The Supreme Court has exhorted the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to resolve all election cases and other poll-related incidents “with deliberate haste” since these cases are imbued with public interest.
The Court made the call even as it resolved to annul the Comelec’s cancellation of the certificate of candidacy (COC) of Rovelyn Echave Villamor for the 2019 mayoralty elections in Lagangilang, Abra.
“By their very nature and given the public interest involved, election cases must be resolved speedily, otherwise the will of the electorate will be frustrated,” the justices said in a resolution.
Also on Sunday, the Comelec urged Congress to pass a new law to limit campaigning on social media for the 2022 elections.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said they can only monitor the candidates' spending in producing advertisements and boosting social media posts. Beyond that, he said, there is no identified limit to using these platforms.
Unlike television, the commission cannot count the number of minutes a candidate has on social media, Jimenez said.
With the ruling, the Court granted the petition of Villamor, who assailed the resolutions dated April 26, 2019 and Nov. 27, 2019 of the Comelec’s Second Division and En Banc, respectively.
The Court also junked the electoral protest filed against Villamor by Antonio Bello Viernes, her lone rival in the 2019 election.
The Court said its resolution is immediately executory.
Villamor garnered 5,879 votes as against Viernes’ 1,534 votes. She was proclaimed mayor of Lagangilang town on May 14, 2019.
Viernes had asked the Comelec to cancel Villamor’s COC on the ground of alleged false material representation as he claimed that she is a naturalized American citizen.
In her defense, Villamor told the Comelec that while she was a naturalized American citizen, she had duly complied with all the requirements for the reacquisition of her Filipino citizenship under Republic Act No. 9225, or the Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003.
The Comelec’s Second Division granted Viernes’ petition. The ruling was affirmed by the Comelec En Banc. This prompted Villamor to elevate the case before the Supreme Court.
In granting Villamor’s petition, the Court said the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion when it ordered the cancellation of her COC without any prior determination of whether she had intended to deceive or mislead the electorate.
It said a false representation under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) must also consist of a “deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact which would otherwise render a candidate ineligible.”
Otherwise stated, the Court said false representation must be made with a malicious intent to deceive the electorate as to the potential candidate’s qualifications for public office.
In the case of Villamor, the Court said the absence of the Comelec’s determination of her intent to deceive or mislead the electorate constitutes grave abuse of discretion consistent with case law.
It said there was no bad faith on the part of Villamor since she never hid the fact of her naturalization as an American citizen or the date when she had renounced the same.
It pointed out that there was sufficient proof to support Villamor’s claim that she had re-established residence in the Philippines after her naturalization as an American citizen in 2009.
At the same time, the Court said the Comelec’s failure to suspend Villamor’s proclamation was inconsistent with its finding that she was ineligible for failing to meet the residency requirement.
“Comelec should not have allowed Villamor to be proclaimed (much less assume) the position of mayor if it truly believed that Villamor did not possess the requisite qualifications for the said post,” the Court said.
Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and Associate Justices Ramon Paul Hernando, Rosmari Carandang, Amy Lazaro-Javier, Henri Jean Paul Inting, Rodil Zalameda, Mario Lopez, Samuel Gaerlan, Ricardo Rosario, Jhosep Lopez, and Japar Dimaampao voted to grant Villamor’s petition.
Those who dissented were Senior Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas Bernabe and Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa. Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen was on leave when the case was tackled by the full court.