Political Law

Augusto Sanchez vs Commission on Elections

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G.R. No. 78461; G.R. No. 79146; G.R. No. 79212 – 153 SCRA 67 – Political Law – The Legislative Department – Electoral Tribunals – Jurisdiction – Pre-proclamation Controversy

Election Law – Pre-proclamation Controversy; Definition

After the first senatorial elections under the 1987 Constitution, Augusto Sanchez, a candidate therein, petitioned┬áthe Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to conduct a recount of the votes. Allegedly, votes intended for him, which were merely written as “Sanchez”, were considered as stray votes because of the sameness of his last name to that of Gil Sanchez – another candidate who was later disqualified. Sanchez was then running as the 25th in ranking among the candidates.┬áHe filed an urgent petition to re-count or re-appreciate those votes in his favor.

Meanwhile, Santanina Rasul and Juan Ponce Enrile, ranked 23rd and 24th respectively intervened and filed before the COMELEC requesting the latter to proclaim them as the duly elected senators elect completing the 24 senators-elect. They moved to dismiss Sanchez’ petition. Rasul’s lead over Enrile was just about 1,910 and there were just 3 municipalities left to be counted (amounting to 31,000 votes). Enrile’s lead over Sanchez was 73,034 votes. COMELEC then denied Sanchez’ petition. Subsequently, COMELEC declared Rasul as the 23rd senator-elect.

Later however, COMELEC, by a vote of 5 to 2 reversed its earlier decision in denying Sanchez’ petition and it granted Sanchez’ request for recount and re-appreciation. Enrile then filed a petition against COMELEC and Sanchez. Enrile alleged that the COMELEC exceeded its jurisdiction in granting Sanchez’ petition for recount and abused its discretion in refusing to proclaim him (Enrile) on the ground that Sanchez’ petition for recount is not a pre-proclamation controversy which involves issues affecting extrinsic validity, and not intrinsic validity, of the said election returns and that Rasul’s lead over him was only 1,916 votes while his lead over Sanchez was 73,034 votes, with only 31,000 votes remaining to be canvassed in 3 towns, could not offset his lead over Sanchez.

ISSUE: Whether Sanchez’ petition for recount and/or re-appreciation of ballots filed with the CCOMELEC may be considered a summary pre-proclamation controversy falling within the COMELEC’s exclusive jurisdiction (Sec. 242, Omnibus Election Code) or properly pertains to the realm of election protest falling within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Senate Electoral Tribunal as “the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualification of the [Senate’s] members.” (Art. VI, Sec. 17, Constitution).

HELD: Neither. Sanchez’ petition must fail. There is no clear showing that the said stray votes constitute “omission in the election returns of the name of any candidate and/or his corresponding votes” (incomplete election returns). The election returns are in fact complete as the total number of votes that were counted and appreciated as votes in his favor by the boards of inspectors. The scope of pre-proclamation controversy is limited to the issues enumerated under Sec. 243 of the Omnibus Election Code. The enumeration therein of the issues that may be raised in pre-proclamation controversy, is restrictive and exclusive. In the absence of any clear showing or proof that the election returns canvassed are incomplete or contain material defects (Sec. 234), appear to have been tampered with, falsified or prepared under duress (Sec. 235) and/or contain discrepancies in the votes credited to any candidate, the difference of which affects the result of the election (Sec. 236), which are the only instances where a pre-proclamation recount maybe resorted to, granted the preservation of the integrity of the ballot box and its contents, Sanchez’ petition must fail. The complete election returns whose authenticity is not in question, must be prima facie considered valid for the purpose of canvassing the same and proclamation of the winning candidates. The ground for recount relied upon by Sanchez is clearly not among the issues that may be raised in a pre-proclamation controversy. His allegation of invalidation of “Sanchez” votes intended for him bear no relation to the correctness and authenticity of the election returns canvassed. Neither the Constitution nor statute has granted the COMELEC or the board of canvassers the power in the canvass of election returns to look beyond the face thereof, once satisfied of their authenticity.

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