Aratuc vs Comelec

election laws
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   ARATUC vs COMELEC, 1979 Over the objection of the Konsensiya ng Bayan (KB) candidates, the Regional Board of Canvassers of Region XII issued a resolution declaring all the eight Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan (KBL) candidates elected representatives to the Batasang Pambansa. The KB candidates appealed the resolution to the COMELEC which consequently issued the now assailed resolution declaring seven KBL candidates and one KB candidates as having obtain the first eight places, and ordering the Regional Board of Canvassers to proclaim the winning candidates. The Aratuc petition alleged that the COMELEC in arriving at its conclusion committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction. The Mandangan petition, on the other hand, claims that it was error of law for COMELEC to consider spurious and manufactured the returns in voting centers showing that the votes of the candidates obtaining the highest number of votes exceeded the highest possible number of valid votes, because the excess was not more than 40% as was the rule followed in Bashier/Basman (L-33758, February 24, 1972), and that the COMELEC exceeded its jurisdiction and denied due process to petitioner in extending its inquiry beyond the election records of the 878 voting centers examined by the KB experts and passed upon by the Regional Board of Canvassers and in excluding from the canvass the returns form voting centers showing 90% to 100% voting in places where military operations were certified by the army to be going on, the same being unsupported by evidence. ISSUE: Whether COMELEC grave abuse of discretion The Supreme Court found no grave abuse of discretion in the actuations of the COMELEC and in Mandangan held (1) that considering the historical antecedents relative to the highly questionable manner in which elections have been held in the past in the provinces involved, the COMELEC may deem spurious and manufactured the returns in voting centers showing that the votes of the candidates obtaining the highest number of valid votes exceeded the highest possible number of votes cast therein even if the excess number of votes were not more than 40%; and (2) that the COMELEC could extend its inquiry beyond that undertaken by the Board  of Canvassers and take cognizance of the fact that voting centers affected by military operations have been transferred to the poblaciones, because as a superior body having supervision and control over the Board of Canvassers, it may do directly what the latter was supposed or ought to have done. In Aratuc Et. Al., the Supreme Court found that the COMELEC did consider the high percentage of voting coupled with mass substitute voting as proof that the pertinent returns had been manufactured, and that apart from presuming regularity in the performance of its duties, the COMELEC had adhered to the Supreme Court’s guidelines in examining and passing on the returns from the voting centers and in denying petitioner’s motion for the opening of ballot boxes concerned. Further, the High Court stated, it might disagree with the COMELEC as to which voting center should be excluded or included, but still a case of grave abuse of discretion would not come out considering that COMELEC, which concededly is in a better position to appreciate and assess the vital circumstances clearly and accurately, cannot be said to have acted whimsically or capriciously, or without basis. First of all this Board was guided by the legal doctrine that canvassing boards must exercise extreme caution in rejecting returns and they may do so only when the returns are palpably irregular. A conclusion that an election return is obviously manufactured or false and consequently should be disregarded in the canvass must be approached with extreme caution, and only upon the most convincing proof. Any plausible explanation, one which is acceptable to a reasonable man in the light of experience and of the probabilities of the situation, should suffice to avoid outright nullification, with the resulting disenfranchisement of those who exercised their right of suffrage). In the absence of strong evidence establishing the spuriousness of the return, the basis rule of their being accorded prima facie status as bona fide reports of the results of the count of the votes for canvassing and proclamation purposes must be applied, without prejudice to the question being tried on the merits with the presentation of evidence, testimonial and real, in the corresponding electoral protest. The decisive factor is that where it has been duly determined after investigation and examination of the voting and registration records that actual voting and election by the registered voters had taken place in the questioned voting centers, the election  returns cannot be disregarded and excluded with the resulting disenfranchisement of the voters, but must be accorded prima facie status as bona fide reports of the results of the voting for canvassing and proclamation purposes. Where the grievances relied upon is the commission of irregularities and violation of the Election Law the proper remedy is election protest.
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