Tuesday, October 16, 2018

REGINA ONGSIAKO REYES, PETITIONER, VS. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL, RESPONDENT.

Election Law:

1. The presence of the three Justices, as against six members of the House of Representatives, was intended as an additional guarantee to ensure impartiality in the judgment of cases before it.

2. A law is not invalid because of simple inequality. The very idea of classification is that of inequality, so that it goes without saying that the mere fact of inequality in no manner determines the matter of constitutionality. All that is required of a valid classification is that it be reasonable, which means that the classification should be based on substantial distinctions which make for real differences; that it must be germane to the purpose of the law; that it must not be limited to existing conditions only; and that it must apply equally to each member of the class. This Court has held that the standard is satisfied if the classification or distinction is based on a reasonable foundation or rational basis and is not palpably arbitrary.

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EN BANC
G.R. No. 221103
October 16, 2018

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

In this petition for certiorari filed before this Court, petitioner Regina Ongsiako Reyes challenges the constitutionality of several provisions of the 2015 Revised Rules of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). In particular, petitioner questions (1) the rule which requires the presence of at least one Justice of the Supreme Court to constitute a quorum; (2) the rule on constitution of a quorum; and (3) the requisites to be considered a member of the House of Representatives.

The Antecedent Facts

Petitioner alleges that she has two pending quo warranto cases before the HRET. They are (1) Case No. 13-036 (Noeme Mayores Tan and Jeasseca L. Mapacpac v. Regina Ongsiako Reyes) and (2) Case No. 130037 (Eric D. Junio v. Regina Ongsiako Reyes).

On 1 November 2015, the HRET published the 2015 Revised Rules of the House ofRepresentatives Electoral Tribunal (2015 HRET Rules).

Petitioner alleges that Rule 6 of the 2015 HRET Rules is unconstitutional as it gives the Justices, collectively, denial or veto powers over the proceedings by simply absenting themselves from any hearing. In addition, petitioner alleges that the 2015 HRET Rules grant more powers to the Justices, individually, than the legislators by requiring the presence of at least one Justice in order to constitute a quorum. Petitioner alleges that even when all six legislators are present, they cannot constitute themselves as a body and cannot act as an Executive Committee without the presence of any of the Justices. Petitioner further alleges that the rule violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution by conferring the privilege of being indispensable members upon the Justices.

Petitioner alleges that the quorum requirement under the 2015 HRET Rules is ambiguous because it requires only the presence of at least one Justice and four Members of the Tribunal. According to petitioner, the four Members are not limited to legislators and may include the other two Justices. In case of inhibition, petitioner alleges that a mere majority of the remaining Members shall be sufficient to render a decision, instead of the majority of all the Members.

Petitioner likewise alleges that Rule 15, in relation to Rules 17 and 18, of the 2015 HRET Rules unconstitutionally expanded the jurisdiction of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). Petitioner alleges that under Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution as well as the 2011 Rules of the HRET, a petition may be filed within 15 days from the date of the proclamation of the winner, making such proclamation the operative fact for the HRET to acquire jurisdiction. However, Rule 15 of the 2015 HRET Rules requires that to be considered a Member of the House of Representatives, there should be (1) a valid proclamation; (2) a proper oath; and (3) assumption of office. Further, Rule 17 of the 2015 HRET Rules states that election protests should be filed within 15 days from June 30 of the election year or the date of actual assumption of office, whichever is later, while Rule 18 provides that petitions for quo warranto shall be filed within 15 days from June 30 of the election year or the date of actual assumption of office, whichever is later. Petitioner alleges that this would allow the COMELEC to determine whether there was a valid proclamation or a proper oath, as well as give it opportunity to entertain cases between the time of the election and June 30 of the election year or actual assumption of office, whichever is later.

Petitioner alleges that the application of the 2015 HRET Rules to all pending cases could prejudice her cases before the HRET.

The HRET, through the Secretary of the Tribunal, filed its own Comment.[1] Thus, in a Manifestation and Motion[2] dated 13 January 2016, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) moved that it be excused from representing the HRET and filing a Comment on the petition. The Court granted the OSG's Manifestation and Motion in its 2 February 2016 Resolution.[3]

The HRET maintains that it has the power to promulgate its own rules that would govern the proceedings before it. The HRET points out that under Rule 6 of the 2015 HRET Rules, a quorum requires the presence of at least one Justice-member and four members of the Tribunal. The HRET argues that the requirement rests on substantial distinction because there are only three Justice-members of the Tribunal as against six Legislator-members. The HRET further argues that the requirement of four members assures the presence of at least two Legislator-members to constitute a quorum. The HRET adds that the requirement of the presence of at least one Justice was incorporated in the Rules to maintain judicial equilibrium in deciding election contests and because the duty to decide election cases is a judicial function. The HRET states that petitioner's allegation that Rule 6 of the 2015 HRET Rules gives the Justices virtual veto power to stop the proceedings by simply absenting themselves is not only speculative but also imputes bad faith on the part of the Justices.

The HRET states that it only has jurisdiction over a member of the House of Representatives. In order to be considered a member of the House of Representatives, there must be a concurrence of the following requisites: (1) a valid proclamation; (2) a proper oath; and (3) assumption of office. Hence, the requirement of concurrence of these three requisites is within the power of the HRET to make.

The Issue

The issue before this Court is the constitutionality of the following provisions of the 2015 HRET Rules:

(1) Rule 6(a) requiring the presence of at least one Justice in order to constitute a quorum;

(2) Rule 15, paragraph 2, in relation to Rule 17; and

(3) Rule 6, in relation to Rule 69.

The Ruling of this Court

The petition has no merit.

The pertinent provisions questioned before this Court are the following:

(I) Rule 6(a) and Rule 6, in relation to Rule 69

(1) Rule 6 of the 2015 HRET Rules provides:

    Rule 6. Meetings; Quorum; Executive Committee Actions on Matters in Between Regular Meetings. -

    (a) The Tribunal shall meet on such days and hours as it may designate or at the call of the Chairperson or of a majority of its Members. The presence of at least one (1) Justice and four (4) Members of the Tribunal shall be necessary to constitute a quorum. In the absence of the Chairperson, the next Senior Justice shall preside, and in the absence of both, the Justice present shall take the Chair.

    (b) In the absence of a quorum and provided there is at least one Justice in attendance, the Members present, who shall not be less than three (3), may constitute themselves as an Executive Committee to act on the agenda for the meeting concerned, provided, however, that its action shall be subject to confirmation by the Tribunal at any subsequent meeting where a quorum is present.

    (c) In between the regular meetings of the Tribunal, the Chairperson, or any three (3) of its Members, provided at least one (1) of them is a Justice, who may sit as the Executive Committee, may act on the following matters requiring immediate action by the Tribunal:

        1. Any pleading or motion,

        (a) Where delay in its resolution may result in irreparable or substantial damage or injury to the rights of a party or cause delay in the proceedings or action concerned;

        (b) Which is urgent in character but does not substantially affect the rights of the adverse party, such as one for extension of time to comply with an order/resolution of the Tribunal, or to file a pleading which is not a prohibited pleading and is within the discretion of the Tribunal to grant; and

        (c) Where the Tribunal would require a comment, reply, rejoinder or any other similar pleading from any of the parties or their attorneys;

        2. Administrative matters which do not involve new applications or allocations of the appropriations of the Tribunal; and

        3. Such other matters as may be delegated by the Tribunal.

    However, any such action/resolution shall be included in the order of business of the immediately succeeding meeting of the Tribunal for its confirmation.

(2) Rule 69 of the 2015 HRET Rules provides:

    Rule 69. Votes Required. - In resolving all questions submitted to the Tribunal, all the Members present, inclusive of the Chairperson, shall vote.

    Except as provided in Rule 5(b) of these Rules, the concurrence of at least five (5) Members shall be necessary for the rendition of decisions and the adoption of formal resolutions, provided that, in cases where a Member inhibits or cannot take part in the deliberations, a majority vote of the remaining Members shall be sufficient.

    This is without prejudice to the authority of the Supreme Court or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, to designate Special Member or Members who should act as temporary replacement or replacements in cases where one or some of the Members of the Tribunal inhibits from a case or is disqualified from participating in the deliberations of a particular election contest, provided that:

    (1) The option herein provided should be resorted [to] only when the required quorum in order for the Tribunal to proceed with the hearing of the election contest, or in making the final determination of the case, or in arriving at decisions or resolutions thereof, cannot be met; and

    (2) Unless otherwise provided, the designation of the Special Member as replacement shall only be temporary and limited only to the specific case where the inhibition or disqualification was made.

(II) Rule 15, paragraph 2, in relation to Rule 17

Rules 15 and 17 of the 2015 HRET Rules provide:

    Rule 15. Jurisdiction. - The Tribunal is the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the Members of the House of Representatives.

    To be considered a Member of the House of Representatives, there must be a concurrence of the following requisites: (1) a valid proclamation; (2) a proper oath; and (3) assumption of office.

    Rule 17. Election Protest. - A verified election protest contesting the election or returns of any Member of the House of Representatives shall be filed by any candidate who had duly filed a certificate of candidacy and has been voted for the same office, within fifteen (15) days from June 30 of the election year or the date of actual assumption of office, whichever is later.

    x x x x

We shall discuss issues (1) and (3) together.

Presence of at least one Justice-member to Constitute a Quorum

Petitioner alleges that the requirement under Rule 6 of the 2015

HRET Rules that at least one Justice should be present to constitute a quorum violates the equal protection clause of the 1987 Constitution and gives undue power to the Justices over the legislators.

The argument has no merit.

Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution provides for the composition of the HRET. It states:

    Section 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 all 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.

In accordance with this organization, where the HRET is composed of three Justices of the Supreme Court and six members of the House of Representatives, it is clear that the HRET is a collegial body with members from two separate departments of the government: the Judicial and the Legislative departments. The intention of the framers of the 1987 Constitution is to make the tribunal an independent, constitutional body subject to constitutional restrictions.[4] The origin of the tribunal can be traced back from the electoral commissions under the 1935 Constitution whose functions were quasi-judicial in nature.[5] The presence of the three Justices, as against six members of the House of Representatives, was intended as an additional guarantee to ensure impartiality in the judgment of cases before it.[6] The intentions of the framers of the 1935 Constitution were extensively discussed in Tañada and Macapagal v. Cuenca,[7] thus:

    Senator Paredes, a veteran legislator and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said:

        x x x what was intended in the creation of the electoral tribunal was to create a sort of collegiate court composed of nine members: Three of them belonging to the party having the largest number of votes, and three from the party having the second largest number of votes so that these members may represent the party, and the members of said party who will sit before the electoral tribunal as protestees. For when it comes to a party, Mr. President, there is ground to believe that decisions will be made along party lines. (Congressional Record for the Senate, Vol. III, p. 351; italics supplied.)

    Senator Laurel, who played an important role in the framing of our Constitution, expressed himself as follows:

        Now, with reference to the protests or contests, relating to the election, the returns and the qualifications of the members of the legislative bodies, I heard it said here correctly that there was a time when that was given to the corresponding chamber of the legislative department. So the election, returns and qualifications of the members of the Congress or legislative body was entrusted to that body itself as the exclusive body to determine the election, returns and qualifications of its members. There was some doubt also expressed as to whether that should continue or not, and the greatest argument in favor of the retention of that provision was the fact that was, among other things, the system obtaining in the United States under the Federal Constitution of the United States, and there was no reason why that power or that right vested in the legislative body should not be retained. But it was thought that that would make the determination of this contest, of this election protest, purely political as has been observed in the past. (Congressional Record for the Senate, Vol. III, p. 376; italics supplied.)

    It is interesting to note that not one of the members of the Senate contested the accuracy of the views thus expressed.

    Referring particularly to the philosophy underlying the constitutional provision quoted above, Dr. Aruego states:

        The defense of the Electoral Commission was based primarily upon the hope and belief that the abolition of party lines because of the equal representation in this body of the majority and the minority parties of the National Assembly and the intervention of some members of the Supreme Court who, under the proposed constitutional provision, would also be members of the same, would insure greater political justice in the determination of election contests for seats in the National Assembly than there would be if the power had been lodged in the lawmaking body itself. Delegate Francisco summarized the arguments for the creation of the Electoral Commission in the following words:

            I understand that from the time that this question is placed in the hands of members not only of the majority party but also of the minority party, there is already a condition, a factor which would make protests decided in a non-partisan manner. We know from experience that many times in the many protests tried in the House or in the Senate, it was impossible to prevent the factor of party from getting in. From the moment that it is required that not only the majority but also the minority should intervene in these questions, we have already enough guarantee that there would be no tyranny on the part of the majority.

            But there is another more detail which is the one which satisfies me most, and that is the intervention of three justices. So that with this intervention of three justices if there would be any question as to the justice applied by the majority or the minority, if there would be any fundamental disagreement, or if there would be nothing but questions purely of party in which the members of the majority as well as those of the minority should wish to take lightly a protest because the protestant belongs to one of said parties, we have in this case, as a check upon the two parties, the actuations of the three justices. In the last analysis, what is really applied in the determination of electoral cases brought before the tribunals of justice or before the House of Representatives or the Senate? Well, it is nothing more than the law and the doctrine of the Supreme Court. If that is the case, there will be greater skill in the application of the laws and in the application of doctrines to electoral matters having as we shall have three justices who will act impartially in these electoral questions.

            I wish to call the attention of my distinguished colleagues to the fact that in electoral protests it is impossible to set aside party interests. Hence, the best guarantee, I repeat, for the administration of justice to the parties, for the fact that the laws will not be applied improperly or incorrectly as well as for the fact that the doctrines of the Supreme Court will be applied rightfully, the best guarantee which we shall have, I repeat, is the intervention of the three justices. And with the formation of the Electoral Commission, I say again, the protestants as well as the protestees could remain tranquil in the certainty that they will receive the justice that they really deserve. If we eliminate from this precept the intervention of the party of the minority and that of the three justices, then we shall be placing protests exclusively in the hands of the party in power. And I understand, gentlemen, that in practice that has not given good results. Many have criticized, many have complained against, the tyranny of the majority in electoral cases x x x. I repeat that the best guarantee lies in the fact that these questions will be judged not only by three members of the majority but also by three members of the minority, with the additional guarantee of the impartial judgment of three justices of the Supreme Court. (The Framing of the Philippine Constitution by Aruego, Vol. I, pp. 261-263; italics supplied.)

    The foregoing was corroborated by Senator Laurel. Speaking for this Court, in Angara vs. Electoral Commission (63 Phil. 139), he asserted:

        The members of the Constitutional Convention who framed our fundamental law were in their majority men mature in years and experience. To be sure, many of them were familiar with the history and political development of other countries of the world. When, therefore, they deemed it wise to create an Electoral Commission as a constitutional organ and invested with the exclusive function of passing upon and determining the election, returns and qualifications of the members of the National Assembly, they must have done so not only in the light of their own experience but also having in view the experience of other enlightened peoples of the world. The creation of the Electoral Commission was designed to remedy certain evils of which the framers of our Constitution were cognizant. Notwithstanding the vigorous opposition of some members of the Convention to its creation, the plan, as hereinabove stated, was approved by that body by a vote of 98 against 58. All that can be said now is that, upon the approval of the Constitution, the creation of the Electoral Commission is the expression of the wisdom 'ultimate justice of the people'. (Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.)

    From the deliberations of our Constitutional Convention it is evident that the purpose was to transfer in its totality all the powers previously exercised by the legislature in matters pertaining to contested elections of its members, to an independent and impartial tribunal. It was not so much the knowledge and appreciation of contemporary constitutional precedents, however, as the long felt need of determining legislative contests devoid of partisan considerations which prompted the people acting through their delegates to the Convention, to provide for this body known as the Electoral Commission. With this end in view, a composite body in which both the majority and minority parties are equally represented to off-set partisan influence in its deliberations was created, and further endowed with judicial temper by including in its membership three justices of the Supreme Court, (Pp. 174-175.)

    As a matter of fact, during the deliberations of the convention, Delegates Conejero and Roxas said:

        El Sr. CONEJERO. Antes de votarse la enmienda, quisiera pedir informacion del Subcomite de Siete.

        El Sr. PRESIDENTE. Que dice el Comite?

        El Sr. ROXAS. Con mucho gusto.

        "El Sr. CONEJERO. Tal como esta el draft, dando tres miembros a la mayoria, y otros tres a la minoria y tres a la Corte Suprema, no cree su Señoria que este equivale practicamente a dejar el asunto a los miembros del Tribunal Supremo?

        El Sr. ROXAS. Si y no. Creemos que si el tribunal a la Comision esta cotistuido en esa forma, tanto los miembros de la mayoria como los de la minoria asi como los miembros de la Corte Suprema considedaran la cuestion sabre la base de sus meritos, sabiendo que el partidismo no es suficiente para dar el triunfo.

        El Sr. CONEJERO. Cree Su Señoria que en un caso como ese, podriamos hacer que tanto los de la mayoria como los de la minoria prescindieran del partidismo?

        El Sr. ROXAS. Creo que si, porque el partidismo no les darla el triunfo." (Angara vs. Electoral Commission, supra, pp. 168-169; italics supplied.)

    It is clear from the foregoing that the main objective of the framers of our Constitution in providing for the establishment, first, of an Electoral Commission, and then of one Electoral Tribunal for each House of Congress, was to insure the exercise of judicial impartiality in the disposition of election contests affecting members of the lawmaking body. To achieve this purpose, two devices were resorted to, namely: (a) the party having the largest number of votes, and the party having the second largest number of votes, in the National Assembly or in each House of Congress, were given the same number of representatives in the Electoral Commission or Tribunal, so that they may realize that partisan considerations could not control the adjudication of said cases, and thus be induced to act with greater impartiality; and (b) the Supreme Court was given in said body the same number of representatives as each one of said political parties, so that the influence of the former may be decisive and endow said Commission or Tribunal with judicial temper.

    This is obvious from the very language of the constitutional provision under consideration. In fact, Senator Sabido - who had moved to grant to Senator Tañada the "privilege" to make the nominations on behalf of the party having the second largest number of votes in the Senate - agrees with it. As Senator Sumulong inquired:

        x x x. I suppose Your Honor will agree with me that the framers of the Constitution precisely thought of creating this Electoral Tribunal so as to prevent the majority from ever having a preponderant majority in the Tribunal. (Congressional Record for the Senate, Vol. III, p. 330; italics supplied.)

    Senator Sabido replied:

        That is so, x x x. (Id., p. 330.)

    Upon further interpretation, Senator Sabido said:

        x x x the purpose of the creation of the Electoral Tribunal and of its composition is to maintain a balance between the two parties and make the members of the Supreme Court the controlling power so to speak of the Electoral Tribunal or hold the balance of power. That is the ideal situation. (Congressional Record for the Senate, Vol. III, p. 349; italics supplied.)

    Senator Sumulong opined along the same line. His words were:

        x x x. The intention is that when the three from the majority and the three from the minority become members of the Tribunal it is hoped that they will become aware of their judicial functions, not to protect the protestants or the protestees. It is hoped that they will act as judges because to decide election cases is a judicial function. But the framers of the Constitution besides being learned were men of experience. They knew that even Senators like us are not angels, that we are human beings, that if we should be chosen to go to the Electoral Tribunal no one can say that we will entirely be free from partisan influence to favor our party, so that in case that hope that the three from the majority and the three from the minority who will act as Judges should result in disappointment, in case they do not act as judges but they go there and vote along party lines, still there is the guarantee that they will offset each other and the result will be that the deciding vote will reside in the hands of the three Justices who have no partisan motives to favor either the protestees or the protestants. In other words, the whole idea is to prevent the majority from controlling and dictating the decisions of the Tribunal and to make sure that the decisive vote will be wielded not by the Congressmen or Senators who are members of the Tribunal but will be wielded by the Justices who, by virtue of their judicial offices, will have no partisan motives to serve, either protestants or protestees. That is my understanding of the intention of the framers of the Constitution when they decided to create the Electoral Tribunal.

        x x x x

        My idea is that the intention of the framers of the constitution in creating the Electoral Tribunal is to insure impartiality and independence in its decision, and that is sought to be done by never allowing the majority party to control the Tribunal, and secondly by seeing to it that the decisive vote in the Tribunal will be left in the hands of persons who have no partisan interest or motive to favor either protestant or protestee. (Congressional Record for the Senate, Vol. III, pp. 362-363, 365-366; italics supplied.)

Rule 6 of the 2015 HRET Rules does not grant additional powers to the Justices but rather maintains the balance of power between the members from the Judicial and Legislative departments as envisioned by the framers of the 1935 and 1987 Constitutions. The presence of the three Justices is meant to tone down the political nature of the cases involved and do away with the impression that party interests play a part in the decision-making process.

Rule 6(a) of the 2015 HRET Rules requires the presence of at least one Justice and four members of the Tribunal to constitute a quorum. This means that even when all the Justices are present, at least two members of the House of Representatives need to be present to constitute a quorum. Without this rule, it would be possible for five members of the House of Representatives to convene and have a quorum even when no Justice is present. This would render ineffective the rationale contemplated by the framers of the 1935 and 1987 Constitutions for placing the Justices as members of the HRET. Indeed, petitioner is nitpicking in claiming that Rule 6(a) unduly favors the Justices because under the same rule, it is possible for four members of the House of Representatives and only one Justice to constitute a quorum. Rule 6(a) of the 2015 HRET Rules does not make the Justices indispensable members to constitute a quorum but ensures that representatives from both the Judicial and Legislative departments are present to constitute a quorum. Members from both the Judicial and Legislative departments become indispensable to constitute a quorum. The situation cited by petitioner, that it is possible for all the Justice-members to exercise denial or veto power over the proceedings simply by absenting themselves, is speculative. As pointed out by the HRET, this allegation also ascribes bad faith, without any basis, on the part of the Justices.

The last sentence of Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution also provides that "[t]he senior Justice in the Electoral Tribunal shall be its Chairman." This means that only a Justice can chair the Electoral Tribunal. As such, there should always be one member of the Tribunal who is a Justice. If all three Justice-members inhibit themselves in a case, the Supreme Court will designate another Justice to chair the Electoral Tribunal in accordance with Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution.

Contrary to petitioner's allegation, Rule 6(a) of the 2015 HRET Rules does not violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The equal protection clause is embodied in Section 1, Article III of the 1987 Constitution which provides:

    Section 1. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.

The Court has explained that the equal protection clause of the Constitution allows classification. The Court stated:

    x x x. A law is not invalid because of simple inequality. The very idea of classification is that of inequality, so that it goes without saying that the mere fact of inequality in no manner determines the matter of constitutionality. All that is required of a valid classification is that it be reasonable, which means that the classification should be based on substantial distinctions which make for real differences; that it must be germane to the purpose of the law; that it must not be limited to existing conditions only; and that it must apply equally to each member of the class. This Court has held that the standard is satisfied if the classification or distinction is based on a reasonable foundation or rational basis and is not palpably arbitrary.[8]

In the case of the HRET, there is a substantial distinction between the Justices of the Supreme Court and the members of the House of Representatives. There are only three Justice-members while there are six Legislator-members of the HRET. Hence, there is a valid classification. The classification is justified because it was placed to ensure the presence of members from both the Judicial and Legislative branches of the government to constitute a quorum. There is no violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Ambiguity of Rule 6 in relation to Rule 69

Petitioner likewise questions Rule 6 in relation to Rule 69 of the 2015 HRET Rules for being ambiguous, questionable, and undemocratic. Petitioner alleges:

    x x x while the general rule requires that the "concurrence of at least five (5) Members shall be necessary for the rendition of decisions . . ." in cases where a "member inhibits or cannot take part in the deliberations," a mere "majority of those remaining Members shall be sufficient."

    Thus, in case where there are only 5 constituting a quorum whereby at least 1 of the Members present thereat inhibit, a majority of the remaining four may validly render a decision. In an extreme case where the 4 of the 5 present inhibit, the Rule allows that the decision of the remaining 1 member shall be the decision of the Tribunal.

    Applied to Petitioner in the cases against her pending with the HRET whereby 2 justices inhibited themselves, in the event the 2 inhibiting justices are present together with another justice and 2 other legislator­-members, these may qualify as a valid quorum because under Rule 6, their mere "presence" is the only requirement. Therefore, the majority of the remaining 3 members may vote and their decision shall be considered the decision of the Tribunal. In case 1 of the remaining 3 opposes the measure, only 2 votes actually represent the decision of the Tribunal. This may happen even if those absent four (4) members may actually be against the decision, but due to their absence, they were not able to vote.[9]

The ambiguity referred to by petitioner is absurd and stems from an erroneous understanding of the Rules. As pointed out by the HRET in its Comment, a member of the Tribunal who inhibits or is disqualified from participating in the deliberations cannot be considered present for the purpose of having a quorum. In addition, Rule 69 clearly shows that the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives have the authority to designate a Special Member or Members who could act as temporary replacement or replacements in cases where one or some of the Members of the Tribunal inhibit from a case or are disqualified from participating in the deliberations of a particular election contest when the required quorum cannot be met. There is no basis to petitioner's claim that a member who inhibits or otherwise disqualified can sit in the deliberations to achieve the required quorum.

Actions of the Executive Committee

Rule 6(b) and 6(c) of the 2015 HRET Rules provide for instances when the members of the tribunal can constitute themselves as an Executive Committee, thus:

    Rule 6. Meetings; Quorum; Executive Committee Actions on Matters in Between Regular Meetings. -

    x x x x

    (b) In the absence of a quorum and provided there is at least one Justice in attendance, the Members present, who shall not be less than three (3), may constitute themselves as an Executive Committee to act on the agenda for the meeting concerned, provided, however, that its action shall be subject to confirmation by the Tribunal at any subsequent meeting where a quorum is present.

    (c) In between the regular meetings of the Tribunal, the Chairperson, or any three (3) of its Members, provided at least one (1) of them is a Justice, who may sit as the Executive Committee, may act on the following matters requiring immediate action by the Tribunal:

        1. Any pleading or motion,

        (a) Where delay in its resolution may result in irreparable or substantial damage or injury to the rights of a party or cause delay in the proceedings or action concerned;

        (b) Which is urgent in character but does not substantially affect the rights of the adverse party, such as one for extension of time to comply with an order/resolution of the Tribunal, or to file a pleading which is not a prohibited pleading and is within the discretion of the Tribunal to grant; and

        (c) Where the Tribunal would require a comment, reply, rejoinder or any other similar pleading from any of the parties or their attorneys;

        2. Administrative matters which do not involve new applications or allocations of the appropriations of the Tribunal; and

        3. Such other matters as may be delegated by the Tribunal.

    However, any such action/resolution shall be included in the order of business of the immediately succeeding meeting of the Tribunal for its confirmation.

The Rules clearly state that any action or resolution of the Executive Committee "shall be included in the order of business of the immediately succeeding meeting of the Tribunal for its confirmation." Hence, even if only three members of the HRET acted as an Executive Committee, and even if all these three members are Justices of the Supreme Court, their actions are subject to the confirmation by the entire Tribunal or at least five of its members who constitute a quorum. The confirmation required by the Rules should bar any apprehension that the Executive Committee would commit any action arbitrarily or in bad faith. In addition, the Rules enumerated the matters, requiring immediate action, that may be acted upon by the Executive Committee. Any other matter that may be delegated to the Executive Committee under Rule 6(c)(3) has to be decided by the entire Tribunal.

Qualifications of a Member of the House of Representatives and Date of Filing of Election Protest

Petitioner alleges that the HRET unduly expanded the jurisdiction of the COMELEC. Petitioner states that Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution provides that the HRET shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives. According to petitioner, Rule 15 of the 2015 HRET Rules provides for the requisites to be considered a member of the House of Representatives, as follows: (1) a valid proclamation; (2) a proper oath; and (3) assumption of office. In addition to these requisites, Rule 17 fixed the time for the filing of an election protest within 15 days from June 30 of the election year or the date of actual assumption of office, whichever is later. Petitioner alleges that these Rules will allow the COMELEC to assume jurisdiction between the time of the election and within 15 days from June 30 of the election year or the date of actual assumption of office, whichever is later. Further, the requirements of a valid proclamation and a proper oath will allow the COMELEC to look into these matters until there is an actual assumption of office.

Under the 2015 HRET Rules, the HRET is the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives. This is clear under the first paragraph of Rule 15.

    Rule 15. Jurisdiction. - The Tribunal is the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the Members of the House of Representatives.

    To be considered a Member of the House of Representatives, there must be a concurrence of the following requisites: (1) a valid proclamation; (2) a proper oath; and (3) assumption of office.

HRET's jurisdiction is provided under Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution which states that "[t]he 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." There is no room for the COMELEC to assume jurisdiction because HRET's jurisdiction is constitutionally mandated.

The reckoning event under Rule 15 of the 2015 HRET Rules, being dependent on the taking of oath and the assumption of office of the winning candidate, is indeterminable. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the losing candidate who intends to file an election protest or a petition for quo warranto to keep track when the winning candidate took his oath of office or when he assumed office. The date, time, and place of the taking of oath depend entirely upon the winning candidate. The winning candidate may or may not publicize his taking of oath and thus any candidate intending to file a protest will be in a dilemma when to file the protest. The taking of oath can happen any day and any time after the proclamation. As to the assumption of office, it is possible that, for one reason or another, the winning candidate will not assume office at the end of the term of his predecessor but on a later date that is unknown to the losing candidate.

However, the Court takes judicial notice that in its Resolution No. 16, Series of 2018, dated 20 September 2018,[10] the HRET amended Rules 17 and 18 of the 2015 HRET Rules. As amended, Rules 17 and 18 now read:

    RULE 17. Election Protest. - A verified protest contesting the election or returns of any Member of the House of Representatives shall be filed by any candidate who has duly filed a certificate of candidacy and has been voted for the same office within fifteen (15) days from June 30 of the election year, if the winning candidate was proclaimed on or before said date. However, if the winning candidate was proclaimed after June 30 of the election year, a verified election protest shall be filed within fifteen (15) days from the date of proclamation.

    x x x x

    RULE 18. Quo Warranto. - A verified petition for quo warranto on the ground of ineligibility may be filed by any registered voter of the congressional district concerned, or any registered voter in the case of party­-list representatives, within fifteen (15) days from June 30 of the election year, if the winning candidate was proclaimed on or before said date. However, if the winning candidate was proclaimed after June 30 of the election year, a verified petition for quo warranto shall be filed within fifteen (15) days from the date of proclamation. The party filing the petition shall be designated as the petitioner, while the adverse party shall be known as the respondent.

    x x x x

The amendments to Rules 17 and 18 of the 2015 HRET Rules were made "with respect to the reckoning point within which to file an election protest or a petition for quo warranto, respectively, in order to further promote a just and expeditious determination and disposition of every election contest brought before the Tribunal[.]"[11] The recent amendments, which were published in The Philippine Star on 26 September 2018 and took effect on 11 October 2018, clarified and removed any doubt as to the reckoning date for the filing of an election protest. The losing candidate can determine with certainty when to file his election protest.

WHEREFORE, we DISMISS the petition.

SO ORDERED.

Bersamin,* Del Castillo, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Caguioa, Tijam, A. Reyes, Jr., J. Reyes, Jr., and Hernando, JJ., concur.
Peralta,* J., No part due to prior participation in the HRET.
Jardeleza, J., on official business.
Gesmundo, J., on leave.


NOTICE OF JUDGMENT

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on October 16, 2018 a Decision, copy attached herewith, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on October 26, 2018 at 10:04 a.m.



Very truly yours,


(SGD)

EDGAR O. ARICHETA
 
Clerk of Court

* No part. Members of the HRET who approved the 2015 Revised Rules of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal.

[1] Rollo, pp. 72-104.

[2] Id. at 111-113.

[3] Id. at 115-116.

[4] Record of the Constitutional Commission, No. 34, 19 July 1986, p. 111.

[5] Proceedings of the Philippine Constitutional Convention, Vol. IV, p. 505.

[6] See Tañada and Macapagal v. Cuenco, 103 Phil. 1051, 1079-1080 (1957).

[7] Id. at 1078-1084. Italicization in the original.

[8] Garcia v. Judge Drilon, 712 Phil. 44, 90-91 (2013).

[9] Rollo, p. 20.

[10] Signed by Associate Justices Diosdado M. Peralta (Chairperson), Mariano C. Del Castillo, Marvic M.V.F. Leonen and Representatives Jorge T. Almonte, Rodel M. Batocabe, Abigail Faye C. Ferriol-Pascual, and Joaquin M. Chipeco, Jr.

[11] Fourth WHEREAS clause of Resolution No. 16, Series of 2018.


Monday, October 1, 2018

ALFREDO G. GERMAR, PETITIONER, VS. FELICIANO P. LEGASPI, RESPONDENT.

Ombudsman, Ordinances

1. ... the Court had the occasion to rule on whether a Sangguniang Bayan authorization, which is separate from the appropriation ordinance, is still required if the appropriation ordinance itself already provided for the transactions, bonds, contracts, documents, and other obligations that the local chief executive would enter into in behalf of the municipality.

2. ... the Court agreed that the prior authorization for the local chief executive to enter into contracts on behalf of the municipality may be in the form of an appropriation ordinance, for as long as the same specifically covers the project, cost, or contract to be entered into by the local government unit.

3. "an item of appropriation must be an item characterized by singular correspondence-meaning an allocation of a specified singular amount for a specified singular purpose, otherwise known as a 'line-item.'"

===

SECOND DIVISION
G.R. No. 232532,
October 01, 2018

D E C I S I O N

REYES, A., J.:

The Case

Challenged before the Court via this Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court are the Decision[1] and Resolution[2] of the Court of Appeals, dated September 5, 2016 and June 30, 2017, respectively, in CA-G.R. SP No. 145277. The Decision and Resolution affirmed the Consolidated Resolution[3] of the Office of the Ombudsman in OMB-L-A-15-0054 and OMB-L-A-15-0055.

The Antecedent Facts

After the May 2013 elections, the Municipality of Norzagaray, Province of Bulacan witnessed a change of administration. The petitioner, Alfredo G. Germar (Germar), won the mayoralty position. He replaced the former mayor, respondent Feliciano P. Legaspi (Legaspi).

During Germar's term, he entered into contracts for professional service with six (6) consultants, namely, Mamerto M. Manahan, Danilo S. Leonardo, Edilberto J. Guballa, Rodolfo J. Santos, Epifanio S. Payumo, and Enrique C. Boticario.[4] Respectively, they were to advice the office of the mayor on municipal administration and governance, barangay affairs, business investment and trade, calamity and disaster, and the last two consultants, on security relations.[5]

From the records of the case, it appears that the budget for the salary of the consultants is found in the appropriation ordinance[6] of the municipality for the year 2013. Particularly, it is a line-item called as "Consultancy Services" found under the category "Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses" of the Office of the Mayor. These provisions are found in a detailed list which is annexed to the appropriation ordinance, with the heading, "Programmed Appropriation and Obligation by Object of Expenditure."[7]

On October 28, 2014, a year into Germar's service as the mayor of the municipality, Legaspi filed a complaint against the former, together with the six (6) consultants and the Municipal Human Resources Officer of the municipality, before the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB). The charges, both criminal and administrative, included Grave Misconduct, Gross Dishonesty, Grave Abuse of Authority (docketed as OMB-L-A-15-0054 to 55), Malversation and Violation of Republic Act (R.A.) No 7160, R.A. No. 6713, R.A. No. 3019 (docketed as OMB-L-C-15-0039 to 40), and R.A. No. 9184.[8]

In the administrative aspect of the complaint, which is the subject matter of this case, Legaspi averred that Germar entered into these contracts of professional service without the prior authorization of the Sangguniang Bayan. This, Legaspi asserted, is a violation of Section 444 of the Local Government Code,[9] which deals with the powers, duties, function, and compensation of the local chief executive.

On November 23, 2015, the OMB promulgated a Consolidated Resolution. On the administrative charges, while the OMB held Germar liable for "Grave Misconduct," it dismissed the case against the six (6) consultants and the Human Resources Officer. The fallo of the Consolidated Resolution reads:

    WHEREFORE, finding probable cause to indict respondent ALFREDO G. GERMAR for violation of Section 3 (e) of RA No. 3019, let the appropriate information be filed before the Sandiganbayan.

    FURTHER, there being substantial evidence, respondent ALFREDO G. GERMAR is found guilty of Grave Misconduct. He is meted the penalty of DISMISSAL from the service as well as cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

    The charges against the other respondents SILANGAN RIVAS, MAMERTO MANAHAN, DANILO LEONARDO, EDILBERTO GUBALLA, RODOLFO SANTOS, EPIFANIO PAYUMO and ENRIQUE BOTICARlO are hereby DISMISSED for lack of evidence.

    SO ORDERED.[10]

Without filing a motion for reconsideration to the OMB Consolidated Resolution, Germar elevated the case to the Court of Appeals. After the submission of the required pleadings, the appellate court rendered a decision, which denied Germar's petition for review. According to the Court of Appeals, while Germar's non-filing of a motion for reconsideration falls within the exception to the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies,[11] he is nonetheless found guilty of grave misconduct for entering into consultancy service contracts without the Sangguniang Bayan's authorization.[12]

The fallo of the Court of Appeals Decision reads:

    WHEREFORE, the instant Petition for Review is hereby DENIED. The assailed 23 November 2015 Consolidated Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman in OMB-L-A-0054 to 55 finding ALFREDO G. GERMAR GUILTY of grave misconduct is AFFIRMED in toto.

    SO ORDERED.[13]

Upon the denial of petitioner Germar's motion for reconsideration, he filed the instant petition for review on certiorari.

The Issues

In seeking the reversal of the decision of the Court of Appeals, the petitioner raises three issues: (1) whether or not the item of "Consultancy Services" in the appropriation ordinance of the Municipality of Norzagaray is sufficient authorization for the petitioner to sign the contracts of professional service; (2) whether or not Germar's act show good faith such that he is neither guilty of grave misconduct, nor should he be punished with the ultimate penalty of dismissal from service; and (3) whether or not the condonation doctrine finds application herein.[14]

In essence, the issue that the Court is called upon to resolve centers on whether or not Germar is guilty of Grave Misconduct in entering into the six (6) contracts of professional service based solely on the authority of the appropriations ordinance, and no other.

After a careful perusal of the arguments presented and the evidence submitted, the Court finds merit in the petition.

Time and again, the Court has defined misconduct as a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, unlawful behavior, willful in character, improper or wrong behavior.[15]

The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or to disregard established rules, which must be established by substantial evidence. As distinguished from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule must be manifest in a charge of grave misconduct.[16]

In finding Germar guilty of grave misconduct, the OMB ruled that Germar "x x x is liable for Grave Misconduct for entering into the subject consultancy contracts in violation of the Local Government Code"[17] and that there was willful intent to violate the law or willful intent to disregard established rules on the part of Germar.[18] According to the OMB, Germar violated Section 22(c), in relation to Section 444(b)(l)(vi), of the Local Government Code, which requires an authorization from the Sangguinang Bayan before Germar, as the local chief executive, could enter into contracts in behalf of the municipality. The provisions read:

    SECTION 22. Corporate Powers. - (a) Every local government unit, as a corporation, shall have the following powers:

    x x x x

    (c) Unless otherwise provided in this Code, no contract may be entered into by the local chief executive in behalf of the local government unit without prior authorization by the sanggunian concerned. A legible copy of such contract shall be posted at a conspicuous place in the provincial capitol or the city, municipal or barangay hall.

    x x x x (Emphasis supplied)

    SECTION 444. The Chief Executive: Powers, Duties, Functions and Compensation. - (a) The municipal mayor, as the chief executive of the municipal government, shall exercise such powers and performs such duties and functions as provided by this Code and other laws.

    (b) For efficient, effective and economical governance the purpose of which is the general welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants pursuant to Section 16 of this Code, the municipal mayor shall: (1) Exercise general supervision and control over all programs, projects, services, and activities of the municipal government, and in this connection, shall:

    x x x x

    (vi) Upon authorization by the sangguniang bayan, represent the municipality in all its business transactions and sign on its behalf all bonds, contracts, and obligations, and such other documents made pursuant to law or ordinance;

    x x x x (Emphasis supplied)

In explaining the OMB's conclusion, the OMB Consolidated Resolution did not heed Germar's explanation that, as the mayor of the municipality, he was vested by law with authority to appoint the municipality's officials and employees. The OMB further said that "[n]o local ordinance was presented either to reflect that the Sanggunian even ratified the contracts." Particularly, the OMB very briefly explained:

    To be sure, respondent Germar could only muster as basis for his action the authority vested in him by law to appoint the municipality's officials and employees. Then again, consultant respondents here were not employees of the local government and this fact was acknowledged in the consultancy contracts. Under the circumstances of the present case, this Office sees the open defiance and disregard by respondent Germar of the law's requirement by continually insisting on an applicable provision of the Local Government Code as his legal basis. No local ordinance was presented either to reflect that the Sanggunian even ratified the contracts.[19]

But in his defense, Germar recognized the clear mandate of Sections 22 and 444(b)(l)(vi). He, however, averred that he has indeed acquired the required "prior authorization" from the Sangguniang Bayan. Germar posited that the appropnatlon ordinance,[20] which clearly provided for funds for "Consultancy Services" is the "prior authorization" required of Sections 22 and 444(b)(l)(vi).

To be sure, this issue is not novel.

In the case of Quisumbing v. Garcia,[21] the Court had the occasion to rule on whether a Sangguniang Bayan authorization, which is separate from the appropriation ordinance, is still required if the appropriation ordinance itself already provided for the transactions, bonds, contracts, documents, and other obligations that the local chief executive would enter into in behalf of the municipality.

To answer this query, Quisumbing made a general delineation depending on the particular circumstances of the case. According to Quisumbing, if the project is already provided for in the appropriation ordinance in sufficient detail, then no separate authorization is necessary. On the other hand, if the project is couched in general terms, then a separate approval by the Sangguniang Bayan is required.

This delineation first enunciated in Quisumbing is further elaborated by the Court in the recent case of Verceles, Jr. v. Commission on Audit.[22] In Verceles, the Court agreed that the prior authorization for the local chief executive to enter into contracts on behalf of the municipality may be in the form of an appropriation ordinance, for as long as the same specifically covers the project, cost, or contract to be entered into by the local government unit.[23] Verceles explained:

    If the project or program is identified in the appropriation ordinance in sufficient detail, then there is no more need to obtain a separate or additional authority from the sanggunian. In such case, the project and the cost are already identified and approved by the sanggunian through the appropriation ordinance. To require the local chief executive to secure another authorization for a project that has been specifically identified and approved by the sanggunian is antithetical to a responsive local government envisioned in the Constitution and in the LGC.

    On the other hand, the need for a covering contract arises when the project is identified in generic terms. The covering contract must also be approved by the sanggunian.[24] (Citations omitted)

In applying this delineation, Verceles examined the difference in the provisions of the Province of Catanduanes's appropriation ordinance for the fiscal years 2001 and 2002 with regard to the province's "tree seedlings production project."

In the 2001 appropriation ordinance, the funds for the "tree seedlings production project" were derived from the province's economic development fund (EDF), which is a lump-sum amount that did not detail the projects that it could fund. Thus, Verceles concluded that, since the appropriation ordinance did not list the specific projects in which the EDF could be used, then the Sangguniang Panlalawigan "has not yet determined how the lump-sum EDF would be spent at the time it approved the annual budget."[25] Resultantly, the provision in the 2001 appropriation ordinance, insofar as the EDF is concerned, is a generic term that needed a separate authorization from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

In contrast, in the 2002 appropriation ordinance, the EDF from which the funds for the "tree seedlings production project" were also derived specifically stated in Section 3 thereof that the lump-sum EDF may be used for "Tree Seedling Production for Environmental Safeguard-Amount: P3,000,000.00" This, Verceles concluded, is sufficient authority because the same "specifically and expressly set aside P3,000,000.00 to fund the tree seedlings production project of the Province."[26]

This thus begs the question in this case: Is the line-item "Consultancy Services" found under the category "Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses" of the budget for the Office of the Mayor which is found in the annex to the appropriations ordinance under the heading, "Programmed Appropriation and Obligation by Object of Expenditure," of sufficient detail which would not require a separate ordinance?

To answer this query, there is a need to discuss the proper characterization of a line-item in an appropriation ordinance.

In the case of Bengzon v. Secretary of Justice of the Philippine Islands,[27] the United States Supreme Court defined an "item of appropriation" as "a specific appropriation of money, not some general provision of law which happens to be put in an appropriation bill."[28] In Araullo, et al. v. President Aquino III, et al.,[29] the Court reiterated that a line-item is "the last and indivisible purpose of a program in the appropriation law, which is distinct from the expense category or allotment class."[30]

In Belgica, et al. v. Hon. Exec. Sec. Ochoa, Jr., et al.,[31] through the ponencia of Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, this Court further elaborated on this definition by stating that "an item of appropriation must be an item characterized by singular correspondence-meaning an allocation of a specified singular amount for a specified singular purpose, otherwise known as a 'line-item.'"[32]

By this standard, the Court, in Belgica, considered the "Calamity Fund, Contingent Fund and the Intelligence Fund" as line-items as they are "appropriations which state a specified amount for a specific purpose."[33] Further, in discussing the veto power of the President for line-items, Belgica ruled that "a valid appropriation may even have several related purposes that are by accounting and budgeting practice considered as one purpose, e.g., MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses), in which case the related purposes shall be deemed sufficiently specific x x x"

By analogy, these asseverations in the line-items of appropriation laws may also be applied to appropriation ordinances.

In this case, the Sangguinang Bayan's appropriation ordinance for the fiscal year 2013 indicated a budget of P250,859,675.00 to be sourced from the general fund and P279,565,093.62 to be sourced from the special fund.[34] Of these amounts, Section 4 of the appropriation ordinance allocated P40,609,457.62 to the "Mayor's Office."[35] While this allocation contained no specific line-item, Section 1 of the same ordinance[36] provided for the incorporation of several documents to be made as integral part thereof. Particularly, it included the budget document denominated as "Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing." A review of the records revealed that among the attachments to the appropriation ordinance is LBP Form No. 3, "Programmed Appropriation and Obligation by Object of Expenditure," the first three (3) pages of which pertained to the budget of the Office of the Mayor.[37]

The Object of Expenditures for the Office of the Mayor is categorized into three: (1) Current Operating Expenditures, (2) Capital Outlay, and (3) Special Purpose Appropriation. The Current Operating Expenditures is further divided into two sub-categories: (1) Personal Services and (2) Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE). The subject line-item "Consultancy Services" is found in the MOOE along with other line-items such as travelling expenses, training expenses, representation expenses, and intelligence expenses.[38]

In effect, therefore, the subject line-item in this case, like the other line-items in the appropriations ordinance, is a specific al1ocation to a specific purpose for the specific maintenance and operating expense of a specific office. In the language used in Belgica, this line-item which is found in the MOOE of the Office of the Mayor shall already be deemed sufficiently specific.

More, the delineation propounded by the Court in Verceles is likewise followed in the case at hand. The cost-in this case P900,000.00, or contract-in this case the contract for professional services entered into by Germar, has been properly and dearly identified in the appropriations ordinance. As compared to a lump-sum EDF budget in Verceles where there was no mention of any detail of the project to which the fund shall be utilized, the line-item subject of the present case has been identified by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in the appropriations ordinance. To require a further elaboration of what type of consulting agreement should be entered into is akin to requiring what type of calamity there should be before the calamity fund should be used, or what kind of representation there should be before the representation expense could be used. Clearly, the line-item "Consultancy Services" in the MOOE budget of the Office of the Mayor is meant to provide consultants to the Office of the Mayor for the purpose of its day-to-day operations. This is as specific as the line-item could be reasonably provided for in the appropriation ordinance, and the Sangguniang Bayan, by including this in the appropriation ordinance, already acceded to the procurement of consulting services by the Office of the Mayor. Again, in the language of Verceles, to require the local chief executive to secure another authorization from the Sangguniang Bayan for this line-item, despite it being specifically identified and subsequently approved, is antithetical to a responsive local government envisioned in the Constitution and the Local Government Code.

By the foregoing discourse, it remains apparent that an authorization from the Sangguniang Bayan, which is separate from the appropriations ordinance for the fiscal year 2013, is not warranted. Germar's action of entering into contracts of professional service with the six (6) consultants could not be considered as a transgression of an established and definite rule of action, nor could it be considered a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, or an unlawful behavior. Neither is there any willful intent to violate the law or any willful intent to disregard established rules for clearly, Germar's action is within the parameters of the law as established by the Court in the cases of Quisumbing and Verceles.

Consequently, it is the Court's considered opinion that Germar should not have been found guilty of Simple Misconduct, let alone Grave Misconduct, on the basis of his lawful action as the mayor of the Municipality of Norzagaray, Province of Bulacan. Ruling contrary thereto is a grave injustice to a sitting local chief executive who merely executed the contracts of professional service pursuant to a specific line-item found in an approved appropriation ordinance.

Indeed, while issues in politics is a reality that all politicians will have to contend with, the Court should not sit idly by when the law is used as a tool to exact vengeance against those who prevailed over another, especially when it is the voice of the people that dictated who should represent them in their local government. Any deviation from this principle should be unceremoniously struck down and should never be countenanced by the Court.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition for review on certiorari is GRANTED. The Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals, dated September 5, 2016 and June 30, 2017, respectively, in CA­ G.R. SP No. 145277 and the Consolidated Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman in OMB-L-A-15-0054 and OMB-L-A-15-0055 are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, Senior Associate Justice, (Chairperson), Perlas-Bernabe, and J. Reyes, Jr.,** JJ., concur.
Caguioa, J., on official business.

** Designated as additional Member per Special Order No. 2587, dated August 28, 2018.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Cannelita S. Manahan, and concurred in by Associate Justices Japar B. Dimaampao and Franchito N. Diamante; rollo, pp. 62-80.

[2] Rollo, pp. 82-87.

[3] Id. at 130-136.

[4] Id. at 64.

[5] Id.

[6] "An Ordinance Authorizing the Annual Budget of the Municipality of Norzagaray, Bulacan for Fiscal Year 2013 Beginning on January 01, 2013 to December 2013 Amounting to Two Hundred Filly Million Eight Hundred Fifty Nine Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Five Pesos (P250,859,675.00) for General Fund and the Amount of Twenty Eight Million Seven Hundred Five Thousand Four Hundred Eighteen Pesos and 62/100 (P28,705,418.62) for Special Fund Covering the Various Expenditures for the Operation of the Municipal Government for Fiscal year 2013, and Appropriating the Necessary Funds for the Purpose."

[7] Rollo, p. 95.

[8] Id. at 65.

[9] SECTION 444. The Chief Executive: Powers, Duties, Functions and Compensation. - (a) The municipal mayor, as the chief executive of the municipal government, shall exercise such powers and performs such duties and functions as provided by this Code and other laws.

(b) For efficient, effective and economical governance the purpose of which is the general welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants pursuant to Section 16 of this Code, the municipal mayor shall:

(1) Exercise general supervision and control over all programs, projects, services, and activities of the municipal government, and in this connection, shall:

x x x x

(vi) Upon authorization by the sangguniang bayan, represent the municipality in all its business transactions and sign on its behalf all bonds, contracts, and obligations, and such other documents made pursuant to law or ordinance;

x x x x

[10] Rollo, p. 135.

[11] Id. at 67.

[12] Id. at 71.

[13] Id. at 79.

[14] Id. at 16-17.

[15] See Office of the Court Administrator v. Tomas, A.M. No. P-09-2633; Re: Administrative Charge of Misconduct Relative to the Alleged Use of Prohibited Drug of Castor, 719 Phil. 96, 100 (2013); Dalmacio-Joaquin v. Dela Cruz, 604 Phil. 256, 261 (2009); Office of the Court Administrator v. Lopez, 654 Phil. 602, 608 (2011).

[16] See Office of the Court Administrator v. Tomas, A.M. No. P-09-2633; Re: Administrative Charge of Misconduct Relative to the Alleged Use of Prohibited Drug of Castor, 719 Phil. 96, 100 (2013); Dalmacio-Joaquin v. Dela Cruz, 604 Phil. 256, 261 (2009); Office of the Court Administrator v. Lopez, 654 Phil. 602, 608 (2011).

[17] Rollo, p. 134.

[18] Id.

[19] Id. at 134-135.

[20] "An Ordinance Authorizing the Annual Budget of the Municipality of Norzagaray, Bulacan for Fiscal Year 2013 Beginning on January 01, 2013 to December 2013 Amounting to Two Hundred Fifty Million Eight Hundred Fifty Nine Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Five Pesos (P250,859,675.00) for General Fund and the Amount of Twenty Eight Million Seven Hundred Five Thousand Four Hundred Eighteen Pesos and 62/100 (P28,705,418.62) for Special Fund Covering the Various Expenditures for the Operation of the Municipal Govemment for Fiscal year 2013, and Appropriating the Necessary Funds for the Purpose."

[21] 593 Phil. 655, 663-664 (2008).

[22] 794 Phil. 629 (2016).

[23] Id. at 644.

[24] Id. at 646.

[25] Id. at 651.

[26] Id. at 652.

[27] 299 U.S. 410 (1937).

[28] Id.

[29] 752 Phil. 716 (2015).

[30] Id. at 771.

[31] 721 Phil. 416 (2013).

[32] Id. at 551.

[33] Id. at 552.

[34] Rollo, p. 90.

[35] Id. at 91.

[36] Id. at 90.

[37] Id. at 95-97.

[38] Id.