SC reverses Comelec, remands Cagayan guv DQ case back to poll body

By Benjamin Pulta

April 22, 2024, 8:07 pm

<p>Supreme Court of the Philippines <em>(PNA file photo by Yancy Lim)</em></p>

Supreme Court of the Philippines (PNA file photo by Yancy Lim)

MANILA – The Supreme Court has ruled that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) acted in “grave abuse of discretion” for rejecting a petition for disqualification filed by Ma. Zarah Rose Lara against Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba before the 2022 elections.

In a statement Monday, the high court said that it had remanded the disqualification case back to the Comelec en banc on April 16 for proper disposition.

The case reached the SC after the Comelec en banc reversed an earlier resolution by the Comelec Second Division, which disqualified Mamba after finding substantial evidence that the governor violated Section 261(v) of the Omnibus Election Code, which prohibits the unauthorized release, disbursement, or expenditure of public funds during the campaign period.

Lara also ran for Cagayan governor.

On May 10, 2022 at 6:21 p.m. or more than 24 hours after the elections, Lara filed through email a petition to disqualify Mamba on the grounds of massive vote-buying and unlawful disbursement of public funds.

Mamba was proclaimed the winning governor on May 11 at 1:39 a.m.

The Comelec en banc ruled that Lara’s May 10 petition was considered filed the next working day, or May 11 at 8 a.m.

The SC, however, ruled that since Mamba was proclaimed early morning of May 11, petitions for disqualification against Mamba could still be filed anytime within that day.

The SC added that the period to file pleadings through email under Section 5 of Comelec Resolution No. 10673 should have taken stock of particular circumstances surrounding petitions for disqualification, given that the proclamation of candidates can happen at any time.

The SC noted that petition for disqualification can be filed even after the exact time of the proclamation of a candidate, so long as it was filed within the same day in accordance with Article 13 of the Civil Code which states that a day should be understood to mean 24 hours.

"As rules of procedure cannot take precedence over substantive law, the Comelec Rules of Procedure should yield to the interpretation directed by the Civil Code. Hence, the date or day of proclamation should be understood to mean the full 24 hours of the day on which such proclamation takes place," the SC said.

"Practicable realities borne by technological advances must likewise be considered, such as those resulting from filings made through email. Actual receipt of pleadings by email is not limited to the physical structures of an agency, which remain open during certain hours of the day."

The SC further noted that in light of current capabilities brought by modern technology, it can hardly be argued that institutions with vast innovative resources such as the Comelec will not be able to access a pleading filed beyond office hours when such filing was made via email. (PNA)