CASE 2013-0011: SAMSON S. ALCANTARA, ROMEO R. ROBISO, PEDRO T. DABU, JR., LOPE E. FEBLE, NOEL T. TIAMPONG and JOSE FLORO CRISOLOGO -versus- COMMISSION ON LECTIONS, JONATHAN DE LA CRUZ, ED VINCENT ALBANO and BENEDICT KATO (G.R. NO. 203646, 16 APRIL 2013, BRION, J.) SUBJECT/S: MEMBERSHIP IN PARTY LIST (BRIEF TITLE: ALCANTARA VS. COMELEC)
“WHEREFORE, premises considered, we hereby DISMISS the petition.
WHAT IS THE ISSUE IN THIS CASE?
WAS THERE A VALID REASON FOR THE EXPULSION OF PETITIONER ALCANTARA AS A PARTY PRESIDENT AND AS A MEMBER OF THE PARTY WHEN HE QUESTIONED THE LEGALITY OF THE HOLDING OF THE SUPREME ASSEMBLY?
WHO HAS THE POWER TO REGISTER NATIONAL, REGIONAL AND SECTORAL PARTIES OR ORGANIZATIONS OR COALITIONS FOR PURPOSES OF THE PARTY LIST SYSTEM?
WHAT CONFERS LEGAL JURIDICAL PERSONALITY ON THE PARTY-LIST GROUP FOR ELECTION PURPOSES?
THE REGISTRATION WITH COMELEC.
Under the Constitution, the COMELEC is empowered to register political parties.12 More specifically, as part of its power to enforce and administer laws relative to the conduct of an election, the COMELEC possesses the power to register national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions for purposes of the party-list system of elections.13 It is the party-list group’s registration under the party-list system that confers juridical personality on the party-list group for election related purposes.
As a juridical entity, a party-list group can only validly act through its duly authorized representative/s. In the exercise of its power to register parties, the COMELEC necessarily possesses the power to pass upon the question of who, among the legitimate officers of the party-list group, are entitled to exercise the rights and privileges granted to a party-list group under the law. The COMELEC’s jurisdiction on this point is well settled and is not here disputed.
CAN THE COURT INTERFERE WITH THE COMELEC’S ACTION ON PARTY LIST MATTERS?
ONLY IF THE PETITIONERS CAN ESTABLISH THAT THE COMELEC ACTED WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION.
WHAT IS MEANT BY GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION?
BY GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IS GENERALLY MEANT THE CAPRICIOUS AND WHIMSICAL EXERCISE OF JUDGMENT EQUIVALENT TO LACK OF JURISDICTION. MERE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IS NOT ENOUGH. IT MUST BE GRAVE, AS WHEN IT IS EXERCISED ARBITRARILY OR DESPOTICALLY BY REASON OF PASSION OR PERSONAL HOSTILITY. SUCH ABUSE MUST BE SO PATENT AND SO GROSS AS TO AMOUNT TO AN EVASION OF A POSITIVE DUTY OR TO A VIRTUAL REFUSAL TO PERFORM THE DUTY ENJOINED OR TO ACT AT ALL IN CONTEMPLATION OF LAW.15
With clear jurisdictional authority to resolve the issue of party leadership and party identity, this Court will only be justified in interfering with the COMELEC’s action under Rules 64 and 65 of the Rules of Court if the petitioners can establish that the COMELEC acted without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. By grave abuse of discretion is generally meant the capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. Mere abuse of discretion is not enough. It must be grave, as when it is exercised arbitrarily or despotically by reason of passion orpersonal hostility. Such abuse must be so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law.15 The petitioners failed to hurdle this barrier.
PETITIONERS ARGUE THAT THOSE WHO ATTENDED THE SUPREME ASSEMBLY ARE NOT REAL MEMBERS. THEREFORE THEIR ACTS ARE NOT VALID. WERE THEY CORRECT?
NO BECAUSE PETITIONERS FAILED TO ESTABLISH WHO THE MEMBERS ARE AT THE TIME OF THE SUPREME ASSEMBLY.
The petitioners opened their petition with the principle that only members of a registered party can chart its destiny to the necessary exclusion of non-members. The COMELEC correctly observed that while this may be true, all that the petitioners established is the group’s membership as of 2003. The petitioners failed to account for the group’s actual membership at least as of 2009, i.e., five (5) years after ABAKADA was accredited and the year immediately prior to the Supreme Assembly held in February 2010 and the party-list elections of May 2010.
ABAKADA IS A SECTORAL PARTY. WILL THE GENERAL PRINCIPLES APPLICABLE TO POLITICAL PARTIES ALSO APPLY TO A SECTORAL PARTY.
While ABAKADA is registered as a sectoral party, the general principles applicable to political parties as a voluntary association apply to it. Political parties constitute a basic element of our democratic institutional apparatus.20 Among others, political parties help stimulate public participation in the political arena and translate the results of this participation into meaningful policies and programs of government offered to the electorate. Once in government, they are able to significantly contribute in forging linkages between the government and the society by adjusting these policies with the varying and often conflicting interests of the different segments of society. Should they belong to the minority, they also provide a check to counterbalance those who are in power.
CAN COMELEC INTERFERE WITH THE PARTY’S INTERNAL AFFAIRS?
NO. PARTIES ARE GENERALLY FREE TO CONDUCT ITS INTERNAL AFFAIRS PURSUANT TO ITS CONSTITUTIONALLY-PROTECTED RIGHT TO FREE ASSOCIATION.
For these reasons, particularly, for the role they play in the general political process, political parties are generally free to conduct its internal affairs pursuant to its constitutionally-protected right to free association.21 This includes the determination of the individuals who shall constitute the association and the officials who shall lead the party in attaining its goals.22
The political parties, through their members, are free to adopt their own constitution and by-laws that contain the terms governing the group in pursuing its goals. These terms, include the terms in choosing its leaders and members, among others. To the group belongs the power to adopt a constitution; to them likewise belongs the power to amend, modify or altogether scrap it.
The petitioners’ argument is contrary to these basic tenets. If the validity of the Supreme Assembly would completely depend on the person who calls the meeting and on the person who sends the notice of the meeting – who are petitioners Alcantara and Dabu themselves – then the petitioners would be able to perpetuate themselves in power in violation of the very constitution whose violation they now cite. This kind of result would strike at the heart of political parties as the “basic element of the democratic institutional apparatus.” This potential irregularity is what the COMELEC correctly prevented in ruling for the dismissal of the petition.
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