Political Law

Firdausi Abbas et al vs The Senate Electoral Tribunal

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G.R. No. 83767 – 166 SCRA 651 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – The Legislative Department – Electoral Tribunals – Inhibition in the Senate Electoral Tribunal – Senate electoral contests

In October 1987, Firdausi Abbas et al filed before the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) an election contest against 22 candidates of the LABAN coalition who were proclaimed senators-elect in the May 11 (1987) congressional elections by the COMELEC. The SET was at the time composed of three (3) Justices of the Supreme Court and six (6) Senators. Abbas later on filed for the disqualification of the 6 senator members from partaking in the said election protest on the ground that they themselves are respondents to the election contest he and the others filed. Abbas argued that considerations of public policy and the norms of fair play and due process imperatively require the mass disqualification sought. To accommodate the proposed disqualification and so as not to be unconstitutional, Abbas argued that all the SET has to do is to amend its rules so that the three remaining members (all Justices) can and may validly resolve the election contest they filed. The SET denied the motion for disqualification. Abbas et al now filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court alleging that the SET abused its discretion.

ISSUE:  Whether or not Abbas’ petition should prosper.

HELD: No. The most fundamental objection to such proposal lies in the plain terms and intent of the Constitution itself which, in its Article VI, Section 17, creates the Senate Electoral Tribunal, ordains its composition and defines its jurisdiction and powers.

“Sec. 17.  The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each have an Electoral Tribunal which shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their respective Members. Each Electoral Tribunal shall be composed of nine Members, three of whom shall be Justices of the Supreme Court to be designated by the Chief Justice, and the remaining six shall be Members of the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, who shall be chosen on the basis of proportional representation from the political parties and the parties or organizations registered under the party-list system represented therein. The senior Justice in the Electoral Tribunal shall be its Chairman.”

It is quite clear that in providing for a SET to be staffed by both Justices of the SC and Members of the Senate, the Constitution intended that both those “judicial” and “legislative” components commonly share the duty and authority of deciding all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of Senators. The legislative component herein cannot be totally excluded from participation in the resolution of senatorial election contests, without doing violence to the spirit and intent of the Constitution.  The composition itself is 6 senators to three justices (2 is to 1).

A senator member, as his conscience dictates, may inhibit himself. If a senator will not inhibit himself, he or the SET cannot be judicially compelled to do otherwise. Litigants in such situations must simply place their trust and hopes of vindication in the fairness and sense of justice of the Members of the Tribunal, Justices and Senators, singly and collectively.

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