[G.R. No. 143042. October 10, 2000]
FEDERICO POBLETE vs. COMELEC, et al.
Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated OCT 10 2000.
G.R. No. 143042 (Federico A Poblete, Bienvenido C. Pobre, Reynaldo B. Aguinaldo, Arturo M. Ganibe, Leonardo P. Llave, Diosdado M. del Rosario, Manuel R. Ubod, Angelito R. Peregrino, Mario B. Espiritu, Jr., Salvador S. Olaes, Jr., and Pedro J. Paterno, Jr. vs Commission on Elections, Florentino A. Bautista, and the Regional Trial Court of DasmariŮas, Cavite, Branch 90.)
On July 8, 1998, private respondent Florentino A. Bautista filed a complaint-affidavit against herein petitioners for violation of Section 261(a) and (b) of the Omnibus Election Code. Private respondent alleged that verified reports, evidenced by affidavits executed by registered voters, showed irregularities committed during the May 11, 1998 elections by herein petitioners, such as: (a) vote buying; (b) manifest partiality of some members of the Board of Election Inspectors; (c) Lakas-NUCD watchers driven out of polling places; (d) tampered and falsified election returns; (e) use of excess ballots by flying voters; and (f) election returns accomplished through threats, duress, force and intimidation. The complaint was docketed as Election Offense Case No. 98-219.
The Law Department of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) conducted a preliminary investigation and submitted a study dated February 11, 1999 to the COMELEC en banc recommending the filing of a criminal information against petitioners for violation of Section 261(a) and (b) of the Omnibus Election Code.
In Resolution No. 99-0346 dated February 25, 1999, the COMELEC en banc approved the Law Departmentís study, thus:
In the matter of the Study dated 11 February 1999 of the Law Department re E.O. Case No. 98-219, entitled "Florentino A. Bautista vs. Atty. Federico A. Poblete, et al.," for alleged violation of Sec. 261 (a) and (b) of the Omnibus Election Code committed in connection with the May 11, 1998 elections at Kawit, Cavite.
This is a complaint of Florentino A. Bautista, candidate for Mayor of Kawit, Cavite in the May 11, 1998 elections against Atty. Federico A. Poblete, then incumbent mayor, said municipality; Bienvenido Pobre and Reynaldo Aguinaldo, duly elected mayor and vice-mayor, respectively; Leonardo Llave. Diosdado del Rosario, Angelito Peregrino, Mario Espiritu, Salvador Olaes, Pedro Paterno, Jr., all elected Sangguniang Bayan members; Arturo Ganibe and Manuel Ubod, for alleged violation of Section 261(a) and (b) of the Omnibus Election Code. Complainant alleged that verified reports showed that there were many irregularities in the May 11, 1998 elections committed by respondents with the support of the incumbent Mayor "Hit" Poblete, particularly: (a) vote-buying; (b) manifest partiality of some members of the Board of Election Inspectors; (c) Lakas-NUCD watchers were driven out from the polling place; (d) tampered and falsified election returns; (e) use of excess ballots by flying voters and (f) election returns accomplished through threats, duress, force and intimidation.
An incisive analysis and examination of the entire records of the instant case yielded a clear and convincing evidence establishing probable cause to hold respondents liable for vote-buying in violation of Section 261 (a) and (b) of the Omnibus Election Code. It cannot be denied that respondents were present during the gathering at Brgy. Congbalay-Legaspi, Kawit, Cavite on May 9, 1998. They were positively identified by the witnesses of the complainant who were among the recipients of the "Sertipiko ng Karapatan". These witnesses categorically declared that during the said meeting, the respondents stated that they would give parcels of land to those present on the condition that they vote for them, and that should they choose the parcels of land, they had with them the necessary papers, otherwise, they also had with them cash. Complainant also submitted in evidence, the certificates which were distributed to the residents of Brgy. Congbalay-Legaspi denominated as "Sertipiko ng Karapatan". These Sertipiko are indubitable proof of the respondentsí promise to give parcels of land to the residents of Congbalay-Legaspi in order to induce these residents to vote for them. These certificates were meant to persuade the voters to vote for the respondents.
Furthermore, the records yielded a finding that the respondents acted together in committing the offense of vote buying which is a corrupt practice to induce the voters to vote for them. Settled is the rule that direct proof of previous agreement to commit a crime is not necessary, as it may be deduced from the mode and manner in which the offense was perpetrated or inferred from the acts of the accused,
(A) to file the necessary information against respondents Federico A. Poblete, Bienvenido C. Pobre, Reynaldo B. Aguinaldo, Leonardo Liave, Diosdado del Rosario, Angelito Peregrino, Mario Espiritu, Salvador Olaes, Pedro Paterno, Jr., Arturo Ganibe and Manuel Ubod, before the proper Regional Trial Court of Cavite for violation of Section 261(a) and (b) of the Omnibus Election Code; and to authorize the Director IV of the Law Department to designate a Comelec prosecutor to handle the prosecution of the case until termination thereof, with the duty to submit periodic report after every hearing of the case; and
(B) to file a Motion before the Court for the preventive suspension for a period of ninety (90) days of respondents Mayor Bienvenido Pobre, Vice-Mayor Reynaldo Aguinaldo and Sangguniang Bayan members Leonardo Liave, Diosdado del Rosario, Angelito Peregrino, Mario Espiritu, Salvador Olaes and Pedro Paterno, Jr. while the case is pending pursuant to Section 60, Chapter IV of Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise, known as the Local Government Code of 1991 specifically on the ground of commission of an offense involving moral turpitude.
Let the Law Department implement this resolution. 1 Rollo, pp. 23-24.
On May 5, 1999, the following information was filed before the Regional Trial Court of Imus, Cavite, Branch 90, viz:
The undersigned accuses Atty. Federico "Hit" Poblete, Bienvenido C. Pobre, Reynaldo B. Aguinaldo, Arturo M. Ganibe, Leonardo P. Llave, Diosdado M. Del Rosario, Manuel R. Ubod, Angelito R. Peregrino, Mario B. Espiritu, Jr., Salvador S. Olaes, Jr. and Pedro J. Paterno, Jr. for violation of Section 261 (a) and (b) of the Omnibus Election Code, committed as follows:
That on or about May 9, 1998, which was within the election campaign period during the May 11, 1998 elections, in the Municipality of Kawit, Province of Cavite, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused former Mayor Atty. Federico "Hit" Poblete, candidate and elected Mayor Bienvenido C. Pobre, candidate and elected Vice-Mayor Reynaldo B. Aguinaldo, condidates and elected Councilors Diosdado M Del Rosario, Mario B. Espiritu, Jr., Leonardo P. Llave, Salvador S. Olaes, Jr., Pedro J. Paterno, Jr., Angelito R. Peregrino, and candidates for councilors Arturo M. Ganibe and Manuel R. Ubod, conspiring with, confederating together, and mutually helping one another, did there and then, willfully and unlawfully engage in massive vote-buying by inducing the voters to vote for them in the May 11, 1998 Elections and in exchange for their votes, the accused offered and promised that houses and lands will be given to them by giving them certificates denominated as "SERTIPIKO NG KARAPATAN" which entitles these voters holders thereof to own a house and lot.
CONTRARY TO LAW. 2 Id., at 26.
The case was docketed as Criminal Case No. 7034-99.
On May 7, 1999, petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied on February 29, 2000 in COMELEC en banc Resolution No. 00-0504.
Hence, the instant petition for certiorari and prohibition with temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction.
Petitioners contend that the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction when (a) it issued the resolution ordering the filing of an information against them; and (b) it disregarded its own rules of procedure in election offense cases.
The petition is without merit.
Section 2(6), Article IX-C of the Constitution expressly vests upon the COMELEC the power to "investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute cases of violations of election laws, including acts or omissions constituting election frauds, offenses, and malpractices." Even before the present Constitution, Section 265 3 See also Section 1, Rule 34 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure.of Batas Pambansa Bilang 881, otherwise known as the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines, already gave the COMELEC the exclusive authority to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute before the regular courts election offenses, whether committed by public officers or private persons. In De Jesus v. People, 4 120 SCRA 760 (1983).the Court expounded the reasons for the grant of such exclusive authority to the COMELEC. Thus:
The grant to the COMELEC of the power, among others, to enforce and administer all laws relative to the conduct of election and the concomittant authority to investigate and prosecute election offenses is not without compelling reason. The evident constitutional intendment in bestowing this power to the COMELEC is to insure the free, orderly and honest conduct of elections, failure of which would result in the frustration of the true will of the people and make a mere idle ceremony of the sacred right and duty of every qualified citizen to vote. To divest the COMELEC of the authority to investigate and prosecute offenses committed by public officials in relation to their office would thus seriously impair its effectiveness in achieving this clear constitutional mandate. 5 Id., at 765-766.
Consequently, the finding of the existence or non-existence of probable cause in the prosecution of criminal cases brought before it, rests in the discretion of the COMELEC in the exercise of its constitutional and statutory mandate. The Court will not interfere with such finding save only in extreme situations which we find absent in the case at bar.
In arguing that the COMELEC disregarded its own rules of procedure in the disposition of the instant case, petitioners alleged that this case which was investigated by the Law Department was not raffled and assigned to a particular commissioner who should have prepared his/her own study or recommendation pursuant to Memorandum No. 99-155.
It would suffice to state that Memorandum No. 99-155 was issued only on July 16, 1999 after the preliminary investigation was conducted in 1998 and after the instant case was resolved by the COMELEC en banc on February 25, 1999. In fact, the information charging petitioners with violation of Section 261(a) and (b) of the Omnibus Election Code was brought on May 5, 1999 while petitionersí motion for reconsideration of the COMELEC resolution was filed on May 7, 1999, or before the issuance of Memorandum No. 99-155. Clearly then, the special procedure provided for under said Memorandum cannot be applied to petitionersí case.
IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the instant petition is hereby DISMISSED.
Very truly yours,
(Sgd.) LUZVIMINDA D. PUNO
Clerk of Court