G.R. No. 157013, July 10, 2003
MACALINTAL, petitioner VS. COMELEC, ROMULO, and BONCODIN, respondents
(Digest by Tish Bahjin – Sourced from Class Digest)
Petitioner Macalintal files a petition for certiorari and prohibition, seeking a declaration that certain provisions of R.A. No. 9189 (The Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003) are unconstitutional. The Court upholds petitioner’s right to file the instant petition, stating in essence that the petitioner has seriously and convincingly presented an issue of transcendental significance to the Filipino people, considering that public funds are to be used and appropriated for the implementation of said law.
Petitioner raises three principal questions for contention:
(1) That Section 5(d) of R.A. No. 9189 allowing the registration of voters who are immigrants or permanent residents in other countries, by their mere act of executing an affidavit expressing their intention to return to the Philippines, violates the residency requirement in Art. V, Sec. 1 of the Constitution;
(2) That Section 18.5 of the same law empowering the COMELEC to proclaim the winning candidates for national offices and party list representatives, including the President and the Vice-President, violates the constitutional mandate under Art. VII, Sec. 4 of the Constitution that the winning candidates for President and Vice-President shall be proclaimed as winners only by Congress; and
(3) That Section 25 of the same law, allowing Congress (through the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee created in the same section) to exercise the power to review, revise, amend, and approve the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) that the COMELEC shall promulgate, violates the independence of the COMELEC under Art. IX-A, Sec. 1 of the Constitution.
1) Whether or not Section 5(d) of R.A. No. 9189 is violative of Art. V, Sec. 1 of the Constitution.
2) Whether or not Section 18.5 of R.A. No. 9189 is violative of Art. VII, Sec. 4 of the Constitution.
3) Whether or not Section 25 of R.A. No. 9189 is violative of Art. IX-A, Sec. 1 of the Constitution.
1) NO. Section 5(d) of R.A. No. 9189 is not violative of Art. V, Sec. 1 of the Constitution.
2) YES. Section 18.5 of R.A. No. 9189, with respect only to the votes of the President and Vice-President, and not to the votes of the Senators and party-list representatives, is violative of Art. VII, Sec. 4 of the Constitution.
3) YES. Section 25 of R.A. No. 9189, with respect only to the second sentence in its second paragraph allowing Congress to exercise the power to review, revise, amend, and approve the IRR that the COMELEC shall promulgate, is violative of Art. IX-A, Sec. 1 of the Constitution.
1) Section 5(d) of R.A. No. 9189, entitled “An Act Providing for a System of Overseas Absentee Voting by Qualified Citizens of the Philippines Abroad, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes,” provides:
Sec. 5. Disqualifications.—The following shall be disqualified from voting under this Act:
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d) An immigrant or a permanent resident who is recognized as such in the host country, unless he/she executes, upon registration, an affidavit prepared for the purpose by the Commission declaring that he/she shall resume actual physical permanent residence in the Philippines not later than three (3) years from approval of his/her registration under this Act. Such affidavit shall also state that he/she has not applied for citizenship in another country. Failure to return shall be cause for the removal of the name of the immigrant or permanent resident from the National Registry of Absentee Voters and his/her permanent disqualification to vote in absentia.
Petitioner posits that Section 5(d) is unconstitutional in that it violates the requirement that the voter must be a resident in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place where he proposes to vote for at least six months immediately preceding the election, as provided under Section 1, Article V of the Constitution which reads: “Sec. 1. Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place wherein they propose to vote for at least six months immediately preceding the election.”
For the resolution of this instant issue, the Court has relied on, among others, the discussions of the members of the Constitutional Commission on the topics of absentee voting and absentee voter qualification, in connection with Sec. 2, Art. V of the Constitution, which reads: “Sec. 2. The Congress shall provide a system for securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot as well as a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.” It was clearly shown from the said discussions that the Constitutional Commission intended to enfranchise as much as possible all Filipino citizens abroad who have not abandoned their domicile of origin, which is in the Philippines. The Commission even intended to extend to young Filipinos who reach voting age abroad whose parents’ domicile of origin is in the Philippines, and consider them qualified as voters for the first time.
It is in pursuance of that intention that the Commission provided for Section 2 immediately after the residency requirement of Section 1. By the doctrine of necessary implication in statutory construction, which may be applied in construing constitutional provisions, the strategic location of Section 2 indicates that the Constitutional Commission provided for an exception to the actual residency requirement of Section 1 with respect to qualified Filipinos abroad. The same Commission has in effect declared that qualified Filipinos who are not in the Philippines may be allowed to vote even though they do not satisfy the residency requirement in Section 1, Article V of the Constitution.
That Section 2 of Article V of the Constitution is an exception to the residency requirement found in Section 1 of the same Article was in fact the subject of debate when Senate Bill No. 2104, which later became R.A. No. 9189, was deliberated upon on the Senate floor, further weakening petitioner’s claim on the unconstitutionality of Section 5(d) of R.A. No. 9189.
2)Section 4 of R.A. No. 9189 provides that the overseas absentee voter may vote for president, vice-president, senators, and party-list representatives.
Section 18.5 of the same Act provides:
Sec. 18. On-Site Counting and Canvassing.—
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18.5 The canvass of votes shall not cause the delay of the proclamation of a winning candidate if the outcome of the election will not be affected by the results thereof. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Commission is empowered to order the proclamation of winning candidates despite the fact that the scheduled election has not taken place in a particular country or countries, if the holding of elections therein has been rendered impossible by events, factors and circumstances peculiar to such country or countries, in which events, factors and circumstances are beyond the control or influence of the Commission.
Petitioner claims that the provision of Section 18.5 of R.A. No. 9189 empowering the COMELEC to order the proclamation of winning candidates for President and Vice-President is unconstitutional and violative of the following provisions of Section 4 of Article VII of the Constitution:
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The returns of every election for President and Vice-President, duly certified by the board of canvassers of each province or city, shall be transmitted to the Congress, directed to the President of the Senate. Upon receipt of the certificates of canvass, the President of the Senate shall, not later than thirty days after the day of the election, open all the certificates in the presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives in joint public session, and the Congress, upon determination of the authenticity and due execution thereof in the manner provided by law, canvass the votes.
The person having the highest number of votes shall be proclaimed elected, but in case two or more shall have an equal and highest number of votes, one of them shall forthwith be chosen by the vote of a majority of all the Members of both Houses of the Congress, voting separately.
The Congress shall promulgate its rules for the canvassing of the certificates.
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Indeed, the phrase, proclamation of winning candidates, in Section 18.5 of R.A. No. 9189 is far too sweeping that it necessarily includes the proclamation of the winning candidates for the presidency and the vice-presidency, granting merit to petitioner’s contention that said Section appears to be repugnant to Section 4, Article VII of the Constitution only insofar as said Section totally disregarded the authority given to Congress by the Constitution to proclaim the winning candidates for the positions of President and Vice-President.
Congress could not have allowed the COMELEC to usurp a power that constitutionally belongs to it or, as aptly stated by petitioner, to encroach “on the power of Congress to canvass the votes for President and Vice-President and the power to proclaim the winners for the said positions.”
3) Section 25 of R.A. No. 9189 created the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC), as follows:
Sec. 25. Joint Congressional Oversight Committee.—a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee is hereby created, composed of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws, and seven (7) other Senators designated by the Senate President, and the Chairman of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, and seven (7) other Members of the House of Representatives designated by the Speaker of the House of Representatives: Provided, that of the seven (7) members to be designated by each House of Congress, four (4) should come from the majority and the remaining three (3) from the minority.
The Joint Congressional Oversight Committee shall have the power to monitor and evaluate the implementation of this Act. It shall review, revise, amend and approve the Implementing Rules and Regulations promulgated by the Commission.
All the parties, petitioner and respondents alike, are unanimous in claiming that Section 25 of R.A. No. 9189 is unconstitutional. Thus, there is no actual issue forged on this question raised by petitioner. However, the Court finds it expedient to expound on the role of Congress through the JCOC vis-à-vis the independence of the COMELEC as a constitutional body, as aptly provided for under Art. IX-A, Sec. 1, which reads “Section 1. The Constitutional Commissions, which shall be independent, are the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Elections, and the Commission on Audit.”
The ambit of legislative power under Article VI of the Constitution is circumscribed by other constitutional provisions, one of which is the aforementioned provision on the independence of constitutional commissions. The Court has held that “whatever may be the nature of the functions of the Commission on Elections, the fact is that the framers of the Constitution wanted it to be independent from the other departments of the Government.”
The Commission on Elections is a constitutional body. It is intended to play a distinct and important part in our scheme of government. In the discharge of its functions, it should not be hampered with restrictions that would be fully warranted in the case of a less responsible organization. The Commission may err, so may this court also. It should be allowed considerable latitude in devising means and methods that will insure the accomplishment of the great objective for which it was created — free, orderly and honest elections. We may not agree fully with its choice of means, but unless these are clearly illegal or constitute gross abuse of discretion, this court should not interfere. Politics is a practical matter, and political questions must be dealt with realistically – not from the standpoint of pure theory. The Commission on Elections, because of its fact-finding facilities, its contacts with political strategists, and its knowledge derived from actual experience in dealing with political controversies, is in a peculiarly advantageous position to decide complex political questions.
The Court has no general powers of supervision over COMELEC which is an independent body “except those specifically granted by the Constitution,” that is, to review its decisions, orders and rulings. In the same vein, it is not correct to hold that because of its recognized extensive legislative power to enact election laws, Congress may intrude into the independence of the COMELEC by exercising supervisory powers over its rule-making authority. In line with this, this Court holds that Section 25 of R.A. 9189 is unconstitutional and must therefore be stricken off from the said law.
In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President, the Vice-President shall become the President to serve the unexpired term. In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of both the President and Vice-President, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall then act as President until the President or Vice-President shall have been elected and qualified.