DISSENTING OPINION — Akbayan Youth vs. COMELEC

26 03 2001

DISSENTING OPINION

PARDO, J.:

These are petitions for: (1) certiorari and mandamus with preliminary mandatory injunction filed by petitioners AKBAYAN – Youth, et al; and (2) mandamus filed by Michelle D. Betito, which seek a writ of certiorari annulling and setting aside Commission on Elections (Comelec) Resolution No. 3584 adopted on February 8, 2001, and/or declaring unconstitutional Section 8,  R.A.  No. 8189, insofar as it disenfranchises petitioners, and a writ of mandamus directing Comelec to conduct a registration of new voters before the May 14, 2001, national and local elections.

The dispositive portion of Resolution No. 3584, adopted on February 8,  2001, reads as follows:

“Deliberating on the foregoing memoranda, the Commission RESOLVED, as it hereby RESOLVES, to deny the request to conduct a two-day additional registration of new voters on February 17 and 18,  2001.”

R.A. No. 8189,  Section 8,  provides that:

System of Continuing Registration of Voters. – The personal filing of application of voters shall be conducted daily in the office of the Election Officer during the regular office hours.  No registration shall,  however,  be conducted during the period starting one hundred twenty (120)  days before a regular election and ninety (90) days before a special election.”

The backdrop of these petitioners is the enactment on June 11, 1996, of Republic Act No. 8189[1] which provides for a general registration of voters in June 14, 15, 21 and 22, 1997, and subject to the discretion of the Commission on Elections, on June 28, and 29, 1997[2] and a system of continuing registration of voters in which a qualified voter shall personally accomplish an application form for registration before the Election Officer on any date during regular office hours.[3] No registration, however, shall be conducted during the period starting one hundred twenty (120) days before a regular election and ninety (90) days before a special election.[4]

“Pursuant to the powers vested in it by the Constitution, the Omnibus Election Code (B.P. 881) and other election laws” on September 28, 2000, the Comelec adopted a resolution prescribing a “calendar of activities” and periods of prohibited acts for the May 14, 2001 national and local elections.  Under that resolution, the last day to file applications for registration,  transfer of registration records, etc. was on December 27,  2000.

On January 29, 2001, the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms, Suffrage and People’s Participation, presided over by Senator Raul S. Roco,  held a meeting with representatives of the Comelec relative to the request of representatives of the youth for extension of the registration of voters to accommodate those who were not able to do so before the deadline on December 27, 2000.  As a result of the recommendation of Comelec’s representatives during the meeting, on February 8, 2001, the Comelec adopted Resolution No. 3584, which denied the request to conduct a two-day additional registration of new voters on February 17 and 18, 2001.

Subsequently, there has been a nationwide public clamor for additional days for registration of new voters representing the youth sector.

Hence, these petitions.[5]

Akbayan-Youth’s petition[6] is founded on one of the most fundamental political rights of a Filipino under the Constitution – the right of suffrage.  It states that the absence of a massive and active information campaign by the Comelec caused more or less four (4) million new Filipino voters to be uninformed of the last day of the continuing registration fixed on December 27, 2000.  Thus, petitioners were not able to register on or before said date.

Akbayan-Youth anchors its petition on the following grounds:

“1.

Petitioners have all the qualifications to register as voters and exercise their right of suffrage in the May 14, 2001 general elections.

“2.

Respondent COMELEC’s failure to conduct a thorough, comprehensive, widespread and active nationwide campaign to inform new voters of the registration period legislated in Section 8 of R.A. 8189 effectively denied petitioners their right of suffrage.

“3.

In any event, Section 8 of R.A. 8189 imposes an unconstitutional limitation and an effectively substantive requirement on the petitioner’s right of suffrage.

“4.

The 1987 Constitution makes people empowerment a State policy, recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and directs the State to encourage the youth’s involvement in public and civil affairs. The denial of the youth’s right of suffrage violates these constitutional policies.”[7]

The issues raised are whether the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion ousting itself of jurisdiction, first, in ruling that the deadline for registration of voters was on December 27, 2000, and failing to give adequate publicity for the dissemination of this deadline and, second, in denying the petition of the “youth” or of those who were unable to register before the deadline to be given a special time to register even after such deadline in time to vote in the elections scheduled on May 14, 2001.

We find the petitions impressed with merit.

The right of suffrage is a constitutional right of the Filipino people to enable them to vote for the leaders who will lead the country.  The right to vote is a political right enabling the people to participate in the governance of the State to ensure that it derives its power from the consent of the governed.  The people’s sovereign authority is exercised through the ballots of qualified voters who would choose their representatives in the governance of the State.  For this reason, the Constitution reserved an Article solely for this right, to wit:*

ARTICLE V

SUFFRAGE

“Section 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.  No literacy, property or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.

“Sec. 2.  The Congress shall provide a system of securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot as well as a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.

“The Congress shall also design a procedure for the disabled and the illiterates to vote without the assistance of other persons.  Until then, they shall be allowed to vote under existing laws and such rules as the Commission on Elections may promulgate to protect the secrecy of the ballot.

Section 1 provides for the requirements to qualify an individual to exercise the right to vote for a candidate in an election which is achieved through registration. Registration of voters is a pre-election activity necessary and essential to determine who are the qualified voters.  A person may possess all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications, but can not vote for the reason that he is not registered.  Non-registration will render nugatory the constitutional right of suffrage granted to every qualified Filipino citizen.  This in the main is the essence of these petitions.

Since the Constitutional provision on suffrage is not self-executing,  Congress enacted several laws implementing the same.  The basic election law is Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, or the “Omnibus Election Code of 1985.”  To cope with the need for change in view of the growing need for electoral reforms, congress later enacted several electoral reform measures into law,  among them is Republic Act No.  6646,[8] or “The Electoral Reforms Law of 1987.”

Relative to the issues raised, Section 29 of R.A. No. 6646, which states:

“Sec. 29.  Designation of Other Dates for Certain Pre-election Acts. – If it should no longer be reasonably possible to observe the periods and dates prescribed by law for certain pre-election acts, the Commission shall fix other periods and dates in order to ensure accomplishment of the activities so voters shall not be deprived of their right of suffrage.”

and B.P. Blg. 881, Sec. 52 [m] must be considered in relation to Section 8, R.A. No. 8189 which prohibits registration of voters one hundred twenty (120) days before a regular election and ninety  (90) days before a special election.

It is a basic rule in statutory construction that laws are to be harmonized rather than consider one repealed in favor of the other.  Besides, there is nothing incongruous in R.A. No. 8189 with R.A. No. 6646, Section 29, nor B.P. Blg. 881, Sec. 52 [m], as to repeal the latter.  Neither is there an express repeal of the same. “It is a well-settled rule of statutory construction that repeals of statutes by implication are not favored.”[9] “The presumption is against inconsistency or repugnancy and, accordingly, against implied repeal.”[10]

In the same fashion, R.A. No. 8189 did not expressly or impliedly repeal B.P. Blg. 881, particularly Secs. 115 et seq.  In Relampagos v. Cumba,[11] we ruled that “[B]y the tenor of its aforequoted Repealing Clause, it does not evidently appear that the Batasang Pambansa had intended to codify all prior election statutes and to replace them with the new Code.  It made, in fact, by the second sentence, a reservation that all prior elections statues or parts thereof not inconsistent with any provisions of the Code shall remain in force.  x x x This being the case,  the Court painstakingly examined the aforesaid last paragraph of Section 50 of the Omnibus Election Code to determine if the former is inconsistent with any of the provisions of the latter.  It found none. “Thus, we find no inconsistency between the continuing registration prescribed under R.A. No. 8189, and the periodic registration of voters prescribed under B.P. Blg. 881.

R.A. No. 6646, Section 29 is reproduced verbatim in R.A. No. 8436, Section 28.[12] This should be construed as a Congressional intention to retain the “standby power” of the Commission to fix periods for pre-election activities given even under B.P. 881, Sec. 52 [m].  This is also indicative of the Congressional desire to grant the Commission adequate discretionary power and operational flexibility in extraordinary cases so as not to render the Commission inutile and hapless in the performance of its functions.  Historically, Congress gave Comelec broad powers to enforce election laws.  In the first election law, Commonwealth Act No. 357, enacted on August 22, 1938, Congress provided for registration of voters by the board of inspectors of each election precinct on the seventh Saturday and sixth Saturday before the day of the election.[13] The law empowered the Secretary of the Interior (predecessor of Comelec in the execution of election laws) if, on account of insurmountable difficulties, the registration of voters could not be effected on the dates fixed therein, the Secretary of the Interior may, with the approval of the President, fix another date so that the omission may be remedied and the voters may not be deprived of the right of suffrage.[14]

In the Revised Election Code, Republic Act No. 180, Congress provided for a similar prescription.[15] In P.D. No. 1296, otherwise known as the 1978 Election Code, Comelec was vested with power to “fix other periods for certain pre-election requirements in order that voters shall not be deprived of their right of suffrage.”[16] Congress reiterated this power of the Comelec in B.P. Blg. 881, Sec. 52[m].

Both R.A. No. 6646, Section 29 and R.A. No. 8436, Section 28 grant the Commission the power to fix other periods and dates for pre-election activities when the same cannot be reasonably held within the period provided by law. The Constitution and the law granted Comelec with such broad power or authority to fix other periods for pre-election activities for the purpose of enabling the people the opportunity to exercise the right of suffrage.

Under the circumstances prevailing, the prohibition to conduct registration one hundred twenty  ( 120 )  days before a regular election as set forth in R.A. No. 8189, Section 8, is not an absolute prohibition.  It is directory, not mandatory, and Comelec is vested with residual power to conduct pre-election activities, including registration of voters beyond the deadline prescribed by law.  This is not to defeat the right of suffrage of the people as guaranteed by the constitution.  Millions of qualified voters in the country were not able to register before the 120-day period provided by law because of the failure of Comelec to conduct a nationwide public information campaign relative to the period provided by law.[17] The Comelec erroneously perceived that the number of voters who registered during the system of continuing registration is the barometer for the success or effectiveness of their information campaign which was actually non-existent.  Comelec must bear the responsibility for this.  Time and again,  it has beens said that every Filipino’s right to vote shall be respected and upheld.  Preliminary as it is in the exercise of their right to vote, the deprivation of their right to register is tantanmount to the denial of their right to vote.

In this jurisdiction, an election means “the choice or selection of candidates to public office by popular vote”[18]through the use of the ballot, and the elected officials of which are determined through the will of the electorate.[19] “An election is the embodiment of the popular will, the expression of the sovereign power of the people.”[20] “specifically,  the term ‘election’, in the context of the Constitution, may refer to the conduct of the polls, including the listing of voters, the holding of the electoral campaign, and the casting and counting of votes.”[21]

In fact, the Comelec has actually misled the public by its erroneous resolution declaring that the last day for registration under the system of continuing registration was on December 27,  2000.  Counting the 120 days from May 14,  2001, the date of the regular election, the last day fell on January 14,  2001. Truly, the last  day for the registration of voters was on January 14, 2001, not December 27, 2000.  This fact had undoubtedly disenfranchised voters and deprived qualified voters of their right of suffrage in the forthcoming elections.  This “error” of respondent Comelec not only affected petitioners, representatives of the Filipino youth, but also thousands or perhaps millions of other qualified Filipino voters who failed to register within that erroneous deadline.  Equally important, Comelec’s resolution pre-terminating the deadline of registration under the system of continuing registration deprived the Filipino voters not only of their right to register but also to transfer their registration to their present residence.

The legal and operational problems which respondent Comelec claim they would encounter with the holding of a special registration as well as the effect on its preparation for the May 14, 2001, elections, are matters that can be solved with proper planning,  coordination and cooperation among its Members, staff and other deputized agencies of the government Extraordinary efforts may be needed, but the work can still be done.

It bears stressing that Comelec has vast powers. “Section 2 (1) of Article IX (C) of the Constitution gives the COMELEC the broad power “to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall.”  Undoubtedly, the text and intent of this provision is to give COMELEC all the necessary and incidental powers for it to achieve the objective of holding free, orderly, honest, peaceful, and credible elections.  Congruent to this intent, this Court has not been niggardly in defining the parameters of powers of COMELEC in the conduct of our elections.”[22]

The powers and functions of the Comelec conferred upon it by the 1987 Constitution and the Omnibus Election Code, may be classified into administrative, quasi-legislative, quasi-judicial, and, in limited instances, judicial.

The quasi-judicial power of the Commission embraces the power to resolve controversies arising in the enforcement of election laws and to be the sole judge of all pre-proclamation controversies and of all contest relating to the elections, returns, and qualifications.  Its quasi-legislative power refers to the issuance of rules and regulations to implement the election laws and to exercise such legislative functions as may expressly be delegated to it by Congress.[23] Its administrative function refers to the enforcement and administration of election laws.  In the exercise of such power, the Constitution (Section 6, Article IX-A) and the Omnibus Election Code (Section 52 [c]) authorize the Comelec to issue rules and regulations to implement the provisions of the 1987 Constitution and the Omnibus Election Code.

It is reasonably expected that Comelec under its new leadership will take appropriate action in order not to deprive those who are qualified to vote by the neglect, inaction or delay in its preparations for the coming elections.

On the matter of the exclusion/inclusion of voters as prescribed in B.P. 881, the period fixed therein within which to file petitions with the municipal or metropolitan trial courts may be shortened[24] and the courts may resolve the applications in time to be received by the election officers or the board of election inspectors concerned not later than thirty (30) days before the May 14, 2001, elections, to enable respondent Comelec to prepare the necessary list of voters.  Comelec retains residual powers to adopt adequate safeguards to ensure that “flying” voters and other ineligible or disqualified voters are not able to register or transfer their registration.

WHEREFORE, I vote to annul and set aside Comelec Resolution No. 3584, dated February 8, 2001 as well a Resolution No. 3258, dated September 28, 2000, insofar as it fixed the deadline for registration on December 27, 2000.  R.A. No. 8189 has not repealed expressly or impliedly B.P. No. 881, Secs. 115 et seq. In relation to Sec. 52 [m], and R.A. No. 6646.  Consequently, in the absence of legal impediments, Comelec has adequate power and authority to designate a date not later than the seventh and sixth Saturdays (March 31, 2001 and April 7, 2001) or other convenient dates before the regular elections on May 14, 2001, and constitute a board of election inspectors of precincts in each municipality or barangay to conduct special registration of all qualified voters who failed to register heretofore to enable them to exercise the right of suffrage in the May 14, 2001, national and local elections, without having to postpone such elections.



* These provisions were also present in the previous Constitutions.



[1] An Act Providing for a General Registration of Voters, Adopting a System of Continuing Registration, Prescribing the Procedures thereof and Authorizing the Appropriation of Funds therefor.

[2] Section 7, R.A. No. 8189-

–Immediately after the barangay elections in 1997, the existing certified list of voters shall cease to be effective and operative.  For purposes of the May 1998 elections and all elections, plebiscites, referenda, initiatives, and recall subsequent thereto, the Commission shall undertake a general registration of voters before the Board of Election Inspectors on June 14, 15, 21 and 22, and, subject to the discretion of the Commission, on June 28 and 29, 1997 in accordance with this Act.

[3] R.A. No. 8189, Secs. 8, 9, 10.

[4] R.A. No. 8189, Sec. 8.

[5] G.R. No. 147066, filed on March 5, 2001.  G.R. No. 147179, filed on March 9, 2001.  On March 13, 2001, we resolved to consolidate these cases, and required respondents to file comment not later than 10:00 a.m., March 16, 2001, and to set the cases for hearing at 3:00 p.m.  Respondents filed their comment on March 16, 2001, at 11:20 a.m.

[6] G.R. No. 147066.

[7] Petition, G.R. No. 147066, pp. 6-7.

[8] An Act Introducing Additional Reforms in the Electoral System and for Other Purposes.

[9] Agpalo, Statutory Construction (Third Edition) 1995, p. 322, citing Valdez v. Tuason, 40 Phil. 943 [1920], and other cases.

[10] Ibid., citing Iloilo Palay & Co. Planters Assn. Inc. v. Feliciano, 13 SCRA 377 (1965).

[11] 243 SCRA 690, 703 [1995].

[12] An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Use an Automated Election System in the May 11, 1998 National or Local Elections and in Subsequent National and Local Electoral Exercises, Providing Funds Therefor and For Other Purposes.

[13] Com. Act No. 357, Sec. 96.

[14] Com. Act No. 357, Sec. 6.

[15] R.A. No. 180, Sec. 9 in relation to Sec. 101.

[16] P.D. No. 1296, the 1978 Election Code, Article XVII–Powers of the Commission, Sec. 185[e].

[17] In fairness to Chairman Alfredo L. Benipayo, this occurred before his appointment to the position of Chairman on February 16, 2001.

[18] Gonzales v. Commission on Elections, 129 Phil. 7, 33 [1967]; Taule v. Santos, 200 SCRA 512, 519 [1991].

[19] Taule v. Santos, supra, Note 18.

[20] Taule v. Santos, supra, Note 18, p. 519, citing Hontiveros v. Altavos, 24 Phil. 636 [1913].

[21] Taule v. Santos, supra, Note 14, p. 519, citing Javier v. Commission on Elections, 228 Phil. 193, 205 [1986].

[22] Loong v. Commission on Elections, 305 SCRA 832, 866-867 [1999].

[23] Digman v. Comelec, 120 SCRA 650 [1983].

[24] Under B. P. 881, the period is twenty (20) days after the last registration; this may be shortened to five (5) days, and the courts shall resolve or decide the applications within five (5) days from filing.  Cases appealed to the regional trial court shall be decided within five (5) days receipt of the appeal.  Its decision shall be immediately final and must be received by the election officer or the board of election inspectors not later than thirty (30) days before the elections.

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