G.R. Nos. L-68379-81 September 22, 1986
EVELIO B. JAVIER, petitioner,
THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, and ARTURO F. PACIFICADOR, respondents.
Raul S. Roco and Lorna Patajo-Kapunan for petitioner.
The petitioner and the private respondent were candidates in Antique for the Batasang Pambansa in the May 1984 elections. On May 13, 1984, the eve of the elections, the bitter contest between the two came to a head when several followers of the petitioner were ambushed and killed, allegedly by the latter’s men. Seven suspects, including respondent Pacificador, are now facing trial for these murders.
It was in this atmosphere that the voting was held, and the post-election developments were to run true to form. Owing to what he claimed were attempts to railroad the private respondent’s proclamation, the petitioner went to the Commission on Elections to question the canvass of the election returns. His complaints were dismissed and the private respondent was proclaimed winner by the Second Division of the said body. The petitioner thereupon came to this Court, arguing that the proclamation was void because made only by a division and not by the Commission on Elections en banc as required by the Constitution.
On May 18, 1984, the Second Division of the Commission on Elections directed the provincial board of canvassers of Antique to proceed with the canvass but to suspend the proclamation of the winning candidate until further orders. On June 7, 1984, the same Second Division ordered the board to immediately convene and to proclaim the winner without prejudice to the outcome of the case before the Commission. On certiorari before this Court, the proclamation made by the board of canvassers was set aside as premature, having been made before the lapse of the 5-day period of appeal, which the petitioner had seasonably made. Finally, on July 23, 1984, the Second Division promulgated the decision now subject of this petition which inter alia proclaimed Arturo F. Pacificador the elected assemblyman of the province of Antique. The petitioner then came to this Court, asking to annul the said decision on the basis that it should have been decided by COMELEC en banc.
The case was still being considered when on February 11, 1986, the petitioner was gunned down in cold blood and in broad daylight. And a year later, Batasang Pambansa was abolished with the advent of the 1987 Constitution.
Respondents moved to dismiss the petition, contending it to be moot and academic.
1. Whether it is correct for the court to dismiss the petition due to the petitioner being dead and the respondent missing.
2. Whether the Second Division of the Commission on Elections was authorized to promulgate its decision of July 23, 1984, proclaiming the private respondent the winner in the election?
The abolition of the Batasang Pambansa and the disappearance of the office in dispute between the petitioner and the private respondent-both of whom have gone their separate ways-could be a convenient justification for dismissing this case. But there are larger issues involved that must be resolved now, once and for all, not only to dispel the legal ambiguities here raised. The more important purpose is to manifest in the clearest possible terms that this Court will not disregard and in effect condone wrong on the simplistic and tolerant pretext that the case has become moot and academic.
The Supreme Court is not only the highest arbiter of legal questions but also the conscience of the government. The citizen comes to us in quest of law but we must also give him justice. The two are not always the same. There are times when we cannot grant the latter because the issue has been settled and decision is no longer possible according to the law. But there are also times when although the dispute has disappeared, as in this case, it nevertheless cries out to be resolved. Justice demands that we act then, not only for the vindication of the outraged right, though gone, but also for the guidance of and as a restraint upon the future.
The applicable provisions are found in Article XII-C, Sections 2 and 3, of the 1973 Constitution.
Section 2 confers on the Commission on Elections the power to:
(2) Be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of all member of the Batasang Pambansa and elective provincial and city officials.
Section 3 provides:
The Commission on Elections may sit en banc or in three divisions. All election cases may be heard and decided by divisions except contests involving members of the Batasang Pambansa, which shall be heard and decided en banc. Unless otherwise provided by law, all election cases shall be decided within ninety days from the date of their submission for decision.
We believe that in making the Commission on Elections the sole judge of all contests involving the election, returns and qualifications of the members of the Batasang Pambansa and elective provincial and city officials, the Constitution intended to give it full authority to hear and decide these cases from beginning to end and on all matters related thereto, including those arising before the proclamation of the winners.
As correctly observed by the petitioner, the purpose of Section 3 in requiring that cases involving members of the Batasang Pambansa be heard and decided by the Commission en banc was to insure the most careful consideration of such cases. Obviously, that objective could not be achieved if the Commission could act en banc only after the proclamation had been made, for it might then be too late already. We are all-too-familiar with the grab-the-proclamation-and-delay-the-protest strategy of many unscrupulous candidates, which has resulted in the frustration of the popular will and the virtual defeat of the real winners in the election. The respondent’s theory would make this gambit possible for the pre- proclamation proceedings, being summary in nature, could be hastily decided by only three members in division, without the care and deliberation that would have otherwise been observed by the Commission en banc.
WHEREFORE, let it be spread in the records of this case that were it not for the supervening events that have legally rendered it moot and academic, this petition would have been granted and the decision of the Commission on Elections dated July 23, 1984, set aside as violative of the Constitution.