 SCRA 45 [1987]; Mutuc v. Court of Appeals, 190 SCRA 43 [1990]; Philippine National Construction Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 272 SCRA 183 [1997].

[17] Section 17, Article VI, Constitution.

[18] Cuison v. Court of Appeals, 289 SCRA 159, 171 [1998].

[19] Joaquin G. Bernas, The Intent of the 1986 Constitution Writers 498 (1995).

[20] TSN, 15 August 2000, 5-54.

[21] TSN, 15 August 2000, 55-56.