Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 118597 July 14, 1995
JOKER P. ARROYO, petitioner,
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL (HRET) and AUGUSTO L. SYJUCO, JR., respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Congressional candidate private respondent Augusto L. Syjuco, Jr., filed an election protest before public respondent House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) five days after the Makati board of canvassers proclaimed petitioner Joker P. Arroyo the duly elected congressman for the lone district of Makati in the May 11, 1992 synchronized national and local elections. Essentially premised on alleged irregularities/anomalies in the tabulation and entries of votes and massive fraud, private respondent Syjuco sought the revision and recounting of ballots cast in 1,292 out of the total 1,714 precincts of Makati from which result he aimed to be declared as the duly elected congressman of Makati. Petitioner filed a counter-protest questioning the residence qualification of private respondent Syjuco, but the same was dismissed by public respondent HRET.
As prayed for by private respondent, revision of the ballots was undertaken, but not without serious irregularities having been unearthed in the course thereof. Tasked by public respondent HRET to investigate on the matter, now retired Supreme Court Justice Emilio Gancayco confirmed the irregularities and anomalies engineered by some HRET officials and personnel.1 The findings contained in Justice Gancayco’s Report and Recommendation were aptly summarized in the “Dissenting Opinion” of Justice Bidin in this wise:
In his Report and Recommendation, Justice Gancayco found, in essence, that the respondent HRET employees, while taking advantage of their official authority and control over the operational details of the revision of ballots, and for corrupt motives, subverted the revision exercise in at least three (3) protest cases, including this case (HRET Case No. 92-019), by maintaining a pool of individuals subject to their control which were offered or foisted upon party litigants as their revisors. Once functioning as party-revisors, these individuals implemented instructions given by the respondent HRET employees to pilfer, dump (i.e., place ballots voted for one party with other ballots which do not indicate votes for either party such as unclaimed, stray, spoiled or unused ballots, or ballots for other candidates), and mark (in order to spoil) or fill-in ballots of one or the other of the litigants.
At the core of Justice Gancayco’s findings and evaluation are protested precincts in this case which exhibited cases of dumping, consistent reduction in Arroyo votes, falsification of revision reports and pilferage of ballots, as testified on by the prosecution witness, principally, Atty. William Chua and Mr. Ritchillier M. Matias.2
On this point, Justice Gancayco declared:
. . . Arroyo votes were consistently reduced at the revision and the deducted votes were found and included in the stray ballots, while Syjuco was always constant and “there were instances where ballots were deducted from the protestee (Arroyo)” and that “another modus operandi is to falsify the revision reports by intercalation, false entries or simply switching of true results of the counting. Congressman Joker Arroyo is the classic victim of this unlawful exercise.”3
At or about the time the revision was completed and with three precincts left unaccounted for, private respondent Syjuco moved for the withdrawal of these remaining unrevised protested precincts on the ground that he has presumably overtaken petitioner Arroyo’s lead of 13,559 votes.
With neither private respondent Syjuco nor petitioner Arroyo availing of their right to move for a technical examination after completion of revision, as provided for under Rules 42-49 of the HRET Rules, reception of their respective evidence followed.
Private respondent’s evidence were all documentary and voluminous at that consisting of over 200,000 pages. These exhibits, however, and which private respondent as well as public respondent HRET4 does not seriously dispute are in general, “mere photocopies and not certified or authenticated by comparison with the original documents or identification by any witness . . . .”5 and were formally offered by merely asking that they be marked. On the other hand, petitioner’s evidence consisted of certified true copies of the Revision Reports and election returns.6 Despite the vigorous objection raised by petitioner with respect to the admission of and the probative value of private respondent’s exhibits, public respondent HRET admitted the evidence for whatever they may be worth.7
Thereafter, pursuant to Rule 66 of the HRET Rules,8 petitioner and private respondent filed their respective memoranda simultaneously. In his memorandum cum addendum, private respondent veered away from his original posture that his protest should be decided on the basis of a revision and recounting of ballots, and instead called upon public respondent HRET to decide the case on the basis of what private respondent himself expressly admits as a “truly innovative and NON-TRADITIONAL process” — the PRECINCT-LEVEL DOCUMENT-BASED EVIDENCES. Private respondent thus averred, among others, that:
2.3. Scope and Emphasis of the Instant Protest case.
2.3.1. Protestant implores the Tribunal to take special and careful NOTE of the fact that while one cannot deny that adjudication of the REGULAR protest case generally rests on the result and outcome derived from the revision and subsequent appreciation of the BALLOTS which are disputed and contested by the parties in the course of the revision proceedings — in this particular instance, the protestant has opted to resort to a truly innovative and NON-TRADITIONAL process, by undertaking . . . our most concerted efforts in identifying and presenting such extensive numbers of . . . what protestant has denominated as PRECINCT-LEVEL DOCUMENT-BASED EVIDENCES (sic).
2.3.2. Thus, readily discernible, not only from the comprehensive ADDENDUM of protestant, but more so from the volumes of documentary exhibits presented, adduced and admitted, is the relentless pursuit undertaken by protestant to locate most relevant electoral documents used not only during the actual balloting/voting stage, but also those availed of even much earlier, as early (as) the time of the registration of voters. Such resourcefulness had undoubtedly resulted in the accumulation of what has now been appropriately coined by protestant as “Precinct-Level, Document-Based Evidences.”
xxx xxx xxx
2.3.5. However, significant and material as they are, the results gathered from the ordinary and traditional BALLOT revision process, do not constitute the ONUS of protestant(‘s) case. From protestant’s point of view, “the ballot(s) themselves bear only incidental significance in our chosen approach, because, in our world of cause and effect, the ballots are mere effects of the document-based anomalies. . . . .” [ADDENDUM, D-3; Presentation, Part 2, Revision of Ballots]. For truly, the CONCENTRATION . . . the emphasis is on the Precinct-Level Document-Based Evidence.
2.3.6. And in so concentrating, the Tribunal should realize that the protestant, even as early as the filing of the protest soon after protestee’s proclamation, was fully aware that in disputing the sham victory of protestee, the anticipated/expected results of the regular, traditional and normal process of REVISION of ballots, would, by itself, be unavailing, and insufficient to overturn protestee’s supposed victory.
2.3.7. Hence, when in the ADDENDUM, there is a continuing reference to the GRAND PATTERN OF MASSIVE DOCUMENT-BASED FRAUDS (sic) AT PRECINCT LEVEL, such is simply in support of the initial allegation and pronouncement contained in the original protest, where protestant has asserted most strongly that “There was massive fraud in the above-protested precinct.” . . . and that the protest was instituted precisely “in order that the massive fraud perpetrated against the protestant shall be corrected” . . . .
xxx xxx xxx
[iv] Protestee most definitely failed to comprehend the very CORE of protestant’s electoral protest. His was devoted to the traditional and normal BALLOT-BASED procedure, where protestee pounds recklessly and incessantly on alleged irregularities and anomalies in the ballots during the REVISION, completely blocking his mind to the fact that protestant’s action is founded principally and mainly on electoral anomalies which occurred long BEFORE the revision was ever conducted; ANOMALIES in the precinct level, committed even before the elections of May 11, 1992, like in the voters’ registration process; and also ANOMALIES during the election day, at the actual balloting.
xxx xxx xxx
[vii] On the other hand, as the proponent of the electoral protest, herein protestant was well-aware from the moment of commencement of the protest that to overcome a substantial margin of well over 12,000 votes, the revision of the ballots alone would not suffice.
xxx xxx xxx
4.2. Besides, as discussed in detail above, protestant’s protest case rests NOT on the results of the revision, which is categorized as “incidental”; but mainly on the broader and more equitable NON-TRADITIONAL determination of the existence of the PRECINCT-LEVEL DOCUMENT-BASED ANOMALIES, minutely detailed in the ADDENDUM, and its supporting evidence. (emphasis supplied; Ibid., pp. 14-16)9
By reason of private respondent’s new allegations, public respondent HRET ordered him to show cause why his protest should not be dismissed. The “show-cause” order reads in part:
It appearing from the memorandum and addendum filed by protestant Syjuco, after revision of the ballots case in the 1,292 protested precincts as prayed for in his Amended Protest, that inter alia, herein protestant was well-aware from the moment of the commencement of the protest that to overcome a substantial margin of well over 12,000 votes, the revision of ballots alone, would not suffice, and that the electoral protest case rests “NOT” on the results of the revision which he considers as merely “incidental” to the broader and more equitable NON-TRADITIONAL determination of the existence of the PRECINCT-LEVEL DOCUMENT-BASED ANOMALIES’ (pp. 14-15; 16), without, however, demonstrating any legal basis or implementing procedures therefor; it appearing further that protestant Syjuco’s memorandum and addendum appear to incorporate substantial amendments which broaden the scope of his protest, change his theory of the case at this stage of the proceedings or introduce additional causes of action in violation of Rule 28. Revised Rules of the Tribunal, . . . .” (Res. No. 93-277)10
However, by a 6-3 vote (the six Congressmen-members as against the three Justices-members), public respondent HRET resolved not to dismiss the protest, to continue with the examination and evaluation of the evidence on record, and thereafter to decide the case on the merits. The Resolution was issued on February 15, 1994. In their dissenting opinion, the three (3) Justices-members had this to say:
. . . that protestant’s radical shift in his cause of action from the original and traditional ballot revision process to his “innovative and non-traditional process”, which he now calls precinct-level document-based anomalies, has no legal precedent; it constitutes a substantial amendment, which if considered, will broaden the scope of the electoral protest or introduce an additional cause of action in violation of Rule 28 of the Revised Rules of the Tribunal.
xxx xxx xxx
Since the allegation of the protest and its prayer calls for recounting and revision of the ballots in order that the alleged massive fraud perpetrated against protestant shall be corrected, the instant protest should be decided in accordance with the tradition process of recounting and revision (and ultimately appreciation) of ballots as provided by the Rules of the Tribunal and not by any innovative and non-traditional process denominated as precinct-level document-based evidence alleged in protestant’s memorandum.
Nonetheless, protestant was candid enough to admit in his memorandum “that to overcome a substantial margin of all over 12,000 votes, the revision of ballots alone would not suffice.” However, to keep his protest alive, after the adverse result of the revision, protestant has to devise the broader and (allegedly) more equitable non-traditional determination of the existence of precinct-level document-based anomalies’ even if the same is not authorized by law nor even alleged in his protest.11
Petitioner moved to dismiss the protest but to no avail. No hearings were conducted thereafter.
Then on January 25, 1995, public respondent HRET, by the same vote of six Congressmen-members against three Justices-members, rendered its now assailed Decision annulling petitioner Arroyo’s proclamation and declaring private respondent Syjuco as the duly elected congressman. The dispositive portion of the Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered:
1. ANNULLING and SETTING ASIDE the proclamation of Protestee JOKER P. ARROYO.
2. DECLARING Protestant AUGUSTO L. SYJUCO, JR. as the duly elected Representative, Lone District of Makati, National Capital Region, for having obtained, after due revision and appreciation, a plurality of 1,565 votes, over the second placer Protestee Joker P. Arroyo, and for not being disqualified from holding said office.
In view of the seriousness of the massive frauds, irregularities and violations of election laws found in this case and in conformity with the constitutional mandate of the Commission on Elections “to prosecute cases of violations of election laws, including acts or omissions constituting election frauds, offenses and malpractices” (par. (6), Sec. 2, ART. IX-C, 1987 Constitution), the Tribunal, Resolved to REFER this case to the Commission on Elections for appropriate actions, including but not limited to, investigation of any and all parties concerned, or who may have participated in said violations or frauds committed.
On any irregularities or offenses in this case, found to have been committed by any public officers and employees, during the May, 11, 1992 electoral processes, involving misuse of public office, in violation of the constitutional provision that “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modes lives.” (SEC. 1, ART. XI, 1987 Constitution), the Tribunal also Resolved to REFER to the Office of the Special Prosecutor (SEC. 2. ART. XI, 1987 Constitution) for appropriate actions, including but not limited to, investigation of any and all public officers and employees concerned who may have participated in said irregularities or offenses, or who may have been negligent in the performance of their duties.
For the foregoing purposes, and if requested by the Commission on Elections and/or the Office of the Special Prosecutor, records or copies of this case shall be made available or forwarded to them for their reference or evidence.
Costs are charged against Protestee Arroyo, pursuant to Rule 36 of the Tribunal.
As soon as this Decision becomes final, notice and copies thereof shall be sent to the President of the Philippines, the House of Representatives through the Speaker, and the Commission on Audit, through its Chairman, pursuant to Rule 73 of the Revised Rules of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal.
Without filing a motion for reconsideration of public respondent HRET’s decision, petitioner Arroyo filed the instant petition setting forth the following issues:
A. Whether or not public respondent acted with grave abuse of discretion and without jurisdiction when it refused to dismiss HRET Case No. 92-109 after Syjuco had belatedly changed the theory of his case and introduced new issues and, thereafter, when it proceeded with the protest.
B. Whether or not the HRET’s Decision in Case No. 92-019 dated 25 January 1995 was rendered in violation of petitioner’s right to due process.
C. Whether or not public respondent acted capriciously, arbitrarily, and with grave abuse of discretion when it:
(1) Rejected long standing legal doctrines and precedents on elections and annulment;
(2) Disregard the people’s right to suffrage;
(3) Ignored the basic rules of evidence and breached the internal procedures of the Tribunal; and
(4) Gravely and/or deliberately misapprehended the facts.13
Briefly stated, the crucial question involved in this case is: Did public respondent HRET commit grave abuse of discretion in (1) proceeding to decide the election protest based on private respondent’s “precinct level document based anomalies/evidence” theory; (2) rendering judgment on the kind of evidence before it and the manner in which the evidence was procured, and (3) annulling election results in some contested precincts?
I. The “precinct level document based anomalies/evidence” theory
However guised or justified by private respondent, this innovative theory he introduced for the first time in his memorandum cum addendum indeed broadened the scope of the election protest beyond what he originally sought-the mere revision of ballots. From his initial prayer for revision which lays primary, if not exclusive emphasis on the physical recount and appreciation of ballots alone, private respondent’s belated attempt to inject this theory at the memorandum stage calls for presentation of evidence (consisting of thousands of documents) aside from, or other than, the ballots themselves. By having done so, private respondent in fact intended to completely abandon the process and results of the revision and thereafter sought to rely on his brainchild process he fondly coined as “precinct-level document-based evidence.” This is clearly substantial amendment of the election protest expressly proscribed by Rule 28 of the HRET internal rules which reads:
After the expiration of the period for filing of the protest, counter-protest or petition for quo warranto, substantial amendments which broaden the scope of the action or introduce an additional cause of action shall not be allowed. . . . .
The majority members of the Tribunal in fact had already sensed the impropriety of private respondent’s belated shift of theory when it issued its “show-cause” order requiring the latter to explain why his election protest should not be dismissed. But the majority violated with open eyes its own rules when they resolved not to dismiss the protest — a clear indication of grave abuse of discretion. The least that public respondent HRET could have done thereafter was to conduct further hearing so that petitioner Arroyo may have examined, objected to and adduced evidence controverting private respondent Syjuco’s “precinct-level document-based evidence” despite the time within which the parties are allowed to present their evidence has already lapsed.14 But nothing in the records indicates that one was conducted. Petitioner’s right to due process was clearly violated at this particular stage of the proceedings.
Granting that private respondent’s change in theory (being a substantial amendment) is merely disallowed and not a valid ground for the outright dismissal of his election protest, nonetheless it has been consistently held that substantial amendments to the protest maybe allowed only within the same period for the filing of the election protest15 which, under Rule 16 of the HRET Rules, is ten (10) days after the proclamation of the winner. Private respondent’s “precinct-level document-based anomalies/evidence” theory having been introduced only at the homestretch of the proceedings, he is bound by the issue which he essentially raised in his election protest and that is, a revision of the ballots will confirm his victory and the irregularities/anomalies and massive fraud foisted upon him during the 1992 synchronized elections. For the rule in an election protest is that the protestant or counterprotestant must stand or fall upon the issues he had raised in his original or amended pleading filed prior to the lapse of the statutory period for the filing of protest or counter protest.16 (emphasis supplied) Private respondent is therefore bound by the final results of the revision confirming petitioner’s victory over him by a plurality of 13,092 votes.17 Petitioner’s inevitable victory in the revision was even conceded to by private respondent himself when he stated in his memorandum cum addendum that:
. . . in disputing the sham victory of protestee, the anticipated/expected results of the regular, traditional and normal process of REVISION of ballots, would, by itself, be unavailing and insufficient to overturn protestee’s supposed victory (quoted on p. 6 of this decision).
This statement is clearly an admission against private respondent’s own interest equally binding and conclusive upon him, there being no showing that he made it through palpable mistake (Section 4, Rule 129, Rules of Court).
Thus, the final results of the revision and the admission of his eventual loss therein were sufficient reasons to confirm at a much earlier time petitioner Arroyo’s victory over private respondent Syjuco. These are the offshoots of the theory and cause of action private respondent Syjuco originally banked on (revision). Private respondent cannot escape its adverse effects by later on contriving unprecedented and wholly untested processes or theories such as the “precinct-level document-based anomalies/evidence”, the applicable and well-settled principle being “a party is bound by the theory he adopts and by the cause of action he stands on and cannot be permitted after having lost thereon to repudiate his theory and cause of action and adopt another and seek to re-litigate the matter anew either in the same forum or on appeal”.18 This is in essence putting private respondent in estoppel to question the revision. In this connection, what the Court said in “Lucero vs. De Guzman” (45 Phil. 852, 871-872), becomes meaningfully relevant:
When the boxes are opened and the truth concerning an election made accessible, considerations of public policy require that the proof thus supplied should be accepted. The public at large has the deepest concern in the integrity of elections, and this public interest must be regarded as well as the technical rights of the litigants themselves. It would be most scandalous for us to sanction a practice under which a party to an election contest could be permitted to force an examination of the ballots and when the result is found unfavorable to himself require the court to cover up the wrong, with consequences injurious to the cause of justice. When boxes are opened at the instance of the parties to the contest, they are estopped from questioning the true result of the revision whatever that result may be. The plain duty of the court, under the circumstances presented in this case, was to proceed to a revision of the count, with the report of the commissioners before him, and assisted by the facts appearing in those documents.
II. The kind of evidence used and how they were procured
a) The majority members of public respondent HRET undisputedly admitted and appreciated as evidence mere photocopies of election-related documents when there is not even the slightest showing that the original or even certified true copies thereof cannot be reasonably produced before the Tribunal. These photocopies violate the best evidence rule19 which is simply meant that no evidence shall be received which is merely substitutionary in its nature so long as the original evidence can be had.20 They should have been rejected altogether unworthy of any probative value at all, being incompetent pieces of evidence.
b) Certain vital election documents (such as certified xerox copy of the number of registered voters per precinct and photocopies of statements of votes) were procured at the sole instance of the ponente of the majority decision21 which, as the Tribunal readily admitted, were never offered in evidence by either of the parties.22 Aside from that, acting upon the self-serving allegation of private respondent Syjuco supported by mere photocopied election documents that around 12,075 signatures of voters scattered in 777 precincts were forged or falsified, the majority congressmen-members of the Tribunal by themselves without the participation of any of the three (3) remaining Justices-members, declared that 10,484 of the contested signature are fake.23 This course of action grossly violates not only Rule 68 of the Tribunal’s own rules which requires that all questions shall be submitted to the Tribunal as a body, but also Rule 5 thereof which further requires the presence of at least one (1) Justice-member to constitute a valid quorum. In order, therefore, that any and all matters presented before it can be properly addressed and considered, the Tribunal is mandated to act as a collegial body. And without collective effort as enjoined by Rule 68 but qualified by Rule 5 in this particular and most crucial stage of the proceedings, any resulting action purporting to be the official act the Tribunal should be, as it is hereby, struck down as highly irregular. The Court in “Free Employment and Workers Association (FEWA) vs. CIR” (14 SCRA 781, 785) held that:
. . . the Commissioners cannot act upon their own information, as could jurors in primitive days. All parties must be fully apprised of the evidence submitted or to be considered, and must be given opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, to inspect documents, and to offer evidence in explanation or rebuttal. In no other way can a party maintain its rights or make its defense. In no other way can it test the sufficiency of the facts to support the finding; for otherwise, even though it appeared that the order was without evidence, the manifest deficiency could always be explained on the theory that the Commission had before it extraneous, unknown, but presumptively sufficient information to support the finding. (United States v. Baltimore & O.S.W.R. Co., 226 U.S. 14, ante, 104, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 5)
III. Nullification of election results
The power to annul an election should be exercised with the greatest care as it involves the free and fair expression of the popular will. It is only in extreme cases of fraud and under circumstances which demonstrate to the fullest degree a fundamental and wanton disregard of the law that elections are annulled, and then only when it becomes impossible to take any other step.24 Thus, as a guide for the exercise of this power, no less than public respondent Electoral Tribunal itself has laid down two mandatory requisites for the annulment of election returns based on fraud, irregularities or terrorism, namely (1) that more than fifty percent (50%) of the total number of votes in the precinct or precincts were involved, and (2) that the votes must be shown to have been affected or vitiated by such fraud, irregularities or terrorism.25 Public respondent HRET proceeded to annul 50,00026 votes without a dint of compliance with these requisites as it annulled the results on the basis of lost or destroyed ballots despite the presence and availability of election return and other competent secondary evidence whose authenticity were never questioned,27 and on the basis of alleged forged signatures which were never competently proved and substantiated by private respondent.28 Further, the tribunal nullified the 10% margin in several contested precincts with alleged substitute voting which the dissenting opinion correctly observed as “a far cry from the existing 50% rule”.29 What is even worse is that the nullification of these votes was based on inadmissible documents some of them not offered in evidence by private respondent. The Court cannot countenance such blatant nullification of votes as it fails to comply with the established standard on annulment. Elections should never be held void unless they are clearly illegal; it is the duty of the court to sustain an election authorized by law if it has been so conducted as to give a free and fair expression of the popular will, and the actual result thereof is clearly ascertained.30
Additionally, public respondent HRET disregarded election results on several precincts on the basis of omissions committed either through mere oversight or plain negligence on the part of election officials or employees. The bulk of these omissions consisted of lack or absence of the signature of the chairman of the Board of Election Inspectors on the voter’s affidavits or lists of voters/voting records, absence or excess of detachable coupons, number of detachable coupons not tallying with the number of ballots, and missing voter’s lists. We find that these omissions, mainly administrative in nature, cannot be used as a ground to nullify election results in the absence of a clear showing of fraud. Voters duly registered and who have exercised their right of suffrage should not be penalized by disregarding and junking their votes due to omissions not of their own making. The settled rule is that in the absence of fraud, mere irregularities or omissions committed by election officials which do not subvert the expression of popular will, as in this case, cannot countenance the nullification of election results.31 Corollarily, the misconduct of election officers or irregularities on their part will not justify rejecting the whole vote of a precinct (as was done in this case) where it does not appear that the result was affected thereby, even though the circumstances may be such as to subject the officers to punishment.32 These omissions are not decisive since actual voting and election by registered voters had taken place in the questioned precincts.33 The Court, therefore, cannot stamp with approval the conduct exhibited by public respondent HRET as it was attended by arbitrariness.
From the above findings, it now becomes apparent why private respondent’s argument that the petition should be dismissed for failure to first file a motion for reconsideration of public respondent HRET’s majority decision, is untenable. Indeed, the general rule is that a tribunal rendering a decision must be given an opportunity to rectify its error through a motion for reconsideration. However, the partiality of the majority of the members of the Electoral Tribunal having been shown through their concerted action to disregard tribunal rules and the basic rules on evidence, recourse for a reconsideration of its decision becomes nugatory and an immediate recourse to this Court can be had based on the fundamental principle of due process. And it is well-settled that a prior motion for reconsideration can be dispensed with if, as in this case, petitioner’s fundamental right to due process was violated.34
All told, the procedural flaws which marred the proceedings in the public respondent HRET from the time private respondent’s “precinct-level document based anomalies/evidence” theory was embraced by the majority members up to the rendition of judgment suffice in themselves to render the public respondent HRET’s majority decision declaring private respondent Syjuco as the duly elected congressman of the then lone district of Makati a complete nullity. The persistent and deliberate violation of the Tribunal’s own governing rules and of even the most basic rules of evidence cannot be justified by simply invoking that procedural rules should be liberally construed. For even if Rule 2 of the Tribunal’s internal rules states that:
In case of reasonable doubt, these rules shall be liberally construed in order to achieve a just, expeditions and inexpensive determination and disposition of every contest brought before the Tribunal.
Rule 80 of the very same internal rules expressly makes the Rules of Court, Supreme Court decisions, and Electoral Tribunal decisions of suppletory application. In fact, public respondent HRET quite consistently in the past ultimately relied on the rules of evidence established by the Rules of Court in disposing election cases brought before it. To name a pertinent few: “Cuneta vs. Claudio” (HRET Adm. Case No. 92-010, Feb. 24, 1994); “Hernandez vs. Sanchez” (HRET Case No. 92-012, July 27, 1993); “Loyola vs. Dragon” (HRET Case No. 92-026, Jan. 31, 1994); and “Claver vs. Bulut” (HRET Case No. 92-015, Nov. 23, 1993). More specifically, in the “Cuneta” case, the HRET struck down certain foreign documents presented by petitioner Cuneta as being inadmissible under the best evidence rule (Section 4, Rule 130, Rules of Court) and for failure to meet the requirements for the admissibility in evidence of foreign documents under Sections 24 and 25, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court as applied in the “Hernandez” case and in “De Leon vs. Sanchez” (HRET Case No. 92-013). In the “Loyola” case, certain pictures presented by protestant Loyola depicting the unlawful display of protestee Dragon’s streamer outside the authorized areas were not given any probative value by the HRET for their lack of identification and authentication by any witness other than protestant Loyola who presented the pictures by himself. And in the “Claver” case, the HRET said that it can only consider documents formally offered in evidence, a ruling made apparently pursuant to Rule 60 of the HRET internal rules which provides that:
Evidence not formally presented shall be deemed waived and shall not be considered by the Tribunal in deciding the case.
and as likewise provided in Section 35, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court which reads:
The court shall consider no evidence which has not been formally offered. The purpose for which the evidence is offered must be specified.
But why the change of heart and open defiance in this case when the very same objections raised by public respondent HRET in these cases squarely apply to the entirety of private respondent’s massive documentary evidence?
If the Court, in striking down the majority decision of public respondent HRET, pays unwavering reverence to the rules of evidence as provided by the Rules of Court and jurisprudence, it is because they have been tested through years of experience as the most effective means of ferreting out the truth in any judicial controversy. And the Court will not allow even the slightest diminution of, much less a complete and brazen departure from these time-honored rules especially when the will of the electorate as expressed through the ballot, is at stake. Rules and uniformity of procedure are as essential to procure truth and exactness in elections as in anything else.35 Thus, with the patent nullity of the entire proceedings before the public respondent HRET and its majority decision in the election protest filed by private respondent, petitioner’s proclamation as the winning congressman of the then lone district of Makati is deemed not to have been challenged at all.
And finally, in a Resolution dated March 14, 1995 the Court required private respondent to explain why he should not be held for indirect contempt since his statements in his Addendum which he prepared without aid of counsel appear to seriously undermine the integrity of some members of the Court, to wit:
xxx xxx xxx
Despite Mr. Arroyo’s unconscionable barrage on the six (6) congressional membership in the HRET, records will show that I have not questioned the integrity of any of the three (3) Justices, despite the fact that on various occasions, I have been convinced, in my heart, that at least two (2) of them were working for protestee Arroyo in HRET deliberations and the resultant delays therein. (p. 2)
xxx xxx xxx
There may also be linkages between protestee Arroyo and Justice Flerida Ruth Romero, about whom unkind rumors are rife that Her Honor is “gumagapang” in the Supreme Court, for Arroyo. (p. 2)
xxx xxx xxx
. . . we submit that like Caesar’s wife this case at bar should be handled by magistrates who have not “shared a bed” with protestee Arroyo, at one time or another. (p. 3)
xxx xxx xxx
If Arroyo had been a stranger to Justice Bidin, could Arroyo have moved Justice Bidin, through a mere phone call, to violate HRET Rule 38? (p. 10).
The Court notes that even a Justice who is not a member of the HRET has been made the object of calumny in extremely vulgar language by imputing linkages between her and petitioner, although a thinly veiled attempt was made by private respondent to absolve himself by ascribing such imputation to “unkind rumors”.
In compliance thereto private respondent filed an explanation dated March 25, 1995. In his explanation, private respondent averred that he merely expressed a simple citizen’s grievance in accordance to his observations and based on his firm convictions and beliefs and that his statements were not aimed at seriously undermining the integrity of some Members of the Court. Private respondent, in closing, offered his apology. We find the explanation unsatisfactory. Implicit in his statements is the notion that aforesaid Justices are insensible and partial in the adjudication of the case which could make their actuation suspect. The statements make it plain that said Justices were not free from appearance of impropriety as it emphasized that said Justices must be above suspicion at all times like Ceasar’s wife. Indeed, the above statements manifest the idea that the dispensation of justice can be compromised through unsubstantiated linkages. These statements not only undermine the integrity of some members of this Court but also degrade the administration of justice.
To be proscribed then is the use of unnecessary language which jeopardizes high esteem in courts, creates or promotes distrust in judicial administration, or which could have the effect of “harboring and encouraging discontent which, in many cases, is the source of disorder, thus undermining the foundation upon which those who are aggrieved turn for protection and relief.36
Want of intention to undermine the integrity of the Court is no excuse for the language employed by private respondent for it is a well-known and established rule that derogatory words are to be taken in the ordinary meaning attached to them by impartial observers (Paragas v. Cruz, 14 SCRA 809, 812; In re Franco, 67 Phil. 313, 316; Rheem of the Philippines v. Ferrer, supra at p. 446). Finding private respondent’s statements contemptous and uncalled for he is hereby declared guilty of indirect contempt.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petition is hereby GRANTED, and public respondent HRET’s majority decision dated January 25, 1995 is SET ASIDE. Private respondent Augusto L. Syjuco, Jr., having been found guilty of indirect contempt, is hereby fined the amount of one thousand pesos (P1,000.00) to be paid within five (5) days from receipt of this decision.
Narvasa, C.J., Romero, Quiason and Kapunan, JJ., concur.
Feliciano, Regalado and Davide, Jr., JJ., took no part.
Bellosillo, J., is on leave.
1 Atty. Federico U. Cruz, then Clerk of the Tribunal; Benjamin B. Generican, then OIC, General Services Division; Alberto de Vera, then Private Secretary to the Clerk or the Tribunal; and Gregorio T. Castro, Sr., then Records Clerk, Records and Information Division, detailed to the Office of the Clerk.
2 Dissenting Opinion, Bidin, J. pp. 14-15, rollo p. 472-473.
3 Reply, p. 4.
4 Decision, p. 7, rollo p. 48.
5 Bidin, J. Dissenting, p. 16, rollo p. 474.
6 Decision p. 8, rollo p. 49; Bidin, J., Dissenting Opinion, p. 17, rollo p. 475.
7 Memorandum for the Petitioner p. 7; Justice Bidin’s Dissenting Opinion, p. 17.
8 Rule 66. When Submitted; Contents. — Within ten (10) days from receipt of the Tribunal’s ruling on the last offer of evidence by the Protestee, the parties shall each submit their respective Memoranda simultaneously, setting forth briefly:
(1) The facts of the case;
(2) A complete statement of all the arguments submitted in support of their respective views of the case;
(3) Objections to the ballots adjudicated to or claimed by the other party in the revision of ballots; and
(4) Refutation of the objections of the other party to the ballots adjudicated or claimed in the revision of ballots.
All evidence, as well as objections to evidence presented by the other party, shall be referred to or contained either in the memorandum or in an appendix thereto.
9 Bidin, J., Dissenting Opinion p. 18-20, rollo pp. 476-478.
10 Majority Decision, p. 9.
11 Dissenting Opinion, Bidin, J., pp. 21-22.
12 HRET Majority Decision, pp. 89-90.
13 Petitioner’s memorandum, pp. 12-13.
14 Rule 59, HRET Rules.
15 Ticao vs. Nanawa, 116 Phil. 97, 102 citing Valenzuela vs. Carlos, 42 Phil. 428, Orencia vs. Araneta, 47 Phil. 830.
16 Ticao vs. Nanawa, supra.
17 Justice Bidin’s Dissenting Opinion, p. 81.
18 Bashier vs. COMELEC, 43 SCRA 238, 266.
19 Section 3, Rule 130, Rules of Court, as amended.
20 Government of the P.I. vs. Martinez, 44 Phil. 817, 827.
21 p. 29, Majority Decision.
22 p. 4, Majority Decision.
23 p. 64, Justice Bidin’s Dissenting Opinion.
24 Capalla vs. Tabiana, 63 Phil. 95, 106; Estrada vs. Navarro, 21 SCRA 1514,
25 Davide, J., Dissenting Opinion p. 7, rollo p. 546 citing Nograles vs. Dureza, 1 HRET Reports 138, 170 (1989); Espaldon v. Bandon, 2 HRET Reports 55 (1990).
26 Bidin, J., Dissenting Opinion p. 1, rollo p. 459; Davide J., Dissenting Opinion p. 1, rollo p. 540; Syjuco Addendum to Counsel’s Comment p. 5, rollo p. 1154, averred that the actual figure is 26,688.
27 Dissenting Opinion, Bidin. J., p. 38, rollo p.
28 Id., pp. 64-65.
29 Id., p. 67.
30 Demetrio v. Lopez, 50 Phil. 45, 59.
31 Gardiner v. Romulo, 26 Phil. 521, 552, 560-561; Luna v. Rodriguez, 39 Phil. 208, 215.
32 Demetrio vs. Lopez, supra.
33 Anni vs. Izquierdo, 57 SCRA 692, 704.
34 Luzon Surety v. De Marbella, 109 Phil. 734, 740.
35 Jones vs. The State, 1 Kan., 273, 279, and approved on Gilleland vs. Schyler, 9 Kan., 569.
36 Rheem of the Philippines v. Ferrer, 20 SCRA 441, 445