Maliksi vs COMELEC
G.R. No. 203302 April 11, 2013
Facts: During the 2010 Elections, the Municipal Board of Canvassers proclaimed Saquilayan the winner for the position of Mayor of Imus, Cavite. Maliksi, the candidate who garnered the second highest number of votes, brought an election protest in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Imus, Cavite alleging that there were irregularities in the counting of votes in 209 clustered precincts. Subsequently, the RTC held a revision of the votes, and, based on the results of the revision, declared Maliksi as the duly elected Mayor of Imus commanding Saquilayan to cease and desist from performing the functions of said office. Saquilayan appealed to the COMELEC. In the meanwhile, the RTC granted Maliksi’s motion for execution pending appeal, and Maliksi was then installed as Mayor. In resolving the appeal, the COMELEC First Division, without giving notice to the parties, decided to recount the ballots through the use of the printouts of the ballot images from the CF cards. Thus, it issued an order dated March 28, 2012 requiring Saquilayan to deposit the amount necessary to defray the expenses for the decryption and printing of the ballot images. Later, it issued another order dated April 17, 2012 for Saquilayan to augment his cash deposit.
Issue: Whether or not the conduct of recount by the first division of the COMELEC is proper.
Held: No. It bears stressing at the outset that the First Division should not have conducted the assailed recount proceedings because it was then exercising appellate jurisdiction as to which no existing rule of procedure allowed it to conduct a recount in the first instance. The recount proceedings authorized under Section 6, Rule 15 of COMELEC Resolution No. 8804, as amended, are to be conducted by the COMELEC Divisions only in the exercise of their exclusive original jurisdiction over all election protests involving elective regional (the autonomous regions), provincial and city officials.
Section 6, Rule 10 (Conduct of Revision) of the 2010 Rules of Procedure for Municipal Election Contests, which governs the proceedings in the Regional Trial Courts exercising original jurisdiction over election protests, provides:
x x x x
(m) In the event that the revision committee determines that the integrity of the ballots and the ballot box have not been preserved, as when proof of tampering or substitution exists, it shall proceed to instruct the printing of the picture image of the ballots stored in the data storage device for the precinct. The court shall provide a non-partisan technical person who shall conduct the necessary authentication process to ensure that the data or image stored is genuine and not a substitute. Only after this determination can the printed picture image be used for the recount.
The foregoing rules further require that the decryption of the images stored in the CF cards and the printing of the decrypted images take place during the revision or recount proceedings. There is a good reason for thus fixing where and by whom the decryption and the printing should be conducted. It is during the revision or recount conducted by the Revision/Recount Committee when the parties are allowed to be represented, with their representatives witnessing the proceedings and timely raising their objections in the course of the proceedings. Moreover, whenever the Revision/Recount Committee makes any determination that the ballots have been tampered and have become unreliable, the parties are immediately made aware of such determination.
The disregard of Maliksi’s right to be informed of the decision to print the picture images of the ballots and to conduct the recount proceedings during the appellate stage cannot be brushed aside by the invocation of the fact that Maliksi was able to file, after all, a motion for reconsideration. To be exact, the motion for reconsideration was actually directed against the entire resolution of the First Division, while Maliksi’s claim of due process violation is directed only against the First Division’s recount proceedings that resulted in the prejudicial result rendered against him. Notably, the First Division did not issue any order directing the recount. Without the written order, Maliksi was deprived of the chance to seek any reconsideration or even to assail the irregularly-held recount through a seasonable petition for certiorari in this Court. In that context, he had no real opportunity to assail the conduct of the recount proceedings.
The service of the First Division orders requiring Saquilayan to post and augment the cash deposits for the printing of the picture images did not sufficiently give Maliksi notice of the First Division’s decision to print the picture images. The said orders did not meet the requirements of due process because they did not specifically inform Maliksi that the ballots had been found to be tampered. Nor did the orders offer the factual bases for the finding of tampering. Hence, to leave for Maliksi to surmise on the factual bases for finding the need to print the picture images still violated the principles of fair play, because the responsibility and the obligation to lay down the factual bases and to inform Maliksi as the party to be potentially prejudiced thereby firmly rested on the shoulders of the First Division.