Manila Bulletin - PET has no power to declare failure of elections, call for holding of special elections — Comelec

4 November 2020

By Rey Panaligan | Manila Bulletin

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday, November 4, said the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), composed of the justices of the Supreme Court (SC), has the power to annul elections but has no authority to declare failure of elections or direct the holding of special elections.

In its comment filed in connection with the 2016 election protest lodged by former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against Vice President Ma. Leonor “Leni” Robredo, the Comelec said it has the “exclusive jurisdiction” to declare failure of elections or to call for special elections.

The Comelec’s stand slightly differed from that taken by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) which was also asked to file its comment.

Solicitor General Jose C. Calida had told the SC that while the PET has the power to annul election results or declare failure of elections, the tribunal has no power to order the holding of special elections.

Calida said the PET’s power to declare the annulment of elections or a failure of elections is provided in Section 4 (7), Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.

In its comment, the Comelec also told the PET that eight cases filed to declare failure of elections in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, and Basilan have been dismissed.

It said the rulings on seven of the dismissed cases have attained finality.

“Accordingly, no special elections were held or conducted in the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao in connection with the 2016 national and local elections,” the Comelec also said.

The Comelec and the OSG’s comments were required by the PET in its Sept. 29, 2020 resolution on the protest and counter protest involving the 2016 vice presidential election.

Both the Comelec and the OSG were directed to comment on “whether the Tribunal is empowered by the Constitution to declare: a) the annulment of elections without special elections; and b) the failure of elections and order the conduct of special elections.”

Also, they were asked to comment on “whether the Tribunal’s declaration of failure or elections and then the ordering of special elections, will infringe upon the Comelec’s mandate and power provided for in Article IX (C) (Sec. 2) of the Constitution.”

The election protest filed by Marcos against Robredo has three causes of action — annulment of the proclamation of Robredo; recount and revision of ballots in 36,465 protested clustered precincts; and annulment of election results for vice president Vice President in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan on the ground of alleged terrorism; intimidation and harassment of voters as well as pre-shading of ballots in all of the 2,756 protested clustered precincts.

In its resolution the SC also directed the Comelec to report “if petitions for failure or elections were filed in the provinces of Lanao Del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao; the corresponding resolutions to the said petitions (if granted or denied); whether special elections were held in areas declared to have had a failure of elections in the said provinces; and the results of the special elections.”

Also, the Comelec was also asked to comment “… on certain issues related to the 3rd cause of action of the election protest, in particular the annulment of elections on the ground of terrorism, intimidation, harassment of voters, and pre-shading of ballots in the provinces of Lanao Del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao.”

Citing the SC’s 2016 decision, the Comelec said the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) has the power to annul election results “as an indispensable consequence or concomitant to” its power to decide election protests involving members of the House of Representatives.

Thus, it said, that based on the decision, the PET also has the power to annul election results “in order to give full effect to its constitutional duty to determine the winning candidate in the contested position.”

It pointed out that the PET, being the sole judge of all contests relating to election, returns, and qualifications of the President and the Vice President has also the attendant power to annul election results.

But the PET, it stressed, “cannot declare failure to elections and conduct special elections, the latter, being within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Comelec.”