EN BANC

[G.R. No. 147904.  October 4, 2002]

NESTOR B. MAGNO, petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and CARLOS C. MONTES, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

CORONA, J.:

Before this Court is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 which seeks to annul and set aside the resolution dated May 7, 2001 of the Commission on Elections as well as the resolution dated May 12, 2001 denying petitioner’s motion for reconsideration.

This petition originated from a case filed by private respondent on March 21, 2001 for the disqualification of petitioner Nestor Magno as mayoralty candidate of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija during the May 14, 2001 elections on the ground that petitioner was previously convicted by the Sandiganbayan of four counts of direct bribery penalized under Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code.  It appears that on July 25, 1995, petitioner was sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of 3 months and 11 days of arresto mayor as minimum to 1 year 8 months and 21 days of prision correccional as maximum, for each of the four counts of direct bribery.  Thereafter, petitioner applied for probation and was discharged on March 5, 1998 upon order of the Regional Trial Court of Gapan, Nueva Ecija.

On May 7, 2001, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) rendered a decision granting the petition of private respondent and declaring that petitioner was disqualified from running for the position of mayor in the May 14, 2001 elections.  In ruling against petitioner, the COMELEC cited Section 12 of the BP 881 or the Omnibus Election Code which provides as follows:

Sec. 12. Disqualifications. – Any person who has been declared by competent authority insane or incompetent, or has been sentenced by final judgment for subversion, insurrection, rebellion or for any offense for which he has been sentenced to a penalty of more than eighteen (18) months, or for a crime involving moral turpitude, shall be disqualified to be a candidate and to hold any office, unless he has been given plenary pardon, or granted amnesty.

The disqualifications to be a candidate herein provided shall be deemed removed upon the declaration by competent authority that said insanity or incompetence had been removed or after the expiration of a period of five years from his service of sentence, unless within the same period he again becomes disqualified.

The above provision explicitly lifts the disqualification to run for an elective office of a person convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude after five (5) years from the service of sentence.  According to the COMELEC, inasmuch as petitioner was considered to have completed the service of his sentence on March 5, 1998, his five-year disqualification will end only on March 5, 2003.

On May 10, 2001, petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied by the COMELEC in its resolution dated May 12, 2001.

Hence, this petition.

Petitioner argues that direct bribery is not a crime involving moral turpitude.  Likewise, he cites Section 40 of RA 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, which he claims is the law applicable to the case at bar, not BP 881 or the Omnibus Election Code as claimed by the COMELEC.  Said provision reads:

Section 40. Disqualifications. -  The following persons are disqualified from running for any elective local position:

(a) Those sentenced by final judgment for an offense involving moral turpitude or for an offense punishable by one (1) year or more of imprisonment, within two (2) years after serving sentence.

x        x          x          x

Petitioner insists that he had already served his sentence as of March 5, 1998 when he was discharged from probation.  Such being the case, the two-year disqualification period imposed by Section 40 of the Local Government Code expired on March 5, 2000.  Thus, petitioner was qualified to run in the 2001 elections.

Meanwhile, Sonia Lorenzo was proclaimed by the COMELEC as the duly elected mayor of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija.  Thus, on June 19, 2001, petitioner filed a supplemental petition which this Court merely noted in its resolution dated June 26, 2001.  In his supplemental petition, petitioner assailed the proclamation of Sonia Lorenzo on the ground that the propriety of his disqualification was still under review by this Court.  Petitioner likewise asked this Court to declare him as the duly elected municipal mayor instead of Sonia Lorenzo.

On July 18, 2001, the Solicitor-General filed his manifestation and agreed with petitioner that COMELEC should have applied Section 40 of the Local Government Code.

The main issue is whether or not petitioner was disqualified to run for mayor in the 2001 elections.  In resolving this, two sub-issues need to be threshed out, namely: (1) whether the crime of direct bribery involves moral turpitude and (2) whether it is the Omnibus Election Code or the Local Government Code that should apply in this situation.

Regarding the first sub-issue, the Court has consistently adopted the definition in Black’s Law Dictionary of ‘moral turpitude’ as:

“x x x an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes his fellow men, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and woman or conduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.”[1]

Not every criminal act, however, involves moral turpitude.  It frequently depends on the circumstances surrounding the violation of the law.[2]

In this case, we need not review the facts and circumstances relating to the commission of the crime considering that petitioner did not assail his conviction.  By applying for probation, petitioner in effect admitted all the elements of the crime of direct bribery:

1. the offender is a public officer;

2. the offender accepts an offer or promise or receives a gift or present by himself or through another;

3. such offer or promise be accepted or gift or present be received by the public officer with a view to committing some crime, or in consideration of the execution of an act which does not constitute a crime but the act must be unjust, or to refrain from doing something which it is his official duty to do; and [Italics supplied]

4. the act which the offender agrees to perform or which he executes is connected with the performance of his official duties.[3]

Moral turpitude can be inferred from the third element.  The fact that the offender agrees to accept a promise or gift and deliberately commits an unjust act or refrains from performing an official duty in exchange for some favors, denotes a malicious intent on the part of the offender to renege on the duties which he owes his fellowmen and society in general.  Also, the fact that the offender takes advantage of his office and position is a betrayal of the trust reposed on him by the public.  It is a conduct clearly contrary to the accepted rules of right and duty, justice, honesty and good morals.  In all respects, direct bribery is a crime involving moral turpitude.

It is the second sub-issue which is problematical.  There appears to be a glaring incompatibility between the five-year disqualification period provided in Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code and the two-year disqualification period in Section 40 of the Local Government Code.

It should be noted that the Omnibus Election Code (BP 881) was approved on December 3, 1985 while the Local Government Code (RA 7160) took effect on January 1, 1992.  It is basic in statutory construction that in case of irreconcilable conflict between two laws, the later enactment must prevail, being  the more recent expression of legislative will.[4] Legis posteriores priores contrarias abrogant.  In enacting the later law, the legislature is presumed to have knowledge of the older law and intended to change it.  Furthermore, the repealing clause of Section 534 of RA 7160 or the Local Government Code states that:

(f) All general and special laws, acts, city charters, decrees, executive orders, proclamations and administrative regulations, or part or parts thereof which are inconsistent with any provisions of this Code are hereby repealed or modified accordingly.

In accordance therewith, Section 40 of RA 7160 is deemed to have repealed Section 12 of BP 881.  Furthermore, Article 7 of the Civil Code provides that laws are repealed only by subsequent ones, and not the other way around.  When a subsequent law entirely encompasses the subject matter of the former enactment, the latter is deemed repealed.

In David vs. COMELEC[5], we declared that RA 7160 is a codified set of laws that specifically applies to local government units.  Section 40 thereof specially and definitively provides for disqualifications of candidates for elective local positions.  It is applicable to them only.  On the other hand, Section 12 of BP 881 speaks of disqualifications of candidates for any public office.  It deals with the election of all public officers.  Thus, Section 40 of RA 7160, insofar as it governs the disqualifications of candidates for local positions, assumes the nature of a special law which ought to prevail.

The intent of the legislature to reduce the disqualification period of candidates for local positions from five to two years is evident.  The cardinal rule in the interpretation of all laws is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the law.[6] The reduction of the disqualification period from five to two years is the manifest intent.

Therefore, although his crime of direct bribery involved moral turpitude, petitioner nonetheless could not be disqualified from running in the 2001 elections.  Article 12 of the Omnibus Election Code (BP 881) must yield to Article 40 of the Local Government Code (RA 7160).  Petitioner’s disqualification ceased as of March 5, 2000 and he was therefore under no such disqualification anymore when he ran for mayor of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija in the May 14, 2001 elections.

Unfortunately, however, neither this Court nor this case is the proper forum to rule on (1) the validity of Sonia Lorenzo’s proclamation and (2) the declaration of petitioner as the rightful winner.  Inasmuch as Sonia Lorenzo had already been proclaimed as the winning candidate, the legal remedy of petitioner would have been a timely election protest.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby PARTIALLY GRANTED.  The challenged resolutions of the Commission on Elections dated May 7, 2001 and May 12, 2001 are hereby reversed and set aside.  The petitioner’s prayer in his supplemental petition for his proclamation as the winner in the May 14, 2001 mayoralty elections in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, not being within our jurisdiction, is hereby denied.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Mendoza, and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., on leave.

Morales, J., no part.



[1] Zari vs. Flores, 94 SCRA 319 (1979).

[2] Dela Torre vs. Commission on Elections, 258 SCRA 483 (1996).

[3] Luis B. Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Book II, [1993 ed.], pp. 325-326).

[4] Philippine National Bank vs. Cruz, 180 SCRA 206 (1989).

[5] 271 SCRA 90 (1997).

[6] Collector of Internal Revenue vs. Manila Lodge No. 761, 105 Phil. 983 (1959).