In light of the recent events in the political landscape of the province of Albay, Albayanos cannot help but wonder about what is going to happen if the COMELEC decisions on the disqualification cases of the Albay Governor and the City Mayor of Legazpi becomes final. Will the elected vice-governor of Albay or elected vice-mayor of Legazpi City succeed as governor or mayor, respectively? Or will the second placers during the last election for governor or mayor succeed them? What is the effect of disqualification?
In the case of Emiliana Toral Kare, Petitioner, Vs. Commission on Elections, Respondent, G.R.No.157527, April 28, 2004, Salvador K. Moll, Petitioner, Vs. Commission on Elections, Respondent, the Supreme Court said that:
“When a mayoral candidate who gathered the highest number of votes is disqualified after the election is held, a permanent vacancy is created, and the vice mayor succeeds to the position.” (italics supplied.)
Here are the facts of the case:
“Petitioner Moll and Private Respondent Ceriola were candidates for mayor of the Municipality of Malinao, Albay, during the elections of May14, 2001.
Moll obtained the highest number of votes cast for the position while Ceriola came in second, with a total of nine hundred eighty-seven (987) votes separating the two. Kare was elected vice mayor in the same election.
On May 18, 2001, Ceriola filed a “Petition to Confirm the Disqualification and/or Ineligibility of Dindo K. Moll to Run for Any Elective Position.” The Petition alleged that the latter had been sentenced by final judgment to suffer the penalty of six (6) months of arresto mayor to one (1) year and nine (9) months of prision correccional, for the crime of usurpation of authority or official functions under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code.
In its May 28, 2001 Resolution, the Comelec First Division dismissed the Petition. Ceriola filed his Motion for Reconsideration with the Comelec en banc which, on August 31, 2001, set aside the said Resolution. It thereafter directed the clerk of the Comelec to remand the Petition to the provincial election supervisor of Albay for hearing and reception of evidence.
On March 19, 2003, after the provincial election supervisor of Albay submitted the report and recommendation, the Comelec en banc issued the questioned Resolution affirming Moll’s disqualification and proclaiming Ceriola as the mayor-elect of the municipality.
As earlier adverted to, the Comelec ruled that Moll had indeed been disqualified from being a mayoral candidate in the May 14, 2001 local election, and that his subsequent proclamation as mayor was void ab initio. Consequently, he was disqualified from holding that office.
The Comelec further ruled that the trial court’s final judgment of conviction of Moll disqualified him from filing his certificate of candidacy and continued to disqualify him from holding office. Accordingly, the votes cast in his favor were stray or invalid votes, and Ceriola — the candidate who had obtained the second highest number of votes — was adjudged the winner. Thus, the Comelec ordered the Municipal Board of Canvassers to proclaim him as the mayor-elect of the municipality.
Before Ceriola’s actual proclamation, Kare filed a Petition before this Court with a prayer for a Status Quo Order, which was granted on April 1, 2003. In this Order, the Comelec, the provincial election supervisor of Albay, and the municipal canvassers of Malinao (Albay) were required to observe the status quo prevailing before the filing of the Petition.”
The Court’s ruling:
“In every election, the choice of the people is the paramount consideration, and their expressed will must at all times be given effect. When the majority speaks by giving a candidate the highest number of votes in the election for an office, no one else can be declared elected in place of the former. In a long line of cases, this Court has definitively ruled that the Comelec cannot proclaim as winner the candidate who obtained the second highest number of votes, should the winning candidate be declared ineligible or disqualified. xxx xxx xxx
in Sunga v. Comelec, (351 Phil. 310, March 25, 1998) “x x x The votes cast for a disqualified person may not be valid to install the winner into office or maintain him there. But in the absence of a statute which clearly asserts a contrary political and legislative policy on the matter, if the votes were cast in the sincere belief that the candidate was qualified, they should not be treated as stray, void or meaningless.” xxx xxx xxx
In Aquino v. Comelec, (248 SCRA 400, September 18, 1995).
we said: “x x x To simplistically assume that the second placer would have received the other votes would be to substitute our judgment for the mind of the voter. The second placer is just that, a second placer. He lost the elections. He was repudiated by either a majority or plurality of voters. He could not be considered the first among qualified candidates because in a field which excludes the disqualified candidate, the conditions would have substantially changed. We are not prepared to extrapolate the results under such circumstances.”
To allow the defeated and repudiated candidate to take over the mayoralty despite his rejection by the electorate is to disenfranchise them through no fault on their part, and to undermine the importance and the meaning of democracy and the right of the people to elect officials of their choice.
xxx xxx xxx
We reiterate that this Court has no authority under any law to impose upon and compel the people of Malinao, Albay, to accept Ceriola as their mayor. The law on succession under Section 44 of Republic Act 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code, would then apply. This provision relevantly states:
“SECTION 44. Permanent Vacancies in the Offices of the Governor, Vice-Governor, Mayor, and Vice Mayor. —
(a) If a permanent vacancy occurs in the office of the governor or mayor, the vice-governor or vice-mayor concerned shall become the governor or mayor. If a permanent vacancy occurs in the offices of the governor, vice governor, mayor, or vice-mayor, the highest ranking sanggunian member or, in case of his permanent inability, the second highest ranking sanggunian member, shall become governor, vice-governor, mayor or vice-mayor, as the case may be. Subsequent vacancies in the said office shall be filled automatically by the other sanggunian members according to their ranking as defined herein.
x x x x x x x x x.
“For purposes of this Chapter, a permanent vacancy arises when an elective local official fills a higher vacant office, refuses to assume office, fails to qualify, dies, is removed from office, voluntarily resigns, or is otherwise permanently incapacitated to discharge the functions of his office.”
The language of the law is clear, explicit and unequivocal. Thus, it admits no room for interpretation, but merely for application. Accordingly, when Moll was adjudged to be disqualified, a permanent vacancy was created for failure of the elected mayor to qualify for the office. In such eventuality, the duly elected vice mayor shall succeed as provided by law.”
(“Quotes” by Atty. Glenn V. Jaymalin is a legal corner that features relevant Supreme Court rulings on legal issues that concerns Bicolanos. Atty. Jaymalin is a private practitioner based in Tabaco City, Albay.)