G.R. No. 163193, June 15, 2004
SIXTO S. BRILLANTES, JR., et.al, petitioner, VS. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, respondent.
(Digest by Ali Caronongan – Sourced from class digest)
On December 22, 1997, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 8436 authorizing the COMELEC to use an automated election system (AES) for the process of voting, counting of votes and canvassing/consolidating the results of the national and local elections. It also required the COMELEC to acquire automated counting machines (ACMs), computer equipment, devices and materials and adopt new electoral forms and printing materials.
The COMELEC initially intended to implement the said automation during the May 11, 1998 presidential elections, particularly in counting the votes collected from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). However, the failure of the machines to correctly read a number of automated ballots discontinued its implementation.
Contributions for the establishment of the AES persisted that even President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 172 on January 24, 2003, allocating the sum of P2,500,000,000 to exclusively fund the AES in time for the May 10, 2004 elections. On February 10, 2003, upon the request of the COMELEC, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 175 authorizing the release of a further supplemental P500 million budget for the AES project of the COMELEC.
The Supreme Court resolved the COMELEC to maintain the old and manual voting and counting system for the May 10, 2004 elections after contract negations with companies Mega Pacific Consortium (the supplier of the computerized voting/counting machines) were discontinued. Despite this impediment, the COMELEC nevertheless continued the electronic transmission of advanced unofficial results of the 2004 elections for national, provincial and municipal positions, also dubbed as an "unofficial quick count."
Petitioner contends that the respondent COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess of Jurisdiction in the issuance of Resolution No. 6712. Respondent COMELEC contends that its advancement in tabulation procedures is allowed within the statutory confines of section 52 (i) of the Omnibus Election Code that:
Prescribe(s) the use or adoption of the latest technological and electronic devices, taking into account the situation prevailing in the area and the funds available for the purpose. Provided, That the Commission shall notify the authorized representatives of accredited political parties and candidates in areas affected by the use or adoption of technological and electronic devices not less than thirty days prior to the effectivity of the use of such devices.
Whether or not Resolution No. 6712 dated April 28, 2004 issued by the COMELEC in authorizing the use of election funds in consolidating the election results for the May 10, 2004 elections should be declared VOID, as it is unconstitutional.
YES. For violating section 4 of Article VII. The said Resolution No. 6712 preempts the sole authority of the Congress to canvass the votes of the election returns for the President and the Vice-President.
Art. VII, Sec. 4 of the 1987: Resolution Preempts the sole and exclusive authority vested in the Congress to canvass the votes for the election of President and Vice-President. It is a grave error on the part of the respondent to have ignored the misapprehensions addressed by Senate President Franklin M. Drilon to COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos during the 2004 saying that such act would be in violation of the Constitution (section 4 of Article VII):
"any quick count to be conducted by the Commission on said positions would in effect constitute a canvass of the votes of the President and Vice-President, which not only would be pre-emptive of the authority of Congress, but would also be lacking of any constitutional authority."
The existence of an accredited Citizen’s arm: Under Section 27 of Rep. Act No. 7166, as amended by Rep. Act No. 8173, and reiterated in Section 18 of Rep. Act No. 8436, the accredited citizen’s arm - in this case, NAMFREL - is exclusively authorized to use a copy of the election returns in the conduct of an "unofficial" counting of the votes, whether for the national or the local elections. No other entity, including the respondent COMELEC itself, is authorized to use a copy of the election returns for purposes of conducting an "unofficial" count.
In addition, the second or third copy of the election returns, while required to be delivered to the COMELEC under the said laws, are not intended for undertaking an "unofficial" count. The said copies are archived and unsealed only when needed by to verify election results in connection with resolving election disputes that may be established.
Inapplicability of Section 52(i) of the Omnibus Election Code: The Court contends that Section 52(i) of the Omnibus Election Code, which is cited by the COMELEC as the statutory basis for the assailed resolution, does not cover the use of the latest technological and election devices for "unofficial" tabulations of votes. Moreover, the COMELEC failed to notify the authorized representatives of accredited political parties and all candidates in areas affected by the use or adoption of technological and electronic devices not less than thirty days prior to the effectivity of the use of such devices, after failing to submit any document proving that it had notified all political parties of the intended adoption of Resolution No. 6712.