[G.R. No. 134163-64. December 13, 2000]
MUSLIMIN SEMA, petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and RODEL MAÑARA, respondents.
[G.R. No. 141249-50. December 13, 2000]
RODEL MAÑARA, petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and MUSLIMIN SEMA, respondents.
[G.R. No. 141534-35. December 13, 2000]
RODEL MAÑARA, petitioner, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and MUSLIMIN SEMA, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Muslimin Sema*and Rodel Mañara were two (2) of the eleven (11) candidates for city mayor of Cotabato City during the May 11, 1998 elections.
During the canvassing of the election returns from the three hundred sixty-two (362) precincts of Cotabato City by the City Board of Canvassers (CBC), numerous petitions for exclusion of election returns were filed. For his part, Sema objected to thirty (30) election returns from the following precincts, namely: Precinct Nos. 295A/A1, 274A/275A, 46A2, 262A/263A, 218A/219A, 178A, 255A/256A, 158A/158A1, 214A/214A1, 104A/104A1, 154A/154A1, 92A, 212A/212A1, 109A/109A1, 184A1; 175A1, 168A/168A1, 233A/233A1, 209A/209A1, 121A1, 275A, 198A/198A1, 237A/237A1, 176A, 213A1/213A2, 241A, 167A, 180A, 103A, 264A/265A/266A and thereafter, filed a petition for exclusion of such returns with the CBC on the ground that the same contained material defects, were allegedly tampered with or falsified, prepared under duress, threat, coercion, and intimidation, or substituted with fraudulent ones. If the 30 election returns were to be excluded, Sema and Mañara would obtain 13,338 and 12,484 votes, respectively. Including the 30 election returns, the votes of Sema and Mañara would be 13,713 and 15,442, respectively.
On May 22, 1998, the CBC issued an order dismissing one hundred-sixteen (116) petitions for exclusion of election returns including the petitions for exclusion filed by Sema with respect to thirteen (13) of the thirty (30) contested returns he filed.
On May 23, 1998, the CBC issued another order dismissing fifty-five (55) petitions for exclusion of election returns including Sema’s petitions for exclusion with respect to fifteen (15) of the remaining seventeen (17) contested returns. In effect then, only two (2) election returns remained contested.
No appeal was taken from these orders.
Nonetheless, on May 30, 1998, the CBC issued another order dated May 29, 1998, this time granting Sema’s petition for exclusion of the thirty (30) election returns. A copy of this order was actually served upon Mañara in the morning of May 31, 1998. On May 30, 1998, counsel for Mañara, already aware of the existence of the May 29, 1998 order, questioned the illegal proceedings of the CBC saying that it had previously ruled upon the inclusion of twenty-eight (28) of said thirty (30) contested returns. In addition, Mañara questioned the composition of the CBC, the legality of its proceedings and the capacity of the board to act fairly and judiciously. The latter did not rule on his objection.
Upon the resumption of the canvassing in the evening of May 31, 1998, counsel for Mañara again called the CBC’s attention to the fact that it had already ruled upon and dismissed the petition for exclusion of Sema in its Orders dated May 22, and 23, 1998, and which orders had already become final and executory because no appeal was taken therefrom. But the CBC ignored the manifestation, explaining that the previous orders did not include Sema’s objections. Consequently, Mañara’s counsel manifested his intent to appeal from the May 29, 1998 order of the CBC.
On May 31, 1998, Sema and the other winning candidates for the City of Cotabato were proclaimed by the CBC. Notably, said proclamation was based on the canvass of only three hundred thirty-two (332) election returns, thirty (30) returns having been excluded from the total of three hundred sixty-two (362) returns pursuant to the CBC’s Order of May 29, 1998.
On June 2, 1998, Mañara filed his written notice of appeal with the CBC.
On June 5, 1998, Mañara filed his appeal with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), docketed as SPC No. 98-240, questioning the exclusion of the thirty (30) election returns in the canvass and the proceeding of the CBC in promulgating the May 29, 1998 order which he claimed to be illegal. The appeal was anchored on the following grounds: (1) the CBC exceeded its authority in its ruling of May 29, 1998 excluding from the canvass the 30 election returns, considering that the CBC had already dismissed the petition for exclusion in its orders dated May 22 and 23, 1998; (2) the CBC was illegally constituted when it issued its ruling of May 29, 1998 because it was presided by Casan Macadatu, who had already been replaced by Atty. Lintang Bidol effective May 25, 1998; and (3) the CBC’s proclamation of Sema as Mayor of the City of Cotabato was invalid as it was only on May 31, 1998 that the CBC completed the canvassing of 362 election returns and it was in the morning of the same day when the Board was not in session that Mañara was furnished with a copy of the CBC’s questioned ruling of May 29, 1998; such being the case, it was only at nightfall of May 31, 1998 when the Board held session that Mañara was able to manifest his intent to appeal from the said ruling.
On June 9, 1998, Mañara filed with the COMELEC a petition for annulment of the proclamation of Sema which was docketed as SPC No. 98-262.
Initially, the hearing of Mañara’s appeal and petition for annulment of proclamation was set on June 19, 1998 before the COMELEC en banc. However, the hearing was cancelled and the two (2) cases were referred to the First Division of the COMELEC instead.
Said cases were then heard on June 27, 1998 by the First Division of the COMELEC afterwhich they were submitted for resolution.
On June 29, 1998, the First Division of the COMELEC issued an order which reads as follows:
Without prejudice to the issuance at a later time of a formal Resolution in these cases, but based on the pleadings, the evidence adduced by the parties during the hearing on June 27, 1998, and the facts established therein, the effects and consequences of the proclamation for the position of City Mayor per Certificate of Canvass of Votes and Proclamation dated May 31, 1998 issued by the City Board of Canvassers of Cotabato City is HEREBY SUSPENDED.
Respondent Muslimin Sema is directed to cease and desist from taking his oath of office as City Mayor and/or from discharging the functions of said office.
The Clerk of the Commission is directed to furnish a copy of this order to the Hon. Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, and Land Bank of the Philippines, thru its branch at Cotabato City.
The Regional Election Director, Atty. Hector Masna shall serve immediately to the parties a copy of this Order.
Despite the above order of the COMELEC, Sema assumed the office of the city mayor of Cotabato and commenced to discharge the functions of said office.
On July 3, 1998, Sema filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition before this Court to annul the order of the COMELEC dated June 29, 1998 with prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction directing the COMELEC to desist from enforcing the questioned order. The case was docketed as G.R. Nos. 134163-64. As grounds therefor, Sema alleged that:
The pendency of the appeal which was apparently filed out of time and the petition for annulment of proclamation is not a sufficient basis to enjoin petitioner from discharging the functions of the contested office especially where, as here, he had already taken his oath of office and assumed the same in accordance with law.
The evidence submitted by the private respondent before the Comelec proved beyond doubt that his appeal (SPC No. 98-240) was filed out of time and that he failed to comply with the requirements of a pre-proclamation controversy.
On July 14, 1998, this Court issued a resolution directing the parties to maintain the status quo prevailing at the time of the issuance of the order of the COMELEC dated June 29, 1998 in SPC Nos. 98-240 and 98-262.
On August 17, 1999, this Court directed the COMELEC to resolve SPC Nos. 98-240 and 98-262 within thirty (30) days from receipt of the resolution and to make a report of the same to the Court within five (5) days from its promulgation.
On September 17, 1999, the COMELEC filed a manifestation and motion for extension of time to resolve SPC Nos. 98-240 and 98-262 stating that the Commissioner to whom the cases were raffled to and assigned for writing of the Commission’s opinion was out of the country and would be back on October 8, 1999. Consequently, it asked for a period of thirty (30) days from October 8, 1999 or until November 7, 1999 to resolve the said cases.
On October 19, 1999, the Court noted the manifestation and granted the motion for extension of time to resolve the said cases.
On October 27, 1999, the COMELEC submitted its compliance to the Court’s Resolution of August 17, 1999 and attached therewith a copy of the resolution of the First Division of the COMELEC dated October 18, 1999 denying due course to SPC No. 98-240 for having been filed out of time, dismissing SPC No. 98-262 for lack of merit and affirming the proclamation of Sema as mayor of Cotabato City.
On November 5, 1999, Mañara filed his comment on the COMELEC’s compliance stating, among other things, that the same is premature since it is only a resolution of the First Division and not a final resolution of the Commission en banc.
Consequently, on December 7, 1999 this Court issued a resolution directing the COMELEC en banc to resolve SPC Nos. 98-240 and 98-262 with finality within a non-extendible period of thirty (30) days from receipt of the resolution and to forthwith make a report thereon to the Court within five (5) days from the promulgation of the resolution.
On January 19, 2000, respondent COMELEC submitted its compliance and reported that it issued a resolution on January 2, 2000 denying the motion for reconsideration filed by Mañara.
On January 24, 2000, Sema filed a manifestation with motion to consider G.R. Nos. 134163-64 closed and terminated.
On January 27, 2000, Mañara filed a counter-manifestation with motion to resolve the petition in G.R. Nos. 134163-64 on the merits.
On February 14, 2000, Sema filed a motion for leave of court to file an incorporated reply to Mañara’s counter-manifestation.
All motions were noted by this Court.
Previously, or on January 13, 2000, Mañara filed a petition for certiorari captioned “petition ex abundanti cautela”, docketed as G.R. Nos. 141249-50, questioning the COMELEC Resolutions dated October 18, 1999 and January 2, 2000. He prayed that the proclamation of Sema as mayor of Cotabato City be annulled and that the COMELEC be ordered to canvass the thirty (30) election returns excluded by the CBC. This petition, however, was dismissed by the Court on January 25, 2000 for lack of a verified statement on material dates. An addendum to said petition was noted without action by the Court on February 8, 1999.
On February 7, 2000, Mañara seasonably filed a petition for certiorari, docketed as G.R. Nos. 141534-35. Aside from questioning the non-observance of the COMELEC of its own Rules of Procedure, the petition challenges the illegal proclamation of Sema which proceeded from the illegal proceedings of the CBC in excluding thirty (30) election returns in the canvassing of votes for mayor in the City of Cotabato when it had earlier ruled for the inclusion of twenty-eight (28) of said returns. It ascribes to the COMELEC the following errors, viz:
WHETHER OR NOT THE COMMISSION ACTED WITH JURISDICTION OR SOUND DISCRETION, OR WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION, OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF DISCRETION IN ALLOWING ONE AND THE SAME COMMISSIONER AS PONENTE FOR BOTH THE CHALLENGED RESOLUTIONS;
WHETHER OR NOT THE COMMISSION ACTED WITH JURISDICTION OR SOUND DISCRETION, OR WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION, OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN ALLOWING A COMMISSIONER OF THE SECOND DIVISION TO SIGN AS MEMBER OF THE FIRST DIVISION ON THE CHALLENGED SPLIT RESOLUTION, ANNEX "A" HEREOF, NOTWITHSTANDING THE FACT THAT THERE WAS NO VACANCY IN THE COMPOSITION OF THE FIRST DIVISION;
WHETHER OR NOT THE COMMISSION ACTED WITH SOUND DISCRETION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN NOT PRIORLY RESOLVING THE CRISES IN QUORUM OF THE COMMISSION EN BANC SO AS TO ACCORD TO PETITIONER THE EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW;
WHETHER OR NOT THE COMMISSION ACTED WITH SOUND DISCRETION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN BY-PASSING IN ITS CHALLENGED SPLIT RESOLUTION THE ISSUES RAISED BY PETITIONER IN HIS SPC NO. 98-240 AND SPC NO. 98-262;
WHETHER OR NOT THE COMMISSION ACTED WITH SOUND DISCRETION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN DISTORTING THE MATERIAL FACTS OF THE CASE, WHICH THE HONORABLE COURT, IN ITS RESOLUTION OF AUGUST 17, 1999, HAS ALREADY ASCERTAINED;
WHETHER OR NOT THE COMMISSION ACTED WITH JURISDICTION OR SOUND DISCRETION, OR WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION, OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN UPHOLDING THE BOARD IN ITS ILLEGAL PROCLAMATION OF PRIVATE RESPONDENT MUSLIMEN SEMA AS THE ELECTED MAYOR OF COTABATO CITY WHICH PETITIONER IN SPC NO. 98-240 AND SPC NO. 98-262 CHALLENGED AND QUESTIONED FOR BEING NULL AND VOID AB INITIO.
WHETHER OR NOT THE COMMISSION ACTED WITH SOUND DISCRETION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN NOT GIVING DUE COURSE TO PETITIONER'S SPC NO. 98-240 AND SPC NO. 98-262, ON THE TECHNICALITY GROUND THAT THE SAME WERE ALLEGEDLY FILED OUT OF TIME, WHICH IS NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW AND CONTRARY TO THE SETTLED DECISION OF THE HONORABLE COURT.
The pivotal issue in this case is whether or not the order of the CBC of Cotabato City dated May 29, 1998 granting Sema’s 28 petitions for exclusion of the 30 contested election returns is null and void for having been issued after its earlier ruling embodied in its orders of May 22 and 23, 1998 directing the exclusion of the same returns had already become final.
It may be recalled that on May 22, 1998, the CBC issued an order dismissing 13 of the 30 petitions for exclusion filed by Sema. On May 23, 1998, the CBC issued another order dismissing 15 of the remaining 17 petitions for exclusion he filed. He did not appeal from these orders within the reglementary period, consequently, the same already became final. However, the CBC issued another order on May 29, 1998, this time granting Sema’s petitions for exclusion of 30 election returns, among which were the 28 election returns already ordered included for canvass.
It was blatantly absurd for the CBC to rationalize that the May 22 and 23, 1998 orders dismissing the petitions for exclusions refer only to candidates Guiani’s and Leyretana’s petitions and not Sema’s. The wordings of the May 23, 1998 order is plain and unequivocal. It says: “all petitions/cases against the hereunder contested precincts are hereby being DISMISSED for lack of merit xxx.” If all petitions/cases were dismissed, then, these necessarily included Sema’s petition. Furthermore, there was nothing in the aforementioned orders which would indicate that the CBC reserved its right to rule on Sema’s petition at a later time. Neither do the minutes of the board even intimate such a reservation.
Even assuming arguendo that the orders of the CBC of May 22 and 23, 1998 had not become final and executory, we are not persuaded by the COMELEC’s pronouncement that Mañara belatedly filed his appeal from the May 29, 1998 ruling of the CBC on June 5, 1998. According to the COMELEC's First Division in its Resolution dated October 18, 1999:
Records show that the ruling which aggrieved appellant was issued on or about 4:00 p.m. of May 30, 1998. Following the instructions of the provisions above-cited, Mañara had, until 4:00 p.m. of June 1, 1998 to file his notice of appeal with the Board. As it was, he filed said notice only on June 2, 1998. In this regard alone, appellant had already committed a procedural lapse. He aggravated his errors when he filed his appeal before the Commission on June 5, 1998, a full day beyond the 5-day reglementary period. The law, we have to stress, specifically ruled out any extension of the five-day period. It is most unfortunate that in committing not only one but two fatal lapses, appellant disregarded a procedure which according to COMELEC Resolution No. 2962 “is mandatory and shall be strictly observed by the Board of Canvassers”. It cost him his appeal because the same had, for all intents and purposes prescribed. The May 30, 1998 ruling of the City Board of Canvassers of Cotabato City, not having been seasonably questioned can no longer be disturbed.
It would appear that the May 29, 1998 ruling of the CBC was received by Mañara only on May 31, 1998 which was the same date the CBC declared that it had completed the canvassing of 362 returns. It was also in the evening of May 31, 1998 while the CBC was in session that Mañara manifested his intent to appeal from said ruling. The appeal was therefore filed with the COMELEC on June 5, 1998 within the period prescribed in Section 20 (e) and (f) of R.A. No. 7166. 
Further assuming that the reckoning date for appeal was May 30, 1998 and not May 31, 1998, it bears stressing that the petition brought by Mañara to the COMELEC on June 5, 1998, docketed as SPC No. 98-240, in effect challenged the composition of the CBC and the legality of its proceedings. If such be the situation, the proceedings would be governed by Section 19 of R.A. No. 7166 and Section 8, Rule 27 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure, to wit:
Section 19 of R.A. No. 7166 reads:
SEC. 19. Contested Composition or Proceedings of the Board; Period to Appeal; Decision by the Commission.—Parties adversely affected by a ruling of the board of canvassers on questions affecting the composition or proceedings of the board may appeal the matter to the Commission within three (3) days from a ruling thereon. The Commission shall summarily decide the case within five (5) days from the filing thereof.
Section 8, Rule 27 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure provides:
SEC. 8. Procedure Before the Board of Canvassers When Composition or Proceedings of Board are Contested.— (a) When the composition or proceeding of the board of canvassers are contested, the board of canvassers shall, within twenty-four (24) hours, make a ruling thereon with notice to the contestant who, if adversely affected, may appeal the matter to the Commission within three (3) days after the ruling with proper notice to the board of canvassers. The Commission en banc shall summarily decide the case within five (5) days from the filing thereof.
(b) Upon receipt of such appeal, the Clerk of Court concerned shall immediately set the case for hearing, with due notice to the parties, by the Commission en banc.
(c) During the pendency of the appeal, the board of canvassers shall immediately suspend the canvass until the Commission orders the continuation or resumption thereof.
Pursuant to the foregoing provisions, the party adversely affected by a ruling of the board must take an appeal within three (3) days from the date of the ruling. In this case, the facts would suggest that the CBC adjourned its proceedings on May 30 and 31, 1998 without making any ruling on Mañara’s objections to the CBC’s proceedings. When Mañara filed his appeal in SPC No. 98-240 on June 5, 1998, it cannot be correctly argued that the 3-day period set by law for its submission had expired because the CBC never ruled on his objections to the board’s proceedings. The failure or refusal of the CBC to rule on Mañara’s objections should not prevent his right to elevate the matter to the COMELEC for proper review. On this score, we find persuasive and logical the dissent of Commissioner Teresita Dy-Liacco Flores to the First Division’s ruling, thus:
Mañara filed the present Appeal on 5 June 1998. Whether it is within the three day period to file, nobody knows, because the Board never issued any ruling from 30 May 1998 when the proceedings of the board was challenged up to the time it adjourned on 31 May 1998. It never made a ruling at all even after that. The board’s adjournment without making any written and express ruling thereon means that the Board has not complied with its duty to rule thereon. The absence of any ruling makes it impossible for Mañara to file his appeal within the prescribed period because there was no ruling to appeal from in the first place. The absence of compliance of the duty by the board makes it legally unjustifiable for this Commission to dismiss the present appeal because the three-day period within which to appeal must be counted from the time the ruling was made which in the case at bar is absent.
Mañara has every right to expect a ruling from the Board on its objection over the latter’s proceedings. Up to this time, however, the Board has not complied with its statutory responsibility to come up with a ruling thereon. The failure of the Board to discharge this obligation should not in any way prejudice Mañara’s right to elevate the matter to this Commission on appeal. Otherwise, all that a partial board can do to favor a party is to refuse to make a ruling on the latter’s opponent’s objections effectively preventing its review by this Commission. (Abella vs. Larrazabal 180 SCRA 509). It is in this light that the instant appeal must be considered seasonably filed. This Commission must assume jurisdiction, entertain the allegations raised and resolve the issues involved in SPC No. 98-240.
It is clear that the CBC acted without authority when it issued its May 29, 1998 ruling. Consequently, the COMELEC acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction and with grave abuse of discretion when it rendered the questioned resolution of October 18, 1999 denying due course to SPC No. 98-240 for allegedly having been filed out of time and affirming the proclamation of Sema as Mayor of Cotabato City; and the resolution of January 2, 2000 denying Mañara’s motion for reconsideration of the October 18, 1999 resolution.
Accordingly, the proclamation of Sema is null and void as it was based on an incomplete canvass. An incomplete canvass is illegal and cannot be the basis of a valid proclamation. A proclamation made where the contested returns set aside will affect the result of the election and the board of canvassers proceeded to proclaim without the authority from the COMELEC is null and void.
WHEREFORE, the petition for certiorari, docketed as G.R. Nos. 141534-35 is hereby GRANTED. The Resolutions of the Commission on Elections dated October 18, 1999 and January 2, 2000 are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The COMELEC is ORDERED to direct the City Board of Canvassers of Cotabato City to reconvene within ten (10) days from receipt of this decision for the purpose of completing the canvass of votes and proclaiming the winner. The petition for certiorari in G.R. Nos. 134163-64 is deemed CLOSED and TERMINATED. The status quo order dated July 14, 1998 is hereby ordered LIFTED.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes Santiago, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.
Pardo J., no part. was Comelec chair at the time.
* Sometimes referred to in the pleadings and/or COMELEC resolutions as Muslimen Sema or Muslemin Sema.
 Rollo of G.R. Nos. 134163-64, pp. 24-25.
 Id., at 12 and 14.
 Id., at 124.
 Id., at 425.
 Id., at 429-430.
 Id., at 432.
 Id., at 438-440.
 Id., at 443-471. Commissioners Manolo B. Gorospe and Luzviminda G. Tancangco voted to deny due course to SPC No. 98-240 and to dismiss SPC No. 98-262 for lack of merit while Commissioner Teresita Dy-Liacco Flores dissented.
 Id., at 472-477.
 The voting was as follows:
(f) Commissioners Manolo B. Gorospe and Luzviminda G. Tancangco voted to deny the MR;
(f) Chairperson Harriet O. Demetriou and Commissioner Teresita Dy-Liacco Flores dissented; while
(f) Commissioners Julio Desamito and Japal Guiani inhibited themselves.
 Id., at 521-527.
 Rollo of G.R. Nos. 141249-50, pp. 3-108.
 Mañara received a copy of the COMELEC resolution denying his motion for reconsideration on January 7, 2000. Consequently, he had until February 6, 2000 to file a petition for certiorari. Since February 6, 2000 fell on a Sunday, he had until February 7, 2000 to do so, and he did. He filed the petition docketed as G.R. Nos. 141534-35 on February 7, 2000.
 Rollo of G.R. Nos. 141534-35, pp. 3-62.
 Id., at 21-23.
 Id., at 66.
 Sec. 20. Procedure in Disposition of Contested Election Returns.-
(e) Any party adversely affected by the ruling of the board shall immediately inform the board if he intends to appeal said ruling. The board shall enter said information in the minutes of the canvass, set aside the returns and proceed to consider the other returns.
(f) After all the uncontested returns have been canvassed and the contested returns ruled upon by it, the board shall suspend the canvass. Within forty-eight (48) hours therefrom, any party adversely affected by the ruling may file with the board a written and verified notice of appeal; and within an unextendible period of five (5) days thereafter, an appeal may be taken to the Commission.
 Abella v. Larrazabal, 180 SCRA 509 (1989).
 Id., at 131-132.
 Jamil v. COMELEC, 283 SCRA 349 (1997).
 Sections 238 and 245, Batas Pambansa Blg. 881; Vide: Jamil v. COMELEC, supra.