Sunday, February 24, 2019

Disqualification of Candidate - Republic Act 10164

"Grave abuse of discretion arises when a court or tribunal violates the Constitution, the law, or existing jurisprudence."



EN BANC
G.R. No. 231657
January 15, 2019

CHRISTIAN C. HALILI, Petitioner, versus COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, PYRA LUCAS, and CRISOSTOMO GARBO, Respondents.

x.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

MARINO P. MORALES, Petitioner, versus PYRA LUCAS and the COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Respondents.

CHRISTIAN C. HALILI and CRISOSTOMO GARBO, Respondents-Intervenors.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

These two consolidated[1] petitions[2] seek to nullify and set aside the Resolution[3] dated 3 August 2016 of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) First Division and the Resolution[4] dated 26 May 2017 of the COMELEC En Banc.

The Facts

Petitioner Marino P. Morales (Morales) was elected and served as Mayor of the Municipality of Mabalacat, Pampanga from 1 July 2007 to 30 June 2010. He was elected again as mayor during the 2010 elections. On 15 May 2012, or during Morales' second term, Congress passed Republic Act No. (RA) 10164,[5] converting the Municipality of Mabalacat into a component city. Thereafter, a plebiscite was held. In the 2013 elections, Morales ran again and was elected as mayor of the new Mabalacat City. On 8 December 2015, Morales filed his Certificate of Candidacy[6] (COC) for the 2016 elections for the position of mayor of Mabalacat City, as substitute candidate for Wilfredo Feliciano of Aksyon Demokratiko Party.

On 4 January 2016, respondent Pyra Lucas (Lucas), also a candidate for the position of mayor of Mabalacat City, filed a Petition for Cancellation of the COC and/or Disqualification of Morales for the Mayoral Position of Mabalacat City,[7] docketed as SPA No. 16-001 (DC), before the COMELEC.

Lucas alleged that Morales was disqualified to run for mayor, since he was elected and had served three consecutive terms prior to the 2016 elections.

Lucas also alleged that the conversion of the Municipality of Mabalacat into Mabalacat City did not interrupt Morales' service for the full term for which he was elected.

On 25 January 2016, Morales filed his Verified Answers alleging that Lucas' petition should be summarily dismissed for lack of certification against forum shopping, for being filed out of time, and for lack of jurisdiction and/or cause of action. Morales claimed that his candidacy did not violate the three-term limit rule, because the conversion of the Municipality of Mabalacat into Mabalacat City interrupted his term. According to him, his term as mayor of Mabalacat City is not a continuation of his term as mayor of the Municipality of Mabalacat.

On 10 May 2016, following the canvass of all election returns, the City Board of Canvassers of Mabalacat City proclaimed Morales as elected city mayor, and petitioner Christian C. Halili (Halili) as elected city vice mayor.

On 20 May 2016, respondent Crisostomo Garbo (Garbo), another candidate for the position of mayor of Mabalacat City, filed a Motion for Leave To Intervene and To Admit Attached Petition-in-Intervention[9] alleging that he was interested in the outcome of the case, since he obtained the second highest number of votes and he should be proclaimed as mayor of Mabalacat City should Morales' COC be cancelled.

On 28 June 2016, Halili also filed a Verified Motion for Leave to Intervene (as Respondent) and Admit Attached Answer-in-Intervention 10 alleging that, as incumbent vice mayor of Mabalacat City, he should be proclaimed as mayor of Mabalacat City should Morales' COC be cancelled pursuant to the rule on succession under Section 44 of RA 7160, or the Local Government Code.

On 16 December 2016, Morales filed an Opposition[11] to Garbo's Petition-in-Intervention and a Comment[12] to Halili's Answer-in-Intervention before the COMELEC, alleging that both pleadings are premature.

The Ruling of the COMELEC

In a Resolution dated 3 August 2016, the COMELEC First Division granted the petition, cancelled Morales' COC, and ordered the proclamation of the qualified mayoralty candidate with the next higher number of votes.

The dispositive portion states:

WHEREFORE, the Petition is GRANTED. Accordingly, the Certificate of Candidacy of MARINO P. MORALES is hereby CANCELLED. All votes cast in his favor are declared stray.

The City Board of Canvassers of Mabalacat, Pampanga is hereby ORDERED to RECONVENE, ANNUL the proclamation of MARINO P. MORALES, PROCLAIM the qualified candidate with the next highest number of votes, and EFFECT the necessary corrections in the Certificate of Canvass and Proclamation.

SO ORDERED. [13]

The COMELEC First Division ruled that Lucas' petition was a petition for cancellation of COC under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC), and it was timely filed. The COMELEC First Division likewise held that Morales committed a material misrepresentation in his COC in stating that he is eligible to run as mayor of Mabalacat City, when in fact he is not eligible, because he violated the three-term limit rule after having served for the same local government post for three consecutive terms prior to the 2016 elections.

On 27 January 2017, the COMELEC En Banc granted the motions for leave to intervene filed by Garbo and Halili.

In a Resolution dated 26 May 2017, the COMELEC En Banc denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Morales for lack of merit, and affirmed the Resolution dated 3 August 2016 of the COMELEC First Division. 14 The COMELEC En Banc declared that Garbo, being the qualified mayoralty candidate with the highest number of votes, should be proclaimed.

On 1 June 2017, Lucas filed a Motion for Execution, and a subsequent Manifestation alleging the finality of the COMELEC En Banc Resolution dated 26 May 201 7. Thereafter, Morales filed an Opposition to the Motion for Execution.

On 2 June 2017, Halili filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition With Application for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Status Quo Ante Order 15 before us, docketed as G.R. No. 231643.

On 5 June 2017, Morales filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Urgent Prayer for Issuance of Temporary Restraining Order and/or Status Quo Ante Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction with Motion for Special Raffle 16 before us, docketed as G.R. No. 231657.

On 8 June 2017, the COMELEC En Banc issued a Writ of Execution:

(1) ordering Morales to cease and desist from performing the functions of mayor of Mabalacat City, Pampanga;

(2) directing, after due notice to the parties, the Special City Board of Canvassers of Mabalacat City, Pampanga to convene on 27 June 2017, 3:00 p.m., at the COMELEC Session Hall, gth Floor, Palacio del Gobernador Building, Intramuros, Manila and to proclaim Garbo, who garnered the highest number of votes of Seventeen Thousand Seven Hundred Ten (17,710) votes, as the duly elected mayor of Mabalacat City, Pampanga; and

(3) directing the Special City Board of Canvassers of Mabalacat City, Pampanga to furnish a copy of the Certificate of Proclamation to the Department of Interior and Local Government, Secretary of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Mabalacat City and affected parties. 11

In two Resolutions both dated 11 July 2017, the Court En Banc resolved to consolidate G.R. No. 231643 with G.R. No. 231657, and to deny for lack of merit:

(a) the Very Urgent Motion Reiterating the Issuance of Temporary Restraining Order and/or Status Quo Ante Order and Writ of Preliminary Injunction (as Respondent COMELEC Issued a Writ of Execution to Implement the Assailed Resolutions) dated 9 .June 2017 filed by Morales; 18

(b) the Second Very Urgent Motion to Resolve Application for TRO and/or Status Quo Ante Order dated 21 June 2017 filed by Morales; 19 and

(c) the Urgent Motion to Resolve Application for TRO/ Status Quo Ante Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction dated 9 June 2017 filed by Halili. 20

The Issues

In G.R. No. 231643, Halili raised the following issues:

A. Whether or not the Honorable Commission on Elections committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in considering the application of Aratea vs. Comelec case as basis in declaring that "the Petitioner-Intervenor [Crisostomo Garbo] being the qualified mayoral candidate with the highest number of votes should be proclaimed?"

B. Whether or not the Honorable Commission on Elections committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in not declaring a permanent vacancy in the office of the Mayor of Mabalacat City pursuant to Section 4, R.A. 716[0] [Local Government Code of 1991] after it cancelled the COC of Marino P. Morales?

C. Whether or not the Honorable Commission on Elections committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in ordering the reconvening of the 2016 Elections City Board of Canvassers of Mabalacat City to proclaim the qualified candidate with the next highest number of votes?21

In G.R. No. 231657, Morales raised the following issues:

a. Whether public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in arbitrarily treating the VERY VAGUE Lucas Petition as a Petition to Deny Due Course despite the fact that there is NOT a single statement or allegation in said Petition that petitioner committed "deliberate material misrepresentation";

a.1. Whether public respondent should have DISMISSED the Lucas Petition OUTRIGHT for being defective because it is a Petition for Disqualification invoking a ground proper for a Petition to Deny Due Course, in violation of Section 1, Rule 25, COMELEC Resolution No. 9523;

b. Assuming arguendo that the Lucas Petition can be treated as a Petition to Deny Due Course, whether public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it failed to DISMISS OUTRIGHT the Lucas Petition for being filed out of time and for failure of private respondent to attach to said Petition a Certificat[ion] of Non-Forum Shopping, as required by the Rules;

c. Assuming arguendo that the Lucas Petition can be treated as a Petition to Deny Due Course, whether public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it did NOT dismiss the Lucas Petition despite the fact that there is no prior "authoritative ruling" yet on petitioner's eligibility by any competent court or tribunal, following the doctrine laid down by this Court in the case of Poe vs. Comelec. In a word, whether or not petitioner violated the three-term limit rule when he ran for Mayor of the newly created Mabalacat City in the May 9, 2016 elections;

d. Assuming arguendo that the Lucas Petition can be treated as a Petition to Deny Due Course, whether public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when [it] refused to dismiss the Lucas Petition on the basis of its Resolution in the Castro Petition with practically the same issues herein, which had already attained finality pending resolution of the Lucas Petition;

e. Whether public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it refused to dismiss the Lucas Petition despite the fact that it had already lost jurisdiction over the case since the petitioner had already been proclaimed and assumed office, similar or analogous to the ruling of this Court in various cases that "after the proclamation of the winning candidate, disputes as to his CoC become moot (and are taken out of COMELEC's jurisdiction) and the proper remedy is to file a quo warranto proceeding questioning the candidate's eligibility"; and

f. Public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in ruling that the second placer in the subject contest should replace petitioner.[22]

The Ruling of the Court

The primordial issue to be resolved is whether or not the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction:

(1) in finding that Morales committed a false material representation in his COC when he declared that he was eligible to run as mayor of Mabalacat City for the 2016 elections despite his violation of the three-term limit rule; and

(2) in proclaiming Garbo as the duly elected mayor of Mabalacat City for being the qualified candidate with the highest number of votes.

We do not find merit in both petitions.

The three-term limit rule is embodied in Section 8, Article X of the 1987 Constitution, to wit:

Section 8. The term of office of elective local officials, except barangay officials, which shall be determined by law, shall be three years and no such official shall serve for more than three consecutive terms. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of his service for the full term for which he was elected.

It is restated in Section 43 of the Local Government Code, thus:

Section 43. Term of Office.- (a) xx x.

b) No local elective official shall serve for more than three (3) consecutive terms in the same position. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of service for the full term for which the elective official concerned was elected.

xx xx

The intention behind the three-term limit rule is not only to abrogate the "monopolization of political power" and prevent elected officials from breeding "proprietary interest in their position" but also to "enhance the people's freedom of choice."23 There are two conditions which must concur for the application of the disqualification of a candidate based on violation of the three-term limit rule: (1) that the official concerned has been elected for three consecutive terms in the same local government post, and (2) that he has fully served three consecutive terms.[24]

In the present case, Morales admits that he has been elected and has served as mayor of Mabalacat, Pampanga for three consecutive terms:

(1) 2007-2010; (2) 2010-2013; and (3) 2013-2016. However, Morales insists that his second term as mayor of the Municipality of Mabalacat was interrupted by the conversion of the municipality into a component city.

Morales claims that Mabalacat City is an entirely different political unit from the Municipality of Mabalacat, having an increased territory, income and population.

We are not convinced.

We have already ruled upon the same issue in the case of Latasa v. COMELEC (Latasa), 25 where we held that the conversion of a municipality into a city does not constitute an interruption of the incumbent official's continuity of service. We held that to be considered as interruption of service, the "law contemplates a rest period during which the local elective official steps down from office and ceases to exercise power or authority over the inhabitants of the territorial jurisdiction of a particular local government unit."[26]

In Latasa, petitioner was elected and served as mayor of the Municipality of Digos, Davao del Sur for terms 1992-1995, 1995-1998, and 1998-2001. During petitioner's third term, Digos was converted into a component city. When Latasa filed his COC for the 2001 elections, we held that petitioner was disqualified to run as mayor of Digos City for violation of the three-term limit rule, with the following explanation:

xx x Section 2 of the Charter of the City of Digos provides:

Section 2. The City of Digos.- The Municipality of Digos shall be converted into a component city to be known as the City of Digos, hereinafter referred to as the City, which shall comprise the present territory of the Municipality of Digos, Davao del Sur Province. The territorial jurisdiction of the City shall be within the present metes and bounds of the Municipality of Digos. x x x.

Moreover, Section 53 of the said Charter further states:

Section 53. Officials of the City of Digos. - The present elective officials of the Municipality of Digos shall continue to exercise their powers and functions until such a time that a new election is held and the duly-elected officials shall have already qualified and assumed their offices. x x x.

As seen in the aforementioned provisions, this Court notes that the delineation of the metes and bounds of the City of Digos did not change even by an inch the land area previously covered by the Municipality of Digos. This Court also notes that the elective officials of the Municipality of Digos continued to exercise their powers and functions until elections were held for the new city officials.

True, the new city acquired a new corporate existence separate and distinct from that of the municipal ty. This does not mean, however, that for the purpose of applying the su · ect Constitutional provision, the office of the municipal mayor would ow be construed as a different local government post as that of the offi e of the city mayor. As stated earlier, the territorial jurisdiction of the C ty of Digos is the same as that of the municipality. Consequently, the i abitants of the municipality are the same as those in the city. These i abitants are the same group of voters who elected petitioner Latasa to be their municipal mayor for three consecutive terms. These are also he same inhabitants over whom he held power and authority as their chief executive for nine years.

xx xx

x x x. In the present case, petitioner, upon ratification of the law converting the municipality to a city, continued to hold office as chief executive of the same territorial jurisdiction. There were changes in the political and economic rights of Digos as local government unit, but no substantial change occurred as to petitioner's authority as chief executive over the inhabitants of Digos.[27]

Similarly, in Laceda, Sr. v. Limena, (Laceda), 28 we held that the merger and conversion of the municipalities of Sorsogon and Bacon into Sorsogon City did not interrupt petitioner's term as Punong Barangay for three consecutive terms, to wit:

x x x [W]hile it is true that under Rep. Act No. 8806 the municipalities of Sorsogon and Bacon were merged and converted into a city thereby abolishing the former and creating Sorsogon City as a new political unit, it cannot be said that for the purpose of applying the prohibition in Section 2 of Rep. Act No. 9164, the office of Punong Barangay of Barangay Panlayaan, Municipality of Sorsogon, would now be construed as a different local government post as that of the office of Punong Barangay of Barangay Panlayaan, Sorsogon City. The territorial jurisdiction of Barangay Panlayaan, Sorsogon City, is the same as before the conversion. Consequently, the inhabitants of the barangay are the same. They are the same group of voters who elected Laceda to be their Punong Barangay for three consecutive terms and over whom Laceda held power and authority as their Punong Barangay. Moreover, Rep. Act No. 8806 did not interrupt Laceda's term.[29]

In the present case, RA 10164, or An Act Converting the Municipality of Mabalacat in the Province of Pampanga into a Component City to be Known as Mabalacat City, provides that:

xx xx

Sec. 2. Mabalacat City. - The Municipality of Mabalacat shall be converted into a component city to be known as Mabalacat City, hereinafter referred to as the City. The territorial jurisdiction of the City shall be within the present metes and bounds of the Municipality of Mabalacat, Province of Pampanga.

The foregoing provision shall be without prejudice to the resolution by the appropriate agency or forum of any boundary dispute or case involving questions of territorial jurisdiction between Mabalacat City and the adjoining local government units.

xx xx

Sec. 52. Officials of Mabalacat City. - The present elective officials of the Municipality of Mabalacat shall continue to exercise their powers and functions until such time that a new election is held and the duly-elected officials shall have already qualified and assumed their offices. Appointive officials and employees of the municipality shall likewise continue exercising their duties and functions and they shall be automatically absorbed by the city government of Mabalacat City. (Emphasis supplied)

When the law is clear and free from any doubt or ambiguity, there is no room for construction or interpretation, but only application. Verba legis non est recedendum, or from the words of a statute there should be no departure. Thus, contrary to Morales' arguments, the territorial jurisdiction of Mabalacat City is the same as that of the Municipality of Mabalacat. Also, the elective officials of the Municipality of Mabalacat continued to exercise their powers and functions until elections were held for the new city officials.

Applying our ruling in Latasa, the provisions of RA 10164 mean that the delineation of the metes and bounds of Mabalacat City did not change even by an inch the land area previously covered by the Municipality of Mabalacat. Consequently, the inhabitants are the same group of voters who elected Morales to be their mayor for three consecutive terms, and over whom he held power and authority as their mayor. Accordingly, Morales never ceased from acting and discharging his duties and responsibilities as chief executive of Mabalacat, despite the conversion of the Municipality of Mabalacat into Mabalacat City.

In insisting that Mabalacat City is an entirely different political unit as that of the Municipality of Mabalacat due to an alleged increased territory, income and population, Morales cites the second paragraph of Section 2, RA 10164 and presents a Political Boundary Map before us.

We find that Morales failed to substantiate his claim that Mabalacat City is an entirely different political unit as that of the Municipality of Mabalacat. In his Memorandum, Morales states that: "the Political Boundary Map just offered as EXHIBIT B never made it to be released officially by the Bureau of Land Management of the DENR and is being used only in this case as a reference tool to designate the original and specific intent of Congress when it passed into law RA 10164, the Charter of Mabalacat City. Though the political boundary map is complete for its intended purpose, respondent acknowledges that it never got officially released because of circumstances beyond anyone's control. The notable stumbling blocks against the release of this Political Boundary Map are the already ongoing litigations among various claimants and the protestations of conflicting claims by would be stakeholders with the new added areas." 30

Thus, Morales admits that there are on-going litigations, and there is no resolution by an appropriate agency on any boundary dispute, as required by the second paragraph of Section 2, RA 10164. The Political Boundary Map is merely offered to show the intent of Congress in passing RA 10164, when in fact, resort to intention is unnecessary when the law is clear.

Accordingly, there is no factual or legal authority for Morales' claim that the territorial jurisdiction of Mabalacat City is different from that of the Municipality of Mabalacat.

Still, Morales insists that his declarations in his COC are material representations of his honest to goodness belief that he was eligible to run.

In Aratea v. Commission on Elections (Aratea), 31 we found that Lonzanida misrepresented his eligibility because he knew fully well that he had been elected, and had served, as mayor of San Antonio, Zambales for more than three consecutive terms, yet, he still certified that he was eligible to run for mayor for the next succeeding term. We held that such misrepresentation constitutes false material representation as to his qualification or eligibility for the office. We explained that:

In a certificate of candidacy, the candidate is asked to certify under oath his or her eligibility, and thus qualification, to the office he [or she] seeks election. Even though the certificate of candidacy does not specifically ask the candidate for the number of terms elected and served in an elective position, such fact is material in determining a candidate's eligibility, and thus qualification for the office. Election to and service of the same local elective position for three consecutive terms renders a candidate ineligible from running for the same position in the succeeding elections.[32] (Emphasis supplied)

In the present case, Morales' alleged lack of knowledge or notice of ineligibility is negated by the previous cases involving the three-term limit rule and his eligibility to run, specifically Rivera Ill v. Commission on Elections (Rivera) 33 and Dizon v. Commission on Elections (Dizon).[34]

In Rivera, Morales, the present petitioner, was elected mayor of the Municipality of Mabalacat, Pampanga for the following consecutive terms:

1995-1998, 1998-2001, and 2001-2004. In the 2004 elections, Morales ran again as mayor of the same town and was proclaimed elective mayor for the term commencing 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2007. A petition for quo warranto was later filed against Morales alleging that he was ineligible to run for a "fourth" term, having served as mayor for three consecutive terms. Morales answered that his supposed 1998-2001 term could not be considered against him, because although he was proclaimed the elected mayor and discharged the duties of mayor from 1998 to 2001, his proclamation was later nullified by the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City (RTC) and his closest rival was proclaimed the duly elected mayor.

The Court found that Morales exceeded the three-term limit rule, because he was mayor for the entire period from 1998 to 2001, notwithstanding the decision of the RTC. The Court ruled that the fact of being belatedly ousted, which was after the expiry of his term, could not constitute an interruption in Morales' service of the full term, and Morales could not be considered as a mere "caretaker of the office" or "de facto officer" for purposes of applying the three-term limit rule. We held that "Section 8, Article X of the Constitution is violated and its purpose defeated when an official serves in the same position for three consecutive terms.

Whether as 'caretaker' or 'de facto' officer, he exercises the powers and enjoys the prerequisites of the office which enables him 'to stay on indefinitely. "[35]

In Dizon, Morales was a respondent in a disqualification proceeding when he ran again as a mayoralty candidate during the 2007 elections. This time, the Court ruled in his favor and held that for purposes of the 2007 elections, the three-term limit rule was no longer a disqualifying factor against Morales, to wit:

Our ruling in the Rivera case served as Morales' involuntary severance from office with respect to the 2004-2007 term. Involuntary severance from office for any length of time short of the full term provided by law amounts to an interruption of continuity of service. Our decision in the Rivera case was promulgated on 9 May 2007 and was effective immediately. The next day, Morales notified the vice mayor's office of our decision. The vice mayor assumed the office of the mayor from 17 May 2007 up to 30 June 2007. The assumption by the vice mayor of the office of the mayor, no matter how short it may seem to Dizon, interrupted Morales' continuity of service. Thus, Morales did not hold office for the full term of 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2007.[36]

Accordingly, we find that Morales misrepresented his eligibility because he knew full well that he had been elected, and had served, as mayor of Mabalacat, Pampanga for three consecutive terms; yet, he still certified that he was eligible to run for mayor for the next succeeding term.

Morales, however, claims that the COMELEC En Banc should take judicial notice of the COMELEC Second Division Resolution, which dismissed Noelito Castro's Petition to Deny Due Course to or Cancel the COC and to Disqualify Morales for the Second Time as a Mayoralty Candidate of Mabalacat City filed on 10 December 2015 (Castro's Petition),37 since it involves the same issue as the present petitions.

We do not find merit in such argument.

In the said Resolution38 dated 14 September 2016, the COMELEC Second Division dismissed Castro's Petition due to the following procedural reasons: (1) the petition lacked verification required by both provisions of the OEC and the COMELEC Rules of Procedure; (2) Morales was not served with a copy of the petition; and (3) Castro failed to comply with Resolution No. 9576 requiring submission of soft copies of pleadings in MS Word and annexes in PDF format. The COMELEC Second Division further ruled that the petition was "dismissible" because the records of the case were bereft of any prior authoritative ruling that Morales already served as mayor of Mabalacat City for three consecutive terms, pursuant to Poe-Llamanzares v. Commission on Elections (Poe). 39 Considering that no motion for reconsideration was filed, the COMELEC Second Division Resolution became final on 22 December 2016, 40 and the COMELEC En Banc has nothing to decide on Castro's Petition. Election cases shall be heard and decided in division, provided that motions for reconsideration of decisions shall be decided by the COMELEC En Banc.[41]

On the other hand, we find that in arguing that the COMELEC En Banc should consider the COMELEC Second Division Resolution on Castro's Petition because the "Castro Case is very similar to the instant Petition in that both are petitions to deny due course and/or to cancel the Certificate of Candidacy ("COC") of respondent for alleged violation of the three-term limit rule [and] x x x both Petitions arise from the same set of facts and both availed of the same relief from this commission (Petition to Deny Due Course),"[42] Morales essentially admits that Lucas' petition is properly filed under Section 78 of the OEC, contrary to his argument that Lucas' petition is vague and wrongly construed by the COMELEC as a petition to deny due course.

In Albania v. Commission on Elections,[43] we held that the COMELEC has the authority to examine the allegations of every pleading filed, obviously aware that its averments, rather than its title/caption, are the proper gauges in determining the true nature of the cases filed before it.

Thus, the COMELEC aptly found that Lucas' petition contains the essential allegations of a "Section 78" petition, namely: (1) the candidate made a representation in his COC; (2) the representation pertains to a material matter which would affect the substantive rights of the candidate; and (3) the candidate made a false representation with the intention to deceive the electorate as to his qualification for public office or deliberately attempted to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact which would otherwise render him ineligible.[44]

Contrary to Morales' argument that since he had been proclaimed and had assumed office as mayor in 2016, disputes as to his COC became moot and the proper remedy is to file a quo warranto proceeding questioning his eligibility, we held in Velasco v. Commission on Elections[45] that the COMELEC's jurisdiction to deny due course to and cancel a COC continues, to wit:

xx x. If the disqualification or COC cancellation/denial case is not resolved before election day, the proceedings shall continue even after the election and the proclamation of the winner. In the meanwhile, the candidate may be voted for and be proclaimed if he or she wins, but the COMELEC's jurisdiction to deny due course and cancel his or her COC continues. This rule applies even if the candidate facing disqualification is voted for and receives the highest number of votes, and even if the candidate is proclaimed and has taken his oath of office. The only exception to this rule is in the case of congressional or senatorial candidates with unresolved disqualification or COC denial/cancellation cases after the elections. Pursuant to Section 17 of Article VI of the Constitution, the COMELEC ipso .Jure loses jurisdiction over these unfinished cases in favor of the respective Senate or the House of Representatives electoral tribunals after the candidates take their oath of office.[46]

Moreover, we held in Fermin v. Commission on Elections47 that the Court has already likened a proceeding under Section 78 to a quo warranto proceeding under Section 253 of the OEC since they both deal with the eligibility or qualification of a candidate, with the distinction mainly in the fact that a "Section 78" petition is filed before proclamation, while a petition for quo warranto is filed after proclamation of the wining candidate.

Thus, Section 78 of the OEC states:

Sec. 78. Petition to deny due course to or cancel a certificate of candidacy. - A verified petition seeking to deny due course or to cancel a certificate of candidacy may be filed by the person exclusively on the ground that any material representation contained therein as required under Section 74 hereof is false. The petition may be filed at any time not later than twenty-five days from the time of the filing of the certificate of candidacy and shall be decided, after due notice and hearing, not later than fifteen days before the election.

Under Section 78, a petition to deny due course to or to cancel a COC must be filed within 25 days from the time of filing of the COC. Morales filed his COC on 8 December 2015. Thus, Lucas had until 2 January 2016 to file the petition under Section 78, but since 2 January 2016 fell on a Saturday, Lucas had until the next working day or 4 January 2016 to file the petition. We, thus, find that Lucas timely filed her petition on 4 January 2016 under Section 78 of the OEC. Furthermore, contrary to Morales' insistence, the COMELEC Rules of Procedure do not require that a certification of nonforum shopping be attached to the petition. 48 At any rate, we held that the COMELEC's rules of procedure on certifications of non-forum shopping should be liberally construed, and COMELEC's interpretation of such rules in accordance with its constitutional mandate should carry great weight.[49]

We likewise find no merit in Morales' argument that a prior authoritative ruling is necessary pursuant to Poe.

We held in Francisco v. Commission on Elections 50 that the COMELEC can be the proper body to make the pronouncement against which the truth or falsity of a material representation in a COC can be measured. The COMELEC, as an adjunct to its adjudicatory power, may investigate facts or ascertain the existence of facts, hold hearings, weigh evidence, and draw conclusions from them as basis for their official action.

We upheld our ruling in Aratea that no prior judgment recogmzmg a candidate's service for three consecutive terms was necessary to effect the cancellation of his COC.

At any rate, we also held in Poe that self-evident facts of unquestioned or unquestionable veracity and judicial confessions are bases equivalent to prior decisions against which the falsity of representation can be determined. 51 Since Morales admits having been elected and having served for three consecutive terms, his admission already served as basis against which the falsity of his representation can be determined.

Knowing fully well that he had been elected and had fully served three consecutive terms for the same local government post, Morales' representation in his COC that he was eligible to run as mayor constitutes false material representation as to his qualification or eligibility for the office, which is a ground for a petition to deny due course to or cancel a COC. Accordingly, we find that Morales' COC is void ab initio, and he was never a candidate at all, and all votes for him were considered stray votes.

As we held in Aratea, a violation of the three-term limit rule is an ineligibility affecting the qualification of a candidate to elective office and the misrepresentation of such is a ground to grant the petition to deny due course to or cancel a COC. 52 A person whose COC had been denied due course and/or cancelled under Section 78 is deemed to have not been a candidate at all, because his COC is considered void ab initio and thus, cannot give rise to a valid candidacy and necessarily to valid votes. 53 In Jalosjos, Jr. v. Commission on Elections, 54 we explained that:

Decisions of this Court holding that the second-placer cannot be proclaimed winner if the first-placer is disqualified or declared ineligible should be limited to situations where the certificate of candidacy of the first-placer was valid at the time of filing but subsequently had to be cancelled because of a violation of law that took place, or a legal impediment that took effect, after the filing of the certificate of candidacy.

If the certificate of candidacy is void ab initio, then legally the person who filed such void certificate of candidacy was never a candidate in the elections at any time. All votes for such non-candidate are stray votes and should not be counted. Thus, such non-candidate can never be a first-placer in the elections. If a certificate of candidacy void ab initio is cancelled on the day, or before the day, of the election, prevailing jurisprudence holds that all votes for that candidate are stray votes. If a certificate of candidacy void ab initio is cancelled one day or more after the elections, all votes for such candidate should also be stray votes because the certificate of candidacy is void from the very beginning. This is the more equitable and logical approach on the effect of the cancellation of a certificate of candidacy that is void ab initio.

Otherwise, a certificate of candidacy void ab initio can operate to defeat one or more valid certificates of candidacy for the same position. 55 (Emphasis supplied)

The rule on succession under Section 4456 of RA 7160, as espoused by Halili, would not apply if the permanent vacancy was caused by one whose COC was void ab initio. In case of vacancies caused by those with void ab initio COCs, the person legally entitled to the vacant position would be the candidate who garnered the next highest number of votes among those eligible. 57 In this case, it is Garbo who is legally entitled to the position of mayor, having garnered the highest number of votes among the eligible candidates. Thus, the COMELEC correctly proclaimed Garbo as mayor of Mabalacat City.

Where a material COC misrepresentation under oath is made, thereby violating both our election and criminal laws, we are faced as well with an assault on the will of the people of the Philippines as expressed in our laws.[58]

In a choice between provisions on material qualifications of elected officials, on the one hand, and the will of the electorate in any given locality, on the other, we believe and so hold that we cannot choose the will of the electorate.[59]

In a special civil action for certiorari, the burden rests on the petitioner to prove grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the public respondent in issuing the impugned order, decision or resolution.[60] Grave abuse of discretion is such "capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction, or [an] exercise of power in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, or an exercise of judgment so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined, or to act in a manner not at all in contemplation of law."[61] In short, grave abuse of discretion arises when a court or tribunal violates the Constitution, the law, or existing jurisprudence.[62] In this case, the Court finds the COMELEC's disquisitions to be amply supported by the Constitution, law, and jurisprudence.

WHEREFORE, we DISMISS the petitions for lack of merit and AFFIRM the assailed Resolution dated 3 August 2016 of the Commission on Elections First Division and the Resolution dated 26 May 2017 of the Commission on Elections En Banc.

SO ORDERED.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Chief Justice

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
Associate Justice

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
Associate Justice

MARVIC M.V.F. LEONEN
Associate Justice

FRANCIS H. JARDELEZA
Associate Justice

ALFREDO BENJAMIN S. CAGUIAO
Associate Justice

ANDRES B. REYES, JR.
Associate Justice

ALEXANDER G. GESMUNDO
Associate Justice

JOSE C. REYES, JR.
Associate Justice

RAMON PAUL L. HERNANDO
Associate Justice

ROSMARI D. CARANDANG
Associate Justice

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that
the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation
before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Chief Justice

---

[1] Resolution dated 11 July 2017. See Rollo (G.R. No. 231643), p. 154; Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), Vol. I, p. 456-A.
[2] Rollo (G.R. No 231643), pp. 3-17; Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), Vol. I, pp. 3-69. Under Rule 64 in relation to Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
[3] Rollo (G.R No. 231657), Vol I, pp. 293-302.
[4] Id. at 409- 425.
[5] An Act Converting the Municipality of Mabalacat in the Province of Pampanga into a Component City to be Known as Mabalacat City.
[6] Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), Vol. I, p. 91.
[7] Id. at 75-80.
[8] Id. at 98-120.
[9] Id. at 269-280.
[10] Id. at 281-291.
[11] Id. at 390-396.
[12] Id. at 398-401.
[13] Id. at 302.
[14] Id. at 420.
[15] Rollo (G. R. No. 231643), pp 3-17
[16] Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), pp. 3-69.
[17] Id. at 436-439.
[18] Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), pp. 456-A-456-B.
[19] Id.
[20] Rollo (G.R. No. 231643), pp. 154-155.
[21] Id. at 9.
[22] Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), pp. 22-25.
[23] Abundo, Sr. v. Commission on Elections, 701 Phil. 135 (2013), citing Borja, Jr. v. Commission on Elections, 356 Phil. 467 (1998).
[24] Albania v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 226792, 6 June 2017, 826 SCRA 191, 208, citing Lonzanida v. Commission on Elections, 370 Phil. 625 ( 1999).
[25] 463 Phil. 296 (2003).
[26] Id. at 312.
[27] Id. at 308-310.
[28] 592 Phil. 335 (2008).
[29] Id. at 340.
[30] Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), Vol. I, p. 250.
[31] 696 Phil. 700 (2012).
[32] Id. at 738.
[33] 551 Phil. 37 (2007).
[34] 597 Phil. 571 (2009).
[35] Supra note 33, at 58.
[36] Supra note 34, at 578.
[37] Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), Vol. I, pp. 71-74.
[38] Id. at 359-368.
[39] 782 Phil. 292 (2016).
[40] Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), pp. 369-371.
[41] 1987 Constitution, Article IX, Section 3.
[42] Motion to Admit the Herein Incorporated Reply in view of the Supervening Events; see Rollo (G.R. No. 231657), Vol. I, pp. 373·380.
[43] Supra note 24.
[44] Fermin v. Commission on Elections, 595 Phil. 449, 465 (2008).
[45] 595 Phil. i 172 {2008).
[46] Id. at 1193-1194.
[47] Supra.
[48] The COMELEC Rules of Procedure provide:
Part III - Rule 7
Sec. 3. Form of Pleadings, etc. -
a. All pleadings allowed by these Rules shall be printed, mimeographed or typewritten on legal size bond paper and shall be in English or Filipino.
b. Protests or petitions in ordinary actions, special actions, special cases, special reliefs, provisional remedies, and special proceedings, as well as counter-protests, counterpetitions, interventions, motions for reconsideration, and appeals from rulings of board of canvassers shall be verified. All answers shall be verified.
c. A pleading shall be verified only by an affidavit stating that the person verifying the same has read the pleading and that the allegations therein are true of his own knowledge.
Verifications based on "information or belief' or upon "knowledge", "information" or "belief' shall be deemed insufficient.
d. Each pleading shall contain a caption setting forth the name of the Commission, the title of the case, the docket number and the designation of the pleading. When an action or proceeding has been assigned to a Division, the caption shall set forth the name of the Division.
[49] Panlilio v. Commission on Elections, 610 Phil. 551 (2009).
[50] G.R. No. 230249, 24 April 2018.
[51] Poe-llamanzares v. Commisioin on Elections, supra note 39.
[52] Supra note 31.
[53] Ty-Delgado v. House o,f Representatives Electoral Tribunal, 779 Phil. 268 (2016), citing Aratea v. Commission on Elections, supra note 31.
[54] 696 Phil. 601 (2012).
[55] Id. at 633-634.
[56] RA 7160, 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 the 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.
xx xx
[57] Chua v. Commission on Elections, 783 Phil. 876, 900 (2016), citing Maquiling v. Commission on
Elections, 709 Phil. 408 (2013).
[58] Velasco v. Commission on Elections, supra note 45, at 1196.
[59] Velasco v. Commission on Elections, supra note 45, at 1196.
[60] Navalv. Commission on Elections, 738 Phil. 506, 537 (2014).
[61] Velasco v. Commission on Elections, supra note 45, at 1183.
[62] Naval v. Commission on Elections. supra note 60, at 537.


Just Compensation in the exercise of its power of eminent domain under Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8974

"Just compensation, in expropriation cases, is defined as the full and fair equivalent of the loss of the property taken from its owner by the expropriator. Its true measure is not the taker's gain, but the owner's loss. The word "just" is used to modify the meaning of the word "compensation" to convey the idea that the equivalent to be given for the property to be taken shall be real, substantial, full and ample."


THIRD DIVISION
G.R. No. 237324
February 6, 2019

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, REPRESENTED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS, Petitioner, - versus - SPOUSES AURORA SILVESTRE AND ROGELIO SILVESTRE, and NATIVIDAD GOZO (FORMERLY KNOWN AS "QQQQ"), Respondents.

x--------------------------------------------

D E C I S I O N

PERALTA, J.:

Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Decision[1] dated August 12, 2016 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 105144 which affirmed, with modification, the Decision[2] dated March 6, 2015 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Valenzuela City.

The antecedent facts are as follows:

The instant case stemmed from an action for expropriation filed by the petitioner Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (Republic-DPWH), in the exercise of its power of eminent domain under Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8974. In its original complaint dated October 11, 2007, the Republic-DPWH sought to expropriate a 3,856-square meter lot located in Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela City, the real owner of which was originally unknown (designated as "QQQQ"). The lot was to be used for the construction of the C-5 Northern Link Project, Segment 8.1, from Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City to the North Luzon Expressway, Valenzuela City. Pursuant to said project, the motoring public would supposedly have a faster and more comfortable travel going to and coming from the North thru Metro Manila.[3]

Since the owner of the property was unknown, the RTC of Valenzuela City resorted to summons by publication in a newspaper of general circulation. Subsequently, on May 5, 2008, the RTC issued the writ of possession prayed for by the Republic-DPWH following its ability and readiness to pay P4,627,200.00, the amount equivalent to 100% of the property's zonal value. Next, on September 9, 2008, the trial court ordered the Republic-DPWH to issue a check payable to the order of its Clerk of Court.[4] Discovering, thereafter, that an 811-square meter portion of the 3,856-square meter property sought to be expropriated was owned by Spouses Quintin, Victoriano Galguierra, Victoria Galguierra, Elisa Galguierra, Efifia Galguierra, and Ma. Belen Manalaysay (Quintin, et al.), the Republic-DPWH filed an Omnibus Motion (for Leave to File and Admit Attached Amended Complaint and for Replacement of Check) seeking to implead Quintin, et al. as defendants of the case. Accordingly, the RTC admitted Republic-DPWH's amended complaint and ordered it to issue a manager's check payable to Quintin, et al. in the amount of P 973,200.00, the equivalent of the zonal value of the 811-square meter portion.[5]

On July 2, 2012, herein respondents, spouses Aurora and Rogelio Silvestre, and Natividad Gozo (Silvestre, et al.), filed a Manifestation (In Lieu of Answer to Amended Complaint) alleging that they are the registered owners of Lot No. l-D-9-A-3, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. V-99470, located along Gen. T. De Leon, Valenzuela City, consisting of 6,629 square meters. Upon verification, they discovered that 4,367 square meters of the 6,629-square meter property was affected by the expropriation. Thus, they prayed that the Republic-DPWH be directed to pay them P 9,389,050.00 (computed as follows: 4,367 square meters x P2,150.00 zonal value).[6] On November 21, 2012, the Republic-DPWH filed a second amended complaint impleading Silvestre, et al., as additional defendants, and alleging that co:itrary to their claims, the area affected by the sought expropriation covered only 3,045 square meters of their property with a zonal value of Pl,200.00 per square meter or a total zonal value of P3,654,000.00, which the Republic-DPWH already deposited with the court.

On January 14, 2014, the RTC issued a partial dec1sion insofar as Quintin, et al. are concerned as they no longer pursued the second stage of the expropriation proceedings, receiving from the Republic-DPWH the amounts of P973,200.00, representing the zonal value of the lot, and P208,060.82, for the cost of the fence thereof. Accordingly, the RTC condemned the 811-square meter portion of the property in favor of the Republic-DPWH. As for the portion of Silvestre, et al., however, the RTC proceeded with the second stage of the expropriation and directed the appointed Board of Commissioners (BOC) to submit a report on just compensation.[7]

On September 30, 2014, the BOC recommended the amount of P S,000.00 per square meter as the reasonable, just, and fair market value of the 4,367-square meter portion owned by Silvestre, et al. It relied on a Certification dated August 15, 2012 issued by Project Director Patrick Gatan finding that the project would affect 4,367 square meters of Silvestre, et al.' s property. Moreover, in arriving at the recommended amount, the BOC took into consideration the following:

[T]the size, location, accessibility, the BIR Zonal Valuation, the previously decided expropriation case of DPWH v. Mapalad Serrano, where the fair market value was fixed at Php5,000.00 per square meter xxx; the Opinion Value conducted by the Assessor's Office personnel on February 21, 2007, in the properties within the vicinity of the property of defendants where 10 disinterested persons [were] interviewed as to the fair market value of the property within the vicinity which yielded a weighted average fair market value at Php5, 150 per square meter x x x; the Deed of Absolute [S]ale executed by and between PBCOM FINANCE CORPORATION and FRANCISCO ERWIN & IMELDA F. BERNARDO over the property situated at Ge. T. De Leon, Valenzuela City where the fair market value of the property was pegged at Php8,484.85 per square meter; the pictures of the existing subdivision within the vicinity of the property x x x; the pictures of Foton Motor Philippines, an industrial corporation involved in the manufacture of motor vehicles[.] 8

On October 17, 2014, however, the Republic-DPWH filed a Comment, assailing the recommendation of the BOC, arguing that said board erroneously considered the August 15, 2012 Certification issued by Project Director Gatan when there exists a more recent Certification dated October 4, 2012 issued by Geodetic Engineer Efipanio Lopez which was, thereafter, affirmed by Project Director Gatan in his Certification dated October 11, 2012. These recent certifications indicate that only 3,045 square meters of Silvestre, et al. 's property was to be affected by the project and not 4,367 square meters as they allege. As regards the basis for just compensation, the Republic-DPWH faulted the BOC in valuing the property at P5,000.00, making reference to the Mapalad Serrano property and disregarding the actual characteristics thereof. The Republic-DPWH added that since the zonal value of the property is Pl ,200.00 per square meter, it cannot command a price higher than said value. [9]

On March 6, 2015, the RTC partially adopted the recommendation of the BOC and pegged the just compensation at P5,000.00 per square meter, but found the total affected property to be only 3,045 square meters. The fallo of the Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered fixing the just compensation of the total area of 3,045 square meters lot (TCT No. T799470) at Php15,225,000.00 (3,045 square meters x Php5,000.00) and authorizing the payment thereof by the plaintiff to the defendants for the property condemned deducting the provisional deposits of Php3,654,000.00 previously made and subject to the payment of all unpaid real property taxes and other relevant taxes by the defendants up to the taking of the property by plaintiff, if there be any.

The plaintiff is directed to pay interest at the rate of 12% per annum in the unpaid balance of just compensation of Php11,571,000.00 (Php15,225,000.00 - Php3,654,000.00) computed from the time of the filing of the complaint until the plaintiff pays the balance.

The plaintiff is also directed to pay the defendants the amount of Php50,000 as attorney's fees; and the members of the Board as commissioner's fee the amount of Php3,000.00 each.

xx xx

SO ORDERED.[10]

In a Decision dated August 12, 2016, the CA affirmed, with modification, the RTC ruling, and disposed of the case as follows:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appeal is PARTIALLY GRANTED insofar as the legal interest imposed on the amount of just compensation. The assailed 30 April 2014 Decision of the Regional Trial Court in Civil Case No. 153-V-JO is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION as regards interest which shall accrue as follows:

(a) The difference between the principal amount of just compensation (Php15,225,000.00) and the provisional deposit of Php3,654,000.00, shall earn legal interest of 12% per annum from the date or taking of the property until June 30, 2013; and

(b) The difference between the principal amount of just compensation (Php15,225,000.00) and the provisional deposit of Php3,654,000.00, shall earn legal interest of 6% per annum from July 1, 2013, until the finality of this Court's decision;

The sum of the above-mentioned amounts and the unpaid balance of just compensation of Php11,571,000.00 (Php15,225,000.00 less Php3,654,000.00) shall earn legal interest of 6% per annum from the finality of the Court's ruling until full payment.

Further, the order directing appellant to pay commissioner's fee and the award of attorney's fees are DELETED for lack of factual and legal basis.

SO ORDERED.[11] (Citations omitted.)

Aggrieved, the Republic-DPWH filed the instant petition on April 13, 2018, invoking the following argument:

I.

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN FIXING THE AMOUNT OF JUST COMPENSATION FOR THE SUBJECT LOT AT FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00) PER SQUARE METER. INSTEAD, THE JUST COMPENSATION FOR THE SUBJECT LOT SHOULD BE FIXED BETWEEN SIX HUNDRED PESOS (P600.00) AND ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED PESOS (Pl,200.00) PER SQUARE METER.[12]

In its petition, the Republic-DPWH submits that because of several factors that diminish the value of the subject lot, the just compensation for the same must be pegged only between P600.00 and Pl,200.00 per square meter and not at PS,000.00 as held by the courts a quo. First, the subject lot is occupied by 3,347 informal settler families as revealed by the census and tagging operations conducted by the National Housing Authority from November 2006 to January 2007. Second, according to a certain Fe Pesebre, the over-all supervisor, the subject area is located within a depressed, lowincome, and substandard residential community, its surroundings being filthy, muddy, and polluted. Third, Tax Declaration No. C-018-28698 states that the subject lot is classified as a residential lot and carries a unit value of only P600.00 per square meter or a total market value of P3,977,400.00. Thus, such amount should be controlling for in the ordinary scheme of things, tax declarations carry a high evidentiary value, being, as to the tax declaring respondents, in the nature of admissions against self-interest. Fourth, the Republic-DPWH asserts that the current and relevant zonal valuation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) for the subject lot is only P1,200.00 per square meter. The just compensation, therefore, should not exceed this amount since it has been held that the BIR Zonal Value is reflective of the fair market value of the real property within a given area. Just because it is the government that is purchasing the property, which is an entity whose financial resources are supposed to be inexhaustible, does not mean that the fair market value thereof must be higher.[13]

At the outset, the Court notes that only questions of law should be raised in a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45. Factual findings of the lower courts will generally not be disturbed. Thus, the issues pertaining to the value of the property expropriated are questions of fact which are generally beyond the scope of the judicial review of this Court under Rule 45. 14 Here, in claiming that the courts a quo should have pegged the just compensation between P600.00 and Pl ,200.00 per square meter and not at P5,000.00, the Republic-DPWH is asking the Court to recalibrate and weigh anew the evidence already passed upon by the courts below. But unfortunately for the Republic-DPWH, it has not alleged, much less proven, the presence of any of the exceptional circumstances that would warrant a deviation from the rule that the Court is not a trier of facts. On this ground alone, the denial of the petition is warranted. Nevertheless, even if the propriety of the instant petition is assumed, we still resolve to deny the same.

Just compensation, in expropriation cases, is defined as the full and fair equivalent of the loss of the property taken from its owner by the expropriator. Its true measure is not the taker's gain, but the owner's loss. The word "just" is used to modify the meaning of the word "compensation" to convey the idea that the equivalent to be given for the property to be taken shall be real, substantial, full and ample.[15] It has been consistently held, moreover, that though the determination of just compensation in expropriation proceedings is essentially a judicial prerogative, the appointment of commissioners to ascertain just compensation for the property sought to be taken is a mandatory requirement nonetheless. Thus, while it is true that the findings of commissioners may be disregarded and the trial court may substitute its own estimate of the value, it may only do so for valid reasons; that is, where the commissioners have applied illegal principles to the evidence submitted to them, where they have disregarded a clear preponderance of evidence, or where the amount allowed is either grossly inadequate or excessive. As such, "trial with the aid of the commissioners is a substantial right that may not be done away with capriciously or for no reason at ail."[16] Evidently, the recommendations of the BOC carry with it great weight and value insofar as the determination of just compensation is concerned.

Here, it was precisely the findings of the BOC that the courts below adopted. In its assailed Decision, the CA affirmed the RTC'5 ruling when it held that the BOC properly took into consideration the relevant factors in arriving at its recommendation of just compensation. In fact, these relevant factors were based not on mere conjectures and plain guesswork of the BOC, but on the statutory guidelines set forth in Section 5 of R.A. No. 8974, to wit:

Section 5. Standards for the Assessment of the Value of the Land Subject of Expropriation Proceedings or Negotiated Sale. - In order to facilitate the determination of just compensation, the court may consider, among other well-established factors, the following relevant standards:

(a) The classification and use for which the property is suited;

(b) The developmental costs for improving the land;

(c) The value declared by the owners;

(d) The current selling price of similar lands in the vicinity;

(e) The reasonable disturbance compensation for the removal and/or demolition of certain improvement on the land and for the value of improvements thereon;

(f) [The] size, shape or location, tax declaration and zonal valuation of the land;

(g) The price of the land as manifested in the ocular findings, oral as well as documentary evidence presented; and

(h) Such facts and events as to enable the affected property owners to have sufficient funds to acquire similarly-situated lands of approximate areas as those required from them by the government, and thereby rehabilitate themselves as early as possible.

In view of the foregoing, the Court finds no error on the part of the courts below in finding that there was nothing arbitrary about the pegged amount of PS,000.00 per square meter, recommended by the BOC, as it was reached in consideration of the property's size, location, accessibility, as well as the BIR zonal valuation, among other things. We quote, with approval, the words of the appellate court:

Firstly, the BOC significantly noted that the subject property has a residential classification and is similarly situated [within] the Mapa/ad Serrano property (similarly affected by the C-5 Northern Link Road Project), which was earlier expropriated by the government in Civil Case No. 52-V-08. The Decision dated 22 August 2012, the RTC-Branch 172 fixed the amount of just compensation at P5,000.00 per square meter. Per Entry of Judgment, such Decision became final and executory on 08 March 2013. In the said Decision, the Mapa/ad Serrano property was described as having mixed residential and industrial use. In conformity with the standards set forth in Section 5, the two properties can be said to be similarly-situated as would reasonably lead to the conclusion that they have the same market value.

Secondly, the BOC took note of the existing business establishments (Foton Philippines, Inc., Shell gasoline station, Seven Eleven Convenient Store, Banco de Oro, Allied Bank and Eastwest Bank), educational institutions (St. Mary's School, Gen. T. de Leon National High School, Our Lady of Lourdes School), Parish of the Holy Cross Church, subdivisions (Bernardino Homes and Miguelita Subdivision) near the vicinity of appellee' s property.

Thirdly, as reasonable basis for comparison, the BOC took into consideration the Deed of Absolute Sale executed by and between PBCOM Finance Corporation and Francisco Erwin D. & Imelda F[.] Bernardo covering a property similarly situated with the subject property where the fair market value was pegged at P8,484.85 per square meter. This comparison made by the BOC finds support in Section 5 (d) which provides that "[t]he current selling price of similar lands in the vicinity" may [be] considered as a factor in determining just compensation. [17] (Citations omitted.)

Thus, the Court cannot subscribe to the Republic-DPWH's plain and simplistic assertions that the subject property must be valued at a significantly lower price due to the presence of informal settlers, as well as the opinion of a certain Fe Pesebre. It is clear, from the records, that the BOC endeavored painstaking efforts in determining just compensation. From court promulgations on similarly situated lands to the numerous commercial establishments within the property's vicinity and even sales contracts covering nearby lots, the BOC obviously took the statutory guidelines to heart and considered several factors in arriving at its recommendation.

As for the contention of the Republic-DPWH that it is the value indicated in the property's tax declaration, as well as its zonal valuation that must govern, the Court adopts the findings of the BOC, the R TC, and the CA in ruling that the same are not truly reflective of the value of the subject property, but is just one of the several factors to be considered under Section 5 of R.A. No. 8974. Time and again, the Court has held that zonal valuation, although one of the indices of the fair market value of real estate, cannot, by itself, be the sole basis of just compensation in expropriation cases.[18]

In fine, the Court finds no cogent reason to reverse the findings of the CA, insofar as the amount of just compensation is concerned. In the absence, moreover, of any legal basis to the contrary, or any objection from the parties, the Court further affirms the appellate court's imposition of legal interest, as well as its deletion of the payment of commissioner's fee and the award of attorney's fees for being in accord with applicable law and recent jurisprudence.

Indeed, the delay in the payment of just compensatioh is a forbearance of money and, as such, is necessarily entitled to earn interest. Thus, the difference in the amount between the final amount as adjudged by the Court, which in this case is Pl 5,225,000.00, and the initial payment made by the government, in the amount of P3,654,000.00 - which is part and parcel of the just compensation due to the prope1iy owner - should earn legal interest as a forbearance of money. Moreover, with respect to the amount of interest on this difference between the initial payment and the final amount of just compensation, as adjudged by the Court, we have upheld, in recent pronouncements, the imposition of 12% interest rate from the time of taking, when the property owner was deprived of the property, until July 1, 2013, when the legal interest on loans and forbearance of money was reduced from 12% to 6% per annum by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Circular No. 799. Accordingly, from July 1, 2013 onwards, the legal interest on the difference between the final amount and initial payment is 6% per annum.[19]

Here, the Republic-DPWH filed the expropriation complaint on October 11, 2007. But it was able to take possession of the property on May 5, 2008, when the RTC issued the writ of possession prayed for by the Republic-DPWH following its ability and readiness to pay 100% of the property's zonal value. Thus, a legal interest of 12% per annum shall accrue from May 5, 2008 until June 30, 2013 on the difference between the final amount adjudged by the Court and the initial payment made. From July 1, 2013 until the finality of the Decision of the Court, the difference between the initial payment and the final amount adjudged by the Court shall earn interest at the rate of 6% per annum. Thereafter, the total amount of just compensation shall earn legal interest of 6% per annum from the finality of this Decision until full payment thereof.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition is DENIED. The assailed Decision dated August 12, 2016 of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED such that the just compensation for the 3,045 square meter of the expropriated property is P5,000.00 per square meter, or a total of Pl5,225,000.00. Hence, the following amounts are due to the respondents, Spouses Aurora Silvestre and Rogelio Silvestre, and Natividad Gozo:

1. The unpaid portion of t11e just compensation which shall be the difference between the principal amount of just compensation, or Pl 5,225,000.00, and the amount of initial deposit made by petitioner Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Department of Public Works and Highways, or P3,654,000.00; and

2. Interest, which shall accrue as follows:

1. The difference between the principal amount of just compensation, or Pl5,225,000.00, and the amount of initial deposit, or P3,654,000.00, shall earn legal interest of 12% per annum from the date of the taking, or May 5, 2008, until June 30, 2013.

ii. The difference between the principal amount of just compensation, or Pl5,225,000.00, and the amount of initial deposit, or P3,654,000.00, shall earn legal interest of 6% per annum from July 1, 2013 until the finality of the Decision.

111. The total amount of just compensation, or the sum of legal interest in items i and ii above, plus the unpaid portion of Pl 1,571,000.00 (Pl 5,225,000.00 less P3,654,000.00) shall earn legal interest of 6% per annum from the finality of this Decision until full payment thereof.

SO ORDERED.

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

MARVIC M.V.F. LEONEN
Associate Justice

On leave
ANDRES B. REYES, JR.*
Associate Justice

RAMON PAUL L. HERNANDO
Associate Justice

ROSMARI D. CARANDANG**
Associate Justice

ATTESTATION

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice
Chairperson, Third Division

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson's Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Chief Justice

===========================
* On leave.
.. Designated as additional member per Special Order No. 2624 dated November 28, 2018.
[1] Rollo, pp. 24-39. Penned by Associate Justice Renato C. Francisco, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Apolinario D. Bruselas, Jr. and Danton Q. Bueser.
[2] Id. at 40-44. Penned by Judge Nancy Rivas-Palmones.
[3] Id at 25
[4] Id.
[5] Id. at 25-26
[6] Id at 26
[7] Id. at 26-27.
[8] Id.at27.
[9] Id. at 28.
[10] Id. at 28-29.
[11] Id. at 38-39.
[12] Id. at 16.
[13] Id. at 17-21.
[14] Evergreen Manufacturing Corporation vs. Republic, G.R. Nos. 218628 and 218631, September 6, 2017, 839 SCRA 200, 215.
[15] Id at 216, citing Rep. of the Phils. et al vs Judge Mupas, el al., 785 Phil. 40 (2016).
[16] Id at 217, citing Spouses Ortega vs City of Cebu, 617 Phil. 817 (2009)
[17] Rollo. pp. 32-33.
[18] Evergreen Manufacturing Corporation vs Republic, supra note 14, at 221.
[19] Id at 230.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Is There Libel under Article 353 RPC?; Is There a Violation of Religious Freedom Under the Bill or Rights?


"Plain and simple insults directed at another person cannot be elevated to the status of religious speech. Even petitioner attempts to place his words in context show that he was moved by anger and the need to seek retribution, not by any religious conviction."



============================
G.R. No. 225010
November 21, 2018
1st Division

ELISEO SORIANO, Petitioner, versus PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

TIJAM, J.:

Eliseo Soriano (petitioner) appeals through a petition for review on certiorari[1] under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court the Decision[2] dated August 17, 2015 and Resolution[3] dated May 18, 2016 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 35052, which affirmed the Consolidated Judgment dated June 8, 2012 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Iriga City, Branch 60 in Criminal Case Nos. IR-4848 and IR-5273, convicting petitioner of two (2) counts of libel.

Antecedent Facts

On January 15, 1999, petitioner was indicted for libel in an Information, the accusatory portion of which reads in full as follows:

Criminal Case No. IR-4848

That on or about July 31, 1998 at Iriga City, Philippines, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused being then the anchorman of a religious radio program "Ang Dating Daan" of DZAL, a radio station in Iriga City with considerable coverage in the city and throughout Bicol Region, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, and maliciously with intent to cause and expose to public ridicule, dishonor, discredit or contempt upon the persons comprising the Jesus Miracle Crusade, International Ministry (J[MC]IM), a religious group, publicly air in his said radio program his prepared taped broadcast containing false, injurious, and defamatory statements with no good intention or justifiable motive in the guise of preaching the gospel of the Lord by branding its leader as "BULAANG PROFETA, TARANTADO AND GAGO"; its pastors as "PASTOR NG DEMONYO, MGA PASTOR NA IMPAKTO and GAGO and its members as "ISANG DAKOT NA GAGO and SIRA ULO" which in words are quoted hereunder respectively intended for group's leader, pastors and members as follows, to wit:


"Mahina yong Diyos ng gago na iyan ng Pastor na iyan. Ano ba ang itatawag mo roon kundi gago iyon. Galit na galit noong matalo si De Venecia, kasi pinatungan niya ng kamay si De Venecia at idenekre "I decree that you will be the next president of the Philippines" SIRA! O, ngayon nahalata mo dito sya ang "BULAANG PROPETA x x x TARANTADONG PASTOR NYO;

"Iyang mga PASTOR NG DEMONYO sa ating panahon, bakit di mo sasabihing PASTOR NG DEMONYO IYAN. Hindi ba iyong mga nagsasabing ang mananalo ay si De Venecia. Tapos ng nanalo si Erap, eh, hindi ika kami papayag na umupo siya sa Malacanang. Tingnan mong KAGAGUHANG IYON. MGA PASTOR NA IMPAKTO. MAHINA IYONG DIYOS NG GAGONG PASTOR NA IYON"; and
"TARANTADONG PASTOR NYO DIYAN KA PA RIN. Eh, kahit ano ang mangyayari doon pa rin sila talaga. Iyon ang makikita mo iyon espiritu ng PAGKAPANATISMO. x x x Kaya para magrelihiyon ka noong ganoong relihiyon DAPAT SIRA ANG ULO MO. xx x SIRA NA LANG ANGULO MO kaya nga mali na ang gawing ng pastor mo, doon ka pa rin. DAHIL SIRA NA ANG ULO MO."

That the said broadcast in question, particularly the above-quoted statements, had for its object to insinuate and made it understood, as was in effect understood by the public who heard it as referring to the whole JMCIM because it was only its evangelist leader, Wilde Almeda, who placed his hands on the head of De Venecia and decreed that he would be the next president of the Philippines before a multitude in Luneta, Manila duly covered with nationwide telecast in a prayer rally immediately before May 8, 1998 elections and its pastors openly supported for De Venecia, in this manner causing the dishonor, discredit and ridicule of the persons comprising the JMCIM, wherein complainants are pastors thereof, before the bar of public opinion, to the damage and prejduice of the said complainants in such amount as may be proven in court.

ACTS CONTRARY TO LAW.[4]

A similar Information for Libel was filed against petitioner on June 9, 2000, the accusatory portion of which reads:

Criminal Case No. IR-5273

"That on or about July 31, 1998, between the hours of 7 :00 and 8:00 o'clock in the evening- at radio station DZAL, Iriga City, Philippines, its broadcast could reach the entire country, particularly Baao, Camarines Sur, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, being then the anchorman of Radio Program "Ang Dating Daan" and, in a prepared tape, AIRED its radio program at the aforesaid radio station, with the deliberate purpose of impeaching, attacking and/or destroying the virtue, honesty, integrity and reputation of Evangelist Wilde E. Almeda, head of the Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry (JMCIM), and for the further purpose of exposing him to public hatred, contempt and ridicule, willfully, unlawfully, feloniously and maliciously aired and/or circulated the subject prepared tape, hereto attached as Annex "A", over the said radio station, containing false, malicious, injurious and highly defamatory statements against the said Evangelist Wilde E. Almeda, the pertinent portions/statements are hereunder quoted, to wit:

"Iyong mga pastor ng demonyo sa ating panahon. Bakit? Bakit di mo sasabihing PASTOR NG DEMONYO IYAN, eh, hindi ba iyong mga nagsasabing ang mananalo ay si De Venecia x x x Mahina iyong diyos ng GAGO ano na iyon PASTOR NA IYON. Ano ha ang itatawag mo roon KUNDI GAGO IYON. Galit na galit noong natalo si De Venecia, kasi pinatungan niya ng kamay si De Venecia at idenekre "I decree that you will be the next President of the Philippines" SIRA! ! ! O ngayon nahalata dito siya ay BULAANG PROPETA. xxx EH TARANTADONG PASTOR NYO, DIYAN KA PA RIN xxx. GAGO IYONG PASTOR NA IYAN. x x x HUWAG SABIHIN NI ALMEDA NA IYONG ESPIRITU IYON DIN AN[G] DIYOS. ESPIRITU NG DIYOS. IYON DIN ANG DIYOS.

x x x Kaya para mag-relihiyon ka nong ganoong relihiyon, DAPAT SIRA ANGULO MO. Di ba iyong wala ng lohika, iyong wala ng katwiran."

That the questioned "taped broadcast" and/or statements aired/circulated had for its object to insinuate and make it understood, as was in effect understood and interpreted by the public who heard it; that the pastor or person who placed his hand over the head of De Venecia and decreed the latter as the next President of the Philippines, referred to therein, can be no other than the complaining witness Evangelist Wilde E. Almeda, thereby in such manner deliberately and maliciously transmitting to the public the impression that the said Evangelist Wilde E. Almeda is a "Bulaang Propeta'', "IDIOT" and "APOSTLE of DEMONS" which statements, remarks, imputations and/or insinuations are highly and intrinsically libelous, thereby discrediting and destroying his reputation and ridiculing him (private complainant) before the bar of public opinion and the rest of the religious sects/denominations/congregations, to complainant's damage and prejudice in such amount as may be proven in court.

CONTRARY TO LAW.[5]

Upon arraignment, petitioner pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges. Petitioner posted cash bonds for his provisional liberty in both cases.[6]

During the trial, the prosecution presented Eudes Cuadro, Joel Cortero, Jerry Cabanes, and Liza Martinez as witnesses in Criminal Case No. IR-5273. Meanwhile, Joel Cortero was the sole witness in Criminal Case No. IR-4848.[7]

On the other hand, one Marlon Igana testified for the defense.[8] Petitioner filed a Demurrer to Evidence on December 22, 2008. The RTC denied it in a Resolution dated January 6, 2008.[9]

Ruling of the RTC

After trial, the RTC, found petitioner guilty of two counts of libel. The fallo of the RTC's Consolidated Judgment dated June 8, 2012, is as follows:[10]

WHEREFORE, in the light of the foregoing, this court finds the accused Guilty of the crime of Libel in both cases and he is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of Fine of SIX THOUSAND PESOS (P6,000.00) for each case pursuant to Administrative Circular No. 08-2008 relating to the emergent rule of preference for the imposition of fine only rather than imprisonment in libel cases under the circumstances therein specified, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency. As set forth in the above discussion, no award of civil damages is given.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Ruling of the CA
Petitioner appealed the Consolidated Judgment of the RTC to the CA which, as stated earlier, rendered its Decision[11] on August 17, 2015, affirming the ruling of the RTC. The dispositive portion of the Decision reads:


WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant Appeal is DENIED. The Consolidated Judgment dated June 8, 2012, rendered by Branch 60, Regional Trial Court of Iriga City in Criminal Case Nos. IR-4848 and IR-5273 is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.[12]

Issues

Petitioner raised the following arguments in support of his petition:

A) THE [CA] COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR WHEN IT HELD THAT THE PROSECUTION PROVED THE GUILT OF THE [PETITIONER] BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT SINCE:



1. IT FAILED TO CONSIDER THAT THERE WAS NO DISCREDIT OR DISHONOR CAUSED TO PRIVATE COMPLAINANT

2. IT FAILED TO CONSIDER THAT THERE WAS NO MALICE OR ILL WILL BEHIND PETITIONER'S STATEMENTS

3. IT FAILED TO CONSIDER THAT THERE WAS NO IDENTIFIABLE PERSON IN THE ALLEGED LIBELOUS STATEMENT
B) THE [CA] COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR WHEN IT CONVICTED PETITIONER WHEN HE HA[D] NO KNOWLEDGE, MUCH MORE CONSENT, IN THE PUBLICATION OF THE ALLEGED LIBELOUS STATEMENT[;]

C) THE [CA] COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR WHEN ITS DECISION EFFECTIVELY CURTAILS AND CREATES A CHILLING EFFECT ON THE CONSTITUTIONALLY GUARANTEED RIGHT OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION[.][13]

Summed up, the fundamental issue in the instant case boils down to petitioner's guilt of the two counts of libel.
Ruling of the Court

Libel under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code is defined "as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead."[14] "[F]or an imputation to be libelous, the following requisites must be present: (a) it must be defamatory; (b) it must be malicious; ( c) it must be given publicity; and ( d) the victim must be identifiable."[15]

Defamatory Imputation

In Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation and Ruther Batuigas v. Victor A. Domingo and the People of the Philippines,[16] this Court explained the rule in the determination of defamatory imputation, viz:

An allegation is considered defamatory if it ascribes to a person the commission of a crime, the possession of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance which tends to dishonor or discredit or put him in contempt, or which tends to blacken the memory of one who is dead. In determining whether a statement is defamatory, the words used are to be construed in their entirety and should be taken in their plain, natural, and ordinary meaning as they would naturally be understood by persons reading them, unless it appears that they were used and understood in another sense. Moreover, a charge is sufficient if the words are calculated to induce the hearers to suppose and understand that the person or persons against whom they were uttered were guilty of certain offenses or are sufficient to impeach the honesty, virtue or reputation or to hold the person or persons up to public ridicule.[17] (Citations omitted)

From the abovementioned tests, petitioner's words stated during the airing of his program are clearly defamatory. The words "GAGO", "TARANTADONG PASTOR", "PASTOR NG DEMONYO IYAN", "BULAANG PROPETA" disparage private complainant Wilde Almeda (Almeda). As in Buatis, Jr. v. People,[18] evidence aliunde is unnecessary to establish that these words are without malice. Moreover, examination of the statements put forth in the Information does not reveal any good intention on the part of petitioner or any justifiable motive as to negate the presumption of malice.

Petitioner's claim that his motive was harken to other religious leaders and pastors and members of any religious congregation not to use the institution of religion in a manner that would subject not only the pastors and ministers of any religious congregation but also the religion itself to public distrust and disdain,[19] does not make his statements justified. His purported motive is simply not reflected in his malicious statement and insulting labels to the pastors of Jesus Miracle Crusade, International Ministry (JMCIM).
 

Neither do we deem petitioners statements as qualifiedly privileged communications. Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code, enumerates some of these qualifiedly privileged communications, as follows:

Art. 354. Requirement for publicity. - Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown, except in the following cases:

1. A private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty; and

2. A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions. (Emphasis ours)


The enumeration under said article is, however, not an exclusive list of qualifiedly privileged communications since fair commentaries on matters of public interest are likewise privileged. They are known as qualifiedly privileged communications, since they are merely exceptions to the general rule requiring proof of actual malice in order that a defamatory imputation may be held actionable. In other words, defamatory imputations written or uttered during any of the three classes of qualifiedly privileged communications enumerated above: (1) a private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty; (2) a fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions; and (3) fair commentaries on matters of public interest may still be considered actionable if actual malice is proven.



Malice

Though religion is arguably a matter or subject of public interest, there is no standard by which we can declare petitioner's statements as fair commentaries. On their own, the words used by petitioner do not appear to debunk the purported falsities in the preachings of JMCIM but actually to degrade and insult their pastor or founder, Almeda. We likewise cite, with approval, the CA's finding of actual malice, to wit:

Malice or bad faith implies a conscious and intentional design to do a wrongful act for a dishonest purpose or moral obliquity. In the instant case, no good motive can be inferred from the language used by Soriano against private complainants. This Court can only see Soriano's apparent objective of discrediting and humiliating private complainants as to sow the seeds of JMCIM' s dissolution and to encourage membership in his religion. x x x.[20] (Emphasis our:)

Publication

"There is publication in this case. In libel, publication means making the defamatory matter, after it is written, known to someone other than the person against whom it has been written."[21] "Libel is published not only when it is widely circulated, but also when it is made known or brought to the attention or notice of another person other than its author and the offended party."[22] In this case, there is no doubt that the video footage of petitioner was published as it was broadcasted through petitioner's radio program.

Identification

While We affirm petitioner's guilt of libel, We deem it proper to clarify that petitioner's guilt stems from his statements. against pastor Almeda and not the JMCIM, or any of its pastors. We note that aside from mentioning Almeda's name, petitioner's statements did not refer to any specific pastor or member of the JMCIM. In MVRS Publications, Inc. et al v. Islamic Da'wah Council of the Phils., Inc.,[23] We held:
Declarations made about a large class of people cannot be interpreted to advert to an identified or identifiable individual. Absent circumstances specifically pointing or alluding to a particular member of a class, no member of such class has a right of action without at all impairing the equally demanding right of free speech and expression, as well as of the press, under the Bill of Rights. x x x

xx xx

In the present case, there was no fairly identifiable person who was allegedly injured by the Bulgar article. Since the persons allegedly defamed could not be identifiable, private respondents have no individual causes of action; hence, they cannot sue for a class allegedly disparaged. Private respondents must have a cause of action in common with the class to which they belong to in order for the case to prosper.
An individual Muslim has a reputation that is personal, separate and distinct in the community. Each Muslim, as part of the larger Muslim community in the Philippines of over five (5) million people, belongs to a different trade and profession; each has a varying interest and a divergent political and religious view - some may be conservative, others liberal. A Muslim may find the article dishonorable, even blasphemous; others may find it as an opportunity to strengthen their faith and educate the non-believers and the "infidels." There is no injury to the reputation of the individual Muslims who constitute this community that can give rise to an action for group libel. Each reputation is personal in character to every person. Together, the Muslims do not have a single common reputation that will give them a common or general interest in the subject matter of the controversy.[24] (Emphasis ours)


We find that the facts in the MVRS case is analogous to the case at bar. The Information in Criminal Case No. IR-4848 does not refer to any specific individual or pastor but merely mentions "persons comprising the Jesus Miracle Crusade, International Ministry." Further, contrary to the findings of the lower courts, We did not find anything in the records which establish or single out any specific pastor, specifically Joel Cortero. Neither can We consider petitioner's statements, be sweeping enough as to injure the reputation of all the members of JMCIM. Hence, We cannot affirm petitioner's conviction for libel in Criminal Case No. IR-4848.

No violation of religious freedom

Petitioner's claim that his statements are absolutely protected by the Constitution because they are expressions of religious beliefs do not merit any consideration. As what this Court stated in Soriano v. Laguardia, et al.,[25] "Plain and simple insults directed at another person cannot be elevated to the status of religious speech. Even petitioner attempts to place his words in context show that he was moved by anger and the need to seek retribution, not by any religious conviction."[26]

WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED. The Decision dated August 17, 2015 and the Resolution dated May 18, 2016 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 35052 are hereby MODIFIED.

Petitioner Eliseo Soriano is hereby held GUILTY of the crime of libel for in Criminal Case No. IR-5273 and ACQUITTED in Criminal Case No. IR-4848.

SO ORDERED.

NOEL GIMENEZ TIJAM
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Associate Justice
Acting Chairperson

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
Associate Justice

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
Associate Justice

ATTESTATION

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Acting Chairperson's Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Senior Associate Justice
(Per Section 12, R.A. 296,
The Judiciary Act of 1948, as amended)

===

*Designated Acting Chairperson per Special Order No. 2606 dated October 10, 2018.
** Designated Additional Member per Raffle dated November 12, 2018 vice Associate Justice Francis H. Jardeleza.
***Designated Additional Member per Special Order No. 2607 dated October 10, 2018.
[1] Rollo, pp. 11-54.
[2] Penned by Associate Justice Maria Elisa Sempio Diy, concurred in by Associate Justices Ramon M. Bato, Jr. and Manuel M. Barrios; id. at 62-81.
[3] Id. at 83-89.
[4] Id. at 63-65.
[5] Id. at 65-66.
[6] Id. at 66.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id. at 67.
[11] Id. at 62-81.
[12] Id. at 80.
[13] Id. at 23.
[14] Philippine Journalists, Inc. (People's Journal) v. Thoenen, 513 Phil. 607, 618 (2005).
[15] Diaz v. People, 551 Phil. 192, 198 (2007).
[16] G.R. No. 170341, July 5, 2017.
[17] 11 Id.
[18] 520 Phil. 149 (2006).
[19] Rollo, p. 28.
[20] Id. at 80.
[21] Buatis v. People, supra note 18, at 160.
[22] Yuchengco v. The Manila Chronicle Publishing Corp., et al., 620 Phil. 697, 716 (2009).
[23] 444 Phil. 230 (2003).
[24] Id. at 241-243.
[25] 605 Phil. 43 (2009).
[26] Id. at 94.